Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Writer's Resolutions

About a week and a half ago, my good friend and fellow writer, Joni Rodgers, asked me if I did an annual business plan for my writing and what my resolutions were for the coming year. Immediately, the usual, lame annual resolutions popped into mind (overcome my aversion to exercise, reverse aging process, lose the pounds that crept on over the holidays), but I don't really think that's what she had in mind.

After listening to her excellent business resolutions for the year, I've given a bit of thought to my own, which includes the following:

1. Continue writing Texas-set romantic suspense featuring realistic, relatable characters in deep trouble, plenty of tension, and family elements. Give readers a reliable reading experience while working diligently to improve my craft with each book.
2. Actively promote my July release, HEAD ON, and work with my agent to sell a pair of new proposals with the goal of getting two books out in 2008. Brainstorm and develop additional proposals as needed.
3. Mentor dedicated up-and-coming writers (something I very much enjoy) via articles, speaking engagements, and this blog and complete a related nonfiction proposal.
4. Learn more about nonfiction markets and break into a large-circulation magazine with a feature story.

My business plan also includes a "mental health" department, with behaviors I resolve to avoid in 2007.
1. Comparing my career to that of others.
2. Obsessiving watching meaningless online sales rankings.
3. Sweating the parts of the process outside of my control.
4. Ignoring or downplaying good news and only "believing" negatives.

So now that I've listed my resolutions, I have to ask what's your business plan for writing in 2007? What do you plan to do, and what self-defeating behaviors do you resolve to avoid?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Santa Has Been Berry, Berry Good to Me

A few days ago I wrote about what every writer wants for Christmas: respect and support from family and friends. This year, my husband came through big-time on that score.

It's been a challenging year budget-wise. The kiddo is now driving, raising our insurance rates to somewhere between astronomical and the national debt, stuff at the hacienda always needs fixing/replacing, etc., etc. As I was looking out on the writing horizon, I could see that this year's RWA conference is in Dallas and RT is in Houston, both of which are close enough that is makes sense to try to go. But the conference I most enjoy, sponsored by RWA's PASIC (Published Author's Special Interest Chapter) is in NYC in March. It's a great opportunity to schmooze with other pubs in a smaller venue, meet with my editor on her home turf, and do fun stuff in the Big Apple. But budget-wise, it wasn't happening...

Until I unwrapped a Christmas card from my main man that contained a "Take a Trip to NYC!" coupon along with a list of how many overtimes he would have to work to make it happen. That was the gift that had me blubbering, because overtimes entail 24-hour shifts on some of Houston's busiest ambulances in the lousiest neighborhoods. These boxes (short for "meat boxes," which is what the HFD guys call the ambulances) run constantly, so the shifts are seriously grueling. Which makes this gift a heck of a lot more meaningful that running in to Helzberg Diamonds (not that he would; I've been boycotting diamonds for years, even though the industry is now taking steps to avoid funding bloody wars with them) and whipping out the old credit card.

The main thing I love about this gift (and the old man) is that he's once more validating what's important in my life. When scheduling his vacations, he's for years asked the dates of the national RWA conference and has often spent his first choice of times watching our son so I could attend. Before I'd published my first book, he drove me from the Houston area to Peshtigo, Wisconsin to research it on another vacation -- and didn't even look at me as if I were insane when I asked about it, nor have I ever caught him rolling his eyes over it with his friends over a beer.

No relationship is perfect, nor is any person, but I have to say that this support and respect make up for a lot of remote-hogging, snoring, and leaving huge messes in the bedroom. If he'd only pick up his damned socks. :)

While I'm waxing poetic about my wonderful Christmas gift, I have one more to share. My publisher, Dorchester, sent my the cover art for my July book, Head On. This novel deals with the aftermath of a terrible collision years before (wherein the local bad boy tragically killed all but one of a carfull of cheerleaders, his own sister among them) and its mysterious relationship to a present-day murder. I love the cover, which well conveys the book's eeriness, along with the barren landscape of the Texas plains. What do you think?

Friday, December 22, 2006

What Every Writer Wants Under the Tree

Looking for the perfect gift for the writer in your family? Here's a humble suggestion, and it won't cost you a dime.

Support throughout the year.

Support means respecting the effort, along with the writer's willingness to risk ego, time, and perhaps financial solvency in a quest to achieve a dream. A supportive family member celebrates each step of the journey and does what can be done to smooth the pathway ahead. The writer's trajectory is not compared to that of others, nor is success determined by extrinsic measures, such as reviews, awards, or large checks appearing in the mailbox (although, should those things happen, they call for celebration).

Support means respecting the time the writer puts into the work. Sometimes this involves sacrifice, but guilt-inducing martyrdom is not part of the package any more than eye-rolling or sarcasm.

Support means listening (even when you're long past the point of boredom) as the writer talks through plot knots and the frustrations of the business. It means allowing the writer space and time for communing with others in the same boat. It means understanding that these friendships do not threaten the family relationship but strengthen it instead.

Finally, support lies in reminding the writer that the work is only part of life and not the whole. Careers have ups and downs, but a bad turn does not equal a bad person, only a person worthy of love through thick and thin.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On Leaps of Faith

"When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap."

- Cynthia Heimel

This quote has so much truth in it. If you're afraid of looking foolish, scared that writing (or whatever creative endeavor) will have you rushing off the edge of a cliff, you risk sinking into the quagmire of bland, insipid mediocrity.

If you want to making a lasting impression, your reach much sometimes exceed your grasp. If you're moving in the right direction, some people will hate your work with a passion; others will love it. But either way, they'll talk about it, which beats the heck out of a shrug.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

How to Finish the Damned Book

Beginning a novel is like embarking on a new romance. There's the rush of discovery, the hope that this one story will soar to uncharted heights.

Then comes the hard work, the digging in, and the frustration that takes place when our efforts are not instantly rewards with a finished product. Too often, we abandon the work in progress for the thrill of a new love, a new opening.

Do you have a drawer full of unfinished novels or short stories? If you allow yourself to do this, to get out of the tough work, you'll never experience the mind-blowing satisfaction of having finished. Worse yet, you're training yourself to be a quitter.

Here are a few tips I've found helpful to "finish the damned book."

  • Know what you're writing. Take time to study the market and figure out where your completed book would be shelved. Read widely and consider joining genre organizations (if applicable) to understand the current market segment. Learn the reader expectations for this area -- and brainstorm possible endings to not only meet but exceed them.
  • Figure out what you're avoiding. Make a list of what scares you about finishing the book. Are you freaked out about family and friends' reactions? Worried about rejection? Afraid success will distance you from the life you know? Weigh these worries (most of which will probably look far-fetched on paper) against what writing brings to your life.
  • Realize your psyche's going to pull out all the stops to protect the status quo. Faced with the blank screen, everything else is going to suddenly appear much more important or enticing than finishing your work. Even scrubbing toilets can start to look attractive. Steven Pressfield has a name for the force trying so hard to prevent creative work from getting done. He calls it Resistance in his brief, brilliant book The War of Art. If you're really stuck, I highly recommend you read it.
  • Realize that writing a whole novel is such a huge task, it's far too scary for your mind to handle all at once. So do what many pros do. Break it down into bite-sized mini-goals. To do this, I have "The Wall of Sticky Notes," which is actually a closet door covered with one sticky note containing each remaining scene that I've envisioned. Writing out the stickies doesn't feel like work to me. It's fun and colorful and appeals to the little kid in me. Afterward, each day I shoot for zapping one of the notes by reaching and completing that critical scene. Then I (this sounds super-dorky but cheap tricks work for me) put a green sticker on that note, so I can easily look over and see everything I've accomplished on the book. Some people use spreadsheets; others come up with a reward system (five scenes completed equals a Starbucks Tazo Chai or whatever). What you're doing is training yourself to celebrate the steps leading to "The End."
  • Set and meet deadlines, even if they're only for your use. Train yourself to meet a deadline, and you'll be far ahead of the game when you actually have one. Choose a reasonably achievable date to complete the whole project. Then break it down into chunks. For example, if you wanted to finish two hundred pages within four months, you'd need to write at least fifty pages per month. Break it down further into weekly goals. Build in days off for emergencies, socializing, getting stuck on some plot point, etc. I don't pay a lot of attention to the ebb and flow of daily goals as long as I'm making the weekly and monthly ones.

I am a world champion procrastinator with lousy will power, so I've had to keep sharp to stay a jump or two ahead of my ever-evolving Slacker Brain. Somehow (miraculously), I've managed to complete a dozen novels, but I'm always looking for more ways to stay focused and productive. If you have a tip for finishing the damned book, I'd love to hear it.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Come to mama

Epiphany of the day:

"Writing a book is like rearing children—willpower has very little to do with it. If you have a little baby crying in the middle of the night, and if you depend only on willpower to get you out of bed to feed the baby, the baby will starve. You do it out of love. Willpower is a weak idea; love is strong. You don’t have to scourge yourself with a cat-o’-nine tails to go to the baby. You go to the baby out of love for that particular baby. That’s the same way you go to your desk."

Annie Dillard in her essay "To Fashion a Text" from the book Inventing the Truth

Friday, December 15, 2006

Welcome to Boxing the Octopus: Your Guide to the World of Commercial Fiction

We're glad you stopped by and hope you'll pop by often as Boxing the Octopus takes on your questions about the world of spinning lies -- we mean fiction -- for fun and profit. In the coming weeks, we'll be introducing ourselves, organizing helpful material, and giving you our take on staying sane and solvent as a novelist.


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