Instagram for Dummies

Just a few weeks ago I began my first real foray into the world of Instagram for my art work (BTW I’m @clangleyhawthorneart if anyone’s interested:)) and I feel like I’m definitely in the ‘Instagram for Dummies’ phase! Bizarrely – since I’m only focusing on my art there – I seem to have discovered a whole lot of book and writing related pages so rather than being focused on my own work I’ve been salivating over beautiful photographs of libraries and book covers instead:). As with any new social media experience, I’m still in the throes of wonderment (which won’t last long – no doubt I’ll soon be getting the trolls and the weird follows from fake men!) but also in the thick of trying to work out how the heck to use it. So far I’ve really only managed to upload photos…

I’ve already noticed that some of my favorite authors seem to have a much larger Instagram presence than other social media platforms, which was kind of surprising but also not surprising given the toxicity surrounding much of Twitter and Facebook. Instagram is a very visual platform – which is why I decided to focus on it for my art work rather than my writing – but using it has made me wonder about its value as a potential author social media platform. As with any social media platform, the key is providing consistent content that provides value to your target audience. From what I’ve read, however, Instagram has a higher level of user engagement and also offers potentially much greater visibility compared to other social media networks. Given I’ve only just started using Instagram in a semi-professional capacity, I really don’t have a good sense of whether this is true or whether there really are any benefits to using Instagram compared to other social media platforms… but the potential has me intrigued… It also got me thinking more generally about social media in the post-pandemic era (whenever we actually get there…) and whether authors will find it easier (or harder) to market/gain visibility in the digital arena.

So TKZers, are any of you using Instagram for social media related to your writing? If so, what has your experience been like? If you’re focusing on other social media platforms, have you considered Instagram as an additional resource? And, when thinking more generally about social media in the future, do you think the pandemic has altered your reliance or use of these platforms in your marketing/publicity or writing process?

I certainly don’t have any real sense of how I might use Instagram as an author yet, let alone how it’s going to pan out for my art work – but I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, feel free to check out my art on Instagram and I look forward to getting your feedback on Instagram on the writing/book front!

 

The How and Why of Epigraphs

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

I love a good epigraph. That’s the quotation some authors put on a standalone page right before the novel begins. It is not to be confused with an epigram, which is a pithy and witty statement. However, if placed at the front of a book, an epigram becomes an epigraph, thus epitomizing epiphenomena (secondary effects).

This is the epigraph from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather:

Behind every great fortune there is a crime. — Balzac

The purpose of an epigraph is one or more of the following:

  1. Hint at the theme of the novel.
  2. Help set the tone.
  3. Create curiosity about the content.
  4. Put a wry smile on the reader’s face.

Stephen King is positively giddy about epigraphs. He usually has two or more. Like in Cell, a novel about an electronic signal sent out over a global cell phone network. The signal turns those who hear it into mindless, zombie-like killers. Why? Perhaps by removing all psychological restraints, resulting in animalistic behavior. Here are King’s epigraphs:

The id will not stand for a delay in gratification. It always feels the tension of the unfulfilled urge. – Sigmund Freud

Human aggression is instinctual. Humans have not evolved any ritualized aggression-inhibiting mechanisms to ensure the survival of the species. For this reason man is considered a very dangerous animal. – Konrad Lorenz

Can you hear me now? – Verizon

That last one gave me a wry smile indeed. Here a few more examples:

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once. — Charles Lamb

FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

If they give you ruled paper, write the other way. — Juan Ramón Jiménez

GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn

Love is the world’s infinite mutability; lies, hatred, murder even, are all knit up in it; it is the inevitable blossoming of its opposites, a magnificent rose smelling faintly of blood. — Tony Kushner, THE ILLUSION

For my Mike Romeo thrillers, I use two epigraphs. Because Romeo is both classically educated and trained in cage fighting, I choose a quote from classic lit and something more contemporary. For example, here are the epigraphs for Romeo’s Way:

Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles … – Homer, The Iliad

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. – Mike Tyson

How do I find a good epigraph?

First, brainstorm some of the topics and themes that apply to your novel, e.g.,

  • Drug use among kids
  • Criminal enterprises, darkness of
  • Fighting to balance the scales of justice
  • Chaos in the streets
  • Hope in hopeless situations
  • Is true love possible?

Next, think of your lead character’s strengths and weaknesses, such as:

  • Will kick your butt if provoked
  • Hard to trust other people
  • Has an anger issue
  • Has compassion for the weak
  • Can’t stand injustice anywhere

With those in mind, you can being your search. I have big library of quote books, led by the venerable Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. I also have “off the wall” collections that provide funny or ironic possibilities. Two of my faves are The Portable Curmudgeon by Jon Wikonur and 1,911 Best Things Anybody Ever Said by Robert Byrne.

There are online resources, of course, like The Quotations Page, which allows you to search by keyword and author.

So you look around and find several possibilities. Later, choose the best one. Save the others in a file for possible use in the future.

Can I make up an epigraph?

Well, some have. Dean Koontz made up many of his, and even a fictional source, The Book of Counted Sorrows. Readers and booksellers all over the world were stymied trying to find a copy of this rare tome. Koontz eventually copped to it, and even issued a short-term ebook version of it via Barnes & Noble. (If you want to read the epigraphs, you can do so here.)

I don’t advise this tactic, however. A reader may become frustrated trying to track down the quote on the internet. And who do you think you are anyway? Shakespeare?

Do I need permission to quote?

You do not need permission from a copyright holder to use a line or two from a published source. An epigraph is the very essence of fair use.

The one possible exception to this is song lyrics. Careful lawyers and nervous publishers will tell you to get permission. That is a long, laborious process that could end up costing you a fee. I’m not going to go into the whys and wherefores of the fair use doctrine, which you can find online (as here). I think an argument can be made for the fair use of a line from a song. See, e.g., this well-reasoned opinion. (Note: I dispense no legal advice in this post. Talk about being careful!) The risk-reward ratio may not be favorable for most writers.

Where do I place an epigraph?

On the page just before Page 1 of your novel. And note: an epigraph is not a dedication. If you use a dedication, the epigraph should follow, not precede it.

How many epigraphs can I use?

My rule of thumb is one or two. At most, three. More than that risks overburdening the reader and diluting the purpose.

With a book broken up into parts, you can put an epigraph before each part. If you’re feeling frisky you can use an epigraph for every chapter (!) as Stephen King does in one of his Bachman novels, The Long Walk.

Do I put quote marks around the epigraph?

No.

Do I italicize an epigraph?

It’s up to you. Either choice is fine. Just never italicize the source. E.g.,

The free-lance writer is one who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps. — Robert Benchley

What if I can’t find a good one?

When in doubt go to Shakespeare, the Bible, or Mark Twain.

Do readers really read epigraphs?

The true answer is that most probably don’t. Or else they just skim right past them on the way to the story. Which raises the question, is it worth the author’s time to hunt them down?

You have to answer that for yourself. My answer is yes. I like epigraphs and I’m happy to spend the extra time for the readers who like them as well.

Plus, after finishing a novel, my search for the perfect epigraph is like my gift to the book. The book has been with me since the idea phase, whispering sweet nothings in my ear, fighting me sometimes but always with its heart in the right place. I figure I owe the book a little something and a good epigraph is it.

Over to you now. Are you an epigraph fan? Have you used them yourself?

Resonance and The Reader’s Journey

Resonance and The Reader’s Journey

Why Does Good Story Structure Resonate?

by Steve Hooley

 

 

We discuss the importance of story structure frequently on this blog site. It is often said that good structure will keep the reader engaged and will allow the story to “resonate” with the reader. But how often do we discuss why the structure resonates? And is there anything to be learned for our writing from the answer to the “why” question?

Recently this question hit me and made me start looking for answers. I was watching the news about the Surfside Condo collapse in Miami-Dade County, specifically the ceremony that took place at the end of the rescue efforts and the beginning of the recovery phase. It struck me, at first, that this was a necessary step to prevent victim’s families from being upset that the rescue efforts were ending. But as I watched, I began to realize that people need ceremony.

  • To memorialize significant events
  • To aid in transitioning to the next stage in life
  • To reflect on the past
  • To plan for the future

Then the idea hit me that this is similar to story structure. Readers need structure, with all the signposts, pillars, and doorways along the way.

  • For the story to resonate
  • For the reader to be captured by the story
  • For the reader to identify with the main character
  • For the story arc to feel right

But that still didn’t answer the question: Why does the story structure resonate?

I began looking for answers in the psychological research literature. There are plenty of studies that show the benefits of routine and structure in making life more meaningful and more productive. We all know that. There are studies that shine light on the techniques (and hormones) that increase tension and empathy. But still, what is the connection between structure and resonance?

Let’s first look at resonance. It is defined as “the quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating.” And from Physics: “the reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection from a surface or by synchronous vibration of a neighboring object.” For example, in a stringed instrument, the walls of the instrument pick up the vibration of the string, multiplying and enriching the sound.

Thus, we are looking at a story touching something within the reader that is captured and begins to vibrate along with the story, magnifying and enriching the story. In other words, what is it within the reader that he/she identifies with the structure, that is similar in some way, and reverberates and resonates?

I offer the following theory for discussion. Agree, disagree, or give us your theory:

 Story structure resonates with readers because it causes the reader to subconsciously identify their own life’s milestones, ceremonies, and arc, with the story structure (either as their life has been lived out, or as they wish it had been, or could be in the future). In other words, the reader hangs their life on the story structure (subconsciously), and hopes for a better outcome.

Here are some quotes from Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, about “the Hero’s Journey” (story structure based on patterns of mythology and the work of Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces):

The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler:

Preface, Second Edition:

p. xiii

“I came to believe that the Hero’s Journey is nothing less than a handbook for life, a complete instruction manual in the art of being human.”

p. xiv

“The Hero’s Journey is a pattern that seems to extend in many dimensions, describing more than one reality. It accurately describes, among other things, … the passage of a soul through life.”

“In the description of the Hero’s Journey they might have picked up some insight about their own lives, some useful metaphor or way of looking at things, some language or principle that defines their problem and suggests a way out of it.”

“…the pleasurable shock of recognition as the patterns resonate with what they’ve seen in stories and in their own lives.”

“…shared attitude about myths—that they are not abstract theories or the quaint beliefs of ancient peoples, but practical models for understanding how to live.”

p. xv

“Joseph Campbell’s great accomplishment was to articulate clearly something that had been there all along—the life principles embedded in the structure of stories.”

Introduction, second edition

p. xxvii

“Good stories make you feel you’ve been through a satisfying, complete experience. You’ve cried or laughed or both. You finish the story feeling you’ve learned something about life or about yourself.”

p. xxix

“The Hero’s Journey, I discovered, is more than just a description of the hidden patterns of mythology. It is a useful guide to life…”

p. xxxii

“The Hero’s Journey has served storytellers and their listeners since the very first stories were told, and it shows no signs of wearing out. Let’s begin the Writer’s Journey together to explore these ideas. I hope you find them useful as magic keys to the world of story and the labyrinth of life.”

And from Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

Chapter 9, What Can Go Wrong, Must Go Wrong – And Then Some

Cognitive Secret: The brain uses stories to simulate how we might navigate difficult situations in the future.

Story Secret: A story’s job is to put the protagonist through tests that, even in her wildest dreams, she doesn’t think she can pass.

p. 167-168

“What is the benefit, survival-wise, that led to the neural rush of enjoyment a good story unleashes, effectively disconnecting us from the otherwise incessant Sturm and Drang of daily life? The answer is clear: it lets us sit back and vicariously experience someone else suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the better to learn how to dodge those darts should they ever be aimed at us.”

And here are some ideas for life events and corresponding structure milestones:

  • Birth                                                                     Opening Disturbance
  • Graduation                                                           Doorway of No Return #1
  • Midlife crisis                                                         The Mirror Moment
  • Retirement                                                           Doorway of No Return #2
  • Recovery from life-threatening illness                  Final Battle
  • Determination to make end-of-life meaningful     Transformation

Please give us other ideas for life events and corresponding milestones. Could these be built into story structure?

 And here are the questions:

  1. Do you agree with the proposed theory?
  2. Or, what theory do you have for structure and resonance?
  3. What life events would you correlate with other milestones?
  4. If this theory is correct, what can we build into our story structure milestones to better grab the reader and make him/her feel the resonance?
  5. Do you have any unique milestones that you build into your stories’ structure to grab the readers and make them feel like they have been through “a satisfying, complete experience?”

True Crime Thursday – Easter Bunny Didn’t Bring THESE Eggs

Photo credit: Pawel Czerwinski – Unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

On Palm Sunday 2020, residents of Flagler County in Florida found small plastic eggs in their mailboxes. Had the Easter Bunny arrived early?

Not exactly.

When recipients cracked open the eggs, they found each one contained a sheet of toilet paper, a goldfish cracker, fizzy drink powder, and…a crumpled page of pornography.

Even by 2020 weirdness standards, this incident rated high on the Bizarro-meter.

Sheriff Rick Staley asked the community to check their home surveillance cams and call leads into Crimestoppers to try to determine the identity of the perverse egg dispenser.

The following Thursday, based on a tip, deputies arrested Abril Cestoni, 42, a supermarket employee who reportedly had delivered about 400 plastic eggs to area mailboxes. She had created the pornographic pages using a computer program.

The reason is not exactly clear.

Here’s bodycam video from the arresting officer.

If there was an explanation in the footage, I missed it.

Ms. Cestoni was charged with multiple counts of distributing obscene materials, failure to appear on a traffic summons, and violating the governor’s stay-at-home order.

According to the Inmate Detail form, charges were later dismissed or she was sentenced to time served.

To the relief of Flagler County residents, on Easter Sunday, the legitimate Easter Bunny delivered regular Easter eggs.

~~~

TKZers: Have you run across any particularly bizarre and/or inexplicable crimes in the past year or so? Please share in the comments.

~~~

 

$.99 on sale from July 29 through August 1, 2021! Debbie Burke’s thriller Eyes in the Sky is available for Canadian friends on Kobo plus other online stores. 

Please check out the international links here and for Kindle. 

Writing To Be Heard

By John Gilstrap

In the past few years, audiobooks have become the fastest growing segment of the book industry. In 2018, according to this article from GoodEReader, audio book sales in the United States alone topped $1.2 billion, for the first time eclipsing ebook sales, which brought in $983 million during the same period. That trend continues. The demographics are impressive, too, with the majority of audio books sold falling the in the mystery/suspense genres, and 57% of frequent audio book consumers being under 45 years old.

Personally, I don’t bond well with audio books, but I know for a fact that a large chunk of my readers do. I also know that they’re addicted to the characterizations provided by Basil Sands, a frequent contributor to the comments section here on TKZ. Those who listen to the Jonathan Grave books have come to hear the voices assigned by Basil to the actual voices of the characters.

Given the trends and business realities, I have become progressively more conscious of the role of audio in the reach and popularity of what I write. Fact is, some of the tricks we use on the page to tweak suspense and believability can fail completely in the transition to audio.

Nobody sees the paragraphs.

We all know that in dialogue, when a new speaker begins, that character gets a new paragraph. Because of that, we can get away with rapid-fire dialogue on the page with only intermittent use of dialogue tags. In audio, verbal gymnastics are required of the narrator to keep the listener from getting lost in the exchange. Given the growth in the audio market, I use far more dialogue tags than I used to. On the page, I believe they become invisible, and on audio, it keeps the listener on track.

Nobody sees italics.

Prior to the proliferation of audio sales, I would allow italicized passages to do all the lifting to show a character’s thoughts. This is a strictly visual trick that does not work at all on audio. Now, I write thought tags (I presume those are real things). I don’t like the way they junk up the written page, but there you go.

Accents and pronunciation pose a challenge.

Venice Alexander is one of the primary characters in my Jonathan Grave thriller series. In every book, I must explain that she pronounces her name as Ven-EE-chay. Think about the challenge that poses for the audio book narrator. To reveal to the listener the pronunciation of a name they’ve just heard pronounced properly is awkward. (In this case, I’ve started changing the audio script to point out that people who don’t know her assume from the spelling that her name is pronounced the same as the city in Italy.) The same problem exists when revealing a regional accent to readers in a way that won’t sound odd to listeners.

There are kids in the backseat.

I written here before that I’ve excised high-end profanity from my books, and that I’ve never been one to write graphic sex. I did that for reasons driven by reader input that made it clear that they didn’t like those things in thrillers. That’s when they’re reading silently. Imagine the response when the family is taking a cross country drive while listening to American Psycho.

It’s okay to have a chat with your audio book narrator.

Basil and I chat before each of the Grave projects he starts. He asks me is I anticipate any special challenges, and I encourage him to reach out to me if he finds any.

Okay, TKZ family, it’s your turn. Are you a fan of listening to books you “read”? Do you consider the presence of listeners when you write?

On Chandler, Dilettantes, Getting Paid, And The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Writer

“I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between stars.” — Raymond Chandler

By PJ Parrish

I am not feeling hollow or empty today, but damn, I do love that Chandler line. More on him in a moment.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this past fortnight, of newspapers, websites, scientific journals. It’s the times, I guess. Forcing me to focus more on the tough realities of life rather than the simple rewards of the creative process. Yet…amidst the gloom and doom, I’ve dug up some ores of joy. I hope you don’t mind me sharing a miscellany of writing wisdom today.

A Case For Being Merely Good

Sunday, Jim Bell wrote about inspiring quotes for writers, words that might help us all be better professionals. Sue followed that with inspiring rituals of great writers. So allow me to now offer something for the dilettantes among us.  This comes from Kurt Vonnegut, no less.

“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.
And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”
And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”
And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.”

I just love this. Because here are some things I love that I am pretty good at but not great at:  Piano playing, pickleball, cooking, gardening, oil painting, speaking French, juggling. It used to bother me that I did not excel at these things, but Vonnegut was onto something here. Being “good at things” is not the point. Enjoying the ride is.  I’m sure all of you have a similar list to mine. And to all of you still struggling with your first attempts at writing, or are feeling, like Vonnegut, “inundated with the myth of talent,” remember to take joy in the process.

Book Sales Soar

News we can use! From Publishers Weekly: In the first half of 2020, unit sales of print books surprised many in the industry by posting a 2.9% increase over the same period in 2019 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan, overcoming a slump in sales in early spring following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Print sales finished 2020 up 8.2% over 2019, and that strong performance continued into 2021, with units jumping 18.5% in the first six months over the comparable period in 2020. With the exception of the juvenile nonfiction category, all the major publishing categories had double-digit sales increases in the first half of the year. Backlist had the strongest gains, up 21.4%, but frontlist sales were also solid, rising 12.4%.

People are reading! And they are buying old books of published authors. I know this for a fact because I got an Amazon royalty check this week for $45.87 and spent it on diet dog food. Seriously, this is good news. YA fiction showed the biggest jump. Click here for full report.

Never Sell Yourself Short

When I was first starting out in the novel biz decades ago, I would accept any gig that came my way. Luncheon speaker for women’s club? I’m there! Book signing at mall craft fair? Count me in! Set up a card table at a street market even though it meant driving four hours one way? No problem!  Problem is, there was a problem. I thought that I had to accept every event possible to get the word out about my books. The problem was I wasn’t getting paid for my time, or reimbursed for travel or expenses. The problem was, I didn’t sell that many books. The problem was, I was exhausted, cannibalizing myself — my limited energy and TIME — and getting very little in return.

This sad history came back to me this week via a thread on an author-friend’s Facebook page. Louis Baynard asked the hive whether it was worth it to accept most invitations to sign or promote books. Most the published authors said the line they heard most was: “The exposure will be good for you.”  To which I wrote, nuts to that. It was my good friend Elaine Viets who set me straight and said that any organization that wanted to book me as a lunch speaker had to buy X-copies of my book and include it in the price the attendees paid. I took her advice and it worked. And I also learned how to gracefully say no.  Got more writing done and was happier for it. So, those of you just starting out, I advise this: Say yes to libraries because they will shelf your books. Say yes to indie bookstores because they will hand sell you. Say no to everyone who wants to pay you in “exposure.”

Don’t believe me? Well, listen to Harlan Ellison. Warning: The language gets a little…blue.

I Wanted To Be A Literary Novelist But I Realized I Liked Plot. 

Jean Hanff Korelitz was exhausted by wrestling with the second draft of a novel that was refusing to come together. She was nervous about a meeting with her editor, who had already turned the book down once. At the meeting, an idea for a thriller popped into her head and that was the beginning of a new writing life, complete with a blurb from Stephen King.  Not sure how I feel about this one. You tell me!  Click here. 

From Chandler With Love

A couple day ago was the 133rd anniversary of the birth of Raymond Chandler, patron saint of Los Angeles noir and perhaps the most famous crime fiction writer of all time. I came very late in life to Chandler, well after I had begun my own crime fiction journey. Probably just as well that I didn’t read him early on or I would have said, “screw this” and been content to take Vonnegut’s advice and be an unpublished bad poet. But darn, Chandler’s stuff just dances.

Over at Literary Hub, Dan Sheehan went through Chandler’s nine books and pulled out some of his most iconic lines. Just a sampler:

From The Big Sleep:

  • Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.
  • It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.
  • I been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate.

From Farewell My Lovely:

  • It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.
  • She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.
  • The coffee shop smell was strong enough to build a garage on.

Click here to read more. You won’t regret it. Or, if you’re in the middle of wrestling your WIP to the mat, maybe you will.

And Just So You Won’t Feel Alone…

I leave you with a TikTok tidbit from another Facebook writer friend Jon Merz. Turn on your sound. You’re going to like his take on “What It’s Like Writing A Novel.” Although I do think Hendricks is far superior to Sapphire gin when things are going south.

@jonfmerz

True story. #booktok #booktoker #authortok #authorsoftiktok #fyp #fypシ #foryourpage #read

♬ original sound – Jon F Merz

 

Writing Ritual and Routine

I always write to music, but a problem arose recently that made me question my writing ritual.

But I love writing with my headphones on, music blocking out the world around me. There’s no better way for me to strike the right mood in the WIP. I create a playlist for each book, with overlapping “series songs.” Songs I listen to only while writing books in that series. Since my series are vastly different so are the songs in each playlist.

As soon as I slide on the headphones, the music transports me back to my story world.

The problem I ran into recently was with writing true crime. I’d created a playlist for Pretty Evil New England. But for this new book I veered away from my usual writing routine and threw on Pandora.

Big mistake.

I struggled. The words wouldn’t come like they normally do. My mind felt cluttered and bogged down. Hence why I wrote my last post about multitasking and the brain. Frazzled, I panicked. Why I couldn’t reach “the zone” with my WIP? The beginning had been so easy, words flowing like Niagara, paragraphs in perfect harmony with one another. Had I finally lost my writing mojo?

The answer seemed clear. Only it wasn’t an answer I could accept. I emotionally degraded myself, exercised, read . . . I tried everything I could think of to breathe life into my muse, dying next to two unfinished WIPs. And yet, every time I slid on the headphones and clicked Pandora . . . total brain block.

After several grueling days (felt more like years), I stumbled across a blog post that advised writers never to listen to music unless it has no lyrics, background instrumental music. In other words, the total opposite of my music. But I’ve written all my books to music. What changed?

The metaphoric lightbulb blazed on.

By switching to Pandora, not knowing what song would play or when, my brain couldn’t interpret the music as white noise.

As soon as I went back to YouTube and clicked the playlist for Pretty Evil New England (since I’m writing true crime), my fingers could barely keep up with the flood of creativity.

I’m back!

Writers have writing rituals/routines for a reason. The ritual or routine encourages focus and has the ability to get us back on track if we drift off course. The familiarity snaps us out of the funk and reminds us that yes, we can finish the WIP, just as we’ve always done. It also allows the words to flow. Rituals help us find comfort and balance and sets the tone for a solid writing session. Routine is especially important. Employing a consistent writing routine can be the difference between hitting our word count or staring at a blinking cursor.

If your writing comes to a screeching halt for no apparent reason, a change within your writing ritual or routine may be to blame.

For me (obviously), it’s sliding on the headphones with a familiar playlist cranked. Emphasis on familiar. An argument could be made that I’m not really listening to music. Rather, the playlist morphs into white noise and acts as the gunshot to start the footrace. Although, strangely, I’ve tried the white noise app and it’s not nearly as effective (for me). All my research is done on my iMac, but I switch to my MacBook to write. This was a subconscious act. I wasn’t even aware of the ritual until I focused on changes within my writing routine.

For others, the writing ritual may include an environmental change, like shutting the door to the office or sitting outside in a special chair. Some writers trek to the local coffee shop or settle in at their designated desk in the university library. *waves to Garry*

Some of our most celebrated authors had/have consistent writing rituals and routines.

JAMES JOYCE

Joyce’s ritual included crayons, a white coat, and a comfy horizontal surface. For word flow, he would lay flat on his stomach in bed. Since he was severely myopic, crayons enabled Joyce to see his own handwriting more clearly, and the white coat served as a reflector of light.

MAYA ANGELOU 

In her own words:

I keep a hotel room in my hometown and pay for it by the month.

I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible. Usually a deck of cards and some crossword puzzles. Something to occupy my little mind.

I think my grandmother taught me that. She didn’t mean to, but she used to talk about her “little mind.”

So when I was young, from the time I was about 3 until 13, I decided that there was a Big Mind and a Little Mind. And the Big Mind would allow you to consider deep thoughts, but the Little Mind would occupy you, so you could not be distracted. It would work crossword puzzles or play Solitaire, while the Big Mind would delve deep into the subjects I wanted to write about.

I have all the paintings and any decoration taken out of the room. I ask the management and housekeeping not to enter the room, just in case I’ve thrown a piece of paper on the floor, I don’t want it discarded. About every two months I get a note slipped under the door: “Dear Ms. Angelou, please let us change the linen. We think it may be moldy!

But I’ve never slept there, I’m usually out of there by 2. And then I go home and I read what I’ve written that morning, and I try to edit then. Clean it up.

TRUMAN CAPOTE 

The creative genius behind In Cold Blood was a superstitious man. Capote’s writing ritual often involved avoiding things like hotel rooms with phone numbers that included the number 13, starting or ending a piece of work on a Friday, and tossing more than three cigarette butts in one ashtray.

I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.

No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance.

Even so, Capote stuck to his writing routine because it worked.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY 

In stark contrast to James Joyce, Hemingway was a firm believer in standing while writing. While working on The Old Man and The Sea, he followed a strict regimen.

“Done by noon, drunk by three.”

This entailed waking at dawn, writing furiously while standing, and eventually hiking to the local bar to get hammered.

JOAN DIDION 

Didion holds her books close to her heart—literally.  When she’s close to finishing a manuscript, she’ll sleep with her WIP.

“Somehow the book doesn’t leave you when you’re asleep right next to it.”

E.B. WHITE 

In his own words:

I’m able to work fairly well among ordinary distractions. My house has a living room that is at the core of everything that goes on: it is a passageway to the cellar, to the kitchen, to the closet where the phone lives. There’s a lot of traffic. But it’s a bright, cheerful room, and I often use it as a room to write in, despite the carnival that is going on all around me.

KURT VONNEGUT 

Check out Vonnegut’s writing routine:

I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare.

When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not.

JODIE PICOULT 

Picoult doesn’t believe writer’s block exists:

Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Wise words. I agree. Nothing motivates quite like a looming deadline, self-imposed or contracted.

DAN BROWN 

Most writers would do anything and everything to get rid of writer’s block. According to The Da Vinci Code novelist, Dan Brown hangs upside down to cure writer’s block. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But we can’t argue with the results. If Brown didn’t hang like a bat, imagine all the amazing thrillers we would have lost?

Bats can’t launch into flight until they’re upside down. Why not Dan Brown? He says he’s more productive and creative afterward. He also does push-ups and stretches every hour. Not only has he found the cure for writer’s block, he’s in tip-top shape.

Writers are complicated beings. 😉

Do you have a writing ritual and/or routine? Tell us about it.

My publisher ran a sale for Pretty Evil New England last week. Not sure how long the sale will last, but for now the ebook is $1.99 on Amazon.

Inspired Every Morning

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

“I only write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” – Peter De Vries

Anyone who’s written for any length of time knows there are times when the writing flows like the Colorado rapids. You whoop it up and enjoy the ride.

Sisyphus, Franz Stuck (1920)

Then there are times when it feels like you’re Sisyphus halfway up the mountain. You grunt and groan. But you keep pushing that boulder, because you know that writing as a vocation or career requires the consistent production of words.

What’s helped me in the Sisyphus times are writing quotes I’ve gathered over the years. I go to my file and read a few until I’m ready, as it were, to roll.

I’ve even contributed a couple of quotes that have found some purchase in cyberspace. The one that seems most widespread is this:

“Write like you’re in love. Edit like you’re in charge.”

There are, however, some writing quotes that are oft shared but were never said…or are misattributed. Two of them have been hung on Ernest Hemingway.

“Write drunk. Edit sober.” Nope, he never said that. Indeed, it would have horrified him. Hemingway was one of the most careful stylists who ever lived. He did his drinking after hours (and too much of it, as it turned out).

The other one is, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

It’s a great quote, but should be attributed to the legendary sports writer, Red Smith. Smith probably got the idea from the novelist Paul Gallico (author most famously of The Poseidon Adventure). This is from Gallico’s 1946 book Confessions of a Story Writer:

It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.

(If you want to deep dive on the various attributions of the quote, go here.)

So how did this blood quote get attributed to Hemingway? I know the answer, for I am a skilled detective!

Actually, I am a Hemingway fan, so one day I decided to watch a TV movie about Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. The film, imaginatively titled Hemingway & Gellhorn, starred Clive Owen as Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as Gellhorn. As I recall, the movie is okay. But I do remember Owen delivering this line: “There’s nothing to writing, Gellhorn. All you do is sit at your typewriter and bleed.”

And there you have it. The script writers thought this quote, which they got from Red Smith, would be a perfect line for their rendition of Papa. And really, it might have been a line for him to utter, but for the fact that Hemingway did virtually all of his drafts in longhand.

Speaking of renditions of Hemingway on film, my favorite is Corey Stoll’s performance in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Allen and Stoll managed to capture Hemingway’s bluster without turning him into a cartoon. I especially love this exchange with Owen Wilson, who is a laid-back writer from our time transported back to the Paris of the 1920s, where Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and others were all tossed together.

Now, back to business. Here are five of my favorite writing quotes:

Remember, almost no writer had it easy when starting out. If they did, everyone would be a bestselling author. The ones who make it are the stubborn, persistent people who develop a thick skin, defy the rejection, and keep the material out there. – Barnaby Conrad

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. – Ray Bradbury

In a world that encompasses so much pain and fear and cruelty, it is noble to provide a few hours of escape, moments of delight and forgetfulness. – Dean Koontz

Keep working. Keep trying. Keep believing. You still might not make it, but at least you gave it your best shot. If you don’t have calluses on your soul, this isn’t for you. Take up knitting instead. – David Eddings

The first page of a book sells that book. The last page sells your next book. – Mickey Spillane

Your turn! Let’s get inspired. Share a favorite writing quote and why it speaks to you.

I Did It My Way

My sixty-seven-year-old memory is somewhat fuzzy on distant particulars, but I recall sitting beside the open windows in my un-airconditioned freshman high school English class, listening to Miss Linda Adams talk about writing. Had I been sitting on the inside row with the other reluctant students against the wall that first day of class, we would’ve enjoyed the dubious luxury of hot air pushed by a large fan.

Instead, I got to look out the window, at the same time keeping an eye on my fresh-faced, just-out-of-college teacher. Miss Adams was…splendid…in a short skirt, white top, and loose blond hair enhanced with what back then was called a “fall” that came down past her shoulders.

I also recall white go-go boots, but that’s probably from an adolescent dream, long forgotten and dried. Teachers couldn’t dress that way back then, and even the girls in my class couldn’t wear jeans. The school district reluctantly allowed pant suits instead, as long as the top came down below their…um…buttocks.

Anyway, pardon my digression that sets the scene for My Awakening. I fell in love with when she leaned back against her desk and crossed her arms that distant day, finished with outlining what we’d do that semester. “We’re going to have some fun, too. Y’all know the rules of writing, and we’ll practice them in this class.”

Moans filled the room.

Her lips were red, as were her fingernails. I’m afraid my concentration was mostly on her appearance until the sweetest words I ever heard fell from those lips at the same time a bright beam of light illuminated her person, followed by an angelic chorus of beautiful voices.

“But when we get into creative writing, I want you to break all those rules you’ve learned in the past and explore the creative process as much as you can.”

That statement sizzled through my brain, yanking me back from a particularly enthusiastic fantasy and into class.

What’d she say!!!???

Since I’m a Gemini, I answered myself.

She said there were no rules in creative writing.

That means I can do what I want!

Apparently.

She’d freed me! I could break those dusty old shackles of formal writing and be myself.

Huzzah!

I rose and did the Happy Dance, a unique blend of gyrations taken from Snoopy, American Bandstand, and Elvis movies.

Not really, but I wanted to.

“Break the rules.” Her statement came to mind years afterward when I finally discovered my writing Voice in 1988 and published an inaugural humor column that was nothing like I’d ever read in a newspaper.

I was successful in getting published that first time because I broke the rules and created something no one else was doing in newspapers. I took a new and different trail again when I embarked on my first novel a dozen years later.

The opening chapter was in first person, from the viewpoint of ten-year-old Top Parker, and I learned pretty quick that writing the entire novel from Top’s POV was limiting, but I needed to see rural 1964 through a kids’ eyes. First person speaks to me, and the words flow with startling ease when I’m in those chapters.

But the next chapter switched to third person, the change was intentional, because I wanted readers to see the story from the boy’s granddad’s more experienced point of view. Both a farmer and the local constable in their rural community of Center Springs, Ned Parker’d already lived a lifetime before the youngster showed up.

The alternating POV worked well in my mind, and it never occurred to me at that time that I was breaking some sort of rule. I was simply describing what I saw as the first two chapters developed, because I think differently than many authors. When writing a novel, I see the story from different lenses, sometimes involving POVs for more than one character

I did the same thing in Burrows (a suspenseful and claustrophobic novel that people either love or hate, with no in between, but the critics loved it, so there) and I was on my way, blissfully ignorant of the fact that many editors, agents, and critically acclaimed and bestselling authors said it was wrong.

That little revelation came along as I was sitting in an audience between two well-known and very successful authors listening to a panel discussion at Bouchercon, the country’s largest conference devoted to mysteries and detective fiction. When it was his time to speak, one of my favorite and influential writers on the stage pulled microphone closer to his lips and stated with absolute authority, “You cannot switch back and forth between points of view. It’s a sin, and if you do it, Jesus won’t love you no more, and you’re going to Hell with your pockets full of dandruff and adverbs.”

He sat back to let that sink in.

Well, he didn’t say it that exact way, but the gist was the same. My friends on either side turned their heads to gauge my reaction, but I had nothing and refused to make eye contact. I was a sinner for sure and no amount of water was ever going to wash me clean.

But I didn’t care and I kept writing the way I wanted, because I had a Voice, and a style (which is dramatically different than these blog posts for some reason), and I wasn’t going to change. With twelve novels in print, one scheduled for release in February, 2022, and two others under contract for the next two years after that, I’ve continued this particular style of storytelling and have no intention of changing.

Because Miss Adams said it was okay.