Tempus Fugit or: How Hard It Is To Stop Goofing Off and Make Time to Write

I admit it: I’m easily distracted. And, right now, there’s so much to distract myself with. From work to television shows, husband time to exercise – and, of course, youtube videos, facebook, and other internet black holes.

With all that going on, I continue to struggle to find time to write. Or, perhaps more accurately, to make time. And I know that I’m not the only one with this issue. However, I am getting better. For instance, this weekend, I wrote about 4,000 words in my Avery Bennett manuscript.

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I was blown away while, in the midst of making excuses, I learned that the writer Jeff Wheeler – the author of the Muirwood trilogy that I praised so highly a few months ago – only writes from 7PM to 10PM Wednesday evenings.

That’s it. That’s all. But during those three hours, he gets those words typed up and ends up writing about a book a year. A-mazing.

We all have ways to deal with motivating ourselves to write. Some people bribe themselves with treats (whether culinary, retail, or otherwise). Others turn off their wireless internet to avoid temptation. Others have strict word count goals. And – one of my favorite tactics – others pour themselves a glass of wine before they sit down at the computer. Another thing that works like a charm for me is free-writing to get the creative juices flowing. That’s how I came up with this post for the Compendia, the other blog I’m a part of.

But I think that the most impactful thing I’ve heard about time management while writing goes something like this: how you spend your time reflects your priorities. So, along with word count goals, I’ve decided to set aside specific times each week to write. I won’t watch tv, go grocery shopping, walk to Starbucks with my husband – nothing. I’ll simply write. Because if I want others to take it seriously, I have to, too.

So, go do what you love and make your passion a priority!

Of Zombies and Men

I just finished devouring – pun intended – Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. They are, in my mind, best described as zombie-post-apocalyptic-political-action-thrillers. This series rocked my world, and I’m still trying to figure out what Grant’s secret was. Well, okay, I know what her secrets were: great writing, wonderfully unique characters, an awesome conspiracy, action-packed scenes, and really cool pseudo-science (clones, cures for cancer, and zombie grizzly bears, anyone?).

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Now, I’m not the only one digging zombies right now. Warm Bodies (a movie based on the YA novel) came out a few months ago, and World War Z is coming out in June. AMC has been getting lots of praise for The Walking Dead, and the number of zombie novels is growing like crazy (check out Tor’s list of their faves here – notice that Grant’s first novel in the series, Feed, is one of them).

But you really know that zombies are popular when the Wall Street Journal publishes a piece about them. In his article, Daniel W. Drezner writes about why we are so into zombie narratives right now:

Zombies thrive in popular culture during times of recession, epidemic and general unhappiness. Traditional threats to U.S. security may have waned, but nontraditional threats assault us constantly. Concerns about terrorism have not abated since 9/11, and cyberattacks have now emerged as a new anxiety. Drug-resistant pandemics have been a staple of local news hysteria since the H1N1 virus swept the globe in 2009. Scientists continue to warn about the dangers that climate change poses to our planet. And if the financial crisis taught us anything, it is that contagion is endemic to the global market system.

Zombies are the perfect metaphor for these threats. As with pandemics and financial crises, they are not open to negotiation. As with terrorism in all its forms, even a small outbreak has the potential to wreak massive carnage.

Drezner goes on to discuss ways in which zombie metaphors have infiltrated our lives – from the CDC to political discourse. The point I found most interesting is his premise that people like to read these kinds of books – and watch these kind of movies – because we want to see human ingenuity, bravery, and strength triumph over seemingly overwhelming odds. It gives us hope for the future and eases our fears. After all, if we can survive the undead, what can’t we overcome?

Aside from reflecting our current concerns as a society, the popularity of zombie novels also reflects the fact that timing matters in writing and publishing. Would these books have sold nearly as well 15 years ago? Maybe, but maybe not. Just as the Harry Potter series came out when the world was craving a new kind of YA novel, and Twilight brought paranormal romance out from its hiding place on the romance shelves and fully into the sci-fi/fantasy genre, the zombie books that have experienced such success over the past handful of years were helped by the timing of their publication. The market was ready.

Unfortunately for those of us who are working on novels of our own, I have yet to find someone who can predict these trends. Moreover, I don’t necessarily want to. I write stories that move me and that I would like to read. Writing something just because I think it will sell well seems like it would suck all of the magic out of the whole thing. However, knowing what’s currently trending does inform my expectations of how hard it will be to stand out. My current WIP is urban fantasy with a female protagonist, which is, unfortunately, becoming a dime a dozen. Knowing that, I focus on what makes my story different as I write it, and I think it helps me create a better narrative.

So, go out and buy/check out some of these awesome zombie stories. Then let me know what you think. Right now, I’m off to wrestle a zombie moose. 😉

What’s In a First Line?

I’m not sure there’s any part of a manuscript that’s harder to write and leave alone than the beginning. There’s a lot of pressure on an author for the first few pages – and especially that first line. How many times have agents, editors, and readers admitted that they have stopped reading a book because the beginning simply didn’t hook them? (Answer: lots of times.)

For instance, in Thursday’s Writer’s Digest newsletter, literary agent Barbara Poelle writes that, “Sometimes…a first line can close it down for me (e.g., the one I got that opened with, ‘What if it was your job to kill babies?’)”. She’s not the only one – editors and agents are looking for reasons to put a book down, and judging the beginning is a great way to find one.

And it’s true for me, too. The first line can make me love a book. It can also make me debate whether it’s worth my time. For instance, when I opened Feed, by Mira Grant, it begins like this:

Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot – in this case, my brother Shaun – deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.

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How can I not want to read more? It’s funny, it sets the tone of the narrator, and it gives you tons of information about the setting – all wrapped up in one neat, little (okay, big) sentence.

At this point, I’ve spent over two weeks tweaking the opening scene of my first Avery Bennett novel. My husband read it last night, and, wonder of all wonders, he laughed at the right parts, then turned to me and said, “It’s good!”. Music to my ears.

Wanna read it? Here are the first few paragraphs:

     For an oracle, there are times when I’m awfully bad at remembering things. The irony of this fact wasn’t lost on me as I shoved my arm through the sleeve of my t-shirt and swept into the kitchen. My roommate, Jenna, was lying on her stomach in the middle of the tile floor, pouring over this month’s Cosmopolitan. She didn’t even look up as I entered.
     “Have you seen my keys?” I asked, my eyes scanning the counters and the kitchen table. There was no sign of them amid the papers and utensils scattered across most of the surfaces that weren’t taken up by unopened moving boxes. Despite the seconds ticking by, I grabbed the Costco-sized bottle of aspirin from the island and tipped a couple pills into my palm, tossing them into my mouth and swallowing them with ease. Practice makes perfect, and I always fared better when I went out into the world with a little preventative care. No matter how good my mental shield is, headaches are inevitable when I’m around people for a prolonged period of time. Lately, I could barely manage an hour before the migraine hit.
     Jenna ignored my question as I shuffled papers aside and rifled through the clothes draped over the living room furniture. “Did you know that Taylor Swift is back together with that drummer from her ex-boyfriend’s band?” she asked.
     I stopped rifling through the papers on the kitchen table for a moment and forced my face into a confused frown. “I thought she was dating that actor from Twilight.”
     Jenna’s head shot up and she stared at me in shock. Or, at least, I think it was shock. My roommate’s face is hard to read, mostly because she’s a human ghost stuck in a dog’s body. A Westie’s body, to be specific. Many of our expressions aren’t meant for canine features. Trust me. After living with Jenna for almost two months now, there were some faces that she was simply no longer allowed to make.
     They were just too creepy.
     “You. Can’t. Be. Serious.” She over-enunciated each word, sounding more like a Valley Girl with each syllable.
     A grin crept across my face. “Of course not,” I said. “She broke up with the actor guy last fall – everyone knows that. I just had to get your attention.” Jenna sighed, the noise sounding unnatural coming from her muzzle, and I tried to stifle my smile. “Have you seen my keys anywhere?”

And now, I promised myself that I’d get back to work after this post. Any thoughts on my opener? Leave ’em in the comments, and I will definitely respond. Any other tricks to a good hook in your manuscript? I’d love to hear those, too.

Amazon Bought Goodreads…Now What Will They Do Next?

I’m an avid follower of publishing news. I want to know who is selling, who is buying, and how the industry is changing. Keep this in mind and bear with me as you read the seemingly-unrelated second paragraph.

On the other side of things, I am not always as interested in social media as I should be. I was on twitter for less than two days before I was overwhelmed at the number of tweets I was expected to think up at 6-hour intervals, and I go on facebook mostly just to keep in touch with college friends and stalk high school nemeses. So it should come as no shock to you that I only just got on Goodreads within the last two weeks. For those who don’t know, Goodreads is a social network for bookworms. Part of my avoidance was due to not really knowing what joining would entail. Part of it was also due to the fact that I read one book a week. I take public transit to and from work, and I read while eating breakfast and lunch; this – coupled with my speed-reading super power – gets me through a lot of books in a short amount of time. The idea of trying to list and review everything I’ve read was overwhelming, even if I only went back over the past six months.

However, I finally joined and have really enjoyed trying to review a book a week.

Now, here’s the fact that connects the first two paragraphs: Amazon bought Goodreads this week. You can find an interesting article about how Goodreads was a smart purchase here.

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My interest is more from an author-ly perspective. Amazon’s algorithms recommend books to potential buyers based on their purchases and the related purchases of others who bought the same item; Goodreads’ algorithms do the same thing based on how you rate books you’ve read along with the reading choices made by others who felt similarly about your book.

Now, if the two most popular online avenues of book reviews are now housed under the same roof, how will that affect how people go about deciding which books to buy? I know that a lot of the reviews on both sites are already skewed one way or another. Authors can create profiles to rave about their books, and friends can scratch one another’s backs with inflated praise. It can also go other sketchy ways. For instance, I was amazed at the number of Amazon reviews who gave one star reviews for A Memory of Light – even though most of them hadn’t read it – because they wanted to voice their anger at a delayed release date of the e-book version.

However, I know that I base a percentage of my reading choices on the reviews I find online, and I have to think that there are others out there who do too. Mostly positive? It gets added to the list. Negative reviews that cite my pet peeves? Neeeeeext. I even like to see how the Goodreads reviews compare to the Amazon reviews; I am of the opinion that different people review in different places. Hopefully, the Amazon-Goodreads relationship won’t change the unique benefits of uncensored reader feedback present in both sites. In fact, I’d love to see reforms that make it harder to engage in the sneaky tactics mentioned in the previous paragraph.

So far, I haven’t found anything citing Amazon’s plans for the future of Goodreads. Only time will tell, but I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed. Anyone have any predictions?