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Time Management for Writers

July 3rd, 2013

WPF SymbolPhaseFinalColorWriting is all about anticipation. A writer spends months writing a book that might see publication in a year, might garner good reviews sometime after that, and eventually – over the course of a decade – might contribute to a body of work that will define a career. It is, as fantasy author Jim C. Hines has said, “a marathon, and very much about long-term persistence.”Time Management2poke

And therein lies the central dilemma for writers in the 21st century, for in an age of social media, why spend months writing a book that might get noticed in a year when you can take a  few seconds to write Facebook posts that generate likes, pokes, shares, and comments within minutes?

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to ponder this question in a presentation for Seton Hill’s In Your Write Mind workshops, part of a retreat that runs concurrently with the University’s summer residency in Writing Popular Fiction.

During our time together, the attendees and I considered how easy it is to waste time while writing. Such wasn’t the case in the days of typewriters and postmen who only rang twice. Back then, a writer could close the door, roll a sheet of blank paper into the platen, and work without interruption. Today it’s a different story, one that the people at StayFocusd – a time-management app for writers – sum up this way:

StayFocusd_300x300You sit down at the computer, and you swear you’ll be productive.  Next thing you know, it’s twelve hours later. You’ve checked your email, updated your Facebook status, browsed the trending topics on Twitter, read your RSS feeds, looked up your favorite band on Wikipedia, vanity googled yourself, cyber-stalked your ex, looked at all your high-school crushes’ Facebook photos, watered your plants on Farmville, and lost a week’s pay playing online poker.

What you haven’t done is WORK.

Sound familiar?

Of course, you might not need an app to channel your writing behavior. It’s all about being honest about how you are spending your writing time.

Along the way, we discussed the importance of minimizing interruptions, taking short breaks, and setting firm quitting times. I usually allow time at the end of a session for a Q&A discussion, but the presentation’s 50-minute window left little room for that. Instead, I encouraged the attendees to submit questions and comments for consideration on this blog, and so – at the risk of creating one more digital diversion in your writing day – here are a few of the questions and comments I received.

Do you have any advice for English teachers who write? How can you find time for your own work when your life seems to revolve around assessing the work of others?

I think that the same time-management guidelines that make for a productive writing session can also aid those of us who juggle full-time teaching with professional writing. Give yourself two-to-three hours at the end of the day to read and grade papers at your desk. Set a firm quitting time, and leave when you hit it. Don’t take work home. If you aren’t able to finish the day’s work, go in early the next day and wrap it up then. By doing this, you should be able to reserve a solid 90 minutes for writing in your home office. And let’s not forget that teachers generally have as many as 180 non-teaching days during the course of the year, which is time that can be devoted to full-time writing. Teaching and writing are both demanding professions, but with a little planning they can work together quite well.

I recommend treating yourself if you hit your writing goal for the day. Allow yourself to do or eat something you enjoy. Reward yourself for getting the writing done first.

Excellent advice. In this way, potential distractions become incentives for getting the job done first.

I recommend using the program Write or Die.

Thanks for the suggestions. Here’s a link for those who are interested: Write or Die.

As an aside, I must admit that I have always had a problem with the phrase “write or die,” which implies that writing is somehow unpleasant. I think “write and live” makes for a much better dictum. Don’t you?

I’ve gotten really good at writing X-number of words and completing goals. Editing, however, is another matter. I can’t figure a way to quantify editing in a way that’s as satisfying.

Ah, yes. Editing! That’s a topic that I addressed at length in my Sunday presentation for the WPF program. We’ll cover it in my next blog post. Provided, of course, I can find the time.

Until then, keep focused, keep writing . . . and (if time permits) rock on!

The Shape of Things Come

July 2nd, 2013

Arthur RadebaughWearable tech, near-planet colonization, computer-assisted telepathy – the future looks amazing, so why aren’t more people writing about it?

In a literary scene dominated by backward-looking steampunk and pessimistic dystopia, isn’t it time for some forward-looking, problem-solving science fiction.

Last Thursday, during the summer residency at Seton Hill University’s graduate program in Writing Popular Fiction, 32 MFA candidates and I worked together to extrapolate workable futures and brainstorm plots that might give their next SF project an edge in the current marketplace.

The Time MachinesOne of the first things we considered was advice that John W. Campbell gave to his writers in 1939. Here’s how writer Mike Ashley summarizes that advice in The Time Machines, his three volume study of the history of the sf magazines:

Campbell […] wanted the stories to read just as though they were contemporary stories in a future magazine.  New scientific concepts to us would be everyday things to people of the future and wouldn’t require lengthy descriptions. The writer had to find a way to introduce new inventions and yet make them well-known objects.

We talked about how to do this through incluing, which sf writer Jo Walton has described as the process of “scattering pieces of information seamlessly through the text to add up to a big picture.” We also talked about infodumps which can work if done right. Honest. Read Neal Stephenson if you don’t believe me.

RalphAs an exercise we deconstructed and revised a page from Hugo Gernsback’s proto-sf novel Ralph 124C41+, attempting to update the opening scene for 21st Century readers. That was fun.

Along the way, I attempted to make a case for writing real speculative fiction in this backward-looking age, when even Disney’s once visionary Tomorrowland has gone disappointingly retro.

Toward the end of the session, I allowed time for  each writer to submit questions and comments on notecards. As is usually the case, time kept us from addressing all of them.

Here, then, are the two we didn’t get to, along with my responses. Please feel free to post follow-up comments. It’s always good hearing from you.

Where can a writer learn about the latest technological innovations?

For starters, you might try LiveScience, Physorg, Scientific American, and Wired. For your iPod, consider subscribing to the podcasts at Science Friday, Studio 360 (which covers more than science-related stories), and On Science. There are tons of others. These are simply the ones that I usually try to make time for.

Any comments on nanotechnology? William Gibson has said that “he can’t wrap his mind around the concept,” which I why he hasn’t written about it.

You can check out an excellent list of nanotech stories from LiveScience here. Also, the Physorg website has a tab devoted to nano news. Some amazing stuff there.

As far as the challenge of wrapping one’s mind around the topic, I think it all comes down to exploring one aspect of the technology rather than its myriad implications. Check out M. Shayne Bell’s “Anomalous Structures of My Dreams,” which originally appeared in F&SF. Audible has included the story in The Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, January-February 2003. Highly recommended.

I think that’s it for this installment, although there’s always a chance that one of the notecards got lost in transit. If that’s the case, or if there’s a question you had meant to submit but didn’t, please post it below. Likewise, if you were not in the session and you have a question or comment about something posted here, please feel free to join the discussion.

WPF SymbolPhaseFinalColorFor my next post, I’d like to take a look at some questions posed during a Time Management for Writers presentation that I did for Seton Hill’s In Your Write Mind workshops (which ran concurrent with SHU’s summer residency). Beyond that, I hope to offer a summation of my WPF presentation on Revision and possibly some comments on the IYWM Book Signing and a TV interview that Will Horner and I did with Heidi Rubi Miller and Matt Dowling (of GoingLIVE TV). More on those soon.

Until then, keep writing, look toward the future . . . and rock on!

Report from the KGB

June 23rd, 2013

KGB SignFrom the outside it looks like a redbrick townhouse, with only a small sign above the door to let us know we’ve arrived at the KGB Bar – the place that both New York Magazine and the Village Voice have named the best literary venue in New York.

The doors are likewise unremarkable, opening to a flight of stairs that leads to a dim room decorated with Soviet art. For a moment I feel as if I have arrived back in Leningrad, or possibly the upstairs gallery of the illegal artist in my story “Smuggling the Dead.”

MM DeVoe Nicholas Kaufmann Alexa AntopolEllen Datlow, one of our hosts for the evening, is already there. She shows us to our seats, and within minutes people start arriving. I recognize some of them. There’s Nicholas Kaufmann, M. M. De Voe, Rick Bowes, Linda Addison, Gordon Linzner of Space and Time Magazine (editor emeritus), Vaughne Hansen of the Virginia Kidd Agency, and Will and Meesh Horner of Fantasist Enterprises. It’s going to be a fun evening.

Tom Connair and Heather SedlakSome newer writers are also settling in, among them are Heather Sedlak and Tom Connair, MFA candidates from the graduate writing program at Seton Hill University; Andrew Alford, who’s made sales to Space and Time and Midnight Echo; and Nicholas Schwartz, a terrific young filmmaker who has recently option my story “Shooting Evil” for adaptation as a short film. Others are there as well. Too many to mention. Soon, the room is overflowing.

Matthew KresselSarah Langan is also there, of course. We’re sharing the bill. She’ll be reading an excerpt from her forthcoming novel. I’ve selected three stories from Visions. Between the two of us, we have what seems a nice mix planned for the evening.

Cohost Matthew Kressel kicks things off with the announcement of a Kickstarter campaign to help underwrite the continuation of the series. He also shares a list of upcoming readers, including Libba Bray, Lucius Shepard, James Patrick Kelley, and Thomas F. Monteleone. Listening to the list, I’m thinking I’ve got to move to New York so I can become a KGB regular.

Lawrence C Connolly Reading at KGBThen Matthew introduces me, and I’m on. The stories I’ve selected are “Step on a Crack,” “Prime Time!” and “Echoes.” I plan to deliver each from memory, a mode of presentation that harkens back to the roots of storytelling. Think Homer or the Beowulf poet, traveling scops who carried their works in their heads and presented their texts live without reliance on the printed page. I’ve blogged about this technique elsewhere, particularly in Scop 101.

The stories are a bit like songs. They’re longer, of course. And they don’t employ rhyme. But each has a vocal rhythm that facilitates memorization. The audience is wonderfully receptive, and the performance goes well.Sarah Langan at KGB

After a break, during which Will Horner does brisk business at the Fantasist book display, Ellen introduces Sarah – the three-time Bram Stoker winner whom the New York Times has referred to as one of “Shelley’s Daughters,” a strong writer of contemporary horror who carries on the groundbreaking work started by Mary Shelley.

Sarah reads the first chapter from The Clinic, and it’s clear from the delivery that she has another Stoker contender in the works.

The reading leaves us all eager for the book’s release.

will meesh heather3After the readings, about 20 of us head out to dinner at the Grand Sichuan Restaurant in St. Mark’s Place, after which Ginny and I make our way back to our Midtown digs. Special thanks goes out to our New York friend for getting us through the subway turnstiles and showing us the way. We never would have made it without them!

Our original plans were to stay in the city one more day, but a gig at another nightspot – Riley’s Pour House in Pittsburgh – sends us packing in the morning. Still, I’m amazed at all we were able to fit into our short stay.

VortexThere’s lots more to tell, including an account of my visit to GQ for lunch with former Twilingt Zone editor T.E.D. Klein. I’ll try to get to some of it in a follow up post. Look for it soon.

I’d also like to share the preliminary cover art for my forthcoming novel Vortex: Book Three of the Veins Cycle. If you were at the KGB and stopped by the book display after my reading, you got an advance look at what artist Rhonda Libby has planned for the conclusion of the series. If you didn’t, I’m going to keep you in suspense a little longer. The art warrants a blog post of its own.

In the meantime, keep reading. And, as always – rock on!

Image Credits:

Screen cap of the KGB Sign is from the Fantastic Fiction at KGB Fundraiser video.

Photos of  Milda De Voe, Nicholas Kaufmann, and Alexa Antopol;  Tom Connair and Heather Sedlak; Matthew Kressel; Lawrence C. Connolly; and Sarah Langan are © Ellen Datlow.

Photo of Meesh Horner, Will Horner, and Heather Sedlak is © Lawrence C. Connolly.

The Next Big Thing (Part 2)

January 17th, 2013

If you read my previous post, you know that my good friend Alice Henderson has tagged me in The Next Big Thing blog-hop, and now it’s my turn to respond.

Here we go!

What is the working title of your book?

Right now it’s titled Vortex, although there is a good chance the title will change to Vortices before the book is released later this year. Either way, it will be Book Three of the Veins Cycle and the fifth book in my series of V-titles from the good people at Fantasist Enterprises.

Visions by Lawrence C. ConnollyWhere did the idea come from for the book?

The basic premise began evolving while I worked on the novelette “Great Heart Rising,” which originally appeared in F&SF and has since been reprinted in my collection Visions: Short Fantasy SF.

“Great Heart” revolves around an entire family that dies suddenly within their suburban home. The police can see the bodies through the windows, but anyone who goes in to investigate is unable to make it back out alive. And there’s a kid in the basement with a cell phone calling 911. “Help me!” she’s saying. “Get me out of here!” So of course, someone has to get her out, and that someone turns out to be a young man who has ancient ties to the land beneath the house.

All those things — the setting, pacing, mystical undertones — eventually led to the development of Veins.

Veins by Lawrence C. ConnollyWhat genre does your book fall under?

Like the others in the series, it will probably be marketed as a supernatural thriller.

When Veins first came out, some reviewers called it urban fantasy, citing its portrayal of ancient powers in a contemporary setting.

If I were assigning the category, I’d push for Rural Fantasy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m generally inclined to leave questions such as this to the casting agents.

Vipers by Lawrence C. ConnollyWhat is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Axle searches his dreams for an artifact that will save the earth.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The third Veins book is being represented by the same agency that handled my previous books. It will be published by Fantasist Enterprises and edited by Will Horner – one of the best editors working in fantasy today.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Four months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Veins and Vipers . . . of course!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Will Horner at Fantasist, who saw potential for a series after reading Veins back in 2006.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Together, the books in the Veins Cycle cover a single 24-hour period, with the final book bringing the story full circle in some startling ways. The FE art department is also promising an amazing cover that continues the warning-sign motif of the previous books. Can’t share anything yet, but soon . . . very soon!

So . . . that’s what I’m up to.

Now I’d like to introduce you to five writers associated with Seton Hill University’s graduate program in Writing Popular Fiction, all of whom have new projects that definitely qualify as next big things.

The writers are:

Querus Abuttu, a.k.a. Cin Ferguson, a.k.a. Q. She is one of the most exciting new voices in sf and bizarro fiction you’re likely to encounter. Currently an MFA candidate at SHU, Q is definitely going to be making waves in the days ahead. That’s us to the right, hanging ten after the Bram Stoker Awards banquet in Salt Lake City last year (the night my book Voices lost to Joyce Carole Oates’ The Corn Maiden).

Leslie Davis Guccione, the author of over 30 novels for adult, middle grade, and teen readers. She’s one of my fellow residency writers at SHU and one of the best writing mentors around. Of her latest book The Chick Palace, Adina Senft, the RITA Award winning  author of the Amish Quilt trilogy, writes: “New romance, empty nests, love, secrets, betrayal and forgiveness … The Chick Palace has it all, along with healthy dollops of humor and wisdom, all drenched in the sunshine of memory.”

Ann Kopchik, a.k.a. Anna Zabo. Ann is a SHU alum. Her erotic romance Close Quarter was published last month by Loose Id. She also writes sf and has been a regular at Context, Confluence, and other regional conventions. Definitely a talent worth watching.

Meg Mims, another SHU alum. Meg won the Spur Award last year for her debut  novel Double Crossing, a historical western mystery that was also named a finalist in the 2012 Best Books by USA Book News.

Stephanie Wytovich, an MFA candidate at SHU. Stephanie is a Rhysling Award nominated poet, and her  first poetry collection Hysteria will be published later this year by Raw Dog Screaming Press. That’s us on the right, grinning down an advancing  hoard of zombie Gumbies at Horror Realm 2012.

Bizarro, chick lit, erotica, historical western mystery, horror poetry — how’s that for an eclectic lineup?

Querus, Leslie, Ann, Meg, and Stephanie will be posting their answers by the end of next week. Be sure to check them out. After that, please consider stopping back here for more musings on media, music, and fiction.

Until then . . . keep reading!