5 Books that Inspired my Writing

My Blogathon 2012 buddies are writing on the topic, “5 Movies that Inspired my Blogging.” Since I barely remember a movie past the credits, I figured I’d better write about something else.

So without further ado, be delighted and inspired by these five books that have inspired my writing:

1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. If you’ve ever dreamt of writing, if you’ve ever been plagued with doubts about writing, if you’ve ever believed professional writers are so much more together than you, read Bird by Bird. Pieces of this book are among the most quoted by writers to writers, particularly the “shitty first drafts” bit. Yes, there is actually a chapter called this and the name alone should give an inkling as to its content. Lamott reminds us that everyone writes SFDs. My personal favorite chapter tackles SFDs cousin, Radio Station KFKD (sound it out). Here is an excerpt:

“If you are not careful, station KFKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker…will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness… Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.”

What inspired me: Welcome to my world. Such is the life of a writer. Lamott reminds writers everywhere that we all suffer the same malady of doubt.

2. On Writing by Stephen King. First let me say I’m not a Stephen King fan. But in a spurt of reading books on writing, his was on the shelf. If you can plow through the self-indulgent pieces, King offers some gems of writing wisdom.

What inspired me: No one writes well on first drafts. Even rich authors like Stephen King pen dribble unworthy of print. The difference is, of course, writers who care hone their words, give flesh to characters, dig for deeper meanings and, ultimately, tell a story worth reading.

3. Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd. Lloyd’s book meshes the creative mind with sanity. We creati

ve types are often stereotyped as flighty and irresponsible. If our tendency is not to be flighty and irresponsible, we question our creativity. Lloyd breaks creative personas into types, similar to a Myers-Briggs  personanalysis.  What inspired me: Reading this gave me insight into myself as a creative and granted permission to be myself—I may not have my head in the clouds, I may not dream up outlandish sci-fi characters or layered plots, but I’m still a writer. And a good one. My genre fits me and that’s okay because that’s where I’ve been gifted.

4. The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. This “totally unconventional guide to freelance writing success” is just that—unconventional. The authors encourage writers to break rules, not to be rebels, but to get a job done. If a good query exceeds one page (the industry rule), so be it. If a publication directs queries to an editor@….com address, find a real editor and vett an email address (to avoid the slush pile).

5. The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas
. This one is just pure fun and inspiration.What inspired me: We can get so wrapped up in rules we cease to be effective. This books affirmed my style and just made sense. I loved the no-nonsense, but always professional, approach to writing and marketing oneself.What inspired me: Where else can you get inside the minds of celebrated women authors, most of whom are long passed from this world? This book was like having a chat over tea.


How about you? What books have inspired your career?

New Year Day 3. Looking back. Looking forward.

It is easy to give 2011 a precursory glance and determine nothing good came from it. At least from where I sit. But when I spend another minute, I can see the truth that while it wasn’t my best year, it wasn’t a wash either.

I began the year in pursuit of a book contract. When the opportunity arose to attend Mount Hermon Writers Conference, I knew I needed to go. I worried I couldn’t afford it but with my husband’s blessings and a little divine intervention, I came up with the exact amount. While there, some industry experts expressed interest in the idea. It’s an important topic, they said. Please pursue publishing and here are suggestions.

But what I also learned at the conference was that a non-fiction writer will be married to their book for as long as it needs to be marketed. And that could be years. I’d be talking about my topic. Dreaming about my topic. Writing about my topic. Honestly, I didn’t love it that much.

My Aha moment

One afternoon as I sat mulling over the bazillion conversations I’d had throughout the weekend, I was reminded that what I really loved to do was write for magazines. Ten years earlier I had  just started to have bites from national publications when I decided it was just all too much. And it was, then. But this is now and my kids are older and I have the time and I really love the research and the opportunity to discover interesting new people and topics. I left Mount Hermon refreshed and newly focused. I took my place as a bona fide writer, which really just meant  enough other writers, publishers and editors validated me to finally believe I felt comfortable wearing the mantle.

A Writing Partner

Throughout the summer I worked on adding feet to my creative endeavors. I redeveloped my website, created and updated my professional profiles, made cold calls to businesses (for corporate/marketing writing) and prayed for a writing partner to catch me when my wave subsided. In August, a local writer contacted me and wondered if I’d be interested in starting a little writers group. I’d only met her once before but it seemed we shared some direction. Truly, this partnership became a highlight of my year because I now have both a writing encourager and a new friend. I believe the union was no accident and can’t wait to look back with her on all we accomplished.

While I’m not at all sad to see 2011 fade into the past, I am hopeful for 2012. It feels like folks might finally be crawling out from under rocks and emerging from the cold dark caves we’ve been hiding in for these past few years. It feels like there is finally light. Maybe it is just me.

How about you? Do you see some light? What did you accomplish that you didn’t think you did?


Six (Productive) Things to Do When the Internet is Down

Grrr. Once again I’ve opened my browser to discover our internet service is down. After 25 minutes of pressing this and resetting that, our technician notices our issue stems from another relay site. It has nothing to do with our connections. Ugh.

For seven years we have had free service (we let the server install a dish on our roof) so it’s indulgent to complain. Still. It’s frustrating. I find myself opening Facebook again and again. It is in these down times when I have an insatiable desire to play Bejeweled. And I click Get Mail, Get Mail, Get Mail, somehow hoping that our problem has been solved in the 30 seconds since the last time I checked.

So what if I turned this around and tried to see it as a positive, an opportunity as you optimists would suggest? Certainly there are things I could be doing during this down time, things I avoid as I surf the sweet spot of connectivity. Here are a few ways to be productive sans wire:

1. Write something.

Oh yes, I have a loosely assigned travel article I’ve been avoiding and two short newsletter pieces I’m not that excited about. I’m always most productive when I close my MacBook, grab my clipboard and yellow lined tablet and start scribbling notes and questions. That project I’ve been wrestling with suddenly comes to light and I find the structure that’s been evading me.

2. Create something.

No connection means no research, no fact checking, no bunny trail surfing. Why not take this time to simply create? Open Scrivener (a killer writer’s tool you need if you don’t have it), add a draft and write. I’m wanting to improve my creative skill but it requires focused imagination. With no email beckoning, now would be a good time to let my imagination run wild and write my SFD (shi&^%y first draft) of something, anything.

3. Cull the partial project file.

I’m always amazed at the projects I’ve started and abandoned. Exercises I wrote with no intention of publication, ideas that never went further than the fifth paragraph and a few favorites that editors didn’t love. In my down time, I’ve discovered a few gems. I’ve even wondered who wrote them. Others make me cringe. But in my disconnected state, I might find a new life for an old piece. In the absence of distraction, I have time to noodle with an alternate perspective or perform the edit it deserves, only to rediscover my brilliance (or at least my enthusiasm for the piece).

4. Tidy files.

I’ve got a loose system for keeping files organized but I get lazy in the busy-ness of daily work. This down time is perfect for opening my Finder and rethinking my system or simply cleaning house.

5. Make new Playlists.

Seriously. I get tired of my music. On my last airplane trip, I spent my battery power creating new lists according to mood: calm, riding, inspirational, upbeat. It made me want to listen again and I even discovered songs I’d forgotten.

6. Study theme lists and editorial calendars.

In my research I’ve printed countless publication theme lists and calendars. Inevitably, they sit in my “review” box until forever. I can take this time to check them over and trigger new ideas for queries and blog posts.

So now I’m thinking I owe my service a thank you note. Who knew the dark ages could be so productive? I’m now tempted to find a coffee shop with no service—on purpose.

What would you recommend as the most productive down time activity?

Branding: The First Step in a Writer’s Platform

In writers’ circles, there is much talk these days about platform and branding strategy.

Established writers are being asked by publishers and agents to bear greater shares of the marketing burden. And with self-publishing and e-book sales on the rise, independent authors, too, must hone their message if they hope to make a splash in a crowded world. Social media has made inexpensive marketing accessible to anyone willing to suffer the learning curve. And it can pay off.

Unfortunately, while writers can lay down 60,000 killer words, they don’t always know how to make those words sell.

The first step in the journey is to establish a brand.

“Branding” is a new term for an old concept. Simply put, who are you? and what face do you want to or need to portray to your fawning fans?

You might be saying, “Well, I am a writer.” Beyond that, you are stuck.

But here’s the thing. Everyone has a story. You got inspiration from somewhere. You have unique experiences that contributed to your product. Your writing process is unique. You have passions. What can you take from your life that would be interesting to your readers?

Don’t know? Ask your friends. Think about what you would ask your favorite authors. What would you want to know about them?

I’ve watched a few writer colleagues perfect their brand.

Mary deMuth, a fiction author who has written with heavy themes of thriving after pain, discovered that fans were often surprised by her sunny disposition. They expected a heaviness consistent with the pain she’d experienced. Mary’s mission was not to focus on the pain, but instead, the deliverance and freedom she’d learned through her faith. Her brand had inadvertently defined itself.

Through research, self-evaluation, and lots of thought, Mary redefined her brand to reflect her passion: Live Uncaged and encourages her audience to embrace freedoms born of grace.

Lindsay A. Franklin, an author soon to release Army of Light, a young adult Christian fantasy series, discovered she had been mistakenly developing a brand for writers, not her audience of younger readers. Her blogs about the writing process were interesting but were not doing the job of establishing her as an intriguing and wise mentor to teens. She revamped her brand and now writes weekly short stories and tidbits that appeal to her audience. Her brand and what she offers through it is helping to establish trust with those she hopes will eventually buy her books.

How can you apply this?

  1. Understand your target audience. Like Lindsay, you need to connect with those who will buy your book. If you’ve written your proposal, you’ve already done some research. What do you know about them? What are they interested in? How can you add value to their needs and desires?
  2. Know yourself and be yourself. You are unique and have something to offer that no one else can give. The key is to slip into this persona (hopefully it’s authentic) and stay there. Address audiences with a consistent tone. Just as your characters need to stay true throughout your book, so do you throughout your marketing. We don’t want to confuse our followers by slipping from sister to mom to preacher to teacher. It might sound limiting, but you’ll discover there is still great latitude in your approach.

Bizziwriter Nugget: Brainstorm ten words to describe yourself. Jot down five things you are passionate about. Do you see any connections? Could you combine a few to establish yourself as a brand?