Friday, February 27, 2015

The Fifty-Two Seventeen Rule

I know. Sounds like a stupid made-up rule, right? Dirty trade secret: yes indeedy, sometimes I do make up stupid things and post them. But not this time. The 52/17 Rule is a bonafide concept that did not come from the back corner of my grey matter. It came from 99U, so you know it's the real deal. And no, I didn't make up that number either.

The premise of 52/17 is that humans weren't made to sit for eight hours a day working. Not only is this tough on the body, it takes its toll on productivity as well. Research shows that standing up and taking a frequent break improves productivity.

According to some research done by Julia Gifford and DeskTime, there was a clear pattern exhibited by the most productive employees. You know where I'm headed with this, right? You got it. The superstar workers put their nose to the grindstone for fifty-two minutes at a stretch, then took a seventeen minute break before getting back to it again.

Think if it in terms of sprinting. Those fifty-two minutes were spent in intense concentration, like a burst of running. That was rewarded by a break for seventeen. And no, rest does not mean trolling around on Facebook or getting sucked into email. It means give your brain a rest from the computer. Have a cup of tea. Take a stroll. Read a book.

Even if you don't have a full eight hours to devote to this little experiment, give it a whirl with the chunks of time you do have. At the very least, your eyeballs will thank you. Staring at a screen for hours on end is just a bad idea all around.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mid-Winter Kick in the Writerly Pants

The days are grey. It's freaking cold outside. And all I really want to do is sit around in my yoga pants and eat boxes of Girl Scout Cookies. Hey, don't judge me. You know you've been there.

What I really should be doing, though, is kicking butt on my manuscript if I'm hoping to get it finished by summer. Somewhere along the way, though, I lost my motivation. I think it might be outside, on the far corner of the porch, underneath the frozen pile of Christmas lights I haven't yet put away. What to do? Make a list, of course . . .

5 Ways to Gain Momentum When You're in a Writerly Slump

Read
Dive into a well-written book. Reading great writing inspires your own great writing. Then pull off a crappy book from the shelf. A real wing-dinger of a gag-inducing I-can't-believe-this-ever-got-published kind of book. You can usually find these on the bottom of a rack at Goodwill. Read it. This will fan the flames of your sweet-mercy-I-can-write-better-than-that reflex, and you'll be off and running in no time.

Meditate
Don't worry. I'm not advocating some wackadoodle yoga pose or mumbling of any sort. Just take a few moments to think about where you're story is headed and allow yourself to get excited about it. That helicopter crash you've got planned? Yeah! Ka-blooey, baby! Or the upcoming boy-wins-girl scene? Warmth and fuzziness. Spend some time with your characters in your mind, because if you're expecting your readers to hang out with them, then you should too.

Research
Sometimes all it takes is a new idea to spur your story into a full-out gallop. Where will you find that new idea? Google it. Search the ol' web for something related to your plot or era. You may come across something cool to include. In my recent release, Brentwood's Ward, this happened when I discovered Bramah Locks and that no one was able to pick one for over fifty years. I wondered what would happen if my hero discovered that one had and bam-o. New plot twist.

Exercise
I know. I see you, darting your eyes everywhere except at this paragraph. You were really hoping I'd skip over this, hmm? Trust me. I hate this one as much as you do, but doggone if hiking my butt outside for a walk, even when it's cold, doesn't give me a whole new perspective.

Write
Go to a library, a coffee shop, or the writerly nook where you know you're most likely to be able to crank out something. Turn off the internet. No emails. No tweets. No Trivia Crack or Candy Crush. Then write. Yep. That simple. Keep your heinie in the chair for at least two hours. I don't care if you have to stare at a blank screen for the first hour and fifty-five minutes **lifts two jedi-fingers in the air and swirls them around all Obi-wan style** you will accomplish some kind of word count.

So there you have it, Sparky. Step away from the Girl Scout Cookies and get cracking.
Don't make me come over there.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What's in Your Attic?

It's nearly that time of year to haul out the ol' bucket and mop for spring cleaning. I know. Eew, right? I suspect that the only thing of value I might uncover is a few coins stuck in the couch cushions. Or maybe I'll find that earring I lost awhile ago. But I probably won't unearth anything like a fella over in Scotland recently found.

Eighty-year-old Walter Elliot was nosing around in his attic, rifling through things, and discovered a 48-page booklet he'd forgotten he'd even owned. No wonder. It had been up there for more than fifty years. But what a find . . . the first unseen Sherlock Holmes story since the last was published over eighty years ago.

Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar is a short story that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote as a means to help build a bridge in the town of Selkirk, Scotland. The bridge was wiped out by a flood in 1902, and in 1904, locals banded together and organized a three-day event to raise funds to rebuild. Part of that event included selling a collection of short stories written by villagers called The Book o' the Brig. Conan Doyle loved visiting the area and agreed to contribute a 1300 word tale for their collection.

Along with a painting of the replaced bridge, the booklet will be on show at the Cross Keys Selkirk Pop-up Community Museum. Is anyone besides me getting a freakish cartoon bubble in their mind for that museum? What the heck is a "Pop-up" Museum? 

Whatever, I think I'll go poke around in my attic and see if I can find anything other than spiders.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

No Agent . . . No Problem

I awoke to -9 today, as in freeze-my-patootie-off-fahrenheit. Thank the Lord and pass the potato salad -- whatever that means -- February is almost in the rearview mirror. Woo-hoo! The Ides of March will soon be upon us. So will great hoards of green grease-painted Irishmen, all wobbly and drunk. But neither of these is as exciting as . . .

Drum roll, please.
Ear-splitting cymbal crash.
Tooty horns doot-doot-dooting.

A Fortnight of Open Submissions at Tinder Press! 

Yee-haw and hot dang! And don't slip on all the confetti because I won't be held responsible for broken hips, especially if you're a drunk Irishman.

Here's the deal . . .

Headline imprint Tinder Press will celebrate two years of publishing by opening submissions for unagented manuscripts for two weeks in March, beginning on the 2nd. They'll be open to accept fifty pages, an outline, and an author biography from previously unpublished writers of fiction ranging from short stories to novels. For further details, click here.

So, why am I posting this now instead of on March 2nd? To give you a headstart, kiddo. Drag out that manuscript wasting away in a drawer. Spitshine it. And while you're at it, zing up that proposal as well. You never know . . . you might be the next Tinder Press bestselling author.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Insecurity: The Bane of All Writers

Recently one of my writing buddies shot me an email. If I named the person, you'd know who it is, the name is that well-known. It's a multi-published author who's won many awards and is a well-received speaker. Here's the gist of the note:

"I don't believe in myself anymore. 
I don't believe in my writing."

If you're like me, you're like, "What? Dude! Are you freaking kidding me? Newbie writers would pull teeth to write like you. You are a rock star of an author!"

Surprised? Shouldn't be. Doubt is the monkey on every artist's back, whether you're a writer, an actor, a red clay pottery whizz, whatever. Every artist stops dead in their tracks at the self-doubt crossroads. (click to tweet)

The choice is to go left and quit. Hang up your writerly hat. Kiss it all goodbye and do something else. Or you can plod along on the right path, writing down stupid words that look stupid, sound stupid, maybe even are stupid, but you keep trying because it's who you are, what you were made to be. 

Believe it or not, doubt is the mark of a true artist. Only wannabes and posers are puffed up with confidence and pride. Real artists anguish over and struggle with creating the best work possible, and sometimes that gets messy.

The bottom line is that it's not about you. It's not about writing. It's all about God and the gift He's given you. Whether you believe that you're gifted or not is quite another issue.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Psalm 46:10














Today's Neighborhood: Devotional

How much of life is a blur?
Did I stop to watch the snow fall,
admire the size and shape of the flakes stinging my cheeks,
listen to the crunch of boot on frozen earth?
Why do I whizz past and ignore the awesome gifts
You hand over to me -- willingly -- each day?
What a slap in the face.
And I am horrified it is my hand
that leaves the red mark behind
mars the brow
drives the nail
yet even so You give freely,
abundantly.

Faithfully.

Stay my hand today
open my eyes
slow my running feet.
Sometimes there are snowy days.
Help me to admire each flake.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Is it Heroic to Lie?

I really liked Divergent. Strong female lead. Buff and handsome hero. Plenty of action, plot twists and an ending that left me wanting more. I'm nearly finished with the second in the series, Insurgent, and you know what? Not liking it nearly as much.

Oh, there's the same wham-bam shoot-em-up edge-of-your seat type of suspense, and the hero is still drool worthy. It's the main character, Tris, who's leaving a sour taste in my mouth. In fact, it's getting to the point that I flat out don't like her. Why? Because she lies. Not just once, but several times over. It's fine with me if villains don't tell the truth. In fact, I expect it. But how can a reader look up to a heroine who lies like a meth addict?

Answer: you can't. But that's not the only reason a lying main character is a bad idea . . .

5 Handy Dandy Reasons Your Hero Should Never Lie

1. You lose a reader's trust.
Not only does lying ruin the relationship between the main character and other characters, it causes a rift between reader and hero. Most people don't trust someone in real life who's deceitful. Why would they hand over that trust to a fictional character that's shown to lie?

2. The protagonist is a role model.
Like it or not, a hero is a role model. Readers want someone they can cheer for. Unless you're a psychopath, rooting for a liar goes against the grain of humanity. Good people don't lie. Bad ones do.

3. It's the coward's way out.
Generally one lies because it's easier than facing a particular consequence. Does that sound very heroic to you? It won't to your reader, either.

4. It corrupts the hero.
Telling lies is habit forming. If a character indulges in this form of wrong-doing, he might become more comfortable with wrong-doing in general. And that, my friends, is a trait of an antagonist, not a protagonist.

5. It feels like cheating.
When an author causes a hero to lie, the reader is cheated. Why didn't the author do the hard work of figuring out a different route to accomplish the plot twist without causing the hero to lie? Sniff, sniff. Smell that? Smells an awful lot like lazy writing.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that a hero can never lie. Maybe he does and then is torn up with grief over it, eventually admitting and owning up to the consequences. That could be workable, but again, it's going to take a LOT of work to reel that reader back in.

There's still a chance in the third book of the Divergent series that the author can redeem Tris's lying and yank me back as a fan, but it will take some fancy writerly footwork to make that happen. And honestly, why risk losing a reader in the first place?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Starring Starbys

It's no secret writers drink a lot of coffee, mostly because it's way more respectable than slugging back bourbon before noon.

I like to write in coffee shops. It's impossible to create a story at home when I know there's laundry to be done or dishes to wash. Sheesh. That sounds pathetic. Oh wait . . . it is. There are a lot of independent java shops near my house, but that doesn't rule out my occasional visit to the granddaddy of them all: Starbucks. So grab yourself a cup o' joe, sit back, and become enlightened.

10 Fun Facts About Starbucks

Starbucks was founded by an English teacher (Jerry Baldwin), a writer (Gordon Bowker) and a history teacher (Zev Siegl).

The most expensive drink ever ordered: $83.75. It was a 160 oz. latte with 99 shots of espresso, 17 pumps of vanilla syrup, mocha, and matcha powder.

Starbucks is named after Captain Ahab's first mate in Moby Dick.

There are 21,000 Starbucks stores worldwide.

Roy Street Coffee & Tea, located in Seattle, is an undercover Starbucks. New products are tested here.

If you bought stock when the company went public in 1992, you paid $17 a share. Today it's $89.

There is 415 milligrams of caffeine in a venti coffee. That equals about 5 cans of Red Bull.

CIA headquarters has their own private Starbucks store. Baristas are not allowed to divulge where they work.

A venti caramel frappucino has 10 grams of saturated fat and 81 grams of sugar. That's more than a large Coke and a Big Mac from McDonalds.

As for me, my favorite drink is a grande caramel macchiato. What's yours?


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Stop the Madness

It used to be that traditional publishing was king. If you weren't writing under a contract for a "real" publishing house, you were pond scum. No, less. You were the ugly underbelly of the pea-green floaty stuff that smells like rotten eggs. You, my friend, were a loser.

But then things changed. They always do. Self-publishing started a big push back, especially with the advent of CreateSpace and the ebook. Indies started to climb the ladder of publishing success, some even waving to the masses standing on the same rung as traditionally published authors. I know, right? Gasp! One would think that the rising tide of such innovation has lifted all writers to equal acceptance.

Hah. Not.

The vitriol has not ended. There is still a squabbling and poking-fun-at ruckus in the ranks of indie authors. Why? (click to tweet)  Because there's a spectrum of self-publishing.

You've got those who wrote their copy then handed it off to someone else to complete all the grunt work such as cover design, formatting, yada, yada.

Then there are those who wrote their copy, found their own designer and editor, then handed it off for things such as ISBN's, Library of Congress paperwork, and the like.

Or there are those who take the bull by the horns and do absolutely everything themselves. Everything. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

It's within the ranks of this spectrum that pride has painted with the oozey liquid from the pond, ranging from:
"Oh, you didn't do it all yourself? Slacker!"
to
"Oh, you created your own cover? Yeah. I can tell. My preschooler could've done better."

So, I'm only going to say this once, people. Lean in. Listen hard. Read my freaking lips . . .

Stop the madness!

Jump down off your pedestals. Let's be buddies, encouragers, looking for the good in each others journeys, not needling the bad. We are writers, and Lord knows that gig is hard enough without in-fighting.



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Confession of a Copycat

I don't like cats. I know. I know. I just offended half my audience. Deal with it. The thing is that I grew up with the cat from hell. No, really. He smelled of sulfur and his eyes glowed, seriously, all the time. I'm pretty sure he was possessed.

That being said, I do have a certain affinity for felines because I am a copycat.

If you grab a book off my shelf, you'll be able to tell if it's one of my all-time favorites by the amount of dog-ears and highlighting. Why do I trash my most beloved novels? I keep a notebook, several, actually (I can never remember where I leave them, so if there's a bunch laying around, I never need hunt for them). In the notebooks, I copy down sentences that make me weep, wet my pants, or hang my head in self-pity knowing that I'll never be able to put words together in such a fashion. Why bother? Several reasons . . .

- The act of writing down beautiful writing inspires my own writing.

- Innovation is often fueled by imitation.

- And most importantly, in the words of Picasso, "Good artists copy, great artists steal."
   (click to tweet)

Now don't get me wrong. I am not advocating plagiarism. Felonies are never fun. Here's how I use those notebooks . . .

When I'm polishing up a rough draft, I love to add in lines that really zing. I look for places that are dull or dragging, then open up one of my notebooks. I find a sentence or two that could work in that spot, then I use them to inspire me to think creatively by re-writing them into something different. Need an example?

Copied sentence: His throat twisted into a sodden, knotted rope.

My innovation: Words knotted in his throat, cutting off air, breath, hope.

See what I did? I used knotted and throat from the first sentence and then rewrote them into my own voice.

For more on imitation, here's a great article by 99U: Here is Your Official Permission to Be a Copycat

You didn't think I actually came up with the idea for this post today all by myself, did you?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Audiobook Community Service Opportunity

So many books, so little time, especially when it comes to the wide, wide world of composing audiobooks for the bajillion or so written before the advent of mp3's. LibriVox is looking for volunteers to help with just such a project.

Would you like to make available books in the public domain to those who either can't read or those who love to multi-task? LibriVox is a non-profit site that records novels then releases the audio files for free online. You could make the classics come to life for someone with limited reading capabilities.

What's that? You're not a freaking voice talent and you think you sound like a frog? No problemo, Bucko. This gig doesn't require any experience whatsoever. All you need is a computer, a microphone and some free recording software. They accept volunteers in all languages with any kind of accents. As long as you can make yourself understood, they welcome you.

If you're still not sure, though, they offer a hand dandy one-minute test HERE.

Seriously, volunteering doesn't get much easier than this, folks.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Neighborhood: Christianity

Along with my new blog look which launched this week, comes a new blog feature here at Writer Off the Leash. On Sundays I'll post some random thoughts about God, or prayers, or dig into a verse or two. I'm no theologian, but I am on this road called Christianity and there are a few pebbles to kick around as I walk, sometimes sprint, often lag along.

Have you heard of Ann Voskamp? Love her writing. Currently I'm doing a daily devotional by her called One Thousand Gifts, which leaves space each day to write down your ponderings on God's grace. That's where I'll start this new feature, because grace is always where God begins. . .


to bend the knee
not from the weight of the world
but the wonder of it
becoming so filled with awe there's nothing left to do
but fall on my face
and laugh
and roll about with God
this wonder
this gratitude
I stand with arms wide open, willing to receive
begging to receive
open my eyes and bend my knees
in celebration of You

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades of Shut Up

Really? Do we really need one more blog ranting about Fifty Shades of Grey? I'll answer that for you . . . nope. We don't. From what I've been reading in the blogosphere, it's pretty much all been said, ranging from the rank filthiness of sexual exploitation to the capitalistic greed mongers bringing about the destruction of our society as a whole.

Not that I think the glamorization of erotic bondage isn't worth pulling out a shotgun and blasting holes in it, but enough's enough. The horse is dead, folks. Time to move on.

Because, you see, there is actually something a writer can learn from Fifty Shades.

Yep. I said it. I really did. Out loud and in black and white. Before you go all atomic-spastic-bomb on me, just hold on a second.

Let's look at a few facts:
- Worldwide the book has sold one hundred MILLION copies.
- At the peak of its popularity, one book was being sold every second somewhere
   in the world.
- It's the fastest selling book series in the history of publisher Random House.

So yeah, as a Bible believing Christian I heartily take issue with the content of the book, but as a writer, there's got to be some takeaway value from the crazy sales numbers this title is racking up. What is it? What's the lesson to be learned?

The author, E.L. James, never gave up. From an early age she dreamt of writing, though never went on to complete any formal education in that realm. As a middle-aged, married woman with two kids, she started writing fan fiction, then eventually went on to self-publish the first volume in the Shades trilogy as an e-book.

My point is that if you have a passion, a dream, a burning desire to do something, then get your rear off the couch and do it. It doesn't matter if you're old or don't have a college degree. Quit whining and shut up about what your going to do some day. Today is the day. Take one step forward toward reaching your dream. Just one. You can do it, you little champion.

Who knows . . . maybe you'll be the next trendy phenomenon to hit the blogosphere.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Writers Are Like Tribbles

Tribble taken from Wikipedia
There was a time when you could tell writers apart from normal humanoids. Frequently they'd look like college professors. Tweed jackets with elbow patches. Slicked back hair. The smell of cherry tobacco and leather wafting about them.

Not anymore. Writers are less than a dime a dozen. See that blue-haired old lady over there, the one that reeks of cheap perfume? She's writing a memoir. That tattooed, lip-nose-and-achilles-tendon-pierced teenager? Blogger. The three-piece fifty-shades-of-pinstripe suited businessman? Tweeter. Preschoolers who can barely put together two letters? Facebooker hooligans.

Everyone is a writer these days. Every-freaking-one. Cluttering up cyberspace, bookshelf space and even the bulletin boards at the neighborhood coffeeshop. Writers are reproducing faster than tribbles on Star Trek, and that, my friends, is bad news.

But -- and I've always got a big but -- there is a flip side to this coin.

People have access to read in a variety of ways now more than ever. iPads. iPhones. Kindles. Nooks. Half price bookstores. And in my neighborhood, the trend is to put up cute little free libraries that are kind of like large birdhouses on a post. All you do is open up the little door and take a book. Return it when you get around to it or replace it with something different.

My point is that yes, there are tons of people clamoring to be read, but there are also readers clamoring for more to read. Win, win, I say!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Simple Solution To Life's Complexities

Some things in life seem overwhelming . . .
- writing a book
- cleaning out the garage
- teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash instead
   of lunging like a canine idiot, turning her eyeballs
   blood red and making her tongue drag on the
   ground

Anyway, as I was saying, life is made up of complex tasks for us to complete. Sometimes, though, those tasks paralyze us. Anxiety sets in, quickly followed by depression, and we all know what comes after that. Yep. Hello fat pants because you've downed twelve quarts of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey.

There is, however, a handy dandy solution when you start to feel overwhelmed about a task, be it writing the next great American novel or changing the brakes on your car. A list. No, not a shopping list so you can plan your next ice cream binge. I'm talking about breaking down the complex into more manageable increments.

"When thoughts are written down, you can move them around, compare them, 
combine them, or divide them as your thinking progresses."
~ Author Scott Berkun 

Lists simplify. They make sense of things that are too big to wrap your arms around. And even if there's an item on your list that still seems too unwieldy, you can always write a sub-list.

Next time you're stuck on how to breathe life into your story or even just what to make for dinner Saturday night, make a list of your ideas.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

In the News

Silence in the house. Drum roll. Excessively loud cymbal crash. TA DA! Here it is . . . the new and improved look of Writer Off the Leash. Sleek. Svelt. And why in the world did it take me so long to do this?

Oh yeah. Because I'm a writer, not a freaking web designer. Sheesh.

But now that the whole freshen-up-the-tired-blog debacle is over, it's time to move on to other topics. There's lots happening out there in publishing land . . .

The Fifty Shades Phenomena

No, I haven't read the book, and no, I don't intend to. Reading about sexual exploits is not my thing. Sex outside of marriage is just wrong, even if you're only reading about it. Even more wrong  is the Fifty Shades of Grey Teddy Bear, which comes complete with its own little set of handcuffs. One word: eew.

Harper Lee Rides Again

I adored To Kill A Mockingbird and always was a little bit sad to think there would be no more to read about Scout. Not anymore. Harper Lee announced plans to publish a sequel. Go Set a Watchman is already available for preorder at Amazon.

The Most Romantic City in the U.S.

Want to know which city scored highest for sales of romance novels and romantic comedy movies? Knoxville, TN. I know, right? Go figure.

Overdue . . . by 65 Years

I don't check out books from the library. I've self-imposed a ban on myself. Why? Because I never EVER return them on time. I'm the one who's single-handedly kept the Minneapolis Public Library system up and running for the past forty years. But there's a fella in the UK who's got me beat. An 82 year old man recently returned a book he'd checked out 65 years ago and ended up paying nearly a $2500 fine.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Blogging Blues

Trust me. I hear you. "Michelle! You said Writer Off the Leash Would have a new look on Monday. A new format. Bells and whistles and possibly clowns piling out of Smart Cars." **looks at watch, looks at calendar, scans every dpi of the screen** "Where is it? I WANT MY MONEY BACK!!!"

Swish that taste around in your mouth. Kind of salty and bitter, with a nasty aftertaste of lutefisk? It's called disappointment. And you're not alone. I'm all pouty-faced and slump shouldered as well.

I hit a few roadblocks this weekend while designing a new and improved blog face. There are only so many things you can do when you run up against a brick wall . . . curl into the fetal position, cry for your mommy, bang your head against the cruel cold stone, or yell "doggone it!" and determine to continue chipping away at the problem.

I've decided to press on. Yes indeedy, WOTL will get a facelift, but not today. Tomorrow? Maybe. Hopefully. Depends upon if my computer geeky husband has the time to help me tonight.

But the bigger question is why press on? Why not just heap the ol' blog onto the garbage pile of life, wipe off my hands, and ride off into the sunset without a backward glance? Several reasons, actually.

5 Reasons Why You Should Blog

It's your backyard and you can garden in it however you want.

This reason smacks of pride, and, well . . . I suppose I could concede a point there. But the beauty of a blog is that it's your own little piece of world wide web. You can say what you want. Do what you want. Make a vlog, write a rant, post a picture of your dog trotting around in tennis shoes. Whatever. It's freedom, baby. There are no blogger Nazis aiming AK-47s at your head. Wait a minute . . . did Nazis even use Russian guns? Whatever. The point is your content is whatever your twisted mind can dream up.

It's a place to keep track of cool links.

Yeah, I know that's what Pinterest is for so quit shouting. It makes my ears ring. The thing is that not everyone is into pinning. Gasp. Yes, I said that out loud. The fact is there are two camps and only two. Either you're an uber-gotta-pin-pin-pin-rabid-freakazoid or you have zero desire to find out what Pinterest is. So, that's one reason to blog: to share things you've found on the internet that might be of value to others.

It develops relationships.

Sweet mercy. Of course I know that's what friendsforlosers.com or patheticallylonelyhearts.net is for. Truth is, though, that the blogging community is huge and warm-hearted. Commenters are loyal and have valuable feedback. You will develop relationships that would otherwise not be possible were you not blogging.

It forces consistent writing.

A blog is a place to sort through big thoughts and whittle them down into smaller chunks. You think I'd do that voluntarily? No way. I'd rather sit on the couch in my underwear, slugging back espressos and eating chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven, working my way into a reading coma. But the pressure of putting up a blog post means I have to instead writing something, which is way better on the waistline. Blogging is good for a writer simply by means of pressure to create a post in a regular manner, whether you're feeling creative or not.

Platform

You knew I'd get to this sooner or later. It used to be that authors had to start a blog. No, really. Agents and editors twisted authors' arms until they cried "uncle" or their shoulders popped out of the socket. But that was back when the mafia controlled publishing. BTW, you probably shouldn't quote me on any of this because I'm just making it up. Anyway, the platform reason is still valid, even though it's no longer in vogue for every author to start one. From my experience, I've gained readers that I otherwise wouldn't have had. I even gained a publisher because of my blog. You never know who's going to stop by and sample a serving of your writing.

Blogging is a a great way for a writer to make sense of the world and share those thoughts with, uh, the world. I highly recommend it. What I don't recommend is trying to figure out how to put a new template on your blog without some serious technical guns at your side.

Hmm. Maybe if I bake hubby a banana cream pie for dessert, I'll have my blog facelift done in no time.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Exploring New Neighborhoods

You'll notice there's no Fun Friday vlog this weekend. Why? Because it's time to mix things up here, people. It's starting to smell like old gym socks fermenting under the bed. Let's open the window and freshen things up a bit, shall we?

Starting Monday, Writer Off the Leash is running wild into a whole new format. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

How is Writing Non-Fiction Different From Fiction?

If I were to sit down across the table from you, cups of java in hand of course, and ask you how writing non-fiction is different from writing fiction, how would you answer? Think on it.

Ready? Answer in mind?

You are wrong, Bucko.

Today I'm here to blast out of the water the three most common misconceptions the average humanoid believes to be true about non-fiction vs. fiction.

Myth:
In fiction you get to make things up, but in non-fiction you can only list facts.

Busted:
Would you seriously want to read a novel wherein nothing is true? Fiction needs to have facts incorporated in order to be believable.
And conversely, in non-fiction you need to creatively express your facts so that a reader doesn't shrivel up and die from literary dehydration.

Myth:
Story is fine for fiction but forget about it for non-fiction.

Busted:
We all live in some kind of story. Maybe your life is a drama right now. Or perhaps you're living in a sit-com. Whatever, story grabs hold of readers because that's where writing connects with their heart. This is every bit as much true for non-fiction books as well fiction.

Myth:
Writing fiction is harder than non-fiction --or-- writing non-fiction is harder than fiction.

Busted:
They're both hard. Each requires attention to detail, word choices, writing tight, and content that scoots the reader to the edge of his seat.

Sure, there are some differences between the two. There is no arc or climax in a non-fiction book, no protagonists or antagonists. Fiction has a theme but it's not a useful how-to tool.

The point is don't be all puffed up thinking non-fiction writers are smarter than fiction authors, nor put fiction writers on a pedestal of supreme creativity because non-fiction writers surely only deal in dust-dry words. Writers are writers no matter the genre. Words are words. The great divide isn't so great after all.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What I Learned from Self Publishing

You know those TV shows that feature some daredevil lighting his underwear on fire as he hops on a motorcycle and jumps over five semi-trucks and a baby, all while some scrolling type at the bottom of the screen warns you not to attempt this at home? Yeah. I feel like there should be some kind of warning to those considering self publishing because it's really not as easy as it looks. Leastwise not if you want to put out a quality book.

So here is my attempt at enlightening those who think they'll just slap up some type on Createspace and rake in a million bucks.

**pretend the following is scrolling across the screen . . . I'm not technologically savvy enough to do that and there's no teenager around for me to collar**

1. Covers are a pain in the patootie. Who knew there'd be so many decision to make? Color. Style. Artwork. Wording. Layout. Font. Sizing. Transparency. Bleed. And that's just in the first consultation.

2. No matter how many times you go through a manuscript, you can always find something else to change.

3. A good editor is worth her weight in chai. I didn't actually have the money up front to pay for a manuscript edit so I bartered for a lifetime supply of chai. So far it's worked out pretty dang good. Of course, if she lives to be one hundred, I may be in trouble. Nah. I'll be dead first. Hahahaha! Jokes on her. . . wait a minute. Maybe not.

4. If you put your book up for pre-order on Amazon, they give you a deadline set in stone to upload your final copy. If you're late, oops! Your name is written on the Amazon naughty list and you don't get to put up any more pre-orders for over a year.

5. There's way more that goes into producing a book than simply good writing, though that is a must. There's book size, paper color, paper weight, ISBN nonsense, Library of Congress shtuff, a bajillion different kind of ebook conversions, yada, yada. Seriously, I had no idea.

It's been an adventure putting out Writer Off the Leash, but one that's been a good education. Would I do it again? Probably. Will I leave the realm of traditional publishing behind? Nope. Each venue has their pros and cons.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why I Decided to Self Publish

Way back when dinosaurs roamed the face of the earth, cavemen carved out their novels in hieroglyphics on stone walls. No contracts involved. No queries or proposals or pub boards. Just bam! There's a story, thank you very much. Self publishing is kind of like that, but without the fear of velociraptors ripping open your flesh with sharp, pointy talons.

Not too long ago, putting out your own book was looked upon with a huge frowny face. You were considered a loser. Someone who's writing wasn't good enough for a "real" publisher. Self-published books were stigmatized as sub-par.

Wow. How times have changed. Oh, there's still some crappy writing out there in Indie Land, but lot's of respectable authors have ventured into the realm of self-publishing. MaryLu Tyndall. Brandilyn Collins. Even the famed Stephen King.

And now, moi. The big question is why? Why risk my own money up front when there's literally hundreds of thousands of other books out there clamoring for buyers?

Top 3 Reasons Why I Self Published

Peer Pressure
All the cool writerly kids are doing it nowadays, so I thought I'd give it a whirl as well. I've already got four traditionally published books under my belt (yeah, it's a little snug). Self-publishing would be a new adventure.

Sheer Laziness
I didn't want to spend the time figuring out what publishers to pitch a non-fiction writing craft book to. I also didn't want to spend the moolah to frequent the conferences where those publishers might be hanging out. Does that sound like I'm cheap and lazy? Yep. You'd be right.

Team Work
I had a buddy who'd been after me to self pub. Every time I saw him, he'd be like, "So, when are you going to put out your own book?" One day I shot back, "When you do it for me." The gauntlet lay in the dirt. He picked it up and ran with it. I did all the writing, found an editor and graphic designer. He did all the formatting and ISBN funny business.

Those are my reasons, but those aren't the only reasons to self pub. Here are a few more:

  • Control ~ you have the final say on everything involving your book
  • Time ~ it's on your own timeframe, not a year or two out
  • Ownership ~ you retain all your rights
  • Genre ~ you don't have to sell to a certain market, well, unless of course you want to make money
  • Royalties ~ there's no middle man to pay

Independent publishing isn't for everyone. It's not a get quick rich scheme or the fast track to fame. If those are your goals, this isn't the gig for you. But, if you're willing to be in the writing game for the long haul, put your money where your mouth is and cough up the cash for editing and cover design, then you might want to give self-pubbing a good, hard look.

Or I might be wrong and this could all blow up in my face. Stay tuned. I'll be sure to take pictures if that happens.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Introducing the New Hybrid: Me

Today is the day I become a hybrid. No, that doesn't mean I'm going to get better gas mileage. Nor has my DNA mutated into a gnarly strand so if you spray me with Roundup, I tap dance  the praises of Monsanto in Morse Code. All it means is that I've belly-flopped into the pool of independent publishing with my latest release . . . drum roll please . . .


Cymbal Crash! Cue the applause! Do-si-do your partner and send in the clowns! No, wait a minute. Some people are afraid of clowns. What's all the ruckus?

(click to tweet)

Here's a blurb:

Are you a writer at heart? How can you tell? And if you are, how do you go about composing and selling the next Great American Novel? WRITER OFF THE LEASH answers these questions and more--all in an easy to understand, tongue-in-cheek style. This is more than a how-to book. It's a kick in the pants for anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn't know how to take their writing to the next level. Award-winning author MICHELLE GRIEP blows the lid off stodgy old-school rulebooks and makes it clear that writing can--and should--be fun.

It was a little scary wandering out of the fiction neighborhood and crossing the street into non-fiction, mostly because I couldn't just make stuff up. I had to be factual, which usually isn't a whole lot of fun. But don't worry. I added in plenty of snark just to jazz it up a bit. It's been an interesting adventure, so for the next few days, I'll chat about it. Here are a few questions I'll cover, but if you've got more, feel free to leave them in the comment section.
  • Why did I choose the self-publishing route?
  • What did I learn from self-publishing?
  • How is writing fiction different from penning non-fiction?
So feel free to spread the word, gang. Let's share the Writer Off the Leash love.

 
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