Happy Public Domain Day 2023

By Debbie Burke


1927 was a watershed year in motion picture history. 

Wings won the first Academy Award for Best Picture. 

“Wait a minute…wait a minute…you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.”

Those were the first words ever spoken in a motion picture. Although The Jazz Singer is now considered insensitive, nevertheless, it stands as an historic moment in 1927 when the first “talkie” rang the death knell for the silent film era.

You can listen to a clip of Al Jolson’s first words here. 


January 1, 2023 was Happy Public Domain Day when copyrights ended for movies, literary works, and music published in 1927.

Here’s a partial list of works that are now in the public domain, provided by Duke University.


Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of New York

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

Agatha Christie, The Big Four

Countee Cullen, ed., Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Black Poets of the Twenties

Franklin W. Dixon, The Tower Treasure (The Hardy Boys #1)

Franklin W. Dixon, The House on the Cliff (The Hardy Boys #2)

Franklin W. Dixon, The Secret of the Old Mill (The Hardy Boys #3)




Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger” and “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place,” the last two stories from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (which means Holmes himself is now in the public domain)

E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

Ernest Hemingway, Men Without Women

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

Franz Kafka, Amerika

Anita Loos, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes

Edith Wharton, Twilight Sleep

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


Metropolis (directed by Fritz Lang)

The Jazz Singer (the first feature-length film with synchronized dialogue; directed by Alan Crosland)

Wings (winner of the first Academy Award for outstanding picture; directed by William A. Wellman)

Sunrise (directed by F.W. Murnau)

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Alfred Hitchcock’s first thriller)

The King of Kings (directed by Cecil B. DeMille)

London After Midnight (now a lost film; directed by Tod Browning)

The Way of All Flesh (now a lost film; directed by Victor Fleming)

7th Heaven (inspired the ending of the 2016 film La La Land; directed by Frank Borzage)

The Kid Brother (starring Harold Lloyd; directed by Ted Wilde)

The Battle of the Century (starring the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy; directed by Clyde Bruckman)

Upstream (directed by John Ford)


The Best Things in Life Are Free (George Gard De Sylva, Lew Brown, Ray Henderson; from the musical Good News)

(I Scream You Scream, We All Scream for) Ice Cream (Howard Johnson, Billy Moll, Robert A. King)

Puttin’ on the Ritz (Irving Berlin)

Funny Face and ’S Wonderful (Ira and George Gershwin; from the musical Funny Face)

Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man and Ol’ Man River (Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern; from the musical Show Boat)

Back Water BluesPreaching the BluesFoolish Man Blues (Bessie Smith) Listen here.

Potato Head BluesGully Low Blues (Louis Armstrong)

Rusty Pail BluesSloppy Water BluesSoothin’ Syrup Stomp (Thomas Waller)

Black and Tan Fantasy and East St. Louis Toodle-O (Bub Miley, Duke Ellington)

Billy Goat StompHyena StompJungle Blues (Ferdinand Joseph Morton)

My Blue Heaven (George Whiting, Walter Donaldson)

Diane (Erno Rapee, Lew Pollack)

Mississippi Mud (Harry Barris, James Cavanaugh)


Of particular interest to mystery authors, the last two works by Arthur Conan Doyle featuring Sherlock Holmes are now in the public domain. What does this mean to writers?

If you’ve always hankered to feature the iconic Sherlock as a character in new adventures, you are free to do so without violating copyright or worrying about legal repercussions (more on that in a moment).

Here are a few genre possibilities:

Sherlock uses his powers of deduction to solve contemporary mysteries in the 21st century;

Or he time-travels through history in pursuit of villains;

Or fantasy stories might bestow magical superpowers like flying, turning invisible, telekinetically moving objects, and casting spells;

Or sci-fi, where he travels to distant universes—a rocket ship or space station makes a great setting for a locked room mystery;

Or for romantic suspense, he can fall in love.

Although a number of contemporary works have featured Holmes and Watson, there is a copyright backstory that’s nearly as complicated as Conan Doyle’s mysteries.

Even though Sherlock and Watson had already entered the public domain, legal battles over Sherlock’s copyright persisted for years. The Conan Doyle estate claimed various justifications to charge licensing fees to authors and film makers who wanted to use the characters.

Most creators paid the fees rather than endure the time and expense of taking the estate to court. But attorney Leslie Klinger fought back and won.

In one suit, Judge Richard Posner criticized the estate’s “unlawful business strategy” and stated:

The Doyle estate’s business strategy is plain: charge a modest license fee for which there is no legal basis, in the hope that the ‘rational’ writer or publisher asked for the fee will pay it rather than incur a greater cost, in legal expenses, in challenging the legality of the demand.

The expiration of the copyright on the last two works featuring Sherlock has now ended any possible claims by the estate.

Sherlock is finally, unquestionably free for any creator to use.

That means, as to Sherlock’s future adventures…you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.


Just for fun, here’s The Battle of the Century, featuring Laurel and Hardy and the greatest custard pie fight of all time:


TKZers: Do any stories, movies, or songs from 1927 make your creative juices flow?

Do you have ideas for repurposing works that are now in the public domain?

Please share your ideas in the comments.

January Motivational Words of Wisdom

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first Words of Wisdom post of 2023. For me, finding time to write, using that time, as well as wanting to sustain that creativity throughout the year and beyond, is very much on my mind right now. Not only that, but figuring out how better to deal with various tasks and schedule what time you have to write.

So, I searched through the Kill Zone archives for January posts dealing with this and found gold. Three posts, which turned out to be spaced three years apart.

From January 2014, James Scott Bell gives advice on being creative throughout your life. Then, from January 2017 Joe Hartlaub tackles the challenge of time balance and gives some great tips. Finally, from January 2020 Elaine Viets discusses finding your most creative time and how to hew to that. I link to the full posts at the end of each excerpt, and all are worth reading in full.

Fight to be creative as long as you live. Do it this way:

  1. Always have at least three projects going

I wrote about this before (“The Asimov“). I think all writers should, at a minimum, have three projects on the burner: their Work-in-Progress; a secondary project that will become the WIP when the first is completed; and one or more projects “in development” (notes, concepts, ideas, character profiles, etc.). This way your mind is not stuck in one place.

  1. Take care of your body

The writer’s mind is housed in the body, so do what you have to do to keep the house in shape. Start small if you have to. Eat an apple every day. Drink more water. Walk with a small notebook and pen, ready to jot notes and ideas.

  1. Stay positive and productive

Write something every day. Even if it’s just journaling. Know that what you write to completion will see publication, guaranteed. It may be via a contract, like Herman Wouk. Or it may be digitally self-published. Heck, it could be a limited printing of a memoir, just for your family. Writers write with more joy when they know they will be read, and joy is the key to memorable prose.

  1. Do not go gentle into that good night

Write, write against the dying of the light! (apologies to Dylan Thomas). Refuse to believe you have diminished powers or have in any way lost the spark that compelled you to write in the first place. If they tell you that you just don’t have it anymore, throw your teeth at them. Who gets to decide if you can write? You do. And your answer is, I’ve still got it, baby, and I’m going to show you with this next story of mine!

So just keep writing and never decompose.

James Scott Bell—January 19, 2014

Writers are faced with this time balance on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Life gets in the way of writing. Heck, life gets in the way of life. My way of dealing with this has never been perfect and is constantly evolving. I am accordingly going to share with you my current method for coping with the time crunch, which, as I approach the downhill slope of my life, actually works pretty well.

1) Eat the booger first. That got your attention, didn’t it? The “booger” in this case is the task you want to do least. It can be anything from emptying the dishwasher to drafting that letter that contains bad news for the recipient. Do that first. Do it as soon as you get the bad news that you have been appointed to pass on. Do it when the dishwasher light goes on, or it buzzes, or whatever. I have found in most cases that the freakin’ idea of whatever it is you need to do but don’t want to is often worse than actually doing it.

2) List your Big Four. List four things which you try to do every day, regardless of what else happens. Put them in your calendar (on daily repeat) at the beginning of your day. Assign one word to each task — Watch, Read, Write, and Listen, for example — and do each of those things for fifteen minutes each day. If you want to keep doing them, fine, but the first time that you start each one be sure to stop after fifteen minutes. Come back to each one later, if you wish and if you can, but again, in fifteen minute increments. Do it with tasks that you want or have to do regularly, and love or hate (or somewhere in between) , but do each for fifteen minutes at a time. You will be surprised at how long and how short a quarter-hour is, and how much you can get done in that time period. This is particularly true of writing. Depending on your typing speed, inspiration, and perspiration, you can get a couple of hundred words out of you and on the screen in fifteen minutes. What? You say that doesn’t sound like much? Count out two hundred Skittles and throw them around the living room. Now pick them up. See. Two hundred is a lot. Do that for ten days and you have two thousand words or more, where before you had nothing. And so it goes.

3) Schedule things realistically, and adjust your expectations accordingly. It isn’t going to take you fifteen minutes to prepare your income tax return, so don’t schedule that from 10:00 to 10:15 on the night of April 14. You’ll just be making an appointment to be kissed by the goddess of disappointment. Go ahead and block off fifteen minutes for it, across twenty different days, or block off an entire day, if you can do it. You have a pretty good idea how long it takes you, however, from past experience, which is usually a pretty good indicator of present performance. But be realistic in your estimates of how long it takes you and how long you can work on it at a stretch. Think of YOUR abilities and limitations. Mickey Spillane wrote I the Jury in nineteen days, and Georges Simenon could write a book in less time than that, but you or I aren’t going to do that (probably). Don’t get discouraged when it takes longer than you thought it would, and plan accordingly.

Joe Hartlaub– January 28, 2017


2) Know your most creative time.
I get most of my writing done between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. After that, I’ll still write, but my work often feels flat. My brain really sparks during those four peak hours. After that, it’s better for editing.
(3) Seize the time you have.
If your husband takes the kids to McDonald’s, don’t use that time to sort socks. Write!
Romance writer Joan Johnston wrote her way to the New York Times bestseller list by writing her novels between 4 and 6 a.m. – while the kids were asleep. Now, that’s dedication.
What if you have a sick spouse or ailing children – or you don’t feel so well yourself?
That’s where your own determination comes in. I’ve written novels by my husband’s bedside when he was in the hospital, and edited proofs for the next book while waiting to hear from the doctor when he was in surgery.
Am I Super Woman? Heck, no! But I can concentrate for short periods. Writing is a way to escape a painful or scary situation. It can be solace.

(4) Make time
Remember the words of that rabble-rousing journalist, Mary Heaton Vorse: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” You need seat time.
Try to schedule time-sucking activities after your peak writing time. If the cat isn’t deathly ill, make her vet appointment at 4:30 p.m. The repairman – if he deigns to show up – will start the repairs after your peak writing time. And for now, I’m ignoring the squeaky dryer.
Be ruthless when you write. Turn off your cell phone. Ignore the siren call of the internet, tempting you with cat videos, unanswered emails and Kim Kardashian’s latest lingerie photo. Use that time to write.

(5) A writer writes.
Make that your mantra.
I love being a writer. I enjoy talking to other writers at the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime meetings, and hanging out with other writers in the bar at conventions.
But writing is a lonely business. Eventually, I’m going to have to go to my office, all by myself, and write. You will, too. Good luck.

Elaine Viets—January 9, 2020


What advice do you have on sustaining your creativity throughout the year and beyond?

How do you strike that “time balance?”

Are you making any changes to your writing schedule this month?


If you encounter a problem in posting your comment, we apologize. The Kill Zone has been dealing with a few technical difficulties, and we are working to fix the problems. Thanks for your patience and for visiting!



Handling Age and Time in Series Fiction

By Debbie Burke




Like the weather, we talk about it a lot but can’t do anything about it.

Remember the original Nancy Drew books? I devoured 37 of them before outgrowing the series. From the first book The Secret of the Old Clock (1930) until #37, The Clue in the Old Stagecoach (1960), Nancy was 16 to 18.

Thirty-seven adventures in two years? Busy young lady, that Nancy.

But she started me thinking about writing series characters.

Can they stay the same age through numerous books?

Should they age?

That raises more questions when writing a contemporary series with continuing characters.

What kind of character arc can an author create if the hero doesn’t age?

Is an evolving character arc important to today’s readers?

How does an author keep characters fresh and interesting if they remain approximately the same age over a number of books?

Classics like Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple remain basically static; the plots change but the characters don’t.

Then there is the quintessential hard-boiled hero, Philip Marlowe.

Even Philip Marlowe was young once – photo credit Maika, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Although I don’t believe his specific age is ever mentioned (please correct me if I’m wrong), the reader has the strong impression that, at birth, Marlowe was already old and cynical.

Over two decades, starting with The Big Sleep (1939)  and ending with Playback (1959), Marlowe was repeatedly beaten up, double-crossed, and betrayed. His life remained solitary with occasional sexual encounters that didn’t end well. The tarnished knight won a few victories but ultimately lost the war against evil. As vivid and memorable a character as he was, he didn’t change much, except for more scars. (Note: I’m not counting Poodle Springs, Chandler’s unfinished novel completed by Robert B. Parker and published in 1989 where Marlowe married, at least for a little while.)

How would readers react to Arthur Conan Doyle, Dame Agatha Christie, or Raymond Chandler if their books were released today?

Contemporary readers seem to lean more toward series characters who go through ups and downs similar to those we face in real life.  

In James Lee Burke’s series, the beleaguered Dave Robicheaux moves from New Orleans to New Iberia, switches jobs, falls off the wagon and climbs back on, gains and loses spouses and friends, and adopts a child who grows up through the books.

Readers meet Kinsey Milhone at age 32, with a police career and two marriages already behind her. In the course of Sue Grafton’s 25-book Alphabet Series, Kinsey has her home blown up and rebuilt, loses her beloved VW convertible, discovers the roots of her absent family, falls in and out of love several times but remains determinedly single. In the final book, Y is for Yesterday, she is 39.

Judging by their popularity, readers relate deeply to characters like Dave and Kinsey. We’ve been in the trenches beside them as they live through the same life trials that we ourselves do. They become close friends we’ve known for years.

What do series authors need to consider when time passes and their characters age?

When I wrote Instrument of the Devil in 2015-6, I didn’t envision a series. The book was set in 2011 as smartphones were transitioning from exotic toys for geeks into phones adopted by ordinary people. Because of a new smartphone, my character Tawny Lindholm stumbles over her milestone 50th birthday and into a nightmarish world of technology. Unbeknownst to her, it has been rigged by a terrorist to launch a cyberattack she’ll be blamed for.

The book was published in 2017, six years after the story takes place.

Near the end of Instrument, a brilliant, arrogant attorney, Tillman Rosenbaum, came on scene to defend Tawny. He was intended as a minor walk-on character. However, the match and gasoline chemistry between him and Tawny propelled them into more books where she goes to work as his investigator despite her dislike for him.

[Spoiler alert: they ultimately fall in love. But you’d already guessed that, right?]

What I originally conceived as a one-off had longer legs than anticipated.

Although there are no time stamps, roughly two years pass during the second and third books in the series, Stalking Midas and Eyes in the Sky.

Then, in 2017, Hurricane Irma struck Florida and knocked out power to 16 million residents.

The event tweaked my writer’s imagination. Reports of people who mysteriously went missing during that storm, along with scary personal experiences related to me by family and friends, turned into Dead Man’s Bluff.

After drifting along a vague fictional timeline starting in 2011, all of a sudden there’s a real date that’s set in stone. Uh-oh.

Okay, I figured from now on, I’d just make oblique references to Tawny’s age. Her children are in their thirties. Let readers infer she’s somewhere in her fifties.

As often happens with writing, life had other plans.

2020 hit.

Can an author ignore monumental events that tilt the world on its axis?

Not unless you write alternate history.

For much of 2020, writers debated how to handle the pandemic in current fiction. If it was incorporated into the plot, readers who were sick of it might be alienated. If we tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away, we risked being perceived as unrealistic and insensitive. (Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?)

Some authors attacked it head-on with thrillers about biological weapons or adventures in a post-pandemic, futuristic, dystopian world.

Some retreated in time to historical genres where major outcomes—like who won the war—had already been determined.

Others dove into fantasy genres where the author, not real life, decided the outcome.

Now in the last quarter of 2021, the world changes faster every day. What you wrote this morning may well be obsolete and out of date by this afternoon.

The sixth book in my series, Flight to Forever, is set in spring of 2020. When a Vietnam veteran can’t visit his beloved wife in a memory care facility because of pandemic restrictions, in desperation, he busts her out, seriously injuring two employees during the getaway. They flee to a remote fire lookout in treacherous Montana mountains. Tawny races to find them to prevent a deadly showdown between the cops and the vet who has nothing to lose.

Do the math. If Tawny was 50 in 2011, that made her 59 in 2020. 

Uh-oh, I really should have hired a stunt double for her in this book.

Even though 60 is the new 40, will readers find some of the action implausible for a woman her age?

Many people in their 70s and 80s are in fantastic shape. Recently I wrote an article for Montana Senior News about the Senior Olympic games where nonagenarians are setting athletic records.

Yet ageism lurks in the world of publishing and literature.

Especially about sex.

Many younger readers are creeped out by the notion that characters who are their parents’ or grandparents’ age enjoy sex.

Newsflash, kid—that’s how you got here. And, since you grew up and moved out, it’s even better.

How about physical wear and tear on characters?

Gunsmoke cast – public domain

Remember classic TV westerns like Gunsmoke? Whenever Matt Dillion got shot (reportedly more than 50 times), in the final scene, he’d be back in the saddle with one arm in a sling. By the following episode, he resumed life as usual—galloping horses and engaging in fisticuffs.

How realistic should series fiction be? How far will contemporary readers go to suspend disbelief?

If we put our lead characters through hell, in the next book, should they suffer from PTSD or physical disability?


What if you write middle grade or young adult books? Every year, there’s a new crop of readers to replace older ones who’ve outgrown a series. Perhaps MG and YA characters don’t need to age. Nancy Drew did all right. What do you think?

For now, I’ll keep writing Tawny and Tillman in their fifties and hope no one checks my math too carefully.

CC by 2.0

Or maybe I’ll let them drink out of Nancy’s fountain of youth.


For discussion:

Question for series authors: how do you handle age and the passage of time with continuing characters?

Have you found workarounds, tips, or tricks?

Question for series readers: Do you care about the main character’s age? Do you want to see evolution and change in them over time?


To follow series characters who age more slowly than the calendar, please check out Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion.

Amazon link

Other online booksellers:

Instrument of the Devil    Stalking Midas    Eyes in the Sky

Dead Man’s Bluff        Crowded Hearts     Flight to Forever

A Simple Trick to Increase Your Productivity

by James Scott Bell

When my father died in 1988, I found myself the head of a one-man publishing company. Dad, a highly regarded L.A. lawyer, had devoted twenty years to a pet project called Bell’s Compendium on Searches, Seizures & Bugging. It’s a digest of all California and U.S. Supreme Court opinions in this area of the law, updated several times a year, in a unique format that allows lawyers, judges, and law enforcement to find relevant decisions in a matter of seconds.

Thankfully, I’d been working with Dad on his treatise for a couple of years after leaving a big law firm to open my own practice. He taught me everything about the book, which is a good thing, for he was the only one who knew how to do it. If I hadn’t been there, Bell’s Compendium would have died with my father.

Today, over thirty years since Dad’s death, I’m still carrying on his work.

But back in ’88 I had to teach myself—fast—how to operate and expand a business.

So I created a crash course on entrepreneurship—reading books, listening to tape programs, attending seminars, and putting into practice what I learned. One of the first areas I had to master was time management. Luckily I came across Alan Lakein’s How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. This little classic is filled with practical techniques, and one great tip for dealing with the bugaboo that haunts all of us from time to time: procrastination.

We writers have developed many ways to procrastinate. The problem has only grown worse over the last two decades with the rise of the internet, social media, and 24/7 stimuli. When we’re writing and we hit a bad patch, it’s so easy (and dopamine-inducing) to hop onto the net and surf around. We scan our Twitter feed. We see what a favorite blogster has to say. It’s fast and non-threatening (unless you’ve unwisely engaged in a tweet storm with some unhinged mountebank).

But what causes procrastination in the first place? I think it’s simply the prospect of unpleasantness. When we have the ability to choose among tasks, we tend to favor those that are more enjoyable (relatively speaking). Or we simply choose to lollygag about until forced to give a knotty problem some time (which is why bosses and deadlines were invented).

Lakein has an answer for this tendency. He calls it The Swiss Cheese Method. Simply put, instead of looking at the entirety of the unpleasant task, take five minutes to “take a bite” out of it (creating a hole in the task, thus the name of the method).

For instance, when you sit down for a writing session and face the blank page (“A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.” Sidney Sheldon), it is sometimes pure joy and there’s no problem. Other times, though, you know you’ve hit a bump—or a wall—and it’s going to take some painstaking keyboard clacking to get you out of it.

Or maybe you’ve got several writing-related things to do in addition to your WIP. There’s editing another manuscript, marketing tasks, getting ready for an upcoming conference, queries to prepare, and so on.

Hmm, maybe I’ll just check my email first. Oh look! Marcie sent me a link to a cat video. Cute!

What’s that YouTube suggestion in the sidebar? A scene from Malcolm in the Middle. I love Bryan Cranston! I’ll just watch it and…


And before you know it, your time management has been turned upside down.

I usually have three projects going at any one time—a novel, a non-fiction, and a short story. So what I do when I first sit down to write is ask myself which project is giving me the most resistance—and then take a bite out of it. I usually aim for just a “Nifty 350” words, and then see where I am. What happens most of the time is I break through whatever barrier there is and keep going.

If for some reason I don’t move on after 350 or so, I’ll switch over to another project for awhile. When I come back to the first one, my “boys in the basement” have been working on it and I’m usually ready to write some more.

To sum up: Tackle your most unpleasant (or challenging) task when you are fresh (this works, BTW, for any enterprise you’re involved in). Take a five-minute bite out of it. If you feel some momentum (and usually, you will) keep going. If you encounter resistance, go to another task for awhile, then come back to the first one and take another “bite.”

All this talk about bites has me feeling peckish, so I’ll turn it over to you. What do you do to combat procrastination?

Get More Done By Giving Yourself Less Time

by James Scott Bell

You’ve probably heard Parkinson’s Law articulated, even if you didn’t know its name. It was formulated by C. Northcote Parkinson, one of those appellations whose authoritative grandeur makes you stand at attention. He was actually an English naval historian and novelist, and quite prolific. So it must have been with some consternation that his most famous work turned out to be the little book Parkinson’s Law, which arose out of a satirical article about government bureaucracy.

In short form, Parkinson’s Law holds that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. As explained in this article, the adage…

…signifies that the more time we dedicate to a certain task, the longer it will take to complete it, even if we could have gotten the task done just as well in a shorter period of time.

For example, according to Parkinson’s law, if we’re given a week to perform a task that it can normally take us a day to complete, then we will end up unnecessarily stretching our performance of that task, until it takes us a week to complete it.

This is why publishing houses give writers deadlines. And why writers almost always find themselves massively stressed in the weeks before a manuscript is due. They could have been early with the book, but they aren’t because they’ve expanded the work all the way to the deadline. It’s almost magically perverse.

This is why it’s important for indie writers to establish SIDs—self-imposed deadlines. Otherwise, it’s just too dang easy to loaf about you manuscript, especially if it’s giving you some trouble.

The article suggests the following:

To account for Parkinson’s law in your work, you need to start each task by identifying its scope, and trying to determine how much time it will realistically take to complete it.

That is, don’t ask yourself how much time you have to complete a task. Instead, ask yourself how much time it should realistically take you to complete that task, and do your best to complete your work within that timeframe.

In other words, set your own deadline based on what you could realistically accomplish if you parked your keister in the chair each day and did your work!

Further, you can put time constraints on a micro level as well. Let’s say you have four months to write 70k words, and you know your writing schedule and daily quota can easily get you there. Don’t get cocky.

Instead, figure out what you can optimally produce per week, up that number by 10%, and make that your goal.

You can even go smaller. Every now and then I give myself five minutes to write 250 words. I’ll often use Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die for this task. Nothing jump starts the writer’s mind like forced, fast writing (with the possible exception of a double espresso).

Final bit of advice. Parkinson had another law, the Law of Triviality, which holds that members of an organization give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.

Might I suggest that this applies to individuals, too.

For writers this might mean that when you sit down to write you first check your social media or email, or rearrange your desk, or finish that Sudoku you’ve been working on.

Indeed, there even seems to be a new corollary at work today: the amount of available triviality on the internet exponentially expands our desire to experience it.

Which leads to another law: Every “peep of steam through [your social media] whistle — Listen to me! Listen to me! — [reduces] the boiler pressure … needed to write another novel.”

Solution: Practice digital minimalism, set your own strict time limits when you work, and write!

Does Parkinson’s Law resonate with you? Do you find yourself filling up all the time you have for completing things?

A Trick That Will Tame Your Crazy Writing Stress

by James Scott Bell

Some time ago the astute Kristine Kathryn Rusch posted about what she calls The Popcorn Kitten Problem. It’s based on the video below. Take a look at a bit of it:

Now that is what an indie writer’s mind can often feel like. So much freedom! So many things to write! And yet so many marketing hats to put on, and a ton of petty tasks that seem to repeat, over and over again.

Lest ye think this is just an indie conundrum, it’s also increasingly a picture of a tradpub author’s brain, because so much of the marketing onus now falls upon the writer. Publishers are insisting upon “platform” before they offer contracts. When a book is released the harried in-house publicity person (if there is one) has little time for any single author. So you better be out there doing a hundred different things…every day!

If you don’t watch out the resulting stress might grab your good endorphins like an amped-up Conor McGregor and slam them to mat.


Enough of that and you could end up tired or with a chronic case of the blues.

Here’s how a typical popcorn kitten scenario might play out:

You’re writing your WIP, an essential scene where your protagonist has to apply for a new job. In your pre-planning you decided that job would be as a hairdresser. Or, since you are a notorious pantser, you came up with that on the spot.

You don’t know all that much about the hairdressing business. If you are a wise writer, you put a mark in your manuscript that will tell you to do the research later. Then you’ll write as much of the scene as you can, based on what you know about human nature and job interviews—and if you don’t know about either of these, you should quit writing and join the Navy. Then get out and write a novel about the Navy.

Instead, you decide to leave your WIP and jump on the internet for some “quick” research. As you look at search results, you see a book called What Every Writer Needs To Know About Writing Hairdresser Interview Scenes, and you click over to Amazon to check it out. Seems reasonable at $2.99, but just to make sure you don’t spend your discretionary Starbucks money like a fool, you download the free sample.

But while you are on Amazon you see a recommendation for a mystery series about hairdressers. You know the author. She’s someone you met at Bouchercon. You hop over to the book page and see 125 five-star reviews and a rank of 1,286 in the paid Kindle store. At a price of $4.99. What? Your self-published stand-alone mystery is only $2.99 and it’s ranked 423,679.

You wonder what this other author has that you don’t. So you look at her Amazon author page and check out her covers. Wow. Great! Your cover was done by your cousin Axel, a budding commercial artist who lives with his poet girlfriend, Moonglow. Well, you admit, you got what you paid for.

You do a little more research and find out who did this author’s covers. You check out the artist’s portfolio online and what he charges. Whoa! That’s a healthy chunk!

So you do a little research on how to judge the worth of a book cover. There are many blog posts on this, and you read a few of them. Something else catches your eye on the last one. It’s about the importance of book description copy in selling a book. You recall that when you did yours you had a nagging suspicion it was rather plain vanilla, but you were anxious to get the book out because everyone in your critique group was making money self-publishing and you didn’t want to be the chump standing on the dock as the ship took off for the Bahamas with all your friends.

You go back to Amazon and find a book called Book Description Copy for Former Chumps Like Yourself, and you download that sample. You read that sample, and from the Table of Contents figure out some of what your own description was missing, so you open up a new doc and start writing afresh.

Ten minutes into that a thought pops into your head. You don’t want to have your protagonist apply for a hairdresser job. No! She should be an insurance investigator!

So you hop back on Google looking for “How to become an insurance investigator.” Lo and behold, there’s a book called Insurance Investigation for Former Chumps Like Yourself. The author has a website. You go to the website and see he has a blog. Gold!

Which reminds you, you were going to try to do some guest posts for various blogs when your book came out. That’s publicity! Where was that list again? You search for it … you need to send out some emails!

You look at the clock. Uh-oh, it’s almost time to pick up Lydia from school, and what have you done on your WIP? Fifty-seven words! The last word you typed was hairdresser

I’m sure you can relate. Just as a Molinist theologian can contemplate an infinite number of contingent realities, so you, the writer, have an infinite number of ways you can get distracted, going off in different directions based upon a single pop of a cerebral synapse, one little soft-pawed frolic of a popcorn kitten.

So what’s the cure?

Here is a simple trick that can change your life. All it requires is some paper and a little mental discipline.

I call it Nab, Stab and Tab.

First step is to nab that thought. Recognize it for what it is—a siren’s song to leave whatTenniel-Cards you’re focused on and slide into Alice’s rabbit hole. You might even say it out loud. “My crazy mind wants me to go on Google right now!”

Next step, stab. You want to nail the thought to your desk so it doesn’t hop around in your head. You do this by writing it down. That’s all. I have scratch paper nearby for just this purpose. So in the scenario above, if I suddenly remembered I want to explore guest blogging, I’d write guest blogging on the paper.

Then I immediately forget about it and get back on task! This is the key moment, the forgetting. Get back to work on your WIP!

Finally, when I come up for air and have some time, I’ll give each thought a tab—I assign it a level of importance, using the A, B, C method (which I detail in my monograph, How to Manage the Time of Your Life).

A is for highly important, must-do.

B is for what I’d like to do.

C is for items that can wait.

If there is more than one A item, I prioritize these with A1, A2. Same with any Bs and Cs.

Next, I estimate how much time each task will take. I use quarter hour increments. So a task might take me .25 hour or .5 or a full 1 or 2. Whatever.

Finally, I put the A tasks into my weekly schedule in priority order. If there’s enough time, I’ll put in the Bs. The Cs I usually put off.

This may sound complicated, but it takes only a few seconds to nab and stab. And only a few minutes to tab and schedule.

Yet the benefits are profound. Less stress, more focus on you primary work.

The kittens will start to purr, and then they’ll go to sleep.

And you’ll sleep better, too.

So can you relate to kittens bouncing around in your mind? How do you usually handle it?

Getting Back on Track

Nancy J. Cohen

How do you get back on track after being away from home? When I go on vacation, attend a conference, or even do a one-day speaking engagement, I lose about two days of work for every day gone. It’s hard to jump back into your Work in Progress when you have bills to pay, receipts to file, emails that need response, phone calls to return, and household chores like laundry and food shopping to complete. With that being said, the idea of being able to use a shift swapping app when people are away could make getting back into work a lot easier. Plus, people can switch shifts if certain people can’t make it.

Photos from our visit to Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival:

Spaceship Earth  


Chocolate Cake

Lamb Chop

Easing into a work schedule is impossible for me when all these things are on my mind. Thus I allow a few days to get caught up, maybe not in everything but at least in the essentials, before turning to the work left waiting for me.

There’s no easy way to get back to the grind. You can reread your material and do some edits to put the story into your head again. Or you can set a writing/editing schedule beginning with a certain date.

I’m expecting line edits on Warrior Lord, #3 in my Drift Lords paranormal series. Before these arrive, I want to move ahead with Peril by Ponytail, my next Bad Hair Day mystery. This story is based on my recent Arizona trip, and I’d like to write it while those details are still fresh in my mind. And yet I have travel arrangements to make for a New York trip in January, bank statements to reconcile, a wedding invitation that needs a response, family visits to plan, and more. Plus the laundry and food shopping must be done today, not to mention paying the property tax bill, etc.

In a week or so, I’ll be caught up. And this is only from going away for four days. So how do you ease into your work schedule after a vacation? Do you jump right into it, or do you allow yourself time to get caught up?


Fall into Reading Contest, Oct. 28 – Nov. 15 Enter to win an ebook copy of Dead Roots, my haunted hotel mystery, and a $10 Starbucks gift card or one of three runner-up prizes: http://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/

Booklover’s Bench Contest Nov. 4 – Nov. 18 Enter to win a $25 Amazon or BN gift card or one of six runner-up ebook prizes: http://bookloversbench.com/contest/

Time Management for Writers

Nancy J. Cohen

How do you juggle between writing, marketing, and having a life?

Things used to be simpler when all we had to worry about was selling to a NY publishing house. When I wrote for Kensington, I turned in one book a year. Easy, right? I wrote my Bad Hair Day mysteries and nothing else. No blogs or Facebook posts. I didn’t have a second publisher to worry about making deadlines with double the work. Promotion consisted of mailing out packets of bookmarks to booksellers, letters to reader groups, and personal appearances.

blog speaker

It wasn’t until my option book was turned down that I started writing in other genres to see what would sell. Now it’s years later, and Wild Rose Press has picked up my romances while Five Star is publishing my ongoing mystery series. I am preparing to self-publish an original mystery and a few other items on my agenda as well. Currently, I have four books in various stages of the publishing process. This means edits and page proofs, along with research, plotting and promotion.


Never before have we had so many options. It’s an exciting era, but it’s also utterly time consuming. Who has free time when we can publish our entire body of works through various formats, and spend hours on the social networks promoting them?

Establishing priorities is paramount. When I’m in a writing phase, I set myself a daily quota of five pages a day. That’s my minimum, and I have to be at least halfway through before I’m permitted to peek at my email via Microsoft Outlook. I have to be finished before going online. This is the only way to get your writing done. Do it first before anything else intrudes.

When I’m in a revision phase, I also set limits. Maybe it’s one chapter per day to edit or 50 pages per day to proofread. Again, this work must get done.

As for the rest of the day, it’s spent on promotion and marketing, interspersed with errands, meeting friends for lunch, or whatever else is on my daily schedule. I’m fortunate that I can write full-time. My retired husband helps out with errands, freeing more of my time. Some of you may not have this luxury. In that case, you have to set your own limits.

How many pages can you reasonably write in one day? How many pages can you edit or proofread on a steady basis? How many days a week can you devote to your writing career?

Do you enjoy social networking and marketing, or would you rather watch paint dry? Does someone have to handcuff you to the keyboard to get you to participate?

Handcuffs (800x600) (2)

Where it comes to marketing, create a specific promotional campaign for each upcoming title. Follow this template so you’re not reaching blindly in the dark. As for the social nets, pick a select few and check in there often. Visit the other sites whenever you get to them. Schedule tweets ahead of time if you have a chance. I’ll visit Facebook several times a day because I feel this one is the most important.

Twitter comes next for me. I’ll pop in there every now and then and do a few posts. Pinterest isn’t on my daily role call. I’ll pin photos after I do a blog post with pictures I’ve uploaded. Goodreads is on my list but not on a daily basis, as is commenting on other people’s blogs and posts. You have to do what feels right for you.

I’m a big believer in lists. Write down your writing and business goals for the year. Each day, decide what you have to accomplish. These lists will give you a concrete path to follow. Write down the marketing plan for your next book. This will give you a specific focus, i.e. a blog tour or a book trailer. What you don’t want to do is flounder about, because that’s truly a time waster.

So what’s your plan for today? Mine included writing this blog. Marketing task number one is done. On to task number two.

Dueling Manuscripts

by Michelle Gagnon

So I’m currently working on two writing projects at the same time. One of the novels I’m actually getting paid for, the other is a passion project that I started last year and have yet to finish. The goal is to complete both novels in the next six months.

These days, dueling manuscripts aren’t a rarity–in fact, most of the writers I know are doing the same, publishing multiple books a year just to stay afloat.

But a few weeks into this multitasking adventure, I can’t for the life of me figure out how they’re managing it. I feel like I’m trying to nudge two balls up a mountain simultaneously: I manage to move one a few feet, only to discover that the other has slipped down and I have to race back to it.

In the past I’ve worked on short stories while writing a novel, or tackled a screenplay while editing a book. But this is the first time I’ve confronted the challenge of working on two completely separate series simultaneously. Better yet, one is geared toward a Young Adult audience, and I’m still somewhat confused about what limitations that places on it (I don’t generally have much sex in my books, but my characters do tend to have filthy mouths. Is that okay? Do teens say “like” anymore? And what kind of music are the kids listening to these days anyway? You see the problem.)

My agent expressed concern when we first discussed the possibility of signing a new book contract. After all, we’d agreed that I would take my time with the passion project (which will henceforth be referred to as MOPWW, or “My Own Personal White Whale”), working on it without deadline pressure.
“So you’re sure you can write both in that timeframe?” she asked (sounding, in all honesty, a little dubious).
“Oh, absolutely,” I said with confidence. “In fact, I’ll probably have them both done early.”

Ha ha ha.

While contract negotiations were finalized, I did my utmost to finish MOPWW. Unfortunately, I didn’t succeed, and suddenly the “i’s” were dotted and “t’s” were crossed and the September 1st deadline for the YA novel became a reality. I was forced to admit that I’d have to work on both books at the same time.

Initially, I didn’t think it would be a problem. I figured I’d spend mornings on one, and then alternate after lunch. Easy, right?

The problem is, I end up becoming so engaged with one project, it’s hard to switch gears. I find myself really wanting to forge ahead with MOPWW, to the complete neglect of the other manuscript (you know, the one I’m actually getting paid for). Just one more day, I figure. If I can write just a few more scenes, and get within striking distance of the ending, I can set it aside and work on the YA in earnest…

Next thing I know, another week has passed and I’ve primarily made progress on the whale.

Meanwhile, that deadline clock is ticking away in the background, dishes are piling up in the sink, laundry is overflowing the hamper, bills are sitting on my desk unopened (and oh, the mess on my desk–I’m sure it puts Clare’s to shame).
So how do people do it? And is anyone willing to take care of these dishes for me?

What’s up with time?

By Joe Moore

It seems like the older I get, the more I’m aware of the lack of time available to me each day. I remember back when I was a kid my mother used to comment that as the years rolled by, the less time there was to get things done. I thought she was crazy. Back then I had all the time in the world. No crunch, no rush. The days went on forever as I grew up. Well, that’s all changed.

Now my friends and I complain that there are not enough hours in the day. Last time I checked, there were still 24, the same number I had when I was in my teens, going to college, starting my career, working, traveling, and writing. And, incidentally, the same number of hours that Donald Trump, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates get each day.

So what’s going on with time? Why is it that I never seem to feel like I have enough of it? Why do more and more things spill over into the next day? Why is summer over already when it just started? Didn’t we just celebrate Halloween? I can still taste the pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving. There’s something weird going on here. I don’t want to go so far as to say it’s an X-Files issue or a government conspiracy, but I’m losing time.

I know it’s not because I don’t prioritize. I try to figure out what’s the most important task at hand and attack it first. Then when it’s complete, I go to the next item on the list. At least most of the time.

It can’t be from interruptions. OK, so this is a big one for me. I’m easily distracted. I try to avoid being interrupted when I’m working on the highest priority tasks. Really, I do . . . hang on for a second while I check my Amazon numbers and update my FB status.

I’m sure it’s not from stress. I admit I tend to worry about everything, especially things I can’t control. I know it’s really dumb, but what if the North Koreans do have an nuclear bomb? Or something much worse. Hey, I wrote a book about that (THE 731 LEGACY), so worrying can be a good use of time. Right?

At least I can’t be accused of procrastination. Well, I do like to take the downhill road and do the easiest of the most important tasks now, leaving the harder ones for later. But that can’t be the problem.

And God knows I set achievable goals. I try to be realistic in what I want to accomplish. If Dan Brown can sell 40 million books, why can’t I? It’s doable.

This time-loss thing can’t be entirely my fault. In fact, I think it would make a great premise for a show like Fringe. Maybe I’ll stop what I’m doing and send them the concept. I’ve got a few minutes to spare.

But I’m convinced there’s something strange going on, and I’ve decided to spend the better part of my day trying to prove it, starting with this blog. And in between my investigation, I’ll work on my new thriller. Should be plenty of time for that.

Anybody else think time is slip-sliding away?

THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, coming June 8, 2011.
"What do you get when you cross Indiana Jones with THE DA VINCI CODE? THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, a rollicking thrill ride." – Tess Gerritsen