Monday, July 27, 2015

Quest Ramona Long: The Sprint Method of Writing

Writing in Sprints

Write every day. If you’ve been in a writing community for more than five minutes, you’ve heard this advice. The problem with advice is that it often tells you what to do, but not how to do it. This is
a how-to-do-it post.

A couple of years ago, on Twitter, I discovered a writing practice called sprinting. A writing sprint means you write, uninterrupted, for a set amount of time, usually an hour. There’s also a word count goal. The most common goal is 1k/1hr – writing 1000 new words in one hour. That’s why it’s called a sprint. The goal is to write quickly without stopping.

That first day, on Twitter, someone tweeted Sprint at 9. Who’s in? and a bunch of followers responded. For an hour, all of those people disappeared from social media and went off to write. At 10:00, the followers returned and reported their word counts.

The simplicity—the orderliness--of one hour and one thousand words seemed brilliant. Reporting in and out made people accountable.

Simplicity + Accountability + One hour of writing = Something I wanted to try.
The next day when the tweet Sprint at 9. Who’s in? appeared, I tweeted back: I’m in. I’ve been in ever since.

Developing a daily writing habit
Endless studies address how long it takes for an alteration in behavior to become a habit. Like everyone else, I have demands on my time. One hour per day devoted to my personal writing is all I can manage, so I’ve learned to make the most of it. Here’s how you can make the most of yours:

1.      1.Think about the time of day when you are most creative.
2.      2. Now consider the time of day when it’s most practical for you to be alone to write.
3.      3. Of those two, choose the time that will work best as your regular writing time.
4.      4. Find a place where you can work without interruption.
5.      5.On day 1, go to the place in #4 at the time in #3.
6.      6. Remove all distractions—TV, phone, Internet, people, pets.
7.      7. If you are part of a sprint community, tweet or post your sprint time.
8.      8. Write for one hour without interruption.
9.      9. Report your word count or progress to your sprint friends, or your cat, or both.
1  10. Repeat #8 on day 2, day 3, 4, 5….21. By day 21, three weeks later, you should be firmly entrenched in a daily writing habit. If you are using the 1k/1hr sprint formula, you may have 21,000 new words in your life

Common questions about writing in sprints

What if you are not writing new words and need to revise? No problem! If you are at the revision or outlining phase, use that time to revise or outline. The same principles apply—work for one hour, uninterrupted, at whatever stage your writing demands.

What if you are not fast enough to get 1000 new words in an hour? 1k/1hr is the optimum. If you add 200 words in an hour, hey, that’s 200 words you didn’t have before. You’re still winning.

What if your work/family schedule doesn’t allow a full hour per day? Do it on the weekends. Do a half hour. Adjust to fit your life, but make it as regular as you can.

Can you sprint more than once a day? Absolutely! Taking a break every hour is good for folks who sit for long periods in front of a screen, but you can sprint in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, or all day.

How do I join a sprint community?  On Twitter, you can check out any sprinting hashtag. I sprint every morning at 7:00 and post a sprint thread on my Facebook wall. I have a small but devoted gang of morning sprint friends. We call ourselves the Writing Champions.

What if I don’t know what to write or the blank page intimidates me? Thank you for asking that question! This leads to part 2 of this post:

Using a Journal as a Daily Guide
Every day, before I begin my writing hour, I open a notebook and record what I plan to work on that day. I only have an hour, so my entry is short and to the point: Finish dinner party scene. Or: Write argument in garage between Barry and Joanna. Or: Rework how they found the missing hunting rifle.
Writing down what I plan to write accomplishes three things:

1.      It gives me direction.
2.      It makes me focus.
3.      It eliminates the fear of the blank page. 

If you use a daily journal, take care to write only what you can accomplish in the hour ahead. If you record all of the things you need to accomplish, you’re not doing a daily journal entry. You’re listing.
What if you don’t get through the dinner party scene you planned to finish? Record it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next, until you either finish it or decide to move on.

Like the same place, same time habit, using a journal to write small goals lets you enjoy a mental perk. If your goal is too big, you’ll be unsuccessful, and you’ll end your writing session feeling that way. If your goal is just the right size, you will write that particular scene or moment in the story and your hour ends with an accomplishment. We all like accomplishments, right?

Writing is my favorite thing to do. If I can write for one hour a day, I have had a successful day. Anything else is gravy.


Ramona DeFelice Long is an author, editor, and online writing instructor. Her writing has appeared in literary, regional, and juvenile publications, and she’s been the happy recipient of numerous writing grants, fellowships, and residencies. As a freelance editor, she specializes in mysteries, women’s fiction, memoir, and short story anthologies. She lives in Delaware, is active in the Delmarva writing community, and is thrilled that the National Endowment for the Arts is using her quote about writing every day in its 50th anniversary celebration in September, 2015. She can be found online at ramonadef.wordpress.com


Monday, July 20, 2015

Guest Blogging Steps and Tips

I just finished a three month blogging tour for my book, Dragon of the Stars. There were twenty-eight stops total, which meant a lot of planning. And a lot of writing! Coupled with the fact this tour was for my fourth book, plus I do a lot of guest spots for the IWSG, and I’ve racked up a lot of guest blogging miles.


I’d like to pass on to you a guideline for getting the most bang out of your guest posts.

Select blogs to approach – You want to hang out at the right sites. Whatever you are promoting with your post, the people you are trying to reach should read that blog. It helps if it is a popular site – look at the followers and comments.

Become familiar with the site – Follow and comment. Interact with the blog owner. If it’s a personal blog, you don’t want to look like you’re just looking for free advertising and that’s it. Get involved and become a friend.

Check their guidelines – Many bloggers post guest post guidelines. This will tell you very quickly if you fit with what they seek. Plus you’ll know if you can actually deliver the goods.

Send a proposal – Send an email. Let them know you are interested in doing a guest post and why. From their guidelines, suggest a couple topics, or let them know what you’re open to doing. Be sure to send a link to your site and to whatever you are promoting.

Confirm date and topic – Assuming they say yes, of course! They might have a word count, so check that as well. And don’t forget to ask when they need the guest post.

One stop per day – Try to keep your followers from being torn between two sites, Sometimes it can’t be helped, but one a day is fair to your hosts. They are counting on you to bring traffic to their sites.

Follow guidelines – They want snark? Give them snark! Follow those guidelines. It makes it easier for everyone. Ask how they want to receive the post – html formatted, with hyperlinks, or with full web addresses. Send it before the cutoff date and don’t forget jpg images plus your bio and links.

Post tours – If you’re doing a full blog tour, post it on your site.

The day comes, now tell the world – Post it on your blog, Tweet it, and share on other social media sites. Spread the word! Let people know where you are that day and why they need to visit your guest post. This isn’t just for you – you owe your host the courtesy.

Visit often and respond to comments – Interact! Your guest post isn’t a freebie. Check back many times that day and several days later.

Send an email of thanks – Just a comment won’t do. Send the host an email. You’ll be one of the few.

Those are the basics. Follow them and you’ll have a great experience!

Any other tips you would like to share?

Monday, July 13, 2015

School Visits with Dianne Salerni

Please welcome author Dianne K. Salerni!

After retiring from 25 years of teaching to write full time, I thought booking school visits would be easy. I’m an experienced teacher and published author who can deliver competent, interactive lessons and manage groups of children. Schools should be lining up for me! Right?

Wrong. I landed a few school visits in my first year as a full time writer, but they weren’t easy to get, and half the time I wasn’t paid.

Who You Know Matters

Several of my visits were favors to former colleagues. I visited their classrooms and gave presentations at their annual Career Day. I wasn’t paid for those visits, and there weren’t any book sales. As for the visits where I did get paid, six were arranged through West Chester University’s Pennsylvania Writing and Literacy Project. I was selected on the recommendation of an author I happen to know.

I also had a paid school visit with an accompanying book sale at a private school in Philadelphia. I was invited by a teacher at that school who’s also an author. We share an agent.

Once you’ve made some successful visits, you’ll get recommended for others. Educators and librarians talk to one another – as do book sellers.

But what if you’re thinking: I don’t know anybody who can recommend me for school visits!

Volunteer Your Time

Yes, I know some authors tell you not to do this. “Don’t de-value yourself by doing events for free.” However, when you volunteer your time as a way to contribute to your community, you meet people. And meeting people is how you get other gigs.

Last fall, I put out mailers to schools within a 1-hour radius, advertising myself as a visiting author. I received only one taker out of dozens of letters – and it was for the charter school in my hometown. On that letter, I had crossed out the prices and said I’d waive my fee as a service to a local school. They booked me for three visits – and set up pre-sales for my book.

I also contacted every public library in my county, offering presentations – also as a service to my community. Several librarians jumped to schedule events, and I made lots of great contacts through these programs. Following one event, for instance, I was approached by a woman who runs a summer enrichment program. She wanted to buy my book for every student in the program and pay me to come once a week to teach reading lessons. Using my book. That’s a win-win!

But what if you’re thinking: I’ve spoken to my local libraries, and they don’t want me!

Offer Content of Value

In most cases, libraries (and schools) aren’t interested in having relatively unknown authors visit to talk about themselves and how they wrote their books. You have to plan presentations and workshops that have value for the participants. I’ve successfully made library presentations for adult writers on topics such as Paths to Publication and Outlining and Pantstering: Two Ways to Write Your Novel. I’ve held teen writer workshops geared toward plotting and character development.

For school visits, I offer presentations on Researching Setting, POV, Writing Emotion, Developing a Topic, Voice/Tone/Purpose – all things useful to student writers.

Build Your Reputation

It takes time, generosity, and networking. And it means planning presentations with educational content. But you can do it … one event at a time.

***

DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of The Eighth Day children’s fantasy series (HarperCollins) and YA historical novels, The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH) and We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks). Dianne was a public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend time hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Evolution Of An Author's Dream

Every writer starts off with a dream.

Some dream big, for example, snagging a publishing deal from a specific publishing house or the ‘red carpet moment’ at the movie premier of your book adaptation. Others dream of just getting to the end of that first messy draft. 
Dreams vary. 
It depends on which point of the journey you’re at. As the journey progresses, the dream shifts/changes…

Four well-known writers in our community are here to share about the author dream, and how it has evolved/changed over time...

These are the questions.
How has your author dream evolved/changed over time?
When you started out as a writer, what was your initial dream?
Up until this point, how has the dream played out?
Has it unfolded according to your expectations?
When you wonder what kind of author you will be like tomorrow, what do you envisage?

Mary Pax
The Galaxy is Going to Know My Name

Book tours, autographs, travel, books piled high on bookstore shelves, everyone wanting to know me, Oprah, awards, greatest American novel: these were the dreams shoving me onto the road of authordom.
I went to writers conferences and pitched my first novel to four agents. All four wanted to see it... so I know there’s something to the idea, however, it wasn’t yet ready for primetime.
The smartest thing I did was shove the manuscript in a drawer (after at least 25 revisions) and start writing short fiction. I’d buy a craft book and practice what it preached. I submitted to magazines and racked up a good number of rejections. Some of the rejection was personal feedback, which was encouraging.
In the meantime, I met Lindsay Buroker online and she swayed me into trying this electronic publishing thing. I began it as a means to grow my audience in order to get the agent and the publishing deal. Now I don’t mind if I don’t get them. I have fantastic fans, and I know I’ve made a difference in some people’s lives. That’s worth more than all the things I listed.
I lost my biggest fan recently (my baby brother) and one of the last things he said to me was he wanted to walk into Barnes & Noble and buy the entire stock of my books. If it happens, great. If not, I’ll still be publishing.
All the options we have as writers is wonderful, and I intend to use them to make a living at this gig some year. I still dream of hitting it big and seeing one of my stories as a TV series. Yeah, that would be cool.
My Husband Unit recently spoke to John Sanford, who said it took him 25-30 books to hit. Tenacity is definitely required in this business. Good thing I have it in spades (nicely offsets my lack of patience).

Tara Tyler Robinson

When life slowed down, I came across my story and thought it would be great if I could publish it. I went through years of learning, editing, entering contests, and overcoming failure, but I finally got my second manuscript published.

My author's dream has changed with each achievement. First, it was to get published, and then see my book on a shelf. Now, my dream is to reach more readers. It's an awesome feeling to see someone light up because they liked your book - it's that connection with people on a deeper level.

Being an author takes a lot of hard work and perseverance - and acceptance that not everyone will like your book. I do all I can to accomplish my goals and I hope for positive results,I don't expect them. Work pays off, with a little luck and timing.

As for tomorrow, we authors face new challenges. I try to keep up with the ever-changing techie ways of the industry for publishing and especially promoting. And I appreciate the ability to interact with other authors. I'd never be where I am without them!

Joy Campbell
We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.
Jesse Owens

When I set out to be an author, the publishing world was a different place. I had several books published with two small presses before I heard the term 'self-publishing'. At that time, nothing else would do for me, but the traditional route. After having three books published and not seeing much of a stir by my publishers in terms of P.R. or marketing, I wanted to explore an exciting, new world where I'd be in charge of my writing and everything else that went into producing a book.

I'm a believer in learning something new every day, which means expanding my knowledge on the various aspects of self-publishing has been enlightening, frustrating and sort of like being in school all the time. The demands bringing a book to market has ensured that I know a lot more now than when I was first published. I haven’t hit the big times yet, but since I can't know which book will be the one, I dedicate myself to each story I write. If you ask me which story is my best so far, I'll tell you each qualifies.
Like a good tale, my journey has taken unexpected twists.  I wanted to be a household name in Jamaica, but  quickly realized it would be easier to land a publishing contract outside of the island and that's the route I took. Despite the advances in technology, many Jamaicans still read paper and ink books and I have chosen to sell my work electronically to reach a wider audience. I'm enjoying the virtual world publishing has opened for me, plus the limitless possibilities.

I see myself continuing to tell stories that enlighten, entertain and resonate with readers. Learning is important to me, so I'll always be improving my skills. I'm slowly letting go of being a perfectionist, which is challenging. As Suki Michelle Clark, a talented writer, said so eloquently, 'Readers don't pay for our labor. They pay for being entertained, and if a novel whipped out in a month is entertaining, it will sell far better than a boring one that was laboriously gone over for three years. Sad, ironic, true.'
                                                  
Medeia Sharif
It all started when I was seventeen. I was writing a book about a young, vegetarian serial killer. Since I had taken AP English, I was adding all sorts of themes and areas of symbolism. I dreamed of agents getting me book and movie deals. I thought I would write full-time, eventually living in a nice mansion by the sea. Wasn’t that how authors lived, after all? When I was eighteen I completed the book, or so I thought, and was ready to submit. I was floating high on my fantasies, so the rejections that were coming in alarmed me.   

I thought writing was something that would come naturally to me since I loved to read and wrote poems and short stories in middle school. No, much more is needed. I had to write numerous “drawer manuscripts,” none of which became published works or movies, before my writing became publishable. My writing continues to evolve through experience and feedback. I was impatient as a young writer, but I now know that the writing and submitting processes are lengthy.  

Another thing I didn’t expect was how many people I’d end up working with. Many of my favorite authors from my youth were basically with the same agents and publishing houses for years, yet I’m always working with someone new. I’ve had various agents and my books have been published by different presses. Nothing is set in stone, which is okay.

So my expectations today are very different than the ones I used to have. I’m more realistic. I dreamed big in my teens and early twenties. I was in a writing slump in my mid-twenties, which I never thought would happen. By my late twenties, I had more bites from agents and editors. By my early thirties, I was finally going to conferences and joining critique groups, with yet more bites. In my mid thirties was when I got the ball rolling. I don’t expect to be a millionaire, but I’m happy writing, exploring new formats and genres, and getting my work published. And the more I write, who knows…maybe I will get that mansion and movie deal one day.
--
Medeia Sharif
YA and MG Author

Thank you to these four authors for sharing with us today.
What does your author dream look like at the moment? How far have you come on the journey? Any surprises along the way?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Insecure Writer's Support Group Post Day!

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts today are Charity Bradford, S.A. Larsen, AJ, Tamara Narayan, Allison Gammons, and Tanya Miranda!

Don’t forget the Insecure Writer’s Support Group t-shirt is available now! Designed by the very talented Jeremy Hawkins, members can now show their support and commitment to the group.

Purchase your IWSG shirt at the NeatOShop.


I wanted to point out that the awesome Julie Flanders wrote an article for College and Research Libraries News about some of the best websites for writers, and she listed the IWSG site!

We have some great guests here in the coming months, covering some great topics.

In order to continue being a great resource for you, what subjects would you like to see covered here? More about critiques, publishing, marketing, agents, book deals, etc.?
Let us know in the comments!