Tis the Season: Gifts for the Writer in Your Life & 2016 Resolutions

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

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After the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve had my mind filled with plans for Christmas and the holidays, like getting presents from stonefoot.de.
I’ve already got my house decorated. 2014 was a rough year for me, but 2015 feels like a rebirth – a time to enjoy the many blessings in my life. It’s a time to reflect on this year while keeping my eye on 2016 and the goals or resolutions that can move my writer career forward, but I’d like your help to open my mind to the notion of resolutions.

I’ve never been one to commit to New Year resolution(s) and make a big deal about stating them aloud. I secretly set goals throughout the year and push to make them happen – things like setting daily writing goals, visualizing my completed novels for the new year, and how many prepared proposals I’d like to get out. I consider this career planning, but what about you? Does it help to make a resolution and let it be known so you’re committed? What writer goals have you set in the past? What’s worked for you? I could really use your positive vibes and I’d like to hear your success stories.

I thought it would also be fun to look at gifts for the writers in your life. Online shopping is a great way to find the gifts you want and with so many discounts available from places such as PromoCodeWatch there’s bound to be something that will be perfect, and for a cheaper price too! Last year I treated myself to a severed arm that I keep in my freezer. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Here are a few that appealed to my weird humor:

Mr Write Tee

Mr Write T-shirt at AmazonFor Mr Obvious

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Cafe Press Mug – 12 Days of Christmas for WritersSome of these gifts would be very appreciated.

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Shower Writing PadI seriously need to get one of these, but It’s kinda freaky.

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Writers Clock – from Cafe Press – What? Only one PANIC!

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Cafe Press – Books Shower CurtainAgain with the shower theme.

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From Writer Store – Magnetic Movie Linesfor your fridge or white boards

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The Writers Store: Literary Action Figures – They have Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, and Sherlock Holmes (Okay, why is Holmes in this group of authors?)

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The Writers Store: The StorymaticStory Ideas and Writers Prompts in a Box

Discussion Questions:
1.) What gifts would you like to receive (as a writer)? Or what will you give your writer friends this year?

2.) What resolution(s) will you make for 2016?

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The Last Victim available now. “When FBI profiler Ryker Townsend sleeps, the hunt begins.” Sale links HERE:

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8 Writer Tips To Keep Your Butt in the Chair

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



I like to reexamine what tips I would give to aspiring authors, or even experienced authors, when I get a chance to speak to a group. Invariably the question comes up on advice and I’ve noticed that what helps me now is different than what I might have found useful when I started. Below are 8 tips I still find useful. Hope you do too, but please share your ideas. I’d love to hear from you.

1.) Plunge In & Give Yourself Permission to Write Badly  – Too many aspiring authors are daunted by the “I have to write perfectly” syndrome. If they do venture words onto a blank page, they don’t want to show anyone, for fear of being criticized. They are also afraid of letting anyone know they want to write. I joined writers organizations, took workshops, and read “how to” articles on different facets of the craft, but I also started in on a story.

2.) Write What You Are Passionate About – When I first started to write, I researched what was selling and found that to be romance. Romance still is a dominant force in the industry, but when I truly found my voice and my confidence came when I wrote what I loved to read, which was crime fiction and suspense. Look at what is on your reading shelves and start there.

3.) Finish What You Start –  Too many people give up halfway through and run out of gas and plot. Finish what you start. You will learn more from your mistakes and may even learn what it takes to get out of a dead end.

4.) Develop a Routine & Establish Discipline – Set up a routine for when you can write and set reasonable goals for your daily word count. I track my word counts on a spreadsheet. It helps me realize that I’m making progress on my overall project completion. Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, said that he wrote his non-fiction books doing it a page a day. Any progress is progress. It could also help you to stay offline and focused on your writing until you get your word count in. Don’t let emails and other distractions get you off track.
5.) Have an Outline – Even a pantser like me needs a guidepost for a story. If I don’t have a good idea of general plot movements, I hit the halfway wall and stall out. I push through it, but it can take time. I posted an article on TKZ about my plotting/storyboard method. This method has helped me write my proposals with ease and I have a clear idea on major turning points in my novels. When you have deadlines to meet, it helps to have a good notion about your plot going in.
6.) Have More Than One Idea – I have recently tried writing different genres and have done something I never thought I would, which is write more than one book at a time. Crazy, I know, but I found it easy to work on my stamina and write a word count goal for one story in the morning session, then write a different project and shoot for a word count there too. I got the idea from a young writer friend, but it worked for me. That allowed me to make progress on two projects at once. This year I have pushed out of my comfort zone and have more than one project proposal with my agent on submission. I create a proposal that my agent can submit (synopsis and writing sample) then go on to finish the book while she’s taking it out. I’m not waiting by my desk for a quick response. I keep writing and moving on to finish my books so I have more options if I choose.
7.) Keep An Open Mind to Feedback – There definitely is a benefit to having beta readers. My agent also shares her invaluable insight to improve my proposals. I’ve found, in general, that if someone takes the time to share what makes them stumble or question my story (pulling them out of the world I want them to remain in), they are probably right. But since it is my story, how I choose to take their advice is up to me. By staying open, I often surprise myself.
8.) Know When to Step Away – If you reach a stall spot—some people call this writer’s block, but I choose not to believe in that—walk away and do something else. Your brain will work the problem, even as you sleep, and the ideas will come eventually. Trust your talent to find a solution or kick brainstorming ideas around with someone else. Often you will come up with your own resolution just by talking and explaining to another person.
So TKZers – What keeps your butt in the chair? What drives you and what works to keep you motivated?


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A dangerous liaison ignites the bloodlust of a merciless killer
When a beautiful socialite is savagely murdered in Chicago’s Oz Park, Detectives Gabriel Cronan and Angel Ramirez find her last hours have a sinister tie to two lovers. One is a mystery and the other is a famous violin virtuoso. A child prodigy turned world class musician, Ethan Chandler is young, handsome – and blind. He’s surrounded by admirers with insatiable appetites for his undeniable talent and guileless charm. From doting society women to fanatical stalkers and brazen gold diggers, the reclusive violinist’s life is filled with an inner circle of mesmerized sycophants who are skilled at keeping secrets.

After Cronan and Ramirez expose a shadowy connection between Ethan and the victim with a private elite sex club, they discover intimate desires and dark passions aren’t the only things worth hiding at all cost. A vicious killer will stop at nothing to settle a blood score.

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Can Storytelling Be Taught?

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




I posted some quotes below from bestselling authors on the craft of writing and the writer’s life. Some are funny, most are thought provoking, but the one at the top of the list from Willa Cather struck me as a topic for conversation here at TKZ.


From Cather’s quote, it would appear she believed that most of an author’s innate ability to write comes from how their lives were shaped in the first 15 years. We can read craft books, attend lectures, and follow as much advice as we have time to absorb on how to write books, construct stories, create characters, and world build, but there is also a part of who we are that makes up the total author.

For me, I grew up in a large family and our parents taught us how to laugh and we used our imaginations to tell stories and have adventures outside, not with video games. We even had skits we did for summer projects on our own. We did audio recordings of scripts I wrote as TV show parodies, complete with fake commercials. We chose video recordings (like a filmmaker) for class projects. We were all about theatrics and drama, for fun. 

I wrote a lot of things and had always been drawn to the written word. My grandfather had been a big influence on me. He came to this country from Mexico after fleeing the revolution in his country. He wrote for the Hispanic newspaper, La Prensa, in San Antonio and he eventually managed the Alameda Theatre that brought in vaudeville acts and Mexican movie stars to the stage. As a young child I rode a pony across the stage of that theatre as part of an act. 

Mostly I remember listening to my grandfather’s many stories. Some were real and others, not so much. What he didn’t know, he made up with a flourish. All of these influences became ways for me to tell a story and stretch my imagination.


I can see what influenced me as a writer in those early years, but I’d love to hear from you about your lives and formative experiences.

1.) What in your earlier years influenced you to become a writer?

2.) Do you agree with Willa Cather that most of a writer’s basic skills are experienced before 15 years of age?

3.) What do you think influences authors most in those first 15 years?

Quote For Discussion:
“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”
Willa Cather





Quotes On Craft & The Writer’s Life:

“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.”
Elmore Leonard



“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
E. L. Doctorow



“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
William Faulkner



“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”
Harlan Ellison




HUMOROUS (I hope):

“A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God.”
Sidney Sheldon



“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
Mark Twain


“Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.”
Truman Capote



“I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”
Stephen King


“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
Ernest Hemingway



“Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”
Robert A. Heinlein

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
Douglas Adams

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Give it Up or Suck It Up

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




This anonymous question was submitted to our blog. I thought I would attempt an answer and would love it if everyone could share their own answer.
“When you were at your lowest point and about to give up writing fiction, what pulled you through?”

I distinctly remember this low point. Ironically it came after a huge high. Go figure. I’d been working full time in the energy industry, doing a demanding job with travel, and had been writing for 3-4 hours every night (much longer on weekends). I did this grueling schedule for 3 years and it felt as if I worked two full time jobs at the same time.

I had joined a writer’s group, attended conferences & craft workshops, entered national writing contests, and submitted proposals to agents and editors with countless rejections. Mind you, I’d been named winner or finalist in half the contests I entered and I’d been receiving “good” rejections. The ones with handwritten notes or encouragement to resubmit from editors and agents, and I had 7 full requests out at the time. This kind of feedback requires risk. A writer has to dare to put their work out there for public scrutiny and rejection in order to learn and open your mind. Here’s an excellent post from TKZ’s James Scott Bell on the importance of Rhino Skin.

With every one of these aspiring author stories, there often comes tantalizing peaks along with devastating emotional valleys. I had entered (for the first time) the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Golden Heart contest for aspiring authors and had been named a finalist. This is like the Oscars for RWA. This was the Mt Everest high I’d talked about.

A good friend of mine, who had also been a finalist that year, gave me good advice. She told me to simply focus on my writing (a new project) and not get caught up in all the hoopla of the event, like what formal dress I would wear, or my shoes, or hair. From her experience, she knew it was too easy to get distracted and that if I didn’t sell from this, I would have to find a way to carry on and keep going. As high as I’d been from the contest, I felt my hopes dashed when I didn’t sell by the time the event came around. (Often, expectations are the proverbial albatross.) My friend had been right. I had to focus on what was important.

What got me through the crashing low after such a Rocky Mountain High was one question. I asked something that would change how I looked at my writing from there forward. “Would I still write if I never sold?” When I answered with an enthusiastic “YES,” I knew why I wrote. I wrote for the passion of the process and the love of storytelling, my way. I had tapped into a form of self-expression, creating something from nothing, that I hadn’t experienced any other way. The love of writing and reading had been with me since I was a child. It would always be a part of me.

Writing has elevated my quality of life. It’s changed me forever and in that moment, the burden of expectation (something I had no control over) was lifted. After I’d let go of the Must Sell mentality, it wasn’t long after that I sold big. My first sale story is here at this LINK. Yes, I sacrificed a body part to sell. But after I finished “No One Heard Her Scream,” I knew it would sell. Don’t ask me how I knew. I just did. Who needed pain killers when the euphoria of writing had me walking on clouds?

In that stage of my writing journey–after I’d rediscovered the joy–I focused on the craft of writing and forgot about what was popular or what some publishers were wanting in their detailed submission guidelines. I never was one to worry over or chase trends. I had my day job. I treated my writing as something I did because I loved it. Writing still brings joy to my life and I continue to write the stories I want to read.

I’d love to hear from others in our TKZ family. What gets you through the slumps? What keeps you going?

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In Absentia – Mea Culpa

@JordanDane
JordanDane


Apologies for the lack of a post today, TKZers. I’m dealing with an increase in personal demands regarding my aging parents. My siblings and I are fortunate that our parents are in reasonably good health and are still living in their HUGE home, but that’s where things get crazy. None of us want to intervene in their decision making process. We’re sure that will come eventually, but it’s hard to know what’s best for them when they still have steam left in their mid to late 80s.


Are any of you dealing with something like this?


My dad is adamant he wants to stay put or move into a bigger home, when my mom wants something smaller and newer so there are no maintenance issues. We’ve discussed my husband and I living with them or moving into a situation where we both buy homes next door, but I am a firm believer in privacy for married couples. My dad is hard of hearing (and won’t admit it) and has the TV blaring all day on news stations. I couldn’t work under those conditions. We’d have to invest in a headset or make sure he has his own needs taken care of, independent of the rest of us under the same roof. There is no easy solution to the living arrangements, but they are realizing something needs to happen.


They also need services to help them day to day. Services like: grocery delivery, maid service, perhaps assisted living, but my father refuses to start anything that reminds him he is aging. Weird, I know, but his outlook has kept him “young” with an active mind so it’s hard to tell him otherwise and I don’t know if I want to. He’s still driving, but his days of being behind the wheel are numbered. He’s beginning to realize it.


So this week my mom has leg pain and is wheelchair bound or on a walker. We’ve got med appts lined up and I’ve been taking her since I can question the doctor and make sure she’s getting his replies right. She writes down her ailments and goes down her list to make sure she covers things, but it helps to have someone younger with her to make sure she’s explaining things right. That way we can both talk about it after and I can discuss further with my siblings.


So I’d appreciate any input from you on how you’re dealing with aging parents. I need commiseration, people. Any help?


Thanks my TKZ family!



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Three Stages of Writing

Nancy J. Cohen

In my view, story writing has three essential stages: Discovery, Writing, and Revision.

idea

Discovery is the process by which you discover your story. Bits and pieces of character and plot swirl around in your subconscious before you put words to paper. Consider it creative energy at play rather than feeling guilty that you’re not being productive. This can be the break you need before starting the next novel. It’s time well spent to refill your creative pool and to gather ideas.

Doing a collage, watching movies, listening to music, working on a hobby, walking outdoors, or reading for pleasure are some of the ways you can stimulate your creativity. Cut out photos from magazines of celebrities who look like your characters and fill out your character development charts. Search for relevant articles to your storyline and sift through them. Thus begins your research. Often this prep time can take weeks or even a month or two. If you’re a seasoned writer, you’ll know how long you need. Be sure to factor this in when you determine your target goal of completion for your project.

When these ideas coalesce in your head and your characters begin to talk to you, you’re ready to start writing. This is when I sit down and write an entire synopsis. The synopsis acts as my writing guideline, so I always know where I’m going even if I don’t quite know how to get there. This still allows for the element of surprise. The plot may change as the story develops.

editing

At this stage, set yourself a minimum daily quota. I have to write at least 5 pages a day or 25 pages a week. Beginning a book is the hardest task. It might take until the first third of the book for you to get to know your characters. Give yourself permission to write crap during this heated storytelling phase. Once the book is written, you can fix it. Just get those words down on paper and move forward until the draft is done.

When you finish the first round of storytelling, it’s a good idea to put your book aside so as to gain some distance from it. You’ll be better prepared for revisions with a fresh viewpoint. Use the time to plan your promo campaign, to jot down blog topic ideas, or to write reader discussion questions. When you find yourself eager to tackle the story again, move on to the next phase.

editing

Now come the heavy revisions. This can get intense, because you need to keep a sense of the whole story in your head. You can’t stop, or you’ll lose your train of thought.  But you also shouldn’t rush this process if you want to produce what editors call a “clean” copy.

When you set deadlines, be sure to allow a month or so for revisions, because you’ll need to do several read-throughs. My first round of revisions focuses on line editing. Then I’ll read through for smoothness and consistency. The final reading is to catch any remaining errors, typos, or repetitions. You can run your material through one of the online editors like Smart-Edit software or Pro Writing Aid.

I guarantee you’ll always find things to correct, but at some point you’ll be too close to the material to see straight or too sick of the project to work on it any more. Then the book is ready to submit. But don’t worry, likely you’ll have a chance to fix things again when you hear from your editor.

Send it off, clean up your desk, file away your mounds of papers. By now you’re thinking about the next book and are getting ready to start the process anew. Force yourself away from the office and take some time off. You’ll return with fresh ideas and renewed energy.

Now I have to quit procrastinating and get back to the writing stage. After being away for a week, it’s hard to get back in the groove.

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10 Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog(s)

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane


Dogs know stuff. Sometimes I believe they carry souls who are on a higher level of existence than we are because they have the secret to being happy. I’ve learnt so much from my old poop that transfers over, like the need for a proper diet guide for older dogs, and funnily enough, the same applies to older people too! In fact as a little treat for me old poop I’ve been thinking about getting him one of those heated dog beds. Ive seen some really great reviews online. But without further ado, here are 10 things I have learned from my dog(s).

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Sancho – walking trouble


1.) Wake up every morning as if each day is an adventure – I am reminded of this every morning times TWO. My dogs love their rituals and seeing me is top of their list, it would seem. At least they make me feel special. And isn’t that important for everyone?

2.) Carrying grudges is for cats – Dogs might get scolded for something, but two seconds later they are back with enthusiasm. A short term memory and a brain the size of a walnut helps, but I believe dogs know that carrying around negative thoughts weighs down your heart and life is too short for that.

3.) All you need is the fur on your back – Dogs can pick up and go without taking a toothbrush. Yeah, they may have their toys, but they are perfectly able to share them with others. They are self-sufficient and know what’s truly important. Material possessions take a backseat to the people they love.

4.)Be loyal and love unconditionally – If you ever have a bad day, go play with your dog. They always know when you need a little love, because they dispense it all the time and in every way. They never hold back their affection. Even if you feel you might not deserve it, they will always love you with sloppy wet kisses.

5.) Make friends – My dogs are ALWAYS ready to make new friends. They see a dog walking down the street and they are pulling at their leash to say HELLO. For this to apply to humans, I would dispense with the butt sniff, but that’s just me. Maybe your neighborhood is different.

6.) Having a little discipline gets you stuff – Dogs may not feel the need for discipline, but they know it gets them stuff. Think of your daily word count as something worthy of a treat. The sooner you get it done, the quicker you’ll get that sweet morsel of accomplishment and know that you’ve earned it.

7.) When loved ones come home, greet them with a grin and a butt wag – Dogs don’t take ANYONE for granted. Anyone walking through their door is someone to play with and love. There is nothing wrong with that.

8.) Let people touch you – Who doesn’t need a good head pat or butt scratch? Enough said.

9.) Run, romp, and play daily – My dogs NEVER have a bad day. Ever. When was the last time you truly had a BANG ON splendid day from start to finish? Well multiply that by 24/7/365 and you’ve really got something.

10.) If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it – Dogs have single-minded persistence when it comes to the things they truly want. They focus and they dig until they score. They trust their instincts to know it’s there and a little hard work is nothing when it comes to something that makes you happy.

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Taco – my sweet girl




There are many more things I could write. I have two rescue dogs and they both teach me different things, but I’d like to hear from you. What has your dog taught you?

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Author Affirmations with Stuart Smalley

by Jordan Dane

“Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggoneit, people like me.”
Stuart Smalley, Saturday Night Live (Al Franken)


I’ll be on a panel at the Romance Writers of America annual conference in Anaheim in July – “The Care and Feeding of the Writer’s Soul.” Ever since I committed to doing it, I’ve been pondering my contribution and examining my own practices when it comes to nurturing my writer’s spirit.

But I wanted to open the topic up for discussion here to get your input. If you could create a box of affirmations for the writer, what would be your personal contribution?

On my computer I have been collecting sayings that have meant something to me over the years. These have come from author speaking engagements, emails, or things I’ve found online that inspired me enough to post it where I could see them every day. Affirmations can be reminders of author craft you want to repeat or they can be a way to keep a positive attitude or make progress in your career.

Here are a few sayings on my computer that mostly deal with author craft:

“Stick with the action.” Romance author Dana Taylor
When I muddled an intro action scene with back story, Dana wrote these words in an email after she critiqued the scene.

“Be there.” James Patterson
Patterson was a speaker at am RWA conference in 2004. He filled a ballroom, standing room only. By these two words he meant to put your reader into the scene using all their senses. He also said that he puts as much care into the first sentence of each chapter as he does the first line in any book. (I wonder if all the James Patterson(s) do this?)

“Trust the talent.” Robert Crais
I heard Crais present this on a video he sent via email in one of his newsletters. He talked at length about how he writes in constant fear, but that he trusts the talent that has brought him his success. It reminded me that all people have doubts. That’s human nature, but when you have a natural storyteller inside you, you should trust it.

“Get in, make your point, then get the hell out.” Robert Gregory Browne
Rob spelled this out when he explained ELLE on a blog post. Enter Late, Leave Early. The method is best explained by the TV show “Law & Order” where the scenes are sharp, concise, and don’t over-explain to slow pacing. The barest essentials of the scenes are captured to move the story along and a viewer’s mind fills in the gaps in action. The same works for books.

Here are a few that would be my contribution to keep a positive mental attitude:

“The next pair of eyeballs to see this proposal will be the ones to say, Yes!”

“I strive to be better with every book. My best story is always my next one.”

“I touch new readers with every story.”

“My books are unique because they are filtered through me and my personal experiences. I’m not in competition with anyone, except me, to be the best author I can be.”

Here are a few silly ones:

“I never get my page numbers wrong. I must be good at math.”

“When I kill people on paper, they stay dead. Booya!

As for practices to keep me positive, I have a shredding ritual for any rejection to expel the negativity from my house. Try it. It’s liberating. When I complete any project, I also treat myself with something that isn’t food—time off, vacation, fun evening with friends or family, attend a book signing, buy a new outfit. I used to think that each positive step in my quest to become a published author was only a small part of a longer future—that celebrating too much is a distraction that can swell your head. But now I celebrate everything. Life’s too short not to cherish even the smallest of pleasures.

Please share your thoughts. What would you write and contribute to an author’s affirmation box? What practices do you have to keep your mind positive and your writer’s soul nourished?

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