Writing Tricks and Blog Treats

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could go door-to-door on Halloween and get loaded up with insight from writers??? In some ways, that’s the internet–streets and houses chock-full of free goods. And until we’ve visited a particular house–website/blog, etc.–we don’t know what we’ll get. Some offer the BEST goods; so great, we return for more, share memorize their addresses and share them with friends. (“Dude, that house has king size Symphony bars!”) Others we wish we’d bypassed. (“A toothbrush? Are you serious?”)

But maybe you hate chocolate. (Ouch, that hurt.) Or have a…minty fresh breath fetish. What works for and pleases one writer’s appetite may not work or please another. That’s just one of the many beautiful things about this business.

A few WRITING TRICKS that work for me:

Make writing a high priority. Many of us struggle to balance writing and other responsibilities. My career took off once I made it a top priority. This meant sacrificing work opportunities I cared less about, at the risk of making less money, turning my ringer off during writing time and saying “no” to social functions that felt obligatory. As it turned out, this led to my making more money through writing. (Do what you love and love what you do, right? It pays off.)

Set and stick to deadlines. As a journalist, many of my deadlines are built in. Applying the same practice to my fiction does wonders for my productivity and work quality. (Creative juice can kick into high gear under pressure.) Deadline keeping also brings a level of professionalism that appeals to agents, publishers, editors and other industry professionals.

**Tip: If you have trouble holding yourself to self-concocted deadlines, join or start a critique group that requires x-number of pages per week or month. Or pal up with another writer. Just as gym buddies tend to exercise more successfully than unenthused singles, knowing a friend is expecting your work and bringing theirs is hugely motivating. Just don’t pick a friend who’s laxer than you. ;)

Read. A LOT. Like Stephen King says in his fantastic book, On Writing, “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write.” I’m always amazed when an aspiring, usually stuck, writer tells me they don’t read. And it happens fairly often. Write because you love writing, but because you loved reading first.

BLOG TREATS (Chock-full of tips for writers!)

If you enjoy the posts below, consider subscribing, following, posting comments, “liking,” Tweeting and/or emailing them about the cyber-sphere. Supporting their creators will inspire them to keep inspiring you and others. And you’ll be amazed at how much support and even friendship you may get in return. Enjoy!

Write Practice
Write From the Inside by Joe Bunting
Five Ways to Quit Being a BiPolar Writer by Joe Bunting

Kristen Lamb’s Blog
The Dark Side of Metrics–Writer Friend of Ticket to Crazy Town
Structure Part 4–Testing Your Idea–Is it Strong Enough to Make an Interesting Novel? 

Nathan Bransford’s Blog
Page Critique Thursday: The Importance of Staying with Your Character

Dystel & Goderich Literary Management
Conference Consternation by Michael Bourret

Writers in the Storm
Critique Groups: How to Find Your Dream Team 

Novel Rocket: Getting Your Book off the Ground
5 Books You Should Own by Gina Holmes

The Renegade Writer
The Number One Thing Holding You Back From Freelance Success

The Writers Help
Easy Writing Ingredients by Jackie Paulson

Paperback Writer
NaNoWriMo Prep IV: Ten Gems O’ Wisdom You Should Probably Ignore During NaNoWriMo by Lynn Viehl

Any tricks or treats you’d like to share??? I’d love to hear them.

Happy Mistakes (Oops! Blueberry Banana Bread Recipe)

We all make mistakes. Some teach us valuable lessons. Others, we wish never happened. Happy mistakes are serendipitous.

This scene from the movie Serendipity defines them well:

Jonathan: This is the ultimate blend to drink. How’d you find this place?
Sara: I first came in because of the name: Serendipity. It’s one of my favorite words.
Jonathan: It is? Why?
Sara: It’s such a nice sounding word for what it means: a fortunate accident.

Believed by some to be acts of fate, these “fortunate accidents” are all around us: the “wrong” relationship, or relationships, that lead us to Mr./Mrs. Right; the incorrect turn that lands us at a fabulous site; staining our favorite top so we must get a new one. ;)

The other night after placing a pan of banana bread in the oven, I had that “something’s not right…” feeling. Eggs. Completely forgot them. Rather than take the loaf out and scramble some in (not that I’ve done so before…or anything…), I left it. It still looked banana-bread-ish, after all. I threw in a few chocolate chips, because most everything tastes better with chocolate, and chalked it up to an experiment. Everyone who’s tried it has gone nutso over it. Gotta admit, I dig it, too.

So…next time life gives you brown bananas, but perhaps no eggs, why not bake this?

Oops! Blueberry Banana Bread 

  • 1 cup whole wheat four
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk w/1 T. vinegar* (I use almond or soy milk)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3.5 – 4 medium-sized ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (no need to thaw)
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (opt.)

    *To make a healthy buttermilk substitute, place 1 tbsp of vinegar in a half-cup measuring cup, then fill it to the top with low-fat milk.

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a standard-size loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Stir flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Add the brown sugar.In a medium bowl, combine oil, milk/vinegar mixture, vanilla extract and mashed bananas. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients. Gently stir in the blueberries. Pour batter into the pan. If desired, sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean.

Nutritional perks: Rich in fiber and antioxidants, low in sugar and saturated fat and cholesterol-free. The canola oil adds healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in brain function and moods.
What about you? Any happy mistakes to share? Recipes gone wrong the ultra-right? Perhaps we should start an “OOPS” cookbook… ;)

Meeting Deadlines with R & R

What do you do when you have several important deadlines upcoming? I say, take a break. Better yet, take several. I’m in this boat right now and plan to take half the day off.

I realize that this may sound contradictory. (“Lots of work ahead? May as well party!”) But bear with me; that’s not exactly what I mean…

Like many of you, I’m a workhorse, easily put into overdrive. What can we say? We’re excited, right? We love our work and are gosh darn going to complete it ASAP, as in yesterday. These attributes can become our Achille’s heal if we’re not careful.

Consider the following:

  • Allowing ourselves time to recharge, through active or inactive rest, brings freshness and sharpness to our creativity. Plowing through without breaks, on the other hand, can cause the words on the page to go fuzzy, disrupt our memory capabilities and have asking questions like, “Does ‘dog’ have one ‘g’ or two…?”
  • Relaxation techniques, like meditation and breathing exercises, can reduce stress, pain, anxiety, headaches and insomnia, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Any one of these ailments can hinder our deadline-meeting skills.
  • People in Germany work an average of nearly 400 fewer hours per year than Americans and live longer, more productive lives.
  • A study at Cornell University showed that workers alerted to rest and take short breaks from the computer typed the fastest and made up to 40% fewer mistakes than their non-resting counterparts.
  • The fact that Americans are taking continually shorter and fewer lunch breaks is of grande concern to experts like Dr. Rallie McCallister, who said, “Skipping any meal is detrimental. The brain is what most workers rely on and it does not have storage tanks for energy.”“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”Sydney J. Harris
Ways to work R&R into your day:
 
  • Eat balanced meals and snacks at regular time intervals, preferably in a calm, relaxing atmosphere. (Or at least without your laptop, cell phone or TV…)
  • If you feel stuck, stale or the need for rejuvenation, take a short walk around your block or neighborhood.
  • Work when you tend to feel energized and productive. Rest during the rest.
  • Take short breaks between each segment of your work–this could be pages, chapters or whatever measure you decide. If writing is your second or part-time job, take a break before shifting gears. Spend your break however you’d like, just make sure it’s enjoyable.
  • Take yourself on an “Artist’s Date.” The practice made famous by Julia Cameron’s bestselling book The Artist’s Way involves weekly R&R–just you and your artist self. Take crayons and a sketch pad to a park. Have your nails done. Take your pick.
  • Exercise. Regular physical activity relieves stress, boosts our moods, energy and mental focus. It also provides a great form of active meditation… Your mind wanders as your body moves. Valuable epiphanies can strike at any time.
Have you found a link between R&R and your craft? What do you do to relax?

Blog Blast: Literary Agents’ Advice for Writers

Happy weekend, all! As a followup to my last post, I’ve gathered recent posts composed by literary agents for writers. I hope you find them as insightful as I did.

Have the BEST book idea? Mike Larsen, of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents, shares 16 Questions for Test-Marketing Your Book Idea on his award-winning blog. 

Think your book is publish-ready? In her post, I Don’t Believe You, Janet Reid, of Fine Print Literary Management, suggests you think again.

Can publishers predetermine which books will sail to the top of the charts? No, according Jane Dystel of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Gain her insight here: A “Sure Thing?” 

Eager to attract an agent? Dawn Dowdle, of Blue Ridge Literary Agency, shares her top pointers here: Agent Advice.

Frustrated by having to write AND build your platform? Read Publishing in a Brave New World: Rachel Gardner, of WordServe Literary Group, on the value of publishers and why authors should stop complaining about platform-building.

Thinking of wallpapering your home with rejection letters? Carly Watters, associate agent at the P.S. Literary Agency, tells us How to Avoid the Rejection Blues.

Thinking of attending a writer’s conference? Learn How to “Pick-Up” a Literary Agent and other conference tips from former literary agent and founder and CEO of Literary Agent Undercover, Mark Malesta.

Pssst! Contrary to popular belief, literary agents are not only humans, but often congenial, helpful and sharp as whips. (Few pout as much as Rosie.) The first agent to read my manuscript sent me such a kind “rejection” letter, I considered adding his family to my holiday gift list. My perhaps worst response came from a woman who said she found my novel “quite disturbing” and that I best convert the whole thing into a family drama. Seeing as I write suspense thrillers, I wasn’t offended. ;) I did, however, question my agents-to-approach picking skills…

Have an agent-related story to share? Lessons you’ve learned or are grappling with?

How I Met My Agent (And You Could, Too)

If you’re like many writers, the moment you stamped “complete” on your revised and polished manuscript, you dove into agent-seeking mode. By the time I did so, I’d asked numerous authors how they landed their agents. And wouldn’t you know, every darn story was different. Gregg Hurwitz met his through an internship. Chris Rice was born lucky. (And talented.) His mother is the renowned author, Anne Rice. Ernessa T. Carter got hers through a good ‘ol fashioned query letter. And Stacy O’Brien, via the Southern California Writers Conference. 

A multitude of options exist for writers seeking representation. I believe in taking advantage of all of them. So I sent out a slew of e-queries and signed up for several writers conferences. I’m happy to say that my efforts paid off last July at AgentFest–the “pitch session” portion of ThrillerFest–in NYC. The coordinators asked me to share some insight on my experience, which I was *thrilled* and eager to do. ;) Here’s the story, which appears on their website:

Something Did Happen
By August McLaughlin

“So you’re going to fly across the country to one of the most expensive cities to attend a pricy conference? What if nothing happens?” a friend asked after I registered for AgentFest.

“I’m going. Something already is happening,” I replied, sensing that his skepticism was geared more toward his stay-in-Los Angeles plans than mine to attend.

I’d been to three other conferences since completing my novel, IN HER SHADOW. And although I benefited from every one, I’d met a grand total of twelve agents, several of whom did not represent thrillers. AgentFest provided an opportunity to “speed date” with rooms full of agents in my genre. (Can we say ‘heaven’???) Considering the stockpile of queries agents routinely receive, I figured any chance to stand out, demonstrate my commitment as an author and bypass the risks of accidental email deletions was worthwhile. Plus, what other opportunity do we have for immediate feedback?

It was costly, so I asked myself this: If you end up landing an agent at this conference, would the airfare, hotel and conference fees be worth it? Absolutely.

Lucky for me, that happened.

Before the two-and-a-half-hour pitch session, I stood in a long line of anxious writers, my heart pounding and palms sweating as though it really was an important first date. Thanks to a suggestion from the ThrillerFest website, I had my one-line, “What if . . .” statement prepared and an armful of information sheets with a synopsis of my novel and my name, photo and contact information.

I pitched to twelve agents and two editors. (Thankfully, my knees stopped shaking after my first.) Thirteen requested materials. About a month later, I received two emails requesting phone calls to discuss representation—one from John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. I knew as soon as I read John’s that I wanted to sign with him; he was my top choice of the twelve. We chatted by phone and I signed a contract the following day.

Even if I hadn’t gained representation, I would not have regretted attending. As writers, we often lead solitary lives. There’s little better than submersing ourselves in a community of others who “get” us—share similar passions and relate to the world through words and stories. You also get a gift bag of books and the opportunity to hear fantastic speakers. In this way, AgentFest beats most every conventional date I’ve been on.

I feel extremely blessed, both to have had the opportunity to attend AgentFest and to be working with agent John Rudolph.

As for my skeptical pal, he’s already signed up for next year.

******

ThrillerFest 2012 will take place July 11th – 14th in New York City. To learn more, visit ThrillerFest.com. Sign up now for an early bird discount!

For a database of literary agents and publishers, visit:
Query Tracker (Allows you to track queries sent and responses received–for free!)
Writer’s Market (Allows you to agent-seek and utilize plentiful writing/publishing resources for a modest monthly fee)
Agent Query (Super user-friendly “quick search” options – all free!)

To find writers conferences in your genre or geographical area, visit:
 Writers Conferences & Centers

What about you? Seeking an agent? Planning to pitch at a conference? Have an agent and willing to share your story? I’d love to hear from you!

Amanda Kyle Williams on Writing, Inspiration & Her Latest Hit

I was packing my bags in New York after attending ThrillerFest this past summer and nearly left Amanda Kyle Williams’ The Stranger You Seek as the hotel maid’s gift. Don’t get me wrong. The cool-book-take-away is a major perk of writer’s conferences. But I was using all of my might to close my overstuffed suitcase and refused to pay the $30 fee for checking it. (A matter of principle. Besides, wouldn’t you prefer books in lieu of cash tips?)

But then I read the first page. And the next and the next… I couldn’t put it down. The “stranger” I nearly abandoned kept me enthralled through a subway ride, airport security lines, a layover and a lengthy flight to Los Angeles, so much so I jumped when the flight attendant asked whether I’d like a beverage.

If you love thrillers, mysteries, suspense, captivating characters, supreme wittiness, great stories and great writing…Heck, if the last book you read was that dilapidated phone book in the back of your closet…I suggest you read this book. It’s so fantastic, I feel guilty having not shared it with the hotelkeeper and my bookworm heart aches at the thought of nearly missing it. (Reaches for a tissue. ;))

What others are saying about The Stranger You Seek:

“An electrifying thriller debut, The Stranger You Seek introduces a brash, flawed, and unforgettable heroine in a complex, twisting novel that takes readers deep into a sultry Southern summer, a city in the grips of chaos, and a harrowing cat-and-mouse game no reader will ever forget.”—Random House

“This is a character-driven, nonstop thriller with flashes of wit and romance that builds to a harrowing climax; fans of the genre will want to get in at the start.” —Booklist

“An explosive, unpredictable, and psychologically complex thriller that turns crime fiction cliches inside out….Those looking for a strong female protagonist not a sexpot and as intelligent, tough, and flawed as any male thriller hero will be richly rewarded.” Publishers Weekly 

Now, without further ado, Ms. Amanda Kyle Williams…


AM: THE STRANGER YOU SEEK is what one might call your “breakout” novel. How does it feel to move from pre-published mystery novelist to celebrated author?
AKW: Well, it is my first major market novel so I’m pretty excited.  It’s okay to walk up and down the street wearing a sandwich sign advertising it, right?   To be honest, I’m still a little amazed. I’m a new name in mainstream crime fiction, but I’ve been blessed with some really fabulous reviews from Publisher’s WeeklyKirkusBooklist, and The New York Times. And some wonderful established writers have taken me under their wing and been very kind in helping to promote the book. I have a great publishing house that supports me and is willing to invest in the success of this series. We’re hoping word will spread about a new kind of thriller with a very different kind of protagonist.

AM: Your main character is unique and likable. We really feel as though we’re in her head. How did you come up with Keye Street?
AKW: She’s in my head too.  Can you make her go away? Seriously. Okay, I’m kidding. Kind of. Truth is, Keye sort of just arrived on my doorstep fully formed. It’s the only experience I’ve ever had like this in creating a character. I heard her voice, her irreverent tone; I saw her face.  I knew a whole lot about her without doing any of the preliminary work I would normally do in sketching out a character. I really have no explanation for this. Keye was handed to me. But it took a bit of inspiration to get to that point.

I knew I wanted to write crime fiction. I’d been doing my homework for years to prepare to write a criminal investigative analyst intelligently. I wanted to understand how an analyst or profiler would approach a crime scene, an investigation, how one might work with a police department, and how a police department would work with a consultant. So all this had been running through my head, but I hadn’t found that voice, that right character. I ended up finding it in the most unusual place.

I was at my brother’s house one Thanksgiving. He had adopted my niece Anna from China as an infant. She was four or five that year. So this gorgeous Asian child looks up at me and says something. I don’t even remember what because I was so knocked over by her accent. She’d learned her English in the hills of North Georgia and she sounded like Ellie May Clampett. I started thinking on the drive back to Atlanta that night about what it would be like to grow up looking different from the neighbors in the South, while being a full-fledge Southerner.

I began to envision a character with these differences: Chinese, adopted by white southern parents. I pulled over that night on the Interstate and wrote the early lines for the book.  Everything else about Keye Street just landed on me. Her insecurities, her sense of humor, her propensity for inappropriate laughter,  and her Krispy Kreme habit.  And the dark side— her other addictions and demons, her past with alcohol, intimacy issues,  and her ability to make sense of behaviors evidenced at a crime scene. I was working two and sometimes three jobs at the time so it took more years to finish the book, but it began for me that night when Keye was born on I-75 South to Atlanta.

AM: What’s your writing process like?
AKW:
Well I can tell you that it was much more disciplined before The Stranger You Seek was released. Publicity is a welcome distraction. I’m so grateful for it. But it is certainly a distraction.  I’m fighting now to get back to my usual, which is treating it like a job, showing up after morning dog walks and chores by about ten a.m., and putting in a minimum of six hours, more if I have it in me. I’m a slow writer and a relentless content editor. I’m that writer that will spend an hour tweaking one sentence and feeling unable to move forward until it’s tweaked. This slows the process. It’s not recommended. I’ve read all kinds of books about silencing the editor within but it’s not happening for me.

AM: Please tell me you have a cat named White Trash! ;) What role do animals play in your writing? 
AKW: That’s so funny. Actually, my first cousin had a cat named White Trash many years ago. I thought it was hilarious. I was committed to bringing her to the page one day, this cat with the bad attitude and a mighty sense of entitlement. Animals are part of my life and, in fact, every one of my friends has animals. I had a pet sitting and dog walking business before I was a writer full-time, and I’m a founding director at a local no-kill shelter, which I link to on my website www.AmandaKyleWilliams.com. When I’m traveling, I miss my dogs and my cats. Besides bad coffee, I’m finding it’s the hardest part of leaving home.

It feels natural to bring this to my writing in small ways. Keye’s mother, Emily Street, has been working in the humane community for years and is kind of the crazy cat lady on the block. I will bring a dog into one of my character’s life by the end of the second book, Stranger In The Room.  I don’t want to distract from the fact that I’m writing a thriller series. The books are creepy as hell. But it feels natural for my characters to have to think about getting home to feed a cat or hire a dog walker or whatever.  And I will never, ever harm an animal in fiction. Never. I heard writers on a panel not long ago saying they do this to illustrate the disposition of their killer. Whatever. I’m not doing it.

AM: What do you find most challenging about writing?
AKW: 
Just f-ing doing it, man. (Laughing) Sitting down. Being still. Being calm. Clearing out the cobwebs.  Listening to the story, to the characters. Slogging through the first few hours of writing total crap to get to the good stuff.  The good stuff will come if I just trust the process and nail myself to the chair. Some days this is easier than others.

AM: What do you love most?
AKW: Reading back through something and discovering it works, that it flows, that it’s smarter than I am, that somehow my writing took flight.  That and hearing my editor say the draft was approved.

AM: Any tips for up-and-coming authors?
AKW: Don’t wait for the big idea. Don’t wait for a rush of inspiration. Just sit down and start building a foundation brick-by-brick, word-by-word. The inspiration comes for me after I’ve pushed through building some kind of framework. That’s when you get to write the fun stuff.

AM: Can we look forward to more Keye Street adventures soon?
AKW:
Absolutely. Stranger In The Room is being polished up right now and will be released sometime summer/fall 2012. The third book in the series, Don’t Talk To Strangers, comes out in 2013. Bantam will publish the next two. I have many more books planned in the series. And we’re fielding offers to adapt The Stranger You Seek for a television series… Did that sound cool or what? Like this kind of stuff happens all the time. I’m practicing being all casual. Apparently squealing like a little girl and jumping up and down is embarrassing to my friends and family. Go figure.

******

CONTEST! Purchase The Stranger You Seek and email me a copy of your receipt. I’ll place your name in a drawing for a $15 Amazon.com gift card.

Any thoughts to share with the fabulous Amanda Kyle Williams? Favorite books you almost didn’t read? I always love hearing from you.

Aaron Johnson on Painting and Passionate Pursuits

When we were kids, it seemed I couldn’t make enough noise around my brother. I chased him and his friends around, singing, giggling and squealing, and lost the “see how long we can be quiet” game within seconds every time. What can I say? He was my cool big brother and I was…excitable. Today, though he remains one of the coolest people I know, his artwork leaves me speechless.

Aaron’s latest show, Freedom From Want, is a “bold reflection on the decaying excesses of our insatiable culture,” according to a press release. The glimmering pieces feature gruesome, sadistic, venom-spewing monsters and address heavy issues, from the cruelty of war to the “absurd intersection of religion and government.”

Every wall of Stux Gallery features his psychedelically colorful paintings of grand size and grander meaning. As you step toward each one, tens, if not hundreds, of stories reveal themselves. His paintings aren’t mere images or decor, though they are beautiful to look at, but poignant experiences.

Aaron took time out of his busy, bohemian life to share some insight. (Thanks, Bro!)

You use a highly unusual technique to create your works. How would you describe the process to a layperson?
I invented my process through kind of a mad-scientist approach toward painting. These days the process involves painting in reverse on clear plastic sheeting, building up layers of paint onto the plastic, and finally peeling all that paint off the plastic and mounting it on a polyester net.

I’ve always been inspired by your decision to switch gears from pre-med to art. What was the process of making that decision like?
It was a really natural transition. I had been painting and drawing as a hobby all through college, then after I graduated I went to live in Honduras for a year, postponing medical school because I wasn’t feeling excited about it. In Honduras I was volunteering with a social work group, and I had plenty of free time so I painted a lot, so much that it became my primary interest. After Honduras I decided to move to NYC to try to make it as an artist.

What inspired you to create “Freedom From Want?”
This body of work began with a painting that was my reinterpretation of a Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom From Want,” his famous Thanksgiving painting. I am interested in representing the changing notion of America as we’ve shifted from the American Dream of Rockwell’s visions to the current American Nightmare of today’s reality. That point of view is variously explored through other paintings in this exhibition, reflections on the concoction of war, consumerism, corruption, collapse, greed, brutality, and religious violence that is our contemporary world.

For the foodies among us, I have to ask: What’s with all the vittles in your work?
I mainly use food as a direct metaphor for consumerism, greed, desires. I paint monsters ravenously gorging themselves as a reflection of our ultra-consumerist culture.

Which painting in the exhibition is your favorite?
It’s hard to say, depending on the day, a different painting may resonate with me the most. I’d say “Tea Party Nightmare” may be the most important piece to me because it specifies the political critique that is more open ended in the other pieces.

What aspect of your career are you most proud of?
I’m really grateful that I do what I love to do for a living, and I’m fortunate to be exhibiting so that many people see my work. Along with that privilege I also feel a serious responsibility to work really hard, and to make work that communicates and engages a social consciousness.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I tend to roll out of bed, eat breakfast, and get to work in the studio right away. I spend a lot of hours painting and listening to NPR.

What would surprise people most about you or artistry in general?
About me: I’m a really mild-mannered guy, not a crazy monster like the paintings may suggest. About Art: it’s a lot of really hard work.

Any advice for up-and-coming artists?
Pursue the work that you love to do. To learn more, visit Aaron Johnson’s homepage.

What do you love about art–whether visual, literary or otherwise? What inspires you to create it? Any thoughts or questions for Aaron?

Boost Your Writing Willpower

A beggar approaches a well-dressed woman and says, “I haven’t eaten anything in four days.”

“God,” she says, turning to face him. “I wish I had your willpower.”

Sad joke, right? I think so, namely because it’s realistic. As a society, we seem to have a somewhat convoluted idea of willpower is. In my humble opinion… ;)

Recently I had the opportunity to interview several experts on the topic, including renowned social psychologist and researcher Roy F. Baumeister. His latest research is featured in “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” a book I highly recommend. He and Karen R. Koenig, a licensed psychotherapist and author of “The Rules of ‘Normal’ Eating” addressed willpower, whether it exists, how it relates to diet and how to strengthen it. (To read the full article, click here.)

“Willpower is a traditional folk term based on the idea that a person uses some energy to resolve inner conflicts and do the right thing,” Baumeister told me. “Self-control is how you change your responses, and willpower is an essential ingredient of that process.”

We experience temptation for about 4 hours each day, according to his research, with a success rate of about 50 percent. Snack foods, that extra nap, the TV, sex, internet popups and social media can lure us from tasks, making it difficult to complete them with efficient ease. Because we have a limited supply of willpower, says Bauermeister, using it wisely is key.

So how does this relate to writing? Whether you believe in willpower or not, we can all benefit from increasing our willingness, desire and success in sitting our butts down and writing well. Right???

Willpower-Boosting Steps:

1. Set realistic goals. Most people fail to do this, setting themselves up for failure and disappointment. Rather than aim to write 10,000 words per day or four books per year (unless your publishing deal demands it), aim for five to 10 pages per day or a reasonable amount of time each week.

2. Eat well. Maintaining positive glucose levels in your brain, which stems from carbohydrates, promotes heightened willpower and self-control. Sugary sweets provide a short burst of glucose, which can be helpful for immediate, short-term goals (like a last-minute writing contest, for example). Otherwise, aim for balanced meals and snacks throughout each day, emphasizing complex carbohydrate sources. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are useful options. Don’t partake in dieting or let too much time pass without eating.

3. Practice. Willpower functions like a muscle, according to Baumeister. If we fail to practice it, we’ll fail to grow. If we stay atop those realistic goals we’re likely to not only reach them, but increase our ability to demonstrate self-control in general. If you struggle with writing daily, for example, try every day, in small increments. It will get easier.

4. Write with passion. I personally believe that fulfilling our heart’s desires facilitates willpower, self-control and success. This is why we may feel entirely unmotivated to do, say, math or taxes (blech!), but spring out of bed with gusto in the morning knowing we get to write. If you love writing, write. And choose topics you love.

5. Sleep enough. Even a mild sleep deficiency can zap our creativity and abilities to focus, learn and remember. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night.

Any steps to add? Challenges you’re facing? Challenges you’ve overcome? I’d love to hear from you. In either case, stay well and write merry. ;)

Stories: Where the Truth Comes Out

Last week I visited my brother, an uber-talented artist, in New York. A tremendous highlight was a decadent curry dinner, made by Mom and shared with a group of fellow artists – painters, writers, a poet, a sculptor, a weaver… Although we varied by medium, we had much in common — including the fact that we express ourselves through art.

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.” ― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

I think Atwood’s right. If we judge what we write too much, it loses any hope for authenticity — whether we write nonfiction or fiction.

I imagine that many of us discover truths about life, our experiences and our emotions through our writing. (In other words write first, understand yourself later. ;))

This song is a prime example. I wrote it, not realizing until the last line that it depicted me:

Thankfully, I’m no longer in that place. And I sincerely believe that composing the song helped me out of it.

What about you? Do you discover much about yourself in your stories? Or do you cope with emotions, stress or conflicts by writing through them?

How to Write Efficiently on Planes

Lemme guess. You can relate to this:

Your right elbow is two centimeters from your neighboring passenger’s and if his eyes wander toward your computer screen ONE MORE TIME, you’ll use it. The woman in front of you finally stopped yapping at the top of her vocal capabilities only to recline her chair back so far back it nearly crushes your beloved laptop, ripping you from the end of what was sure to be your most poignant sentence to date. (Crap! What was I saying???) She then snores through your none-too-subtle knee jabs to her back, which seems to trigger a nearby infant’s screaming fit. But you have three uninterrupted hours to WRITE! And dang-nabbit, you’re going to.

How you ask? Here is what’s working—er, um…I imagine would work, for me… ;)

1. Open a document or web page featuring information sure to off-put your neighbor. StopVaginitisNow.com for example, quickly deters young, embarrass-able males… Self-Pleasure Techniques for Her can stave off a persnickity, anti-feminist female. (Caution: Do not mistakenly use option B for passenger A.)

2. Type I KNOW YOU’RE READING THIS, BUSTER! (Insert more “colorful” terms as desired) in bold, large letters.

3. Gather up your frustration and convert it into writing fuel. Use your anger to strategically kill off the bad guy…your despair to convey the loneliness an imprisoned woman feels knowing she may never pursue her dreams…your humor to write a goofy satire involving a frustrated writer whose trouble-filled plane ride leads to fortune, fame and countless best-sellers… ;)

Ideas to add? I’m all ears. My row buddy might appreciate it, too. (Yeah, YOU!) 

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