• April is National Poetry Month!

    Prose writers can click here to find one way to honor their poetry fellows. See what Pacific Northwest poets are doing in April here.
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    On 12.01.09, I estimated that I had about 32,000 words left to write to complete my first draft of the opening book in my paranormal mystery series, THE LOST & FOUND.

    Here's my progress updated 2.12.10:

    33% of 32,000 (10,648 wds)
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Nancy Drew’s Powers of Observation: Friday’s rainbow meditation

Original image: “Lily Pads, Morton Arboretum, Chicagoland, 2007” by Tamara Kaye Sellman.

The simplest way to handle a meditation is to sit comfortably in a quiet, dimly lit space, light a candle, and stare at the flame while you read the meditation, multiple times if necessary. Very soft background music can help block out the sounds outside your space. You can approach a meditation in multiple ways. One popular way is to think about the meditation itself and “listen” from inside for responses to what it’s suggesting to you. “Listening” can include actually hearing words, but it can also mean feelings, intuitions, passing images and other idea “inputs” that are normal for you. Another effective way is to spend the first part of your meditation staring at the candle flame and breathing, thinking of nothing at first (do not read the meditation yet). Allow your mind to spend its stray energy and breathe all the random thoughts as far outside yourself as you can. The goal is to be blank; then read the meditation and “listen.” Sometimes, the material in the racing random thoughts you just dispelled can inform how you “hear” the wisdom in the meditation. Always remember, as creative people, we already carry solutions to our creative challenges inside ourselves. It’s how we find our access to them that unlocks our creativity and liberates us to make, be and do.

———-

Today’s meditation comes from Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life: Chapter 7, Powers of Observation

“Abandoned houses are not completely neglected if the electricity still flows.”–from The Mystery of the Ivory Charm.

If you think your own personal energy has slumped or even drained right out of you, try to remember this smart little tidbit from Nancy Drew. After all, your house (your body) may be out of shape (neglected) , but not out of commission, not until you leave this world for the next, taking your soul (your electricity) with it. This meditation is about hope, potential, and keeping at ease with yourself in all sorts of inner and outer turmoil. You may have your ups and downs, but don’t forget… even during your lowest low, your own pilot light still burns for you.

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National Poetry Month: What Pacific Northwest poets are doing to celebrate

NPM poster designed by Marian Bantjes.

What are you doing for National Poetry Month?

I’m judging a local limerick contest and reading my Poetry Corners poem, “Fabricland,” at the Flowering Around shop and cafe (Bainbridge Island) on Saturday April 24 at 7pm.  

Here are what some other regional poets are doing…  

Continue reading

Richard Hugo House: Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century

I hope you’ll mark your calendars for this event. I’ll be participating on panels and in workshops on Saturday, May 22, 2010.  It promises to be one of the best literary conferences in the Pacific Northwest in 2010!

From the Richard Hugo House website:

Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
                                              —A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens was describing the era of the French Revolution, but he might as well have been discussing the state of modern-day publishing.  Bookstores are going out of business; publishing houses are laying off staff, and everyone keeps predicting the imminent death of The Book.

Meanwhile, writers soldier on, putting one word after the other, revising and revising again and wondering how, and if, anyone will ever read their work.

Well, it’s time to stop wondering and take matters into your own hands.

On the weekend of May 21-23, Richard Hugo House will be hosting its first writers’ conference. The topic will be: Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century.

Our focus will be on exploring the changing literary landscape and the options available to writers for getting their work out in the world and into the hands of readers. While we will certainly look at traditional publishing models, what we’re really interested in is showcasing new possibilities that writers in our community may not be aware of, from the traditional to the off-the-wall. We’ll look at ways writers can promote themselves and their work directly to their readers, and offer hands on practical workshops on basic tools of the writing business from creating a pre-pub platform to building your own website.

Registration for Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century will open on April 5 for Hugo House members and April 12 for the general public.

Featured speakers:
Alan Rinzler
Barbara Sjoholm
Matthew Stadler
Jeff Vandermeer

Presenters:
Alice Acheson
Ryan Boudinot
Wendy Call
Karen Finneyfrock
Stacey Levine
Priscilla Long
Elizabeth Wales

…and many others!

We’ll be updating information about the conference as it comes in, so check back often for the latest 411.

*Program details, presenters and schedules are subject to change.

The Richard Hugo House
1634 11th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122
206-322-7030 

Open Hours:
Monday-Friday: 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.

April Monthly Dispatch: How prose writers can honor National Poetry Month

… Pick up a pencil, not a laptop

I think of myself as an accidental poet. I have written and published poems over the last 10 years, but I’ve never studied it to the extent that my serious, hard-core poet friends have. Sure, I took a (great!) poetry workshop and it helped me a lot, but if I were hard-pressed to know why my poems worked, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I just know that learning to write poetry has made me a better fiction writer.

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Publishing’s electronic horizons: reality check for writers

2010 is definitely the year that electronic book readers force the questions, will books continue to exist, and if so, in what forms?

Writers have everything to gain by remaining on top of this debate and everything to lose if they deny the value of electronic publishing.

 So do readers, for that matter. What’s at stake for them is the future quality and diversity of all literature.

Here are a handful of links to get the earnest author-to-be  started.

Feb 8, 2010
from Joyful Thoughts
Ebooks and Ereaders
http://joycollins.blogspot.com/2010/02/ebooks-and-ereaders.html
by Joy Collins
Most notably, Collins writes:

…if you are an author, now is your time. EBook lines are usually more open to new authors, giving you a better than average chance of being published. Your readers can get your book in seconds which means the chances of them making their purchase increases since they don’t have to get in their car and go to your book signing, or go to a bookstore, or order online and then wait for the book to arrive in the mail.

Feb 8, 2010
from GalleyCat
Penguin CEO Compares eBooks and Paperbacks
http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/ebooks/penguin_ceo_compares_ebooks_and_paperbacks_151376.asp
by Jason Boog
Most notably, Boog writes:

The op-ed makes no mention of the fact that the paperback evolved in the middle of the Great Depression. The model “collapsed” after the economic turmoil had passed. The eBook’s rapid growth came during another crippling recession, and $9.99 may reflect an economic reality until our own crisis has passed.

Feb 5, 2010
from Norwich Bulletin
On Writers & Writing: E-books devalue the difficult writing process of authors
by AS Maulucci
http://www.norwichbulletin.com/living/x644560909/On-Writers-Writing-E-books-devalue-the-difficult-writing-process-of-authors
Most notably, Maulucci writes:

…when authors start giving away e-book copies of their books just to get people to read them with the hope it will generate word-of-mouth promotion, I believe they are only hurting themselves in the long run.

Feb 3, 2010
from TidBITS
Zombie Authors Threaten Fiction Ebook Market, from the Grave!
http://db.tidbits.com/article/10979
by Chris Pepper
Most notably, Pepper writes:

…it’s clear to writers like science-fiction author Charlie Stross that the old model of delivering a large chunk of words to a publisher, and then moving on to the next book, is in trouble. Over the long term, we need to figure this out to keep people writing the books we want to read, but the answer might not be comfortable – or look much like today’s fiction marketplace. One way or another, change is coming, and without taking their fate into their own hands, writers might find themselves spending more time behind the counter at Starbucks than sipping lattes with their publishers.

Feb 2, 2010
from Publicola:  Seattle’s News Elixir
How Many E-Books, Ultimately?
http://www.publicola.net/2010/02/02/how-many-ebooks-ultimately/
by Glenn Fleishman:
Most notably, Fleishman writes:

Small press doesn’t mean small sales. The statistical design genius Edward Tufte’s Graphics Press, for instance, has produced exactly seven unique titles, but has sold many millions of copies. (Tufte started his own press when he couldn’t find a mainstream publisher that could produce his first book in the way he wanted. Good move.)

Jan 29, 2010
from BoingBoing
Amazon and Macmillan go to war: readers and writers are the civilian casualties
http://www.boingboing.net/2010/01/29/amazon-and-macmillan.html
by Cory Doctorow
Most notably, Doctorow writes:

…this is a case of two corporate giants illustrating neatly exactly why market concentration is bad for the arts.

One response to the Author’s Guild regarding Macmillan v Amazon

from the Author’s Guild
The Right Battle at the Right Time
http://authorsguild.org/advocacy/articles/the-right-battle.html 
“Macmillan’s current fight with Amazon over e-book business models is a necessary one for the industry. The stakes are high, particularly for Macmillan authors. In a squabble over e-books, Amazon quickly and pre-emptively escalated matters by…” <more>

Writer’s Rainbow’s response:
This battle is necessary because paper publishers have to *prove* they’re in the service of authors and literature and, frankly, they *aren’t,* not in 2010. They’re in the service of bottom lines, from which they extract a lot of money and from which very few authors (especially new ones) can expect to make more than a pittance, if they can break into the pearly gates at all.

I take issue with this part of Macmillan’s statement:

“Without a healthy ecosystem in publishing, one in which authors and publishers are fairly compensated for their work, the quality and variety of books available to readers will inevitably suffer.”

Let’s get something straight… do the research and you’ll find that authors do NOT receive fair compensation for their work UNLESS they’re bestsellers. And who decides bestsellers? Not readers, but publishers. Books with bestseller status arrive that way not through genuine sales but through financial arrangements made before those books are even published.

Yes, it’s a scam and it’s been going on forever.

Bestselling authors comprise a very small percentage of the total authors being published, and yet the lion’s share of revenues for book authors go primarily to the bestsellers. This is because big house publishers bank of the bestsellers to keep them afloat (by investing in their shelf positioning and bestseller status). Newer authors can only get in through the gates of traditional publishing as long as their publishers have bestsellers to draw income from.

Let’s not forget: *publishers* are making a heap big more wampum on books than authors are. So really, Macmillan’s statement, in a more accurate sense, might be one that says:

“A healthy ecosystem in publishing fairly compensates publishers for their products irregardless of the quality and variety of books available.”

This is not to say that bestsellers are not diverse or of high quality; it’s to say that there are huge numbers of excellent new authors turned away from the gates because they simply aren’t a known quantity. They aren’t “branded.”

Even poorly done books, when branded effectively, can be bestsellers.

I’ve tired of publishers claiming they care about literature and books when that’s the last thing on their minds at the end of the day. Theirs is a crappy business model from the 20th century that they’re still trying to pass off as a legitimate strategy in this century. It’s been failing since the 1970s; this is not an issue of “the economy” in 2010. The industry will keep on spiraling downward until publishers start thinking of their authors as something more than toilet paper to be sold at Costco.

Though, to be honest, that scenario makes them sound shrewd… like Amazon. Which is to point out that they really aren’t all that different from Amazon, just a vulture with a different kind of pattern to their feathers.

Who’s the big loser here? Readers. They don’t even know what they’re missing.

New writers at least have a fighting alternative to this closed process with POD and Amazon etc. The stats are out there: self-publishing is actually a better money maker for new voices in 2010. You *will* make more money off your book if you go this route. And if new writers can do well in that way, using Amazon as a vehicle, then Macmillan & Co need to rethink their business model or they’ll be missing out on all that literary landscape they believe they’re somehow advocating for.

Conquering Procrastination: Part Four of Four

PART FOUR
Things you can do to conquer procrastination

 ___________

This short blog series is designed to help you identify habits that lend to procrastination, to help you understand why you have fallen into these habits, and to offer you an action agenda for dealing with it. I know it’s only November, but now’s a great time to be thinking about New Year’s resolutions for your writing life. Certainly, procrastination is high on the list of many creative people. Why not prepare to cast off bad habits and begin new ones today?

___________

Things you can do to avoid procrastination

  • Break down your manuscript into smaller components and tackle each component individually, one at a time. (This is the “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day” approach.) You can write anything to completion in just 15 minutes a day by doing this.
  • Give yourself rewards for completion of unpleasant tasks. In example: “If I write 10,000 words toward my novel, I will take myself shopping for ___________.”
  • Make a blueprint of all the tasks you need to undertake to finish your manuscript. Rank them in order of importance to you (sometimes they rank themselves naturally because some need to be done before others can be done). Then set some completion goals (with dates and times, if possible) for each of these tasks. Be reasonable with the amount of time you expect each will take and forgive yourself if you take longer than expected. Being flexible will keep you on course until you can master a strong sense of how long things take to complete. As long as you’re working, you’re not procrastinating, and that is the ultimate goal: the get things done.
  • Allow yourself some time every day to weigh and make decisions. Sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough time to consider our options and then, when we are pressed to make decisions, we flail. Even 10 minutes a day spent looking at your To Do List and making decisions for that day alone can help tremendously.
  • Creative visualization really does work. Regularly daydream about succeeding at your project. Enjoy the positive feelings that come with visualizing success. Then imagine what it will take to accomplish your project. Check in on your visualizations at any time, and especially when you feel yourself faltering. (This is the “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” approach.)
  • Remember that setting out to write (and to publish) anything is a courageous act of faith. Don’t forget to consciously assign real value to your work. Do you know anyone who can do what you are doing? Probably not. Reminding yourself that what you do has unique value and durable meaning can go a long way to motivating you to your work’s completion.
  • Set up your working and/or creating environment in such a way as to minimize distractions. Don’t answer the phone (land line or cell) when you write. Don’t answer email all day long; choose specific times of the day just for these sorts of tasks, then get in, get out and let it collect offline. Turn off IM. Log off the web. Eliminate unnecessary noise and/or encounters with other people as much as possible. This may mean scheduling work time with a sign on your door that says “writer at work” so that others around you know to leave you alone. Be protective of your writing time, space and energy; if you aren’t protective of it, who will be?
  • Delegate certain tasks to others whenever possible. Sometimes we all just have too many things on our plate. Set loose those optional tasks you do out of obligation but  which only consume your time and don’t feed you. This is especially important for women, as we tend to take on unpaid, unrewarded roles out of a need to satisfy social expectations. You don’t have to be part of the PTO to be a good mom, for instance. Share your tasks with others who are better able to do it or who are more available. It is never a sign of weakness to ask for help.
  • Ask a friend to check up on you as a way to keep you accountable to your tasks. Taking a class that demands weekly homework is another way to do this. Meet with a friend to write, and then stick to that schedule.
  • Schedule periods of time that are strictly for writing and all its related tasks, if you are able. This is how Toni Morrison wrote her novels when she was a single working mother raising young children.
  • Also, just as important: schedule downtime. The working brain, like working muscles, needs quality rest. For downtime, choose activities that are relaxing and invite laughter and stress relief, such as exercise and socializing. Meditate, garden, bake, make other kinds of art, read, build jigsaw puzzles, play Sudoku.
  • Sandbag your schedule. If you’re most productive at the beginning of the week, schedule more writing time then. If you are most productive in evenings or on weekends, choose those times for scheduled writing. Figure out when you are most energetic and productive as a writer and shape your schedule to maximize this.
  • Visualize what happens if you don’t do the work of writing the book. That’s actually a way to assign positive reinforcement to your goals: if you can see what the price is you’ll be paying for not doing the work, you’ll be more likely to get the work done to avoid unpleasant consequences.
  • Sometimes writers get bogged down in lots of small tasks that still need completion. Take one day every couple of weeks and tend to these nagging details. Do them, one after the other. Completing them will make you feel like you’re accomplishing something (because you are) and alleviate some of the weight that comes with the task of writing. There’s evidence that striking things off the To Do List generates a sense of chemical well-being in the brain; treat yourself when you can!
  • Remind yourself that if you can talk, if you can think… then you can write.
  • If you panic at the presence of a blank page, sit inside that panic for a few minutes. Recognize how it comes on. Understand that fear is self-limiting. It comes on, it lingers, and then it fades. Knowing this makes it possible for you to own the fear. Say, “This is my fear. It happens to me sometimes. It’s all mine and of my own creation. But it has not destroyed me, it has just delayed me because I have allowed it to.” And then tell it to go away, you have work to do. Literally. Once you own your fear, you can tell it what to do. Try it.
  • Take notice of other places in your life where you procrastinate. Awareness is the first step to combating all sorts of personal bad habits, including procrastination.
  • Remember this: You’ll never know what you can do if you don’t do it. The lesson here is this: Living in regret is far more damaging than the wounds of other people’s judgments or a failed writing project (which is still a step toward something better).

Feel free to share your solutions to the pervasive problems that procrastination presents in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what other ways you’ve been able to keep your manuscripts on target!

See Also:
Conquering Procrastination─Part One of Four:
“Indicators that you’re procrastinating”

Conquering Procrastination─Part Two of Four:
“Reasons why you might be procrastinating”

Conquering Procrastination─Part Three of Four:
“Lies we tell ourselves”

Public Domain Image: “Three Little Pigs: Third Pig Builds a House” by L. Leslie Brooke, from The Golden Goose Book, 1905. Courtesy Project Gutenberg.