My daughter is recovering from her bout of H1N1, and the rest of us are flu-free so far, so it’s been a very good week at my casa. Wednesday I heard that my latest release, Shadowlight, debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at #17, which was a lovely moment as well. Now if I could just make it to the top of the laundry pile. Last time I was back by the washer I saw a bunch of sherpas carrying packs and following some Englishmen around the base. I think they were debating which side would give them the best chance of reaching the summit.
As I’ve been surfing around and catching up, I’ve noticed a bunch of bloggers who seem upset or worried about the finalized version of the FTC guidelines for endorsements and testimonials. While no doubt the debate will rage on, I recommend that you avoid getting your information from rumors, protests and speculation, and educate yourself on exactly what is expected of you as a blogger (there is a .pdf from the FTC here that provides all the info.)
My take on it is that everyone has to be transparent now. If you get a free books, products, ad income or any kind of compensation for whatever you’re posting, you have to tell your readers about it. If a friend asks you to help promote their new release, or does a reciprocal-type promotion thing with you, you must incorporate that fact into your review or recommendation. If your publisher tells you to put something on your blog, you need to be upfront about that as well. However you feel about such disclosures, people generally aren’t tarred and feathered for being honest.
The other way to go is take the path that I have with my author blog (and I’m endorsing a product there today if you’d like to see how I do it.) Don’t put ads on the your blog. Refuse to accept free books or any other form of compensation. Avoid getting involved in cronyism situations where you endorse out of the obligations of friendship or reciprocation. Personally purchase and distribute everything you give away, and don’t permit your publisher to have any input to or control of your blog. It won’t get you all those lovely free books, and it may not endear you to your editor, but it will liberate your blog from conflicts of interest and keep you from violating the new guidelines.
While it may be a little inconvenient or uncomfortable for some bloggers to adhere to these guidelines, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. People should know if someone is endorsing a book because they loved it, or because their BFF sent them a box of copies and desperately needs a sales boost.
You should also post a blanket disclosure policy somewhere permanent and easy to access from the front page of your blog, something you can custom-design and generate online over at DisclosurePolicy.org (which is also where I got the nifty badge up there.) I used the site to generate my original blog disclosure statement (I did reword it a bit to suit me), which is as follows:
Paperback Writer is a personal blog written and edited by me. This blog never accepts any form of advertising, sponsorship, or paid insertions. I write for my own purposes. Other than contracted royalties from the publishers of my novels from sales of said novels through booksellers, I never receive compensation from what I write, endorse or link to on this blog.
I have never been compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely my own or that of the visitors who leave comments. If we claim or appear to be experts on a certain topic or product or service area, we will only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.
For more information about Paperback Writer, contact the blog owner at LynnViehl@aol.com. This policy is effective as of August 1, 2004.
There’s an interesting follow-up to the FTC news release over at PRNewser that contains some additional statements by representatives of the FTC that indicate that all the $11,000.00 fine per violation hysteria around the blogosphere was not accurate or even necessary.
What’s your opinion of the FTC guidelines? Let us know in comments.
I’m continuing my talk about time management and today I want to talk about focus. I mentioned before that I wear several hats. I’m a mom, wife, daughter, columnist, radio personality, author, student and friend, along with a myriad of other things I do. I may be interviewing a celebrity in the morning, then running off to preview a film, then coming back to write pages or do homework until the wee hours of the morning. It’s very seldom that my days aren’t 14 hours long, or longer. But it’s okay because I love what I do.
People really do ask me all the time how do what I do, and the truth is focus. Some days I’m better at it than others. It’s something I had to teach myself when I started working at home. I have daily deadlines and that helps. The thing that is due always gets first priority. That means I mix it up. If I have a column due, then all my focus goes into that until the job is complete. If I have a book due the same goes. I may set aside specific hours in the day to make sure I accomplish my goals.
I have a hard time remembering things so, as I mentioned before, I keep calendars and I’m very fond of sticky notes. If I have a lot to do in a day, I make a sticky note listing the items in terms of priority, and then it goes on the computer. I love scratching things off the list, and even better completing that one and throwing it away. Knowing what I have coming up helps me to see what needs the most focus.
But I have to leave room for the unexpected. For example: Yesterday I’d promised myself, and my agent, that I would finish the rough draft of a synopsis I’ve been working on. It took longer than I expected, but I did it. Then something wonderful happened. I was so into that book, that I wanted to work on it. I wrote another 15 pages before all was said and done. I have to make my days as flexible as possible so that I can do things like that, and at the same time accomplish everything I need to.
So how do I focus? It varies depending on the project. I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to Twitter, Facebook and checking emails. With all my different accounts I can get upwards of a 1000 emails from fans, listeners, publicists, networks and a variety of other folks in a day. I have to keep up or it becomes overwhelming. So I set aside an hour early in the morning, another one later afternoon when my brain is usually tired, and then again before bed to take care of those things. Keeping up with emails is one of those necessary evils for me, but I try not to let it disrupt my day.
I’ve learned to shift from one project to the next using small rituals. If I’ve been working on columns, and I’m shifting to fiction I have small things that I do. I usually refill the water bottle, light a candle and put my headphones on. I have soundtracks for each book. I even have editing soundtracks. For some reason, even if the house is quiet, the music helps me to focus. If I’m working on a book, I always leave myself notes from the day before. They are brief, but can take me right back into the story without re-reading pages. That keeps me moving forward, because when I re-read I have tendency to start editing.
When I’m writing non-fiction there are no soundtracks, usually because I’m listening to an interview I’ve done and adding quotes to a story. But I have my little rituals here too. I make sure that all my notes are together, that I have any research I might need within easy reach.
Distractions can come at you from places you never expected. I used to keep the TV on in my office with no sound, but I no longer do that. I found I was much more productive with out, so I gave the TV to my niece. If I’m writing on the lap top in the living room, I do have the TV on with no sound, but for some reason in there it isn’t much of a distraction. No matter what I’m doing, I make sure my dogs have been outside, have some kind of bone to chew and that I’ve worn them out so they won’t bug me to play. They’re cute, and it’s very hard when they bring me a stuffed shark to throw, not to do it. My dogs are probably my biggest distraction, but I love having them in my office. Still, I have to make sure that everyone is happy before I begin writing.
I’m able to shift easily in and out of things, but as I mentioned, it’s something I’ve had to teach myself. If an interview is running late and I have an extra 20 minutes to write, I do it until the phone rings. You’d be amazed what you can do in 20 minutes if you are focused. I keep a notebook in my purse for the same reasons. If I’m waiting for a movie to start, I can jot down notes. I’ve taught myself to take advantage of those “free minutes” and to use them as much as possible.
You need to be aware of the things that pull you out of your project and get rid of them. Create small rituals for yourself that define the day for you. I even have different scented candles depending on what I need to do. I know that sounds crazy, but it works for me. For some reason Joss Stone’s Body & Soul album helps to me to focus if I’m scattered. I’ve listened to that CD 100os of times on my iPod. It never gets old. You need to find what works for you. Be aware of your shortcomings and rid yourself of those distractions. It takes a little planning and practice, but you can do it.
So I’d like to hear from you. What are some of your distractions and how do you get around them?
Sometimes being a writer makes enjoying other books, or movies, and even television shows difficult. Plot holes jump out at us, and we tend to play close attention to things like dialogue and character development. But last year I discovered a show that has me completely hooked. SONS OF ANARCHY was number one for me last season, both for entertainment and for inspiration, and this year it’s just gotten better.
It gets under your skin, then into your heart, and in my opinion, the writing is at the core of it all. The acting is a big part of it too of course, but the writing is where it all begins. The SOA writers don’t pull their punches when telling the story, and that is something I admire greatly. It’s gritty, raw, and bad in a very good way. SOA is not a glossy show with lots of fancy graphics and bright colors. It’s a gutsy one about a small town, and the outlaw MC club that lives there. It shows the good and the bad, and keeps pulling me in deeper and deeper.
The acting is unparalleled. Katey Sagal is the top biker matriarch and Ron Pearlman is the president of the club. Kim Coates and Mark Boone Junior are a couple of others I love. You might not recognize their names, but I bet you’ll recognize them as they are no strangers to hit movies or tv shows. Then there’s Charlie Hunnam. He plays Jax, the hot biker at the center of the show.
To say the show is about a motorcycle club wouldn’t be wrong, but it would be incomplete. Like all things great, it’s about so much more than that – family, loyalty, integrity, love, honor, and all the shades of grey that surround those things. If you like shows that hit you in the head, the gut, and the heart, you have to check out SONS OF ANARCHY.
If you’d like a chance to win Sons of Anarchy: Season One on dvd, just tell me in the comments what you’re watching this season, and why you love it. I’ll announce the winner on Sunday.
Aspiring writers sometimes ask me, “Should I get an MFA?” My initial reaction to this is always, “Hell no! Run away!”
It’s a little more complicated than that, of course.
A little background: I come from a family of academics. Both my parents have masters degrees in their fields, and one of my grandfathers was a biology professor for many years. In our family, it wasn’t just assumed that we kids would go to college — we were expected to go on for advanced degrees as well. I never even considered an MFA in creative writing, even though writing was my passion. This was because I’d already been burned by a college-level creative writing class. My masters is an MA in English literature. I didn’t write a lick of fiction for it and was very happy with my choice. (My brother on the other hand does have an MFA — in theatrical set design.)
I took creative writing as an undergraduate — of course I did! I couldn’t wait to take creative writing! Then, on the second day of class, the professor said, “Science fiction isn’t real literature.” She might as well have strangled a kitten in front of me. I loved literature. I loved science fiction. I loved books — all books. I’d never made a distinction before. Two of us in the class tried to write science fiction and fantasy and pretty much got reamed for it. I was 19 and impressionable, so I stopped writing science fiction and fantasy in order to make this professor happy. At the end of the semester, I’d done pretty well in the class, got an A, and I was absolutely miserable. I hated writing the introspective realism so fashionable in literary circles in the 90’s. I wanted to go back to writing about magic and unicorns and far-off future worlds. I wanted to have fun. I wanted my writing to be fun.
Time went on, I learned more about fiction writing classes at the university level, and figured out that that class and that professor were not isolated cases. Most college-level creative writing is geared toward a specific kind of writing. And genre writing ain’t it.
I tell people who want to write genre: most MFA programs are going to hate what you do, won’t be supportive of what you do, and you’ll be miserable. And really, writing is one field where you don’t need a degree, you don’t need a certificate saying that you’re qualified. You just have to write stories that other people want to read. An MFA by itself isn’t going to make you any more or less successful.
There are exceptions. There are MFA programs with faculty who are open and supportive of genre writing. But it’s important to make sure the program you’re applying to is one of these before you sign up. Also, especially in the last ten years or so, a number of MFA programs specifically designed for genre writers (the Seton Hill MFA program in writing popular fiction is probably the best known) have been developed. I know many writers who’ve gotten a lot out of these programs.
There’s another reason I decided not to take any more creative writing classes: I can write on my own. I didn’t need anyone telling me to write, and I didn’t need deadlines imposed on me in order to finish. I’ve talked to a lot of people who enter MFA programs because they need deadlines, they need someone telling them they have to finish. An MFA program gives them the structure they need.
My advice, however: if you’re writing a lot on your own, if you’re finishing what you write, if you have a good support network (first readers, critique group, etc.), then there’s probably nothing an MFA can get you that you don’t already have.
Here’s something a little different. This is the opening of a short story I wrote this summer for an upcoming anthology, Dark and Stormy Knights, edited by P.N. Elrod. I’ve had to start picking and choosing which anthologies I write for, but I wasn’t going to turn this one down!
Short stories are fun for me because I get to explore characters and ideas that I don’t have room for in the novels. It’s a great way to explore the world, and I think makes the novels richer in the long run since there’s a whole history I can draw on. “God’s Creatures” features Cormac, the bad-boy bounty hunter from the series, and I had so much fun getting inside his head.
“God’s Creatures” by Carrie Vaughn
Cormac waited in the cab of his Jeep, watching each car that pulled into the rest area on I-25 north of Monument. So far, none of them looked like the one he was waiting for. A lot of truckers stopped here, with a few road trippers thrown in, all shapes and sizes. McNeill would stand out, when he made his appearance.
Forty-five minutes after he was due, the aggressively souped-up pickup truck veered off the freeway and came up the lane. It had oversized tires, lights on the rollbar, a gun rack–empty for now–in the back window and a Confederate flag sticker on the bumper. McNeill was that kind of asshole.
Cormac stepped out of the Jeep; McNeill saw him and swerved to park a couple of spots down. The guy climbed out of his truck and dropped to the ground. He was tall and stocky, wearing worn jeans and a flannel shirt over a white T. He shoved his hands in his pockets and pretended he wasn’t cold in the winter air, but he was shrugging and tense, trying to keep warm. Cormac waited for him.
“You’re supposed to be keeping your head down,” Cormac said flatly, prodding on purpose, knowing it would piss McNeill off.
“What? My head’s down.” He looked around, frowning, appearing smug because there weren’t any cops around.
“What’s your problem?”
“Registration sticker on your plate’s expired. That’s like waving a flag at the cops,” Cormac said, nodding toward the back end of the truck.
“And I don’t give a fucking cent to an illegal government.” He pulled himself straighter, like he was daring Cormac to make a big deal out of it.
Yeah, McNeill was one of those. Didn’t seem to care that the cops wouldn’t get you on the weapons stockpiles or the conspiracy charges. They nailed you on back taxes and traffic violations. You covered your ass on the little things as the price of doing business. But that was why McNeill was a go-between and Cormac did the heavy lifting.
“What’s the job?” Cormac said.
He’d gotten a call two days ago. A rancher he’d worked with before had some trouble–Cormac’s kind of trouble. They both knew McNeill, who spent a lot of time traveling around the state, so he sent McNeill with the details you didn’t talk about over the phone and the down payment. McNeill didn’t know what exactly Cormac did. He probably assumed he was some kind of hit man.
Which was mostly true.
McNeill went back to his truck and returned with a manila envelope, which he handed to Cormac. He only took a brief look inside, finding a page of description and a business-sized envelope, thick with cash. There’d be 10 hundred-dollar bills. He wasn’t going to count it out in the open, but he did pull out a bill and hand it to McNeill for payment.
“Thanks,” McNeill said, shoving the hundred in his pocket. “Good luck, man.”
Cormac had already turned back to the Jeep.
He arrived at Joe Harrison’s ranch in Lamar early the next morning. The old man was waiting for him on the front porch of the ramshackle house. The two-story building was probably close to a hundred years old. It needed a new roof and a coat of paint at the very least. But with a place like this, any extra money the family earned went right back into the ranch. The barns and fencing would get repairs before the house did.
“Thanks for coming,” Harrison said as Cormac left the Jeep, and walked down to shake his hand. The rancher was in his sixties, his face furrowed and weathered, tough as leather from spending his life raising cattle out here. The kind of guy who was more at home with barbed wire and baling twine than a comfortable chair and a TV set.
“Let’s take a look,” Cormac said.
Harrison opened a gate in the fence, and they rode in Cormac’s Jeep, straight across the prairie for about three miles. Harrison navigated by landmarks, pointing to show Cormac the way.
“There, it’s right there,” Harrison said finally, and Cormac stopped the Jeep.
Harrison led him to a spot where stands of scrub oak followed the contour of the hills, bordering the open plains. A carcass lay here, partly sheltered by the wind, flattening the grass. About a week old, Cormac guessed. The steer, a typical rust-and-cream-colored Hereford, had been savaged, its gut ripped open from sternum to tail, its face and tongue torn out, its throat flayed. Scavengers had been through since then — scraps of hair and bone radiated out from the remains. Most of what was left were leathery skin and hair over a ribcage and a leering, ragged skull.
Read the rest of the story in Dark and Stormy Knights, edited by P.N. Elrod, due out in 2010.
My daughter became suddenly very ill earlier in the week, and while she’s improving now she has tested positive for the flu. We’re waiting on results from an additional test to tell us if it’s the garden-variety or the H1N1 virus (she was exposed to the latter at school.) I’ve had my shots, and we’ve put her brother on Tamiflu as a preventive measure, but as you can imagine it’s a little scary. All good thoughts and prayers you might care to send Kat’s way will be greatly appreciated.
I did have a very old post recycled from my first weblog queued to publish here today (something I threw together the day Kat got sick), but the kid is napping at the moment so I’m going to take this chance to dictate some new material. Since my writing life has been majorly disrupted, that makes an excellent topic to discuss.
As any stay-at-home parent/author will tell you, juggling family and home responsibilities with a full-time professional writing career is a constant challenge any day of the week. But when an emergency comes up at home, as it did for me on Tuesday when my kid woke up with a raging fever, you have to put the job to the side and focus on caring for your loved one. That said, a little preparation and creating some bumpers can keep you from falling too far behind on work.
I have three blogs going at the moment: PBW, my photoblog, and my weekly contribution here at Genreality. If I had to post to each one on a day-to-day basis, I doubt I could keep up a daily schedule, so I try to stay a week ahead on my posts or stockpile some draft posts to use in the event of an emergency. Things have been so hectic lately with deadlines and ongoing contract negotiations that I’ve actually used up almost all of my blog bumpers (which is why I didn’t have anything prepared to post on Genreality this week) but as of tonight my photoblog is still stocked with six more days of scheduled posts, which means I have only one daily blog and Genreality to worry about updating.
If you’re working under a deadline and the unforeseen descends, it’s generally tough to keep to your regular writing schedule. That doesn’t mean your writing has to come to a screeching halt; you just have to be more creative in finding time to work. I’ve been getting up an hour earlier than normal for the last two weeks to get some writing done, and I’ve made my editing portable by printing out a few pages at a time and taking them with me to my daughter’s doctor appointments (if you’re going to sit in a waiting room for an hour, you might as well do a little editing. Those of you who have netbooks or smart keyboards can probably take them along and get some writing done, too.)
Hectic times mean delegating tasks whenever possible, and not just around the house. This week I was sure I would have to close a deal with a publisher, something in which I usually get deeply involved with e-mails and phone calls and discussions, but with my daughter sick there just wasn’t time. So I made my agent into my bumper by letting her know what I wanted upfront, and let her manage the negotiations for me. She closed the deal this morning, and all I had to do was review the offer and accept it — which I did with two quick e-mails.
I also try to combine tasks when possible. This week I needed to mail off a giveaway book, send my Dad a birthday gift, put gas in my truck, pick up two prescriptions, buy the invalid some pampering food from the market and retrieve some dry-cleaning. Rather than make a separate trip into town to accomplish each task, I waited until I had everything ready, brought in a sitter to watch Kat for an hour and did everything in a single trip.
I also had a new novel release this past Tuesday, but nearly all of my promo was done in advance in bumper-fashion. I do have one more thing to finish, and it is not going to get done this week, so I’m letting it go until I have time to get back to it. The same thing goes with my author blog; I put up a post last night to let my readers know that Kat was sick and my updates would probably be sporadic for the duration. I think just letting go and letting people know you’ve got a crisis can be one of the hardest things to do, but if it takes away some stress in the process, it can also be one of the most helpful bumpers.
You can’t predict when an emergency will happen in your life, but you can anticipate the possibility and do a little extra work now to give yourself some bumpers for later. It also saves you a lot of stress to plan ahead and be prepared for something disrupting your writing life, because when that emergency happens, you won’t be carrying around the additional burden of worrying about work or how you’ll catch up once things are back to normal.
Now I’m off to do a little work for my editor before I wake Kat for her meds and make her comfortable for the night. Then I think I might give myself a little energy bumper by going to bed an hour earlier . . .
I’m a mom, spouse, friend, daughter, author, columnist, film and television critic, student, teacher and radio personality. On any given day I can wear all or some of those hats, and I’ve had to learn the fine art of time management. It isn’t easy, especially for someone like me who isn’t overly fond of organization. But in order to do everything I must in a day, I have to be pretty diligent about managing my time.
The most important thing was learning to say “no” to the right things. The things that didn’t make me happy. I discovered early on that the mom hat was the hardest. I’ve always been very involved with my kids and their schools, but I was careful about the volunteering. I made sure that I was there when I thought I could be a valuable to whatever was going on. I was always there for performances and auditions, and if my children specifically asked me to help with something, I did it.
I’m lucky in that the spouse hat doesn’t take much. My husband is pretty low maintenance, which is a blessing. As a friend, I’m faithful to a few of my friends, but bad about making time for people who I really do care about but our lives run in different circles. But I’m trying to change that. The teaching is also something I’ve cut back on. There was a time a few years ago when I was gone most every weekend teaching at some writing conference or another. I’m pickier these days and I opened the free online Write_Workshop (you can get to that through www.candacehavens.com) so that I could reach the masses in a more effective way. I also bring in other writers, agents and editors to teach so that the workshop doesn’t consume so much of my time.
I’ve added student to my list of duties this fall, and I will tell you it’s been quite an adjustment. I average about 15 hours of homework/reading each week for one class, which is much more than I was expecting. I’ve had to rely on the help of friends and family in other parts of my life in order to make school work.
The biggest part of that life pie is work. I spend an average of 12 hours a day writing books, columns, reviews and blogs, and watching films and television shows. It’s a lot. But when you love it as much as I do, it doesn’t always feel like a chore.
So how do I squeeze all of this into 24-hour days? Sometimes I do it better than others. I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t tired, but I’m not ready to give any of it up. The 20-minute nap is a luxury I covet. Sleep in general is a luxury, but I’m trying to change that.
I did do something long ago that helped a great deal. I rid myself of time-sucks. Things like Scrabble, or Bejewled shouldn’t be a part of the work day. Nor should reading blogs or watching You Tube videos. That’s not to say I don’t still do those things, but I have set time either during lunch or after I’ve finished the day’s writing to play. When you were a kid recess might have been the lovely break you needed during the day. We all need those, but the majority of us would rather play than work. That is especially true for writers. It’s easy for us to do anything BUT write.
It amazes me how many people tell me they don’t have time to write, yet they watch an average of 10 hours of television a week. Do you know how much writing you could get done in 10 hours? Haven’t you people ever heard of DVR or TIVO? Get your work done, then turn on the tube. Or they play War Crack and other computer/video games. Hey, I’m a big fan of “Animal Farm,” and anything where I can kill a zombie, but that stuff is for when the day is done. If you’re going to be productive, you have to get the job done.
My latest thing is playing Pet Rescue on kinggames.com. I swear it’s the lamest game in the world, but for some reason it is extremely relaxing for me. It’s my treat at the end of a long day. There are days when all I want to do is sit on the couch and watch old movies, or HGTV, or something else, and I try to schedule at least one of those a month.
Scheduling is big for me. I have a couple of calendars on the iPhone, the computer and a paper one for just in case. That way I know if I have a movie in the morning or late at night, that I have to adjust the writing to fit that time table. And as I said, I have to be diligent about it.
A friend once said I do more in a day than most people do in a month. I think that’s a bit of an overstatement, it’s probably more like a week. The truth is, I manage my time well. And there’s no reason you can’t do that too.
So let’s have a little confession time. What is your biggest time suck? And what things do you do that help manage your time? Tell me, I want to know.