The Writers Circle: Gifts for Writers

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

With the holiday season upon us, thoughts turn to gifts for us or for our loved ones. What do you, as a writer, wish someone would give you as a gift this holiday season? What are you planning to give to the writers on your gifting list?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

Advice From Cats

or

Why You Cross the Street When You See a Writer Coming

Dale-Roe-AvatarI’ve always been fascinated by the creative process. And not the just the way we come up with ideas, but the nearly endless ways each of us has to shepherd those ideas to fruition.

It’s a time-tested method to shut off your internal editor during the process of creation. Many of us will dress this up with our own justifications, but what it all boils down to is that the inception of ideas is a process of creative thinking–and the tailoring and editing of ideas is a process of critical thinking–and those two kinds of thinking can’t happen at once. Coexistence doesn’t work because the creative can’t deal with this editor.

Of course, there is a time for that editor. The work that your internal editor does is at least as important as your raw creativity. This editor tweaks characters, tailors plots, smooths over rough scenes, or dialogue, or exposition. Without the editor, your writing would never progress beyond raw, unshaped, occasionally-clever prose.

But in order to be a decent author you need to let each of those processes have their time. Over the years I’ve developed a method to wall off my editor from my creator. What’s my secret?

My editor is my cat.

Go ahead and laugh. I’ll wait.

I don’t mean that literally, or course. I haven’t slipped that far into the realm of crazy cat guy. What I do is when I’m trying to reason something out, I explain it to my cat.

She’s helpful in two key ways. First, she’s a pretty good listener, and she’ll sit there for minutes on end as I elaborate on a tricky point. Second, she’s quite good at delivering a judgmental stare–so if I’m a bit unsure of an aspect of what I’m working on, I tend to over-explain, talking it to death. This desire to explain the rocky section, is generally a reliable sign that something’s just not working.

Now, a cat may not work as your editor. For one, you might not have a cat. Or maybe your cat doesn’t have the haughty glare of a librarian. Maybe your dog will work. My old Shih-Tzu would have been great, with those calm, wise eyes. But every other dog I’ve had would have been too willing to please.

Or maybe you are your own best editor. Maybe you can keep your two halves separate in a way I never could. Or maybe you just wind up arguing with yourself incessantly, mumbling plot devices and trying out different voices for your characters, regardless of who might be in earshot. It’s these writers who are often mistaken for schizophrenics–or Bluetooth addicts.

Just remember to keep your editor happy. A can of tuna often works.

Who is Today’s Author?

1186845_pen-friendAs I was considering this month’s post, I jumped to a ponderment (I’m a writer; I’m allowed to make up words).

Who exactly is

Today’s Author.

Are you different from Yesterday’s Author? Or My Mother’s Author? Or the guy with his name on thousands of books and hundreds of contracts? Why do readers visit a site with a name like

Today’s Author‘?

Well, I figured it out:

  • You’re half writer and half salesman, trying to get what you pen into print. Used to be, someone offered to do that for you. “Write for me and I’ll put your name in lights.” Now, you put your own name on Twitter feeds, blog headings, LinkedIn banners, and Facebook Fan Pages. Shy? Get over it.
  • You work many jobs. Used to be, a writer slaved in anonymity in a cheap apartment with a sponsor paying essential bills, waiting for the Best Selling Book. Or parents kept him/her in the family estate, happy their child was busy, not believing anything would come of it. Until it did. Today, you work a 9-5 gig, then write 7-midnight. And you believe with your entire being you can make it.
  • You don’t labor in solitude. Few authors do, despite the persona of the lonely figure hunched over a paper, pen gripped in a crabbed hand. Mostly, now, you engage with fellow writers in forums, PLNs, online hangouts. You share ideas, cheer each other up, spread the good word about what colleagues are writing and publishing. It’s not face-to-face, but that’s so last generation. Look at kids. Even in groups, they’re on digital devices, chatting with names on a screen.
  • When you get published, it is more likely to be non-traditional. All it takes is an internet connection, an Amazon account, and a loud virtual voice. The good news: You will statistically make as much money as the average agent-pubbed author.
  • You research mostly online. The world is so much smaller than it used to be. You know how to use Google Earth, virtual tours, and Street View Guy. Why would you need to fight the airlines and spend all that time and money?
  • You write–a lot. Even if you’re a novelist, you probably have a blog, a Twitter feed, an online group of friends, and write for a variety of ezines/websites/blog groups. If you are that one person in the world still writing in oblivion, that’ll change when you come out
  • You are any age–doesn’t matter. You may be 20 or 60 or 80. You write. You publish. You share. That’s what it’s about. Not chasing the golden ring, but flaunting the golden goose that continually provides those gems of inspiration for your articles.
  • You can’t be brought down. When the Universe rejects your latest Query letter, you use a rainbow. When Yet Another Agent sends Yet Another Form Letter, you figure it’s their loss–and mean it. The world is big enough for another self-pubbed author to make enough to pay the bills.

You may not have made a penny writing, but that’s the career cap that fits. Yesterday, the agents and publishers and professionals would have slammed the tent on your nose. This year, you enter by the front door, barely glancing at the cadre of gate keepers.

Today, you are an author.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate tech into education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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How to Kickstart Your Writing Career

music-23790_640You want to be a writer–have lusted after this golden ring since … forever. You took writing classes, attended seminars and conferences, read a whole bunch of books. You did NaNoWriMo, NaNoBloMo, entered contests. You finished a novel, sent it out–and nothing. It’s like the Void. No answer. No fireworks. No welcoming arms lauding your achievement. No excitement over the fulfillment of a decade of work.

No biggy. You know from talking to friends that it’ll be up to you to write, market, sell, and write some more.

But how do you do that?

You build a brand. You create a name so when people see you’ve written a book, they rush out to buy it–or at least, check it out.

How do you do this?

By writing.

A lot.

I have 110 published non-fiction books. You’d think by shear weight, I’d be famous. Anyone who’s published that much must be. Truth? No one would know me if I didn’t (constantly) work the marketing. Because I do, if you Google ‘tech teacher’, I’m on the first page (often above the fold). If you Google ‘Ask a tech teacher’ even without the quotes, I’m above the fold on the first page. If you Google ‘KidPix’ (a popular drawing software for K-5, one that gets tens of thousands of daily hits), I’m on the first page.

Why? Because I do the following:

  • blog. Constantly. I have 6 blogs and each focuses on one topic. I write 2-5 posts a week on each. I don’t mix posts (except for the rare crossover). I don’t do the ‘journal’ type blog, the one that tells readers everything you did with your day. I don’t believe those are as effective in branding you as addressing a single topic and making yourself the expert on it. And, I avoid politics. That’s incendiary. People get mean.
  • participate in social media like Twitter, G+. A few rules to making your social media presence effective:
    • be positive
    • be supportive
    • be up-beat
    • be helpful
    • be free
    • be focused. Follow people with your interests. Don’t follow others. This means I have 4 Twitter accounts, one for each of my interest areas.
    • don’t be commercial or sales-y. It doesn’t go over well in social media.
  • participate in what’s trending on the internet. I keep an open mind for new socialization methods. Who knew Pinterest would become the go-to place for spreading the word? Today, I get about 15% of my blog hits from this still-new networking approach. And how about Instagram? I never heard of it before my students mentioned it–over and over.
  • network. Join LinkedIn for business, FB and G+ for pleasure (although there’s a lot of crossover with G+. I’m now doing business hang-outs there)
  • join book groups like Goodreads, LibraryThing. If you love reading and writing, you need a presence there. I post all of my reviews on Goodreads and–much to my surprise–often hear from the authors. We chat, like normal people. Who knew they were so approachable?
  • link all your online media. When I post a blog, it is cross-posted on Twitter, FB, G+, LinkedIn, and any number of other social media locations of my choice. It makes me look busy, vibrant, alive, active–all good characteristics for a freelancer.
  • tell readers how to reach you and what you can do for them. Me, I created a separate gmail account so I wouldn’t have to share my personal one. I use it often in profiles, bios, and posts.
  • reblog your posts for six+ months ago to your Twitter stream. I use a cool widget that does it automatically for me. Early on, I realized I needed an inventory of articles to make my blog/etc look more robust, so I committed to writing every day for as long as I could stand it. Sure, it was a massive time drain, but eventually, I accomplished my goal of offering sufficient material that I looked experienced and knowledgeable. Currently, I have several thousand posts that my widget can draw on. Every four hours, it reposts one. Because I have many new followers, it’s new to them. I often see them retweeted and Scooped.
  • have Pillar Posts–a collection of your best writing that is easily accessible. Use it any time you are required to provide samples. I showcase twenty-four in the sidebar of my blog. This gives readers a taste of your writing skills. It gives prospective employers an idea of what they’ll get when they engage your journalistic skills.
  • write for free to spread the word. I got into a massive discussion about the wisdom of doing this. After many posts back and forth (and a large group of writers weighing in), even after being forced to delve into my reasons and understand the whys and whats, I remain convinced it is a good decision for me. I carefully select who gets my stuff for free, hoping they will get my name out to audiences who might not meet me otherwise or who I want to see me as knowledgeable in my area of expertise. I will write articles for my selected outlet for 6-12 months and then re-evaluate. Is it accomplishing my goals? Am I getting return hits? Does the splash back offset time requirements? I drop those who fail my test and add new ones.
  • attach a bio to each article you write. Mine includes a rundown on my expertise. I had trouble ‘bragging’ at first, but now I don’t even notice I’m doing it.
  • answer every contact you get. I take them all seriously because I appreciate the interest. I try to put myself in their shoes, consider their perspective as I address their question.
  • visit everyone who comments and/or ‘likes’ your posts. This is time consuming, but the best way to develop a network. I can’t tell until I’ve spent some time with new e-friends whether there’s synergy, so I invest the time.
  • share your knowledge–as much as possible–for free. Sure, you can’t share everything because there’d be nothing to sell, but the internet is about building the whole. A rising tide raises all ships should be its motto. If you’re not willing to become part of the community, you won’t make it there.

Because I do these fourteen activities relentlessly, people do notice me. I get requests to write reviews, analyze new products, serve on committees and boards, write columns for other ezines (like Cisco), consult in my area of expertise, mentor. It’s not a fortune, but it’s a living. I know from talking to people on my blogs, social networks, some even in person, that the goal isn’t wealth, rather to make a living doing what we love.

Follow these ideas. You can do it.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Follow me.