Category Archives: Starting up

My writing albatross

Why can’t I write this blog post? It’s been pressing on my shoulders for three weeks now. Coleridge’s damn albatross. The emails from my fellow Restless Writers were initially gentle reminders, but have now become electrified prods like I’m a cow to be herded back to my quarters. (OK, they’re not that mean, but I am feeling the pressure.)

Every time I sit down in hopes the “grand inspiration” will come, the screen sits in silence. The keys remain idle. My fingers await their commands.

And alas, when a few words do splatter on the screen they are out of focus, blurry like a…like a…what? The simile alludes me. My muse is clearly on vacation enjoying steamy weather and sunlight, while I freeze in this record cold winter, surrounded by greying snow and the greying sky out my window that reflects the current grey in my brain.

fireplace

Where is the light in my thoughts? Where is just a spark of an idea? I’m sitting beside a fire for God’s sake! Nothing?

Have I left it too long? Have the distractions of my life stolen my ability to create something new? Perhaps I have starved Calliope for too long and she has found refuge in another writer’s home.

What’s a writer to do when a fog has descended on her creativity? Here are some ideas:

  • Try a writing prompt to start you off and help focus your brain.
  • Write something, anything every day – even if it’s crap – at least you’re writing.
  • Read. Read anything – about writing, a novel, a blog, poetry. Read…a lot.
  • Schedule your writing time and be disciplined to make it happen with no distractions.
  • Take a step back for a moment and set some goals. Maybe it’s time to regroup and figure out what you want to achieve with your writing. Check in to ensure you are heading in the direction you want to be with your writing. Maybe it’s time for a left-hand turn to stir things up.
  • Stop and have a good look at your life recently.  What needs to shift? Where are you out of balance? (This one’s mine. My life’s been spazzy these last months and my writing has suffered because of it.)

Writing takes persistence, perseverance and patience, and each ‘p’ word comes in waves. Sadly my surf board has been stuck behind my snow shovel lately. I know I have to dig it out…once I dig my car out of the driveway. The worst ‘p’ for me is the third one. Damn that patience thing. It’s the new albatross around my neck now that this blog post is done.

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Filed under Blogging, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation, Starting up, Writing ideas

The Freelance Switch: Being scared and doing it anyway

Working from home, legs up on deskI’m no stranger to freelancing. I’ve been moonlighting as a freelance book indexer and writer for the past 11 years. And it has always been mostly manageable. Up until now, that is.

I recently made the decision to leave a stable, comfortable and well-paying role in communications to focus on my freelance work. Trying to be kick-ass in two careers was getting too challenging, and I decided the time was right to choose the path that was the best fit for my strengths, skills and passion. Today marks the two-week countdown to owning my days.

The people in my network who know about my moonlighting side say it’s about time. I have wanted to strike out on my own for as long as I can remember. For years I have been gobbling up books like My So-Called Freelance Life, The Anti 9 to 5 Guide, Making a Living Without a Job, and the $100 Start-up. (PS: If you know someone with as much love for the “joyfully jobless” life, tell them to connect with me on LinkedIn, because I’d love to hear their story.)

I expected to hear a lot of negative remarks from my friends and family. Instead, I got the opposite: most comments consisted of variations on “I’m so jealous” and “You’re so brave.” The ones who are jealous probably think that working from home means I’ll be enjoying long lunches and coffee breaks with the PVR, luxuriating in impromptu naptimes, and writing dazzling prose while reclining in the La-Z-Boy. Those people probably also think that Sex in the City realistically depicts a writer’s life.

The ones who said I was brave have a more realistic view of the freelance life—the ups and downs, the lack of a support system, the isolation, the uncertainty, the potential drop in personal hygiene standards. True, there are many benefits to being the captain of your own work-at-home ship, but I am still pretty anxious.

Here are the kinds of things keeping me up at night:

  • Will I forget how to act in polite company? I will probably swear a lot more than I do now.
  • Will I go a little stir-crazy? Granted, I already talk to my cats when I’m on a deadline, but what if they start talking back?
  • Will my lazy side turn out to be my dominant side? I confess to already being a champion napper, and it is very easy for me to be busy doing absolutely nothing.
  • Will easy access to the fridge make even my comfiest yoga pants feel tight? Note that said fridge is often filled with tasty pastries, sauces made with real butter, and puh-lenty of carbs. (My husband is a pastry chef. Do not envy me.)
  • Will I be able to motivate myself to be successful? Every decision will be my own, and success or failure will be up to me.

Despite all these fears and anxieties, some more serious than others, I am still making the leap. Interested in hearing how it turns out? Watch for more posts to come with the scoop on what it’s like to make the freelance switch.

Maria

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Filed under Freelancing, Starting up

The New Girl

Here I am. Reporting for my first blog post, fresh from my inaugural Restless Writers meeting. The meeting was everything I hoped it would be – a great opportunity to get to know these awesome ladies better and to take in some of their honest feedback on the pages I submitted. While I survived their critiques (this was managed largely through consumption of wine and baked brie), as the newbie to the Restless Writers, I have to admit I am struggling with a dash of self doubt about whether or not I have the writing chops to be a part of this group.

Beckie has an agent—a real agent. And I didn’t even know what an em dash was until  Maria told me. Heck, I thought em dash was spelled “m” dash until I just looked it up online two minutes ago.

The good news in all of this is? I’m fairly sure I am not the first new want-to-be writer to feel this way. In 2010, The Guardian ran a two-part feature where they asked famous writers to share their Ten Rules of Writing Fiction. I was particularly drawn to the cheery wisdom imparted by British novelist and journalist Will Self. Will says:

“You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.”

If this is true, I guess I am well on my way to becoming a writer.

Thank you Restless Writers for the warm welcome. With your mad grammar skills I’ll be mastering the in’s and out’s of em vs. en dashes in no time. And if not, I’ll fake it.

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Filed under Blogging, Group meetings, Motivation, Starting up

Out of the Mouths of Agents

Tip #27: Do not show up at an agent's office wearing this.

I used to be very superstitious when it came to querying agents. It started when someone told me the best time to query was between January and June, but I took it to another level. I started trying to get into the minds of agents (i.e. Would s/he be more receptive to my email in the morning or afternoon? Should I wait until mid-week in case s/he had a crappy weekend? Etc.). It was exhausting, not to mention…unhealthy.

Thankfully, the conference I went to last autumn cured me of my Agent-related OCD. The agent/editor panels were a revelation—instead of guessing what made agents tick, I was able to sit back and listen to them tell me. On the off chance there are other A-R OCD sufferers out there, here some pearls of wisdom, straight from the agent’s mouth:

What agents are seeing too much of:
– Vampires and werewolves
– Mid-life spiritual memoirs
– Heavy YA (i.e. young girls being severely abused)
– Talking animals in children’s books

What would agents love to see:
– Judy Blume-like contemporary middle grade
– Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars
– Historical thriller that lends to a series/branding

What can an agent bring to the table:
– Editorial experience
– Other opportunities to create revenue streams (i.e. speaker services)
– Someone who will champion your work to the world

What agents look for in a new author:
– Writing is becoming very voice-driven and it must be engaging and distinct (i.e. don’t try to write like J.K. Rowling)
– Emotion on the page that evokes a visceral response in the reader
– A great title can make the difference in an agent giving attention to your query
– Have an understanding of the publishing business so you know what your work has to go through before it’s printed
– Critique partners are essential in getting your manuscript ready for an agent, who will then take it up another notch before going to publishers

What all aspiring authors should know about agents:
– Agents take on new clients in cycles, depending on their current list, and much of getting an agent depends on timing
– Summer is not a slow time to query—it’s always busy (one agent signed a client on Christmas Eve! Another one found her client at a drag show!)
– A good query has a hook (logline), book (plot) and cook (bio)—don’t get too clever/cute/wordy

What agents think of social networking:
– Interacting on Twitter and Facebook demonstrates to editors/agents that you are serious about being a career author and building a network
– Unless you get 60,000+ hits per month, having a blog is not as important for fiction writers—the story is what really matters
– Remember that the internet is like a live microphone—be nice and supportive online because agents and editors and readers will Google you
– Think of Google as your virtual resume

What agents think of self-publishing:
– It’s ideal for traditionally-published authors who already have a readership base or who’ve regained rights to previously-published work
– Do it properly (e.g. hire a professional editor, graphic designer)
– Digital publishing is growing, but it’s still one piece of the author’s puzzle
– Agents/editors act as gatekeepers for quality control and can offer brand management (i.e. media outreach) that an author can do alone, but is infinitely harder
– “Debut” is not a dirty word in publishing and often no data is better than bad data when it comes to sales tracking
– It can be tricky trying to move from self-publishing to traditional—40,000 copies sold through self-publishing may be interpreted by a traditional publisher as either not enough copies sold or that it’s been sold to everyone who will buy it
– If your genre is hard to categorize or you have plenty of time to self-promote, self-publishing may be a good option for you

What should you ask an agent when you get “the call” (or, more likely, “the email”):
– How do you work (i.e. does contact occur via phone, email, etc.)?
– What’s the plan from here? What do you see as next steps in terms of short and long-term strategy?
– What do you connect with in the book?
– What revisions do you suggest?
– What’s your experience with my kind of book?

What’s the biggest thing Lori learned from the agents?
– Agents are, remarkably, regular people. And like other regular people, there are some you click with more than others. They have good and bad days, they have personal preferences when it comes to books (and, one would assume, other things), they love their authors and they love what they do. Most importantly, they all want to find new authors with fresh voices and exciting ideas.

As you may have gathered, it appears that the best time to query your dream agent is…right now. Seriously—if your Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars and query letter are as perfect as you can make them, it’s time to send them out into the world.

If your voice is strong, pace is unputdownable, timing is right and you don’t include glitter with a lemon-scented query letter, today could be the day you get an agent.

LD

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Filed under Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Starting up, Trials and Tribulations

Five ways to start your own writing group—or crash one

Yes, this is our writing group...if Meryl Streep were a member.

The Restless Writers are often approached by people looking for a writing group to join. For the most part, these writers want what we’ve got—a kick-ass little troop that is supportive, energetic, thoughtful, caring, and hells-to-the-yeah fun.

Here’s what we tell these would-be Restless Writers about finding or starting a group of their own:

Dear [Would-be Restless Writer]:

The Restless Writers are a group of three women who get together in person on a semi-regular basis to share and critique pages, act as sounding boards for new ideas, kvetch about our husbands, and drink wine. We think we’re a collective hoot. We think we make each other better writers. 

We love meeting people like us who write and live and tear out their hair trying to do both well. However, we’re not really a formal writing group with rules and deadlines and firm meeting dates, which makes us irritating as hell if you’re looking for structure.

Trying to find a writing group can be like online dating, except with a greater chance of hooking up with sociopaths. You want to find people who have good writing skills, creativity, passion, joy, and intuition. Plus great hair and awesome personalities. We were lucky.

Here are five ways to find a writing group you can call your own:

1) Check out http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.com/ and subscribe to Brian Henry’s e-newsletter (and sign up for one of his workshops too if you’re in Ontario). You could place a call-out in his newsletter for writing peeps in your area. Note: This worked for us.

2) Make friends with an independent bookstore in your neighbourhood. We’re lucky to have A Different Drummer Books and Bryan Prince Bookseller close by, both with plenty of events throughout the year to enjoy and meet other writers at. Even the big-box booksellers have events.

3) Your local library is a great resource—attend a reading, enter a writing contest, or talk to a librarian to see if they know of a local group.

4) Keep an eye on your community newspaper for announcements about writing events. You may even find an article about a certain Restless Writer who was recently interviewed… (ahem, it’s Beckie! As soon as it’s online we’ll pressure her to post the link.).

5) Talk to people! You’ll never know if your co-worker’s husband’s best friend is a writer who’s also looking for a writing group…unless you ask. Shelve your shyness and mingle!

We wish you the best of luck at finding a super-supportive writing group that helps you be the best writer you can be.

Maria

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Filed under Group meetings, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Starting up

If You Want an Agent, You Need Backspace

I learned about the Backspace Writer’s Conference the way I learn about most things: Twitter. An author I follow tweeted about his new agent and his blog detailed the experience (Backspace played a huge role).

I cannot emphasize enough what an amazing opportunity this conference provides to authors looking for an agent. Unlike most writing conferences that offer a couple of anxiety-ridden pitch sessions, Backspace provides genre-specific workshops where authors spend hours having their query letters and opening pages critiqued by agents seeking new clients.

Not all participants receive offers of representation, but at the very least they should come away inspired and informed enough to make their manuscript query-ready. I received multiple requests for my women’s fiction manuscript, but of equal importance was the opportunity to connect with writers who have become beta readers, cheerleaders and swoon-worthy drinking buddies.

I’ve also completed a children’s chapter book that I’m ready to query, but only YA was being represented in the workshops. Luckily, Backspace offered agent/editor panels on both days and writers were able to pitch their work to them following the sessions. This allowed me to connect with agents who represent children’s fiction (more referrals and requests for pages).

Since I went totally budget on the accommodations and was able to score a cheap flight, the entire conference cost me just over $1,000—obviously a significant chunk of coin, but think of it as an investment in yourself…that’s how I sold it to my husband 😀

LD

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Filed under Author events, Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Starting up, Writing resources

How to Rock a Writer’s Conference Before It Starts

Exactly one week from today I’ll be in New York for Backspace, a two-day conference limited to 100 writers with only literary agents/editors in small workshops. I am equal parts excited and nauseous at the thought of doing this on my own, without a Restless Writer or Word Bitch to hold my hand.

Luckily, all of these ladies have been to conferences in the past and briefed me on what to bring and expect while I’m there. But what about all of my non-conference time? I’ll be in New York City for three days—I can’t just hide in my room!

This is why I’ve made some plans. They are neither writerly nor particularly touristy, but they give me something to look forward to besides the conference (plus, the anticipation of these distractions keep me from freaking out about the reason I’m in NY…agents!…ack!)

I land on Wednesday morning, but the conference doesn’t begin until Thursday. I’m not staying at the hotel, so I can’t easily troll the bar lobby for fellow attendees. Instead, I’ll be at an exercise class.

Before you slam your laptop closed in disgust, hear me out. This isn’t just any exercise class: it’s Physique 57, beloved by Sofia Vergara and Christy Turlington, among others. I’ve been using the DVDs for months and can’t wait to take a class in person. This will also alleviate any potential guilt when I scarf my way through Manhattan.

On Wednesday night I’m going to The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, which was founded by Amy Poehler and some friends over ten years ago. It offers sketch comedy and improv shows every night for five dollars, and no two shows are alike.

Many actors from 30 Rock (Kenneth! Lutz!), The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Saturday Night Live got their start at UCB. It’s not uncommon for celebrities such as Tina Fey or Steve Carell to jump on stage unannounced. I’m going to a show featuring writers from Conan who will be performing new material in advance his show taping in New York the following week.

Thursday evening has been left open on my itinerary for hanging with conference peeps, but if that doesn’t pan out I heard that Hugh Jackman is previewing his one-man show that night…

New York is the city that doesn’t sleep and for three days next week, neither will I.

LD

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Filed under Author events, Inspiration, Motivation, Starting up, Trials and Tribulations