Start Moving!

“The chemistry of the body is inseparable from the chemistry of the brain. Movement can stimulate anyone. I can’t say enough about the connection between body and mind; when you stimulate your body, your brain comes alive in ways you can’t simulate in a sedentary position. The brain is an organ, tied integrally to all the other systems in the body, and it’s affected by blood flow, neural transmission, all the processes you undergo when you put your body through its paces. You’re making it work differently, and new directions can result.”
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

The Creative Habit holds an honored place on my bookshelf of helpful how-to guides — it’s brimming with helpful ideas to jump start everyone’s imaginative juices. And as a dancer, it’s no surprise that Tywla fervently believes in the body-brain creativity connection. Always a pioneer, she was well ahead of neuroscientists in stressing the link between movement and mindset: We’re learning more every day about how physical activity can ignite creativity.

As writers, this can be a major challenge. Our “butt in the chair” commitment to pursuing our writing goals is almost guaranteed to sideline us physically. And for those of us who work full or part-time at day jobs and write in the evenings, getting physical can be even more daunting.

So how can we ramp up our physical activity? On days when those of us who exercise can’t make it to the gym or go for a run, how can we boost our creativity? Here are a few simple strategies from Writer’s Relief.com that we can easily add to our daily work sessions:

Do chair exercises: These are easy to do and provide a stimulating boost. Simple body movements performed while still in “butt in the chair” mode can help reduce fatigue and give creativity a jolt. You can easily find simple exercises online. For starters, check out: “11 Exercises to Do While Sitting at Your Computer.”

Stretch and walk around: Make it a point to get up every hour or so to stretch, shake out your mental cobwebs, give your eyes a rest from your computer, and get your blood flowing. Walk up and down a hallway or stairs. Simply moving around every hour for a few minutes will refresh you and may even trigger a new idea or two.

Dance to a beat: If you’re working at home or can close your door and rev up iTunes, then go for it! Take a tip from Twyla: Moving to a beat, whether you’re minueting to Mozart or rocking to Roy Orbison, can help get your creative juices flowing. It also boosts your endorphins, upping your happiness quotient. The average song lasts about three minutes — but the surge in creativity it produces can be long-lasting — and surprising.

Walk on the wild side: There’s a wealth of exciting news about the creative and emotional benefits of communing with nature. It’s restorative! As one example, according to research in Scientific American, people who spent four days hiking while unplugged from their electronic devices scored almost 50% higher on creativity tests than a control group. While long hikes may not be a daily option, it might be a gift to yourself and your writing to leave your cell at home and simply take a walk in the nearest park. Many a philosopher and writer has waxed poetic about the benefits of walking daily. I know I’ve had many inspiring moments just strolling among the trees and flowers.

In-chair exercises, dancing, stretching, walking — we can do this! Write on.

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Getting There

“Just keep going. You’re on the right track. You’re going to find it.”
Directions from a helpful stranger

Brooklyn is not one of my usual haunts. But one balmy evening not long ago, I hopped on the subway and found my way to the Grand Army Plaza. My destination: a book signing at an independent bookstore.

I was equipped with Google Map notes, but since I’m directionally challenged, I still felt the need to ask someone if I was heading toward 7th Avenue, a major thoroughfare. The fellow I asked paused briefly and grinned. Instead of simply saying, “Yes,” he made the comment quoted above. It occurred to me that this is not just a road map for finding a bookstore in Brooklyn, but also one for writing:

Just keep going: Whatever obstacles you encounter and however tough a writing session proves to be, forward momentum matters. If you just keep going, no matter how long it takes, you will eventually reach your desired destination. But if you let distractions or disappointing days derail you, you won’t get where you want to go.

You’re on the right track: Knowing that you’re on the right track makes all the difference when it comes to motivating yourself. To me, this doesn’t mean that I won’t make mistakes or find myself in a muddle or pursue time-consuming detours the don’t prove fruitful. For me, being on “the right track” means that I’m pursuing the right road overall and keeping my eye on the prize — I’m taking time with my revisions, steadily pushing my book to the next level, and aiming at completion rather than endless, self-defeating tinkering.

You’re going to find it: If I just keep going and stay on the right track, then I’m just about guaranteed to ultimately achieve my goal, which is to produce an exciting, engaging, polished draft of my children’s novel. The same goes for you and whatever major project you are working on.

So let’s keep it simple. Let’s follow these three steps and screen out everything else. If we keep going, stay on the right track, and have faith that we’re going to find what we’re aiming for, then we’ll all reach our writing destinations — and have fun along the way, just as I did when I reached the bookstore in Brooklyn and hoisted a glass to a fellow author who’d reached hers.

Many thanks to that helpful passerby in Brooklyn for inspiring me. Write on!

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Something Wonderful

As we enjoy the lovely balmy weather, a soft poem like the sound
of spring rain to refresh us all:

Dirt Farmer
by Arden Anthony

He finds beauty among these simple things;
The path a plow makes n the rich, red loam,
Gay sun-gold in ripe wheat — a plover’s wings —
A cowbell, tinkling as the herd comes home.

He treads the soil, with earth-love in his heart;
Watches the young crops spring from fertile ground,
Loves the warm rain that makes the peach buds start,
Land — and a man — in close communion bound!

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Insider Insights

It’s always a pleasure to spend time among book lovers and a recent industry insider panel called “How to Publish Your Book” hosted by the Medill Club of NYU definitely delivered. The guests, all graduates of Northwestern University, spanned the publishing industry, from Marysue Rucci, Editor-in-Chief at Simon & Schuster and Whitney Frick, Senior Editor at Flatiron Books to novelist Sally Slater, bestselling author Maria Murnane, and Renee Zuckerbrot, founder of Renee Zuckerbrot Literary. Here are some encouraging findings from the front lines:

Editors still edit: While the publishing industry has experienced its ups and downs, there are two constants we can count on: Editors are always looking for wonderful, well-told stories and they love working closely with authors to help shape their books and guide their success. People in publishing are “eternal optimists and romantics,” noted Marysue Rucci. They get up each morning inspired by the belief that, “today’s the day we’re going to discover that amazing book.”

Research reaps results: While she is awash in queries, Renee Zuckerbrot noted that many of them miss the mark because aspiring authors don’t invest the time and energy needed to identify agents in their genre who might be good matches for their projects. The good news: A well-targeted submissions strategy sets you apart. Reliable online resources for focusing an agent search include the Association of Author Representatives (AAR) database, the “Poets & Writers” website, Agent Query.com, and Publishers Marketplace.

Creativity counts: Just as creativity fuels our writing, it can also fuel our success in reaching readers. Risk-taking, ingenuity, outreach and the willingness to self-promote are all key to success. Sally Slater has used Wattpad, an online book community, to attract readers to her work and Maria Murnane has used a mix of innovative tools, including a “Buzz” form on her website, to build a loyal readership. Connecting directly with readers can be both emotionally and economically satisfying. One tip I’ve heard consistently: Select one primary social media tool to focus on.

There’s so much good news here: When we craft strong, well-told stories, the world sits up and takes notice. If we take time to do research during our submission stage, we can increase the odds of finding representation. By connecting directly with readers, we’re can build a strong foundation for success, whether we self publish or attract a traditional publisher. All this takes time and energy, it’s true, but all of this can be accomplished through our own effort and attitude: It’s within our grasp. Write on!

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Writing Contest

The Writer’s Digest Annual Competition is still going strong after more than 80 years and it’s fast approaching: The early bird deadline is May 4. To give anyone who might want to enter a jump start on getting their work ready, I’m spotlighting the contest, which you may enter in one of more of the following categories:

* Inspirational Writing (Spiritual/Religious)
* Memoirs/Personal Essay
* Magazine Feature Article
* Genre Short Story (Mystery, Romance, etc.)
* Mainstream/Literary Short Story
* Rhyming Poetry
* Non-rhyming Poetry
* Stage Play
* Television/Movie Script
* Children’s/Young Adult Fiction

One Grand Prize winner will enjoy:

* An announcement of the winner on the cover of Writer’s Digest
* $5,000 in cash
* An author interview in Writer’s Digest
* National exposure for their work
* One-on-one attention with four editors or agents
* A paid trip to the upcoming Writer’s Digest Conference
* A 30-minute platform strategy consultation
* a one-year subscription to Writer’s Digest Tutorials

First place will receive $1,000 in cash, Second place will receive $500 in cash, and
Third place will receive $250 in cash, along with other benefits.

All entries must be original, in English, unpublished and unproduced, and not accepted by any other publisher or producer at the time of submission. Writer’s Digest retains one-time nonexclusive publication rights to the Grand Prize and First Place winning entries in each category to be published in a Writer’s Digest publication.

Enter online or submit your entry via regular mail. Offline entries must be accompanied by an Entry Form, and the required entry fee. For more details, visit: writersdigest.com — Annual Competition. Write on!

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Becoming Luckier

“Luck is tenacity of purpose.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Seneca

Writing about helping luck along (see Journey Wisely) prompted me to ponder its presence in our writing lives. Luck, simply defined as “good fortune,” is something we can all use more of, now and always.

First and foremost, let’s always remember this: We are already lucky! As authors and aspiring writers, we have the joy of dwelling in the realm of words and imagination — that golden place where anything and everything is possible. What a gift!

Second, I think that Seneca’s quote is worth meditating upon. Someone once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Consider how liberating this view of luck is. It’s also tantalizing, because it suggests that we really can create our own luck through our own efforts and persistence. We can do the spade work, the preparation, so that when an opportunity comes our way, we can coax it into bearing fruit.

Third, I think there’s great value in the idea that there are steps we can take to make ourselves luckier, to actually boost our luck quotient. How do we do this? In a nutshell, we can help luck find us by putting ourselves in places and situations where good fortune is more likely to tap us on the shoulder, whether in the guise of a sparkling new idea or a chance encounter with someone who can give us a hand.

For me, this means getting out into the world and sharing what I’m working on and want to achieve with other people in my daily rounds and by attending events that will inspire me and expose me to people who can give me a hand. Some time ago, I was at a festival in my home town and ran into a friend active in indie publishing. I mentioned my children’s book and the name of someone I wanted to pass it on to. As soon as the name popped up, my friend said, “Oh, I was just on a panel with her recently. Send me an email and I’ll forward it on with a note.” And she did exactly that for me.

Was it lucky that we happened to meet? Yes. Did I nudge luck along by sharing what I needed help with? Absolutely. If I did it, you can, too. And just remember, you’re already lucky. You just need to be luckier — and you have everything you need to make that happen. And, as always, it’s worth reminding ourselves that when we reach out to help each other, Lady Luck surely smiles. Write on!

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Be (Re)writers

“The best writing is rewriting.”
E.B. White

“So You Want to Be a Re(writer): How to Revise Your Work” — since I’m in the middle of a major revision of my historical fantasy for kids, this workshop given by Anica Mrose Rissi was tailor made for me. Anica is an executive editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers and an author of a Simon & Schuster chapter-book series launching with Anna, Banana, & the Friendship Split. While Anica’s focus is children’s books, we can all fruitfully apply her advice. A few highlights:

Be brave — It takes as much courage to undertake a full revision as it does to get your story down on paper in a first draft. “A good revision usually involves a major overhaul,” notes Anica. “Most writers don’t push themselves far enough in their revisions. Be afraid of not changing enough!”

Fix it now — “Chances are really good that if you can see a problem in your work,” others will see it as well, according to Anica. So when you tackle a revision, don’t be lazy: Resist the temptation to gloss over any weaknesses you’ve pinpointed; instead, work to eliminate them. Your goal should be to have the best new version possible. The stronger your revision, the farther fresh readers can take you. As Anica suggested, “Don’t waste a fresh read on problems you already know about.”

Outline the book you’ve written — Once you have a full draft, consider outlining all the elements of your plot and your sub plot(s). This will help you see what you can take out and identify gaps or weaknesses. It will also help you map your plot and emotional arcs so you can see their interaction. One approach: Create a Post-It wall using different colors for different characters and/or to map major plot points.

What to look for in a major revision:

Are your characters fully developed?

Is your narrative voice compelling?

Is your plot interesting and compelling?

What’s the theme, the subtext — the fundamental truth you’re trying to convey?

Do your plot arc and your emotional arc work well together?

How’s your pacing: Do things happen when they should?

How’s your prose: What needs polishing?

The major takeaway: Revision is challenging, but the results are well worth it. Write on!

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