Monday, May 30, 2011

Ready? Set? WRITE! - 4 Easy Ways to Boost Your Word Count

The hardest part of writing, for me, is making myself to do it. 

It's not that I'm not inspired. It's not that I have nothing to say. It's not that I don't know what to say. It's just the sheer difficulty in carving out a time slot of uninterrupted writing time.

I have no problem setting clear writing-time boundaries when I'm on deadline for a client. I can work without stopping for hours on end when it's someone else's project on the line. But when it's my own stuff -- particularly my own spec stuff -- the dynamic changes. Working on my own stuff is such a guilty pleasure, it's easy for me to start believing that I should be doing something "more productive."

I can have three blissful, unscheduled hours stretching ahead of me. I'll think: Great! I'll get so dang much accomplished! I'll finish the next few chapters and really make progress on the work in progress. 

But instead of writing several thousand words and emerging three hours later flushed with writerly victory, what too often happens is this:

Hour 1

-- I'll just throw a load of laundry in the wash. It won't take much time. That way, I can be productive and not feel too badly about taking time out of the day just to write.

-- While I'm at it, I might as well feed the dogs.  And water them.  And let them outside. That way, they won't be bothering me when I'm in the middle of my magnum opus.

--  Good Lord, just look at this dog hair! People are going to think I live in squalor. I can't write knowing this is wafting about. It won't take long to clean up the worst of it.

-- Where's the dustpan? And the broom? It can't be that long since I used them. (Frantic search ensues.)

-- Ah! There they are, over by the pop cans I need to return. After I clean up the dogs' area, I need to remember to...

-- Let dogs in.

-- ...I need to remember to put the cans by the front door so I don't forget to take them in the next time I go to the grocery store. In fact, I'll do that right now.

-- EEeew! Is that a tick!? Whew, no. Thank heavens. But it IS tick season. Blasted blood suckers. I better check each dog thoroughly, just to be safe.

-- The washer's stopped. Is it broken? Oh -- the cycle's finished. Already! Where did the time go? Well, while I'm here, I might as well put the clothes in the dryer...

Hour 2

-- At least I'm out of the basement! Only 2 hours left to work, but that's still plenty of time to get stuff done. 

-- Holy cow: 37 emails?! I just cleaned out my inbox this morning. Maybe there's something important in there. I should take a look...

-- OK. All set. Ready to write.

-- (Six sentences later.) For my work in progress, I need to know what movies were showing in August, 1985. I'll just jump online. This won't take long...

Hour 3

-- SWEET VIDALIA ONIONS, look at the time!

-- My coffee is cold. Can't create without coffee. It won't take long to brew a fresh pot.

-- While it's brewing, I'll just jump on Twitter and see what I've missed...

-- Ok, coffee's ready. Now I'll get back to-- Look at those dishes in the sink. It'll only take a few minutes to wash them up.  Then the place will look like someone lives here who cares.

-- Coffee's good. Wish I had coffee cake to go with it. It wouldn't take long to-- NO! Dagnabbit, no! I'm not going to bake anything. I'm going to write!

-- (Six sentences later.) Look at the time! I better start supper now, if we're going to eat at a decent time...

Maybe I'm all alone in this. Maybe I'm the only one who combats the demon of Writer's Guilt. I certainly hope so. But if not, allow me to share 4 simple ways to curb the imp and unleash the words to fill the blank page.
Inside every hour is a caged wordcount desperate for freedom.

1.) Write or Die. As the inimitable Dr. Wicked himself explains, Write or Die "encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you’re fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences." These consequences are severe enough to make it more worth your while to plow ahead with your writing than, say, take the laundry from the dryer and begin folding your socks.

2.) #Wordmongering. If you're on Twitter, this hashtag can provide an excellent kick in the seat of your creative pants. Simply give those who follow the hashtag the heads up. Then, beginning at the top of the hour, write like the wind!  At the end of 30 minutes, tally up your word count and post it. Do what you like for the next half hour, then start  again. The  #wordmongering tweeple are some of the greatest cheerleaders on the planet. They celebrate all successes (no matter how small), provide great camaraderie, and encourage progress.

3.) Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.  If working on your spec script or novel seems self-indulgent, a great incentive can be to put yourself on deadline as if you were working for a client. Saying you need to write 3 pages a day, or 1000 words a day, or a chapter a week is one thing. But it ups the ante if you commit to paying a penalty if you don't make your goal. A great tactic is choosing a worthy charity (Heifer, International and First Book are some of my personal favorites) and donating $10 for every day you don't make your writing word count goal. That way, even if you don't write, everyone wins!

4.) Find an Accountability Partner. You are not alone. The world is swimming with other writers who want to finish their projects.  Find one and make a pact. If you're both starting from scratch, commit to finishing a full-length project in a given time. You might allot 6 months to finish a novel. Or 1 month for a novella. Or 3 months for a screenplay. Come up with a time frame that's both challenging and doable. Set mid-range "reality checks" every week or month. If you're not on track via word- or page count at each reality check, you owe your accountability partner something tangible ( gift certificates work really well, I find).

These are my favorite incentive-based ways for forced productivity! What did I miss? Share your tips for boosting word count. Meanwhile, I've got to go let the dogs out...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Guest Post: My First Writer's Conference: What's the Worst that Could Happen? Pt.II

(NOTE: I welcome back guest blogger and YA writer Lisa K. to MuseInks. When I heard of her experience at a recent writer's conference, I asked her to share her insights with my readers. She shared Part 1 of her experience on Friday. Today -- the rest of the story...)

After lunch and four cups of hot tea, I am refreshed and ready to tackle the publisher’s course titled, “Getting to the Heart of Your Story.”

Publisher (introduction paraphrase): “I work at X publishing company where writers dream to be published. Don’t send me your stuff, I will shred it. You have to have an agent and then I’ll still probably shred it anyway. I can take three months to a year getting back to your agent. I can do this because I work for THE number ONE publishing company for children and don’t YOU forget it!”

Yikes! I start to cower in my seat.

Publisher: “Does anyone know what a plot is?”

I think: This is right up my alley. I’ve taught literature for almost 20 years. I know it. I’ll raise my hand.

Publisher: “You, what do You THINK a plot is?”

I’m called. NOW I can dazzle her…

Me:“A plot is a series of events starting with an introduction which leads to a rising action that goes to the highest point of the story which is…” I’m brilliant!

Publisher (cutting me off): “Yes, I guess it is that one way to define it.”

What? My definition is correct. I was teaching this when you were still in grade school.

Publisher: “Here is a picture of a cliff. This is what plot is.”

No, it’s not. You need to have a falling action and a resolution, not a conflict and then nothing…

Publisher: Let’s do an exercise. I will give you two minutes fill in the following blanks.”

******* Actual exercise:

Jane is _________________

Jane gets lost in _______________

Jane is _______________________

It begins to rain.

Jane sees ______________________

Jane feels _______________________

The End


Bell goes off after two minutes. I am done anyway. Publisher asks for picture book volunteers. A few people read their story out loud.

Publisher: “Hmm, that’s okay but it’s kind of lame and boring.”


Publisher asks for middle grade. A few more people raise their hands. Same thing occurs.

Publisher asks for YA – No one raises hand except ME! Double Yikes!

I read:

Skinner is 16.

He gets lost in reality.

He is baffled by his parent’s ignorance.

It starts to rain.

Skinner sees his own shadow.

He can’t take it anymore; he runs away and auditions for a popular singing reality show.

On the show, he makes it to the top ten. He doesn’t win, but has a CD contract and becomes the number 1 singing artist of all time.

Publisher: “Well, interesting. You didn’t use the name Jane though. Can I see this?” (Reads it out loud again.) “This is actually pretty good for two minutes, huh…”

Publisher gives it back and talks about something totally different.

Me (to myself): Say what? What just happened?

Lady next to me: “She liked your writing, aren’t you psyched?”

Me: “Yeah, I guess.”

Time passes slowly in the frozen tundra room. I drink so much tea that I have to go to the bathroom every 20 minutes.

Finally, 3:55 arrives. The time I have been dreaming of the whole conference. It is now that I get to meet privately with Publisher and see what she says about my first five pages.

I paid for this time separately. I sent in the pages two months ago just for the next ten minutes…

Publisher: “Well, you’re ambitious for taking on these heavy topics for teens. But, I don’t like it.”

(My book deals with cyberbullying, peer pressure, and teen suicide.)

Me: “Huh?”

Publisher: “The voices don’t sound authentic. It does not flow. Teens aren’t going to want to read this.”

I don't want to be argumentative, but I've done my research.

Me: “Umm, I gave it to a library panel of about fifteen or so teens and most of them loved it. In fact, an 18 year-old male told me I was right on target with the language.”

Publisher: “Oh, well, teens aren’t the ones publishing your book. Agents and publishers are!”

True, but...

Publisher: “Look at the time, it’s up. Listen, your writing's good, I will say that from the exercise we did. Send me five pages of another novel and I’ll consider it. It needs to be post marked by June 8 and sent to this address.”

Publisher hands me a card, stands up and says, “Bye now.”

Something else? I don’t have something else.

Well, I do have this one idea...

So, I get busy writing my “something else” for her. I don't want to miss my chance at having my writing go through a big time publisher's shredder!

All in all:

At my first writer's conference, I met some wonderful writers, but the agent and publisher acted too big for their britches. I'm sending my stuff anyway. You never what could happen!

Lisa blogs at YAEdgyDark. She's hard at work writing one novel while polishing up another.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Guest Post: My First Writer's Conference - What's the Worst that Could Happen? Part I

I welcome guest blogger and YA writer Lisa K. to MuseInks. When I heard of her experience at a recent writer's conference, I asked her to share her insights with my readers.

Ami asked me to say a few things about the last conference I attended on April 29-30. This was my first writer’s conference so I didn’t know what to expect. It was geared to children’s writers and illustrators and since I wrote a YA novel, I thought I would fit right in.

Yes and No.

Day 1: Friday

I drive three plus hours to the hotel where the conference is being held. Check in and am excited to begin my journey and “wow” the reputable agent and publisher who reviewed my manuscript.

At night about twenty of us hopefuls gather in a meeting room to have a two minute read (there is a bell that stops you when your time’s up) to the group. Listeners have 20 seconds to jot down positives and negatives of the read. The agent and publisher are among the audience.

Since I am early, I sign up to be number 4 – not the first, but still in the top so people won’t be too bored. I have read my chosen pages to my writer’s group so I know it’s not that bad.

I read two pages, get belled and sit down. The next 10 writers do the same. I sit through many picture books, rhyming books and who knows what else. My piece is the only YA.

I paid for this?
Photo by Dani Simmonds, 
During writer number 12’s reading, the agent and publisher get up out of their seats and leave. Right during the reading! I am floored to say the least. They never return. This is my first taste of the two.

Day 2: Saturday

Next day starts at 8, I try to forget about the rudeness and want to “Wow” them and soak up all of their knowledge. After all, they are the “professionals.”

I listen to a writer’s motivational speech on the hardship of being published and see her collection of rejection letters. It is a wonderful speech which shows the progression of the publishing process. The woman has been published for the last ten years and has a diverse collection of children’s verse.

Now I am inspired. The room is freezing, but I am ready to get published. If she can do it, so can I.

The next speaker is the Big Time Agent on query letters.

I sign up to listen. (I paid to come here and hear her insight on “How to get out of the Slush Pile.”) I am ready to take notes and learn. Before the conference, writers could submit a one page query to get it critiqued. I missed the deadline, so I will have to settle for taking notes and absorbing the information.

Big Time Agent: “I am a twenty something-year old agent and work for a firm that you can only dream of getting in. I work in New York, not some hick town like we are in now. I am above you peon writers, so, don’t you forget that.”

Orange is beautiful.  
Photo by mxruben from
(BTA picks up a query) “Let’s see who wrote this. Oh, it’s XXXXY’s. Let’s see if it’s any good. Listen to this: it starts off with, ‘Is your favorite color orange?’ Of course it isn’t orange. That’s a stupid way to start off. You never start off with a question. Whose is this again? Who would like the color orange anyway?”

(BTA looks around the room; sees a cowering woman. Points her finger at the woman.) “Is this YOURS?”

Woman (trying to hide): “No, it isn’t.” (Points to her name tag.) “See, my name is YXXX.”

Big Time Agent: “Hmm, so it is. Well XXXXY, don’t ever send crap like that to me.”

Yikes! I am so glad Big Time Agent does not have my query!

Everyone at my table feels the same way. An hour of this ridicule goes by. Query after query of pointing and seeing people quivering in their chairs. I paid for this?

*** Tune in here on Monday to learn the rest of the story.

Have you had a similar writers conference (or other conference) experience? What behavior do you expect from presenters at conferences? Share your thoughts below.

Lisa blogs at YAEdgyDark. She's hard at work writing one novel while polishing up another.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rejection Letter Mad Libs

(Note: This is a re-worked, re-written, re-posting of the original "Rejection Letter Mad Libs" post of May 11 that was lost during Blogger's snafu-ridden outage. Blast it all. Humble apologies to those who commented on the first post. I am sorry your words were also lost. >:@ )

"We have received and reviewed your recent submission. Unfortunately, it is not what we are looking for at this time."  
For the same reason that not every first date ends in matrimony, not every query letter ends in a sale. No writer, regardless of talent or work ethic, escapes rejection. It's one of the many sad truths of working in the publishing industry.

(Another truth is that once you do get published, your workload increases. No laurel sitting for any writer who wishes to remain in print. But that's the topic for another post on another day...)

Photo by Rachel Montiel, from

Sometimes, an industry pro takes the time to pen a personal rejection. I am always grateful when that happens, for it can offer insight into why a particular work didn't connect with a reader.

Several months ago, before my novella had convinced me that it merited becoming a Real Novel, I submitted it to one of the few novella publishers. It's a quirky, darkly comic noir that I find hilarious. Several of my beta readers do too. I received a rejection letter that said good things about my writing in general, but that had nothing good to say about what I wrote. (I got the distinct impression that it genuinely disturbed the publishing pro.)

Now, if I had been going for "profoundly perverse," I'd have been thrilled. But I wasn't. So, as I fleshed the story out, I paid particular attention to the pro's concerns and addressed them in case others might share his sensibilities.

I doubt that my project will ever fit within the publisher's comfort zone and won't inflict the manuscript upon him when the novel is finished. I am grateful to him, however, for voicing his issues in the rejection letter.

Though reading rejection letters to famous authors can be cathartic, hearing "No" with regards to your work still stings.

Sadly, most rejections these days show about as much creativity and passion as a phone book. They tend to be tepid and generic -- with an unstated underlying fear of having harsh words thrown back in the industry pro's face when the genius manuscript they rejected finds a publisher and goes supernova.

 I haz solushun.

 As promised in my last post, offering a Mad Libs solution to query letters, I hereby humbly suggest the Mad Lib Rejection Letter. And why not? After all: what's good for the muse is good for the gatekeeper.


STEP 1: Fill in the blank with the indicated words:

*  Author Name: ____________________

*  Noun: ____________________

*  Title of Manuscript: ____________________

*  Infinitive Verb: ____________________

*  Infinitive Verb: ____________________

*  Adverb: ____________________

*  Exclamation: ____________________

*  Adverb:  ____________________

*  Noun: ____________________

*  Adverb:  ____________________

*  Name of Publishing Professional: ____________________

STEP 2:  Insert your answers in order into the following rejection letter where indicated:

Dear (Author Name):

Thank you, from the bottom of my (noun) for submitting (Title of Manuscript) for my consideration. Reading it caused me (infinitive verb) and (infinitive verb). Upon finishing it, I (adverb) shouted (exclamation)!

(Adverb), I must pass on this project. It would be too hard on my (noun).


(Name of Publishing Professional)


What's your opinion: would you prefer personal (and potentially scathing) rejections? Or would you rather have the benign "thanks, but no thanks" form letter? Also, if you have a favorite rejection letter story, I'd love it if you shared it below.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Query Letter Mad Libs

Remember Mad Libs?
Our 2nd Grade English Workbook.

For those who've forgotten (perhaps it's been awhile since you were in 5th grade) you come up with examples of random parts of speech:

*  Plural Noun = Noses!
*  Adjective = Fuzzy!
*  Adverb = Silently!
*  Verb = Swim!

You then use the answers to fill in blanks in a pre-written piece:

"Cooking (plural noun)  is easy. Begin with (adjective) eggs. Beat them (adverb), then (verb) them into a hot skillet."

I've been using Mad Libs for the past month or so to help my 8 year old daughter enjoy mastering the various parts of speech. Eight-year olds, you may know, learn well when presented with absurdity. For long-term concept retention, it's hard to beat cooking noses and fuzzy eggs.

But Mad Libs may be of more use than simply teaching my kid the difference between an adjective (slimy!) and an adverb (messily!). Today on Twitter, several agents I follow mentioned that they had received queries with a "now that bin Laden is dead" theme.

In case you're wondering, no, not one saw this as a positive development. 

Suddenly, in the midst of my #amwriting and #wordmongering, I realized the vast, untapped potential for publishing industry Mad Libs.

Such things could serve the needs of desperate writers everywhere who cannot tell a great idea from a career-wrecker. They could be the saving grace for the poor schmuck who awakens one morning and thinks, "Hey! I bet if I reference a major global event in my query letter, it will be seen as timely and I'll be perceived as cutting edge!" They could be the Query Letter equivalent of Valium.

And so, without further ado -- and in the interest of providing a valuable service to writers and agents everywhere -- I present the Query Letter Mad Lib. All an author need do is fill in the blanks with a word of his or her choice, insert the appropriate word into the Query Letter where indicated, and send the resulting magnum opus to the agents or editors lucky enough to be deemed worthy.


STEP 1: Fill in the blanks with the indicated words:

*  Name of agent: ______________________

*  Name of hero: _______________________

*  Name of heroine: ______________________

*  Past tense verb: ______________________

*  Name of antagonist: ______________________

*  Adverb: ______________________

*  Number: ______________________

*  Plural noun: ______________________

*  Verb: ______________________

*  Noun: ______________________

*  Adjective: ______________________

*  Book title: ______________________

*  Number:  ______________________

*  Genre:  ______________________

*  Adjective: ______________________

*  Number: ______________________

*  Family member: ______________________

*  Bestselling title: ______________________

*  Bestselling title: ______________________

*  Adverb: ______________________

*  Adverb: ______________________

*  Your Name: ______________________

STEP 2: Insert your answers in order into the following query letter where indicated:

Dear (Name of agent),

(Name of hero) and (Name of heroine) (past tense verb) as children, but the evil (Name of antagonist)  (adverb) separated them. Now, (number) years later, they must put aside their (plural noun) and (verb) together to save the (noun) from (adjective) destruction.

(Book Title) is a (number) word (genre) novel. It is the first in a/an (adjective) series of (number) books.  My (family member) says it's much better than either (bestselling title) or (bestselling title). I know you'll agree. I (adverb) await hearing from you.


(Your Name)


And that's it! Simpler than doing tedious research! More fun than searching for the elusive perfect word! The Query Letter Mad Lib: an idea -- like fuzzy eggs -- whose time has come!

Next up: the Rejection Letter Mad Lib...