Drought or Deluge By Catherine Dilts

Are you in a slump? You are not alone. The majority of authors are juggling day jobs, school, family, and other responsibilities. Consistency can be difficult to maintain. You get on a creative binge, churning out page after page of your next great story, and suddenly life intervenes, plugging that creative well. I have three suggestions to help you take advantage of times of drought or deluge.

  • Log your time or your output

Some writers track pages per week or words per day. I use an Excel spreadsheet to track hours spent on actual writing and separate out critique, volunteer, and business hours. I even note life events that disrupt my writing time. Come up with a system that works for you.

 

Seeing your time or output can motivate you to keep writing until you hit your goal. It can relieve guilt during times when life legitimately gets in the way, and you can still see baby step progress despite adversity. Writing is the sort of activity that the more you do it, the easier it gets to slide into that creative zone. Write frequently, even if all you can manage is fifteen minutes at a time.

 

Once you start tracking time/output, you will begin to see a pattern of drought and deluge.

 

  • Surviving Drought

Writing can be a lonely task devoid of reward. Inspiration may dry up from time to time. There are things you can do to make it through a creative drought.

 

Experiment with your writing schedule. If you’re too exhausted at the end of the day to be creative, try waking up an hour earlier, and writing when you have morning energy. Can you write during your lunch break? In a coffee shop for thirty minutes on the way home from work? Do you write best at night, when the rest of the household is in bed? Change things up. Try something new.

 

To stoke the creative fires, clear your head. Go for a walk. Meditate. Get away from distractions like your phone, television, all those things that scramble your brainwaves. Enjoy a creative hobby like sewing, painting, woodworking. Put together a jigsaw puzzle.

 

For a serious creative drought, dip into your reservoir of rough drafts and story idea files. Try switching gears to focus less on art and more on craft.

 

  • Creating a Reservoir from Your Times of Deluge

Times of drought can result in stunted creativity and blunted motivation. In contrast, there are times of deluge – creative downpours where story ideas, character descriptions, and even entire scenes race out of your head and onto the computer screen. When the fever is on you, commit those ideas to paper or computer. Don’t sweat the polishing. That comes later.

 

Make use of those precious stretches of inspired writing to stock up for the times of drought. I’ve heard many authors relate how they pulled an old story draft out of a drawer, polished it, and sold it. Or maybe you’re talking to an agent at a writers’ conference, and he or she asks, “what else have you got?” Draw that idea from your well-stocked reservoir.

 

Keep a file of story ideas, either electronically or in a paper filing system. Hang on to those stories that just aren’t working. Maybe you need time to gain the right perspective on how to tell the story. When creativity dries up, or you don’t have a juicy stretch of time to brainstorm ideas, drag something out of your reservoir of unfinished work.

 

Learn the cycles and rhythms of your writing life by tracking your time or output. Stock your creative reservoir during times of deluge, so you have something to work on when the Muse has abandoned you. When your well is dry, focus on the craft side of fiction writing by editing rough drafts. You won’t stay stuck forever. Eventually, the deluge will return. Be ready!

 

Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She takes a turn in the multi-author cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library. Working in the world of hazardous substances regulation, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. The two worlds collide in Survive Or Die. You can learn more about Catherine’s fiction at http://www.catherinedilts.com/ Contact her at catdiltsauthor@gmail.com.

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Keep Dreaming by Jane Tesh

Sometimes in life you’re faced with a difficult decision.  You have to stop and ask yourself, “How much am I willing to compromise to get what I want?  What is my dream worth to me?”

Many years ago B.C. (Before Computers), I was eighteen and finally realized what I had been doing all my life, writing stories and poems and plays, could be my career.  My goal in life was to have a book published.  At the time, self-publishing was very expensive and the product didn’t look very good, so from the beginning, I wanted to be traditionally published.  For all you young folks out there, that meant typing your novel on a typewriter, correcting mistakes with Wite-Out or Correcto-Tape, very messy and time-consuming techniques, finding a box the right size, making sure you had enough return postage, mailing it to New York, and waiting months and months for a rejection slip. This went on for years until something magical happened: personal computers and the internet.

Woo hoo!  Now I could cut and paste and delete with ease. Now I had my own printer instead of having to haul three hundred pages down to the copy shop. Now I could email queries and sample chapters, save tons of money on postage, and be rejected in no time, at all!  Then a real miracle happened.  After twenty years of sending manuscripts out and getting them back, I got an agent. Okay, this was it!  My future was assured!

Just one slight problem.

 

My agent said she could sell my book if I changed my hero to a woman.  At the time, mystery authors with female protagonists were all the rage.  I understood this.  However, my Grace Street series featured a private investigator named David Randall.

In the first book, Stolen Hearts, Randall, struggling with the death of his little daughter, had come to stay with his best friend Camden, who was psychic and also a man, in Cam’s boarding house at 302 Grace Street, in my fictional city of Parkland, North Carolina.  Having a setting like 302 Grace allowed all kinds of characters to move in and out as the series progressed, including Kary Ingram, Randall’s love interest, and Camden’s girlfriend, Ellin Belton, head of the Psychic Service Network.  Way too many relationship problems to solve if Randall became a woman.  Maybe there was a way out.

So I tried another angle. I wrote a book with a female PI, ex-beauty queen Madeline “Mac” Maclin and her con-man boyfriend, Jerry Fairweather, and set this book in a small fictional town much like my town of Mt. Airy, NC.  I called it A Case of Imagination.  Okay, now we’re good to go, I thought.

            My agent didn’t like it.

Here’s where the story gets dark.  I spent quite a few sleepless nights thrashing this out.  I’d waited twenty years for a breakthrough.  I finally had an agent.  She was telling me what I could do to get published, and I couldn’t do it.  I’d spent those twenty years creating characters I loved, and I had thirteen manuscripts all finished.  If David Randall became Donna Randall, the relationship between Randall and Cam would be dramatically different.  So would Randall’s relationship with Kary.  If I changed Randall, I had to change his entire world.  My entire world.

I couldn’t do it.

The hardest phone call I’ve ever had to make was the one I made to my agent.  We parted ways, and I went back to Writer’s Market.  Many years later, I found Poisoned Pen Press.  They didn’t require an agent.  Ironically, the first book they published was A Case of Imagination, but since then, they’ve published four more of Madeline’s adventures and so far, six of the Grace Street mysteries with everyone’s original gender intact.

I started my quest when I was eighteen.  I received my first book contract when I was fifty-five.  It took longer than I’d hoped to be an overnight success, but I learned a lot about myself in the process.  I’m grateful I didn’t have to compromise on my dream.  So is David Randall.

~~~

Jane Tesh, a retired media specialist, lives in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s hometown, the real Mayberry.  She is the author of the Madeline Maclin mysteries and the Grace Street Series. Her mysteries are set in fictional North Carolina towns and are on the light side with humor, romance, and a touch of the paranormal. They are published by Poisoned Pen Press. She is also the author of four fantasy novels, Butterfly Waltz, A Small Holiday, The Monsters of Spiders’ Rest, and Over the Edge, published by Silver Leaf Books.  When she isn’t writing, Jane enjoys playing the piano and conducting the orchestra for productions at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.

 

“A P.I. and a psychic team up to solve a series of crimes.  Tesh gets her new series off to a promising start.”

Kirkus on Stolen Hearts

 

“A gratifying blend of the surprising and the spirited.”

Publishers Weekly on Stolen Hearts

 

“The mystery plot is convincing and motives abound, but the vivid characters are the main draw, in particular the wryly observant Randall, who narrates the story with verve. Fans of cozies with a paranormal twist will be rewarded.”

Publisher’s Weekly on Death by Dragonfly

 

“Beauty pageant tomfoolery and psychic shenanigans add comic zest to Tesh’s cozy debut.”

Publishers Weekly on A Case of Imagination

 

“Mac’s fifth adventure is just as quirky as its predecessors with the bonus of a stronger, more complex mystery.”

Kirkus on Evil Turns

Naming Your Characters by Mary Reed

Ah, the writer’s eternal conundrum — what to do about naming your characters? At times it seems as if every name you can think of belongs to someone you know, which can give you pause.

Sometimes a character name just pops into your head. Isis O’Reilly presented herself to my attention in that very way over two decades ago. She still has not been made her bow to the public although one of these days she may leap into view. But consider the name: it suggests someone of Irish heritage whose mother was interested in mythology. And right there you have the beginnings of constructing a character, one of the important considerations in picking names IMHO.

Unfortunately, the writer has to find the right name before foundations can be laid. So proceeding on this notion, let us consider ethnic names. Here there be listings of interest, as well as links to pages of
offering unusual or biblical names:

http://www.top100-babynames.net/ethnic-names.html

Speaking of unusual names, the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources database offers a mix of exotic and more familiar names, satisfying both camps engaged in the “what should I name my characters” wars.

http://dmnes.org/names

Helena Swan’s Girl’s Christian Names, Their History,  Meaning and Association appeared in the early 1900s. Here it might be as well to mention that in the UK a Christian name is equivalent to the US
forename. The index makes it easy to pick a name, given they range from Abigail to Zoe with fascinating notes about them, just as the title states.

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015058460588;view=1up;seq=7

Genealogy sites, ancient phonebooks, census records, and newspaper archives are fruitful sources, and all are easily found online. Another good source is the Social Security Administration website, which hosts a list of popular baby names by decade.

https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/decades/

Poll lists are handy too. For example, picking a random block of five names from the 1880 New York City list produced Isaac Shedwick, William Smith Jr., Nicholas Stilwell, Lawrence Seabry, and Tobias Stoutenburg. Not surprisingly, this is a fertile source for male names given it was published quite some time before women were granted suffrage.

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t8ff44f9v;view=1up;seq=12

Creating a character hailing from Europe or descended from immigrants therefrom? The index of Robert Ferguson’s Surnames as a Science offers a dizzying amount of information on the topic. His index prints foreign names in italics along with their national origin. Dutch, Danish, French, German, Italian, and Spanish names are covered.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/37520/37520-h/37520-h.htm

Speaking of foreign names, with a bit of a mix ‘n’ matching Gutenberg’s index of books could well be useful. This page lists authors whose works appear in languages from Afrikaans to Yiddish. Stick a pin in here and there and who knows what character names will result!

http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/

If all else fails, there are always those most useful standby, character name generators. This site can provide over 200,000 name possibilities, individual results produced by specifying  gender, language,
nationality, parents’ names, friends, and other factors relevant to your character.

https://www.name-generator.org.uk/character/

Some of my test drive results: Trinity Kaufman, Fynn Mccray, Azaan Rangel, and in a touch of woo-woo Reed Tilly. Amazing to relate, generated names are linked to their own bios including family details,
work, current relationship if any, hobbies, and a physical description. Can’t beat that with big stick!

A quick search of a second random name producer generated Georgetta Bourdeau, Dori Essex, Hilaria Wollman, and Wan Yoakum. Each is linked to others with the same first name or surname, so it’s particularly useful for naming characters’ relatives.

http://listofrandomnames.com/

As for Isis O’Reilly, she’s still waiting for her fifteen minutes of fame. One of these days…

Social Media FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) by Amy Reade

The first thing I learned on the road to publication was that social media is not optional for writers. In fact, I learned that lesson upon receipt of my very first rejection letter.

I knew about Facebook and Twitter, of course, but I had better things to do with my time. There was no way I was going to join social media. Everyone knew it was nothing more than a gossipy time suck.

But the day came when I got that first rejection letter in the mail and it came with a powerful message. The editor liked my book, but when she Googled my name?

Crickets.

She suggested that I resubmit my manuscript after exploring different social media platforms and doing something to get my name out there, to get a following of some kind.

I took her words to heart and signed up for Facebook that day. Then I started a blog and joined Twitter. Before long I had designed my website and joined Tumblr, too. And Google+. And LinkedIn. And everything else anyone suggested that I join.

You can probably see where this is headed. Before long I had my hands in everything except SnapChat, and I only refrained from joining that because my kids wouldn’t let me I didn’t want to embarrass my kids.

But I wasn’t enjoying myself. I wasn’t taking the time I needed to learn about each platform—I was just out there trying everything, waiting to see if anything was sticking. More importantly, I wasn’t taking the time to engage on each platform. I had a bad case of FOMO. I was afraid that if I wasn’t involved in everything, I would miss something important, some opportunity that wouldn’t come along anywhere else.

It finally hit me one day when I was scrolling through a platform that had me thoroughly befuddled and shall remain nameless: this is not working.

I closed out of that platform right then and there and have never logged back in. And it feels so good. And then I did the same thing with three other platforms that weren’t working for me. And again, you can probably see where this is headed.

It feels so good.

I kicked my FOMO to the curb and have come to realize that the opportunities I was afraid of missing have increased tenfold because I’m actually being social. The secret wasn’t to be a little bit invested in a lot of places online—the secret was to be fully invested in a few places.

Today things are different. Today I’m active on social media, but I have a manageable slate of platforms and a schedule that works for me and allows me to do the most important thing an author has to do: write that next book.

So here’s my plan:

Every day (well, almost every day) I am active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. I use each platform for a different purpose, but they all have one thing in common: when I’m done with my marketing work, I leave. I may return later if I’m taking a break, but the marketing and promoting are done first thing in the morning.

Every day I also read other blogs. Readers’ blogs, writers’ blogs, industry insiders’ blogs. Some I read on occasion; some I never miss. And very often I’ll leave a comment—a lot of people don’t think of this as being part of social media, but to me it’s a very important component.

Once a week I post to my own blog.

Once a month I send out a newsletter.

As necessary, I maintain my website and author pages on BookBub, Amazon, and Goodreads.

For me, losing my Social Media FOMO was an important step in learning to be engaged on social media and making those essential connections with readers and other writers. Losing my FOMO made me realize that with some judicious trimming and some discipline, I can have a positive social media plan that allows me to reach my goals and stay engaged on the platforms that matter most to me.

What does your social media plan look like?

 

Amy M. Reade’s bio:

Amy M. Reade is a cook, chauffeur, household CEO, doctor, laundress, maid, psychiatrist, warden, seer, teacher, and pet whisperer. In other words, in addition to being a writer, she is a wife, mother, community volunteer, and recovering attorney.

Amy is the author of Trudy’s Diary, A Libraries of the World Mystery (Book One: Library of Congress), which is due out in April. She has also penned The Worst Noel (Book One in the Juniper Junction Holiday Mystery series), The Malice Series (The House on Candlewick Lane, Highland Peril, and Murder in Thistlecross), and three standalone books, Secrets of Hallstead House, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, and House of the Hanging Jade. She lives in southern New Jersey, but loves to travel. Her favorite places to visit are Scotland and Hawaii and when she can’t travel she loves to read books set in far-flung locations.

Her days are split between writing and marketing her books, but uppermost in her mind is the adage that the best way to market a book is to write another great book.

You can find her online here:

Website

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Pinterest

BookBub

Amazon

Goodreads