Riding High

I FINISHED IT!

DSC_0243crop

The first draft, anyway. 12:27 a.m. Saturday, July 6.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then I’m sure you’ve already heard the news. I sat in my bed, my husband half asleep beside me, shouting my joy from the virtual rooftops.

This must be the highlight of the whole writing process—the afterglow of a freshly finished manuscript. Any author will tell you that writing is an emotional rollercoaster, full of highs and lows, but this has to be the highest of the highs.

Part of me never believed I could do this. Somewhere along the way, it would become too difficult, or I simply wouldn’t know what to write next. Well, those moments happened. There were days when I actually cried because it was so hard and scary. But I pushed through.

I slogged through the tough parts, cleaning up the mess later and shaping it into something worthwhile, and by the end the words were flowing easily. On Friday, I didn’t want to step away from my computer. I took it with me on our family day at the lake, squeezing in words here and there between boat rides.

When we took our final evening ride to watch the fireworks show at our local marina, I knew the end was within reach. I was only pages away, and could finish it that night. I sat in the boat with my family, watching the reflections of the fireworks sparkling across the water and listening to the booms echoing off the hills, and felt like this was my own personal celebration.

I can’t imagine a better feeling.

Now I know there’s still a tough road ahead. I’m already deep in my first round of edits, with at least two more rounds planned after that. Perhaps far more. Then it will be time to face the almost inevitable heartache and rejection of the querying and submission process.

But for now, I’m riding the high, and life doesn’t get much better than this.

Does Editing Kill your Creativity?

I’m closing in on the end of my manuscript, with just five or six thousand words yet to write. I am SO excited about that! And even though I haven’t quite made it to the end yet, I’m already starting to look back at the process that got me here, comparing my methods with those of other writers I know.

I love to read my friends’ blogs—I learn so much about how different people approach the challenges of writing that way. I recall one friend in particular, Sheila McClune, writing about her difficulties switching between “writer head” and “editor head.” Once she stopped working on her first draft to go back and edit, she had a terrible time beginning to write again. That internal editor just wouldn’t shut up and let her create.

One would think I would have learned from her experience and avoided editing until I had a completed draft in hand. But no.

From the very beginning, I’ve been obsessively editing and seeking feedback to help me identify my personal foibles. Some chapters have already been through multiple rounds of revision and more than a dozen beta readers. I know writers who would cringe at the idea of letting so many cooks spoil the broth.

So was it a mistake? I don’t think so. As long as you get to your goal, it’s all good, right? No doubt I could have completed a first draft more quickly, but since this is my first attempt at a novel, I was on the steep part of the learning curve. Having that ongoing feedback helped me identify mistakes early on, and my writing improved immensely because of it. I may eat these words in a few months, but I’m hoping that means I’ll have less of a mess to clean up when I officially enter the revision stage.

The biggest thing I have learned is that every writer is different, and no single approach works for everyone. So how about you? Do you edit as you go or wait until your first draft is finished? I’d love to hear your experiences!

When Life Gets in the Way

I often hear my friends say they couldn’t write this week/month/year because life got in the way. And I’m as guilty as anybody. It’s easy to imagine that once we finish this project/season/insert-almost-anything-here, life will calm down, and we will be able carve out a peaceful space for our writing. Yeah, right. Never happens.

What I've been doing this week--vacation with the family.

What I’ve been doing this week–vacation with the family.

Because life goes on in all its messy glory, continually bringing new chaos. Work, kids, health problems—everybody’s challenges are different, but we all have them. Now sometimes there truly is something extraordinary happening in your life that requires all of your attention, but what about the rest of the time? How do we continue to make progress under less-than-ideal circumstances? Here are a few thoughts on the subject.

Prioritize. Take stock of your life every once in a while and think about what is most important to you, then continually remind yourself of those priorities. Don’t let all the ephemeral day-to-day concerns, like whether your house is perfectly clean before your friend comes over, steal all your productive hours.

Clear out the clutter. Hey, wait, didn’t I just encourage you not to spend so much time cleaning your house? I mean life clutter. Facebook games and TV shows you don’t even care about and all the little time sucks that are lurking out there waiting to get you. I’m soooo guilty of this one.

Find your happy place. Maybe you have or can create a home office. Maybe you like to write in a coffee shop, or a park, or your bed. The brain learns to respond to familiar stimuli, so having a favorite writing spot can help you slip into your creative mode more quickly.

Schedule writing time. Make it sacred. Make it happen. It works best if you can set up a consistent time, like writing an hour or two every morning before you begin your day. If your life doesn’t allow for that, don’t worry—you’re in good company. Look at your schedule for the week and find some time each day you can devote to writing. If you don’t plan ahead and put it in your schedule, chances are your day will slip away without a good time to write ever presenting itself.

Get your family on board. Let them know that writing is important to you and what a challenge it is to find time to flex your creativity. Make sure your family knows when you’ve scheduled certain times for your writing. If they understand what you’re doing, and that you’ll be available to them again soon, they’ll be more likely to leave you undisturbed.

Find a writing buddy. If making a commitment to yourself to write at certain times isn’t motivation enough, make that commitment to someone else. Set a date to meet a friend for writing time, either in person or online. Agree to write for half an hour, an hour or whatever works for you, then compare word counts at the end. The goal isn’t necessarily to write quickly, but simply to stay focused on the task for that period of time.

Grab snippets of time where you can. I haven’t been able to make this one work myself, but I have a friend who turns out amazing word counts this way. Carry a small computer or notebook then add a few sentences whenever you find yourself with a free moment—waiting for your lunch order, at the doctor’s office, you get the idea. Just like adding pennies to a jar, these little bits add up.

And with that, I’m off to squeeze in a few words before a vacation day of go-karting and swimming with the family. What are your ideas? How do you keep life from getting in the way?

Get More Twitter Followers–Part 3

TWelcome to the third and final installment of my series on how I gained 5,000 Twitter followers in six months. This is the fun part—where you really get to see those numbers climb. I’ve been adding about 1,000 followers per month with this method, the vast majority of them fellow writers. Once again, I’m writing with other authors in mind, but the basic methods should carry over to any profession or interest.

Step 3—Time to Fly

Naturally, the best way to attract followers is by being so fabulous that people flock to your profile, dying to see what tidbit of brilliance you’ll post next. If you can pull that off, I tip my hat to you. But the rest of us can still gather thousands of followers without resorting to the empty numbers of #teamfollowback and its ilk. For us, the name of the game is reciprocity.

The basic approach here is simple—follow people, and most of them will follow you back. Easy, right?  I’ll give you a little more to go on than that, however, addressing questions such as whom to follow, where to find them, how many people to follow at a time and how to keep your ratio of Following to Followers in balance.

Choosing People to Follow

The first thing many people do when they join Twitter is to follow their favorite celebrities. Writers might follow best-selling authors, agents and publishers. By all means, go for it—you can learn a lot this way. But don’t expect these people to follow you. Anyone who has far more Followers than Following is not likely to follow you back.

It’s not hard to find people who will, however. The Twitterverse is absolutely teeming with other authors and artists who want to build their online tribe just as badly as you do. Most of these people will follow you back, and you end up with a Followers list full of kindred spirits. You’ll probably even find a few new friends, readers and blog followers in the process. I know I have!

Where to Find Them

So where do you find these kindred spirits? Here are a few ideas:

Poach from your friends’ Followers lists. Go to a friend’s profile, click on Followers and scan through the list, clicking Follow for anyone who looks promising. This method works particularly well if your friend writes in the same genre you do.

Find other authors in your genre and go through their list. Many of my friends write romance or urban fantasy, and I wanted to connect with more middle grade fantasy authors. I scanned through the list of people who were following me, found a few in my genre and went to work. Soon, I’d connected with a whole community of middle grade authors.

Use hashtags. If you type hashtag terms in the Twitter search window, you’ll pull up all the recent posts using that hashtag. This is a great way to find others who share your particular interest. Since I’m writing a middle grade time travel story, I used #MG and #timetravel. Other good options are #author, #amwriting, #YA, #kidlit. Get creative and try different terms to see what turns up. And don’t forget to use these hashtags in your own tweets so that others can find you!

World Literary Café. You can add your link to a list of authors who want to build Twitter followers, Facebook likes and blog followers. This list is also an easy source of authors who are likely to follow you back. Go to the WLC website to sign up.

How many should I follow?

This really depends on how aggressive you want to be and how much time you have to devote. I typically follow 100-300 people at a time. Obviously, the more people you follow, the faster your following will grow. Be sure to allow time to interact with your new followers. You’ll get a flurry of welcome messages and retweets that deserve a response.

Remember to follow back!

The more your name gets out there, the more people will find and follow you. It’s only polite to follow them back. Plus, if you don’t, many of them will drop you, so if you want to keep that follower, follow them back.

You don’t need to follow everyone—I stay away from the ones that look like spam on principle—but you also don’t need to be too picky since you won’t be reading most of those tweets anyway (remember the lists we set up in Step 2?).

Don’t use TrueTwit.

If you want people to follow you, don’t create an extra step that will drive some of them away. So what if spammers follow you? Just don’t follow them back. Twitter isn’t the place for personal information you don’t want to share with the world, especially if you want to build a large following, so who cares who’s reading your tweets?

Unfollow Those Who Don’t Follow You Back

This is my final piece of advice, and it’s crucial. If you’ve followed people with interests similar to yours, most of them will follow you back, but certainly not all. If you’re actively following people as I have described, you’ll soon find you have hundreds more on your Following list than Followers. Not a good thing. In fact, Twitter won’t let you follow more than 2,000 people if your Following/Follower ratio is too far out of whack.

I like ManageFlitter for this purpose. It will show you a list of your followers who are not following you back, and you simply click the ones you want to unfollow. Quick and easy, and you’re allowed to unfollow up to one hundred people per day for free.

And there it is. The simple, common sense method I’ve used to gather 5,000 Twitter followers in six months. I hope you found some useful ideas. I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences!

Get More Twitter Followers–Part 2

Welcome to the second installment of my three-part series on how I gained 5,000 Twitter followers in less than six months. Last week, I offered advice on setting up an attractive profile people will want to follow. There are just a few more things you’ll want to do before you begin gathering those hordes of followers. Once again, unless you’re brand new to Twitter, you’ll already have completed some of these steps, but perhaps you’ll still find a useful idea or two.

Step 2—Get Your Feet Wet

It’s a good idea not to dive in too quickly. You need time to become familiar with Twitter etiquette and conventions, and you don’t want your ratio of Following to Followers to get too far out of whack. If people see that you’ve followed five hundred people and only fifteen have followed you back, they’ll shy away, thinking you’re a spammer. So for the first month or two, you’ll want to start slowly.

Follow your friends. The obvious place to start is with the people you already know. Very few of my personal friends are on Twitter, but most of the writers I know are. It can be tricky to search for people on Twitter, so you should get their Twitter handles if you can. If you belong to a writers’ group, they may have a list available. Post on Facebook, in Yahoo groups, etc. asking your friends for their handles and announcing yours. You can also scan through the Following/Followers lists of your friends looking for familiar names and faces.

Follow your groups. If you belong to writers’ groups, follow those next. You may find some friends you’ve missed that way, and the group may even help promote you with shout outs or Follow Friday posts.

Set up lists. This is the most important part of Step 2. You’re about to gather thousands of followers, and you better be ready! You can’t possibly keep up with all those tweets, so anyone whose tweets you don’t want to miss—friends, agents, celebrities, etc. -–need to be on a list. Preferably several, divided by category. Trying to set up these lists after the fact can be frustrating and time consuming, so it’s best to have the framework in place before your followers become overwhelming. Add important people to the proper lists as you follow them, and you’ll be ahead of the game. I have several lists, some of which are small enough for me to read every tweet, and others that I only scan from time to time. Combined, they let me stay connected without drowning in the endless sea of tweets.

Capture

Some people love HootSuite or other third party apps for organizing their Twitter followers. Personally, I’ve been satisfied with the list feature within Twitter, so I haven’t experimented elsewhere. Setting up lists is easy. Click on the name of the person you want to add. Beneath their bio, you will see a head-and-shoulders icon with an arrow. Click on that icon, and you will get a menu that includes “Add or remove from lists . . .” Now simply click the list you want to add that person to, or click “Create a list” to add a new category. Easy peasy.

Once you’ve gathered a base of followers from your friends and colleagues and set up lists to organize all those tweets, you’re ready to begin adding serious numbers. Come back next week for Step 3—Time to Fly.

Get More Twitter Followers–Part 1

Several people have asked me how I’ve gained so many Twitter followers since deciding to dive into the Twitterverse six months ago. My standard answer has been, “I followed people, and most of them followed me back.” It really was more complicated than that, though, so in honor of reaching 5,000 followers, I’m addressing the question in a series of three posts. This advice is geared toward writers, but many of the principles will remain the same whatever your field. Unless you’re brand new to Twitter, you will have already completed some of these steps, but perhaps you’ll still find some helpful ideas.

Step 1–Set the Stage

Create a profile people will want to follow. This is your first impression, so make it a good one, using a carefully crafted bio, a great photo and background images that reflect your writing style. You can see what I’ve done at @sdkeeling.

Bio—Ask yourself, why would people be interested in you? Who are you trying to connect with? You can’t capture your entire personality in 160 characters, so showcase interests you share with the people you most want to attract.

Be specific! It helps you stand out and find others with like interests. Don’t just say you’re a writer, tell us what you’re writing. Give the genre rather than the title. Titles often convey little information for someone who’s not familiar with your writing.

Use hashtags so that people can find you when they search for certain terms, like the subject or genre of your book.

Fill in your location. I’ve made friends on Twitter from the opposite side of the world, but it grabs my attention when I see another writer who lives nearby.

Don’t forget your website! People often click through to learn more about you. You can give a link to your Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon—just give them somewhere to go!

Photo—Don’t be an egg. Any photo is better than no photo, but it’s worth taking some time to choose the right one. This is a big part of your first impression, so think about the image you want to project—Professional? Friendly? Funny? Sexy? Edgy?

Seriously consider having a professional photographer create a headshot for you. You may be able to do this inexpensively at a writers’ convention, such as the Ozarks Romance Authors conference. A classic piece of career advice is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. That applies here as well. Successful agents and authors tend to use professional images to add polish to their presentation. If you want to look like you belong in that crowd, hire a professional photographer and dress for success.

Background Images—A custom header and background image can really make your profile stand out and contribute to your branding.

Published authors tend to incorporate their book covers or other artwork related to their books. I used images from my trip to Egypt, along with a little creative Photoshop work, to create an ancient Egyptian atmosphere to represent my time travel adventure novel.

twitter

Pay attention to design details. I gave a single warm brown tone to both my header and background images, creating a harmonious look that sets a mood without being visually cluttered. Be careful that your header does not interfere with the readability of your bio text, and that important parts of the image are not hidden behind your photo. You may want to enlist the help of a friend who is talented at graphic design, or hire someone from Fiverr to help you out.

It can take some time to get your profile just right, but it’s worth the effort. After all, you never know when a fellow writer, agent or future reader might be taking a look.

Come back next week for Step 2–Getting Your Feet Wet!

Mourning for Oklahoma

It’s a small world, and sometimes a cruel one.

I had a big day Saturday at the Ozarks Writers League conference in Branson. I left with my head swirling with marketing ideas, a manuscript request from an agent and a new friend—editor Mari Farthing.

Mari lives in Moore, Oklahoma. Need I say more? We’ve all seen the harrowing accounts of the massive tornado that ripped through Moore yesterday. We’ve all grieved over the children lost in the Plaza Towers Elementary School and the families who will never be whole again. Mari and her family are safe, but that doesn’t mean they are unscathed. You can read her powerful account of hunkering in her storm shelter as the storm passed and facing the aftermath here.

I should be writing my novel—that’s what I’m supposed to be doing at this moment. After all, I now have three agents who have requested full or partial manuscripts when it’s ready. I haven’t even told my friends about that third request yet. It happened just last night, and it didn’t seem right to celebrate a manuscript request in the face of such a tragedy.

Joplin, MO

Joplin, MO

All I can think about is Moore. And Joplin. I volunteered in the recovery efforts following the Joplin tornado two years ago, and the images still haunt me. The skeletal trees. The twisted cars and mangled playground equipment. The heaps of rubble that used to be homes, extending as far as I could see in every direction. The hollow eyes of the now-homeless woman who limped into the facility where I was sorting supplies, asking me what she should do.

Joplin, MO

Joplin, MO

And so, instead of writing my novel, I’m writing this, hoping that putting my thoughts into words will provide a catharsis. My kids are with their grandparents, or no doubt I would spend the day hugging them. That’s definitely how I plan to spend my evening.

Mother’s Day Musings

I’ve had a lovely Mother’s Day so far. I slept late (8:00 a.m. counts as sleeping in these days), snuggled with my husband then enjoyed breakfast in bed while editing chapters nine and ten. A beautiful, quiet morning with no children in it whatsoever.  Is it bad that the nicest way I can think of to spend Mother’s Day is to ship my kids off to their grandparents’ house?

190593_337764639683961_1287049031_n

I’m a firm believer that each stage of parenting comes with its own trials and joys.

With a newborn, you have lots of breaks while your little bundle of joy sleeps or plays happily in that expensive swing you bought, but you’re not allowed to sleep more than two or three hours at a time, leaving you stumbling through life in a sleep-deprived haze.

Wait a few months, and the five or six hours of sleep you’re getting at night feels like a luxury, but you’re going to need every bit of that energy as you chase your crawling/toddling explorer around the house, thwarting disaster at every turn.

By the toddler stage, you’re a pro. Sure, your little darling still needs almost constant attention, but you’re getting a full night’s sleep and a couple of breaks each day during nap time. But don’t get too comfortable–the terrible-twos/throttle-them-threes are just around the corner.

Never. Ending. Drama. That’s the stage my youngest is in right now, and as reluctant as I am for him to grow up, I can’t wait for this particular phase to pass. Anybody know of a never-ending font of patience I can tap in to?

My eldest is finishing preschool this week. He’s growing up way too fast. Video games, go-karts, sports, reading, arguing. LOTS of arguing. I appreciate the fact that his increasing independence gives me more time for myself and my goals, but I can already feel the precious childhood years slipping through my fingers.

And so, I’m enjoying a few hours to myself, without the demands and frustrations of mothering two small children. But I’m also missing their sweet, smiling faces, their little arms wrapped around my neck and their excited voices calling, “Mama! Mama!” when I walk into the room. As life-consuming as motherhood can be, it’s all worth it.

Anybody care to tell me what I have to look forward to over the next few years?

Mummies in Downton Abbey?

(SPOILER ALERT—Although everybody who cares has seen it by now, haven’t they?)

My little world was rocked last week by the death of Matthew Crawley in the Season Three finale of Downton Abbey. For a Downton fan girl, it was a rough evening.

And it reminded me of an interesting fact I stumbled across during research for my work in progress, a connection between the Edwardian-tinged aristocratic life of Downton Abbey and my tale of four modern kids who travel through time to ancient Egypt—the reign of Tutankhamun, to be specific. Surprising, right?

Downton Abbey is a fictional creation, but Highclere Castle, where the show is filmed, is very real. It’s the hereditary seat of the Earls of Carnarvon, and many details of the show are drawn from its history. And like Lord Grantham’s fictitious heir, the real 1920’s Earl of Carnarvon met a stunning end.

Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of King Tut’s tomb is legendary. The world had never seen such a rich collection of burial goods, and the newspapers of the day exploded with tales of exotic adventure and ancient treasures. When several of the people connected with the tomb died over the next few months, stories of a Mummy’s Curse began circulating that still live in our collective imagination.

What does this have to do with Downton Abbey?

Lord Carnarvon funded Howard Carter’s expedition and was present when the tomb was opened. A few months later, he died in Egypt from an infected mosquito bite—a death many attributed to the Mummy’s Curse.

Just imagine Lord Grantham supporting the efforts of a determined archaeologist, traveling to Egypt to witness the opening of a newly discovered tomb and then dying, sparking whispers that he’d succumbed to the Mummy’s Curse. We’d think the writers had lost their minds, which is why truth is stranger than fiction.

Then again, the way the show’s been going, who knows? If Lord Grantham develops a sudden interest in Egyptology, I’m going to be worried. Season Four begins in 1922, after all.

The Liebster Award

http://marilyndavies.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/wpid-liebster-award.png

I want to thank Marilyn Davies at Mindful Splatter for nominating me for The Liebster Award. I’m honored you thought of me!

Here’s how it works:

Thank the person who nominated you and put a link to their blog in your post. Answer the 11 questions they have given you, list 11 random facts about yourself, and create 11 questions for your nominees. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog to let them know they’ve been chosen. With all the talented people out there, it should be easy. Finally, paste the Liebster logo on your page for others to admire.

So here goes.

The questions I was given:

  • What musical instrument would you like to play, and why? I played saxophone through college and often miss it, so if I decided to play an instrument again I would dig the old sax out.
  • Do you believe in ghosts? Depends on what day you ask me. Sometimes I’m extremely logic driven and only believe in things that can be proven. Other times my imagination takes charge and I get a great thrill out of creepy ghost stories.
  • If you had a chance to travel to Mars, would you? Definitely not. I actually thought about this recently when I saw a call for volunteers for a proposed colony on Mars. A one-way trip, spending the remainder of your life inside a glorified tin can, never again feeling the sun on your face or visiting friends or watching a sunset over the ocean . . . um, no.
  • What is your favorite book, and why? That question is just mean–way too many to choose from. “The Hobbit” had a major impact when I read it at the age of eleven, so I’ll go with that.
  • What is your favorite gift someone has given you? I love the spa days and thoughtful gifts my sweetie gives me, every sweet-but-misguided present my little ones come up with and the beaded Christmas ornament a dear friend recently made for me. I think my favorite gift, though, would have to be a surprise party for my birthday. There’s nothing better than the gift of love, friendship and time together.
  • Who is your favorite actor, and why? Brad Pitt, because we went to the same elementary school. and I remember him when he was a sixth-grade golden boy running for student body president. I was only in kindergarten, but even back then we all knew who he was.
  • When are you the happiest? Um, that question could easily get way too personal. 😉 I’ll go with right after I’ve finished a great writing session–nothing beats that feeling of accomplishment. Except when my little boys tell me they love me.
  • What is your favorite zoo animal? Giraffe. Our local zoo has a giraffe feeding station that my boys love.
  • Have you ever met a world-famous person, if so, did you talk to him/her? Why yes, way back when I was a student at Dartmouth College. A man was arguing with the cashier at the little local pharmacy because his bill was one penny off. He persisted until the line stretched across half the store and the poor cashier was in tears. I finally handed him a penny and asked if we could please move on now. He shot me a nasty glare and stalked out without a word. The other people in the store gaped at me, and one of them said, “Did you know that was Charles Bronson?”
  • How many books do you think you read a year? A couple dozen, maybe? I’d like to read more, but it’s hard to create my own fictional world when I’m caught up in someone else’s.
  • Who is your favorite author? Another cruel question. I can’t pick one! J. R. R. Tolkien, Philippa Gregory, Michelle Moran, George R. R. Martin, J. K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, Carrie Vaughn and Cecily White for starters.

11 Random Facts About Me:

  • I can recite the Charm of Making from the film Excalibur.
  • I watched The Empire Strikes Back in French while traveling on a cargo boat in French Polynesia.
  • I adore cilantro and tomatillos and despise salmon and coconut.
  • I was lead singer in a bar band in Denver.
  • I love to scuba dive with sharks.
  • I make killer chocolate chip cookies.
  • I have a go-kart track in my backyard.
  • Halloween is my favorite holiday. No, the Fourth of July. No, Christmas!
  • I have nightmares about tornadoes.
  • When I was a kid, my granddad gave me a pig’s heart to dissect. He knew I’d love it.
  • Before I can go to bed tonight, I’m going to have to dig a fleet of toy cars out of my sheets.

11 Questions for the nominees:

  • What is your work in progress, and how did you choose it?
  • What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
  • If you could grant yourself one wish, what would it be?
  • If you could undo one mistake, what would it be?
  • What is your proudest accomplishment?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • If you had time for a new hobby, what would you choose and why?
  • What bad habit do you need to give up?
  • Where is the happiest place on Earth?
  • If you had a time machine, what period would you visit and why?
  • What is keeping you from reaching your dream?

My 11 nominees are: