Kay: Learning from the Greats

Beverly Jenkins (Credit: HarperCollins/Sandra Vander Schaaf

As most of you know, several of the Ladies will be attending the RWA national conference in a couple of weeks, and we’ve been busy plotting out how we’ll schedule our time. I’ve just started to look at the workshops, and one that looks interesting to me is “Blending Brand and Platform,” which promises to discuss how to integrate “brands” and “platforms” with one’s writing to “develop readership and sales while pushing the boundaries of the romance genre.” Sounds complicated, right? The speakers include Alyssa Cole, Sonali Dev, Beverly Jenkins, and Alisha Rai.

Okay. I’m not at all sure I could tell you what a brand or a platform is, or how they differ, or how to integrate them with one’s writing. What I do know is that I’ve heard Beverly Jenkins speak before, and she’s terrific, so I’m hoping to have fun there and learn something, too. Also I’ve been feeling that Alyssa Cole, Sonali Dev, and Alisha Rai should be occupying prominent spaces in my TBR pile, so I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say, too.

All these writers are well-known for developing stories that feature characters of color, and that’s another thing I’m not sure I know enough about. My planned three-book trilogy, of which I’ve just finished book two, has a secondary character who figures prominently in all three books. This character is a person of color, and I’m concerned that he’s sufficiently well-rounded that he doesn’t come across as a stereotype. I’ve recently read a few reviews of books where the reviewers felt this issue was insufficiently addressed, and I want to do the best I can for the people I invent.

Speaking to this issue, Beverly Jenkins recently gave an interview to Salon, where she asked why readers can relate to werewolves and vampires, but not people who are of a different race. Good question. To read the full interview, go here.

What about you? If you’re going to any conferences this summer, what do you want to get from them?

 

Kay: Are You Getting Enough? Sleep, That Is

Lots of times when I have a problem in my story, I can go to bed and wake up the next day with a solution. “Sleeping on it” isn’t just for decision making any more!

As we all know, sleep affects us in many ways, from our energy and moods to our brain development. We’re told we’ll be happier, thinner, and healthier if we get enough regular sleep. (Plus maybe richer and better looking. I can hope.)

I recently ran across a blog post that made a stab at correlating the sleep habits of famous writers to their level of productivity. The blogger makes no claims to causality—data was hard to find and hard to quantify, many factors in a writer’s life affect output, and the analysis is subject to an enormous degree of subjectivity—but the results are fun, if not scientific.

The data set consisted of 37 writers for whom wake-up times were available. Productivity was measured by the number of published works and major awards an author received. The duration and era of an author’s life were acknowledged variables.

Overall, with the exception of outliers such as Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, who are both prolific and award-winning, late risers seem to produce more works but win fewer awards than early birds.

Click to see all 37 authors, their wake-up times, and their literary productivity, depicted as colored “auras” for major awards and teeny bars for number of works published. The writers are organized from earliest to latest wake-up times, beginning with Balzac’s 1am and ending with Bukowski’s noon. I’m with most of the crowd in the 8am–9am range.

It’s always fun to see how the greats worked, but it’s good to remember that no specific routine guarantees success. It’s just important to have a routine, to show up and work most days. That’s how the books get written.

Check out the full blog post and graphic. Where do you fit in?

 

Kay: Ode to Critique Groups

This week I met with my critique group, Beth and Patricia. We usually meet monthly at somebody’s house, although lately we’ve hit it big at a Mexican restaurant with a waitress we love, who listens only to audio books and prefers science fiction. This meeting was fun and productive, as it always is. Beth, as always, said about my section, “It needs more emotion! I want to know how she feels!” And Patricia said, as she usually does, “This part just doesn’t make sense.”

I love it when that happens.

I’ve met with Beth and Patricia for the longest time—years and years—but even my newest beta readers are godsends. Every one has flawlessly pointed out the weaknesses in my work—the overwriting, inconsistencies, confusing passages, and character or emotional underachieving. They’ve done so with humor and kindness, intelligence and bravery, and I’m more grateful to them than I can say. Continue reading

Kay: Not Dead Yet

“Nuns at a Calder Show, Los Angeles” photographed by Imogen Cunningham when she was 70

I was on public transportation the other day when two women—neither of them young, but both of them younger than I—sat down on the seat behind me. They didn’t hesitate to use their outdoor voices on the train, so consequently I learned that one of them is writing a novel, and the other envies her friend and wishes she could do the same.

However, she said, she’s too old to start now.

For any of our wonderful followers who might feel the same, or who know others who might feel the same, let me first draw your attention to Ida Pollack, who had a book out to her editor for revisions when she was 105. Helen Hooven Santmyer hit The New York Times best seller list and became a celebrity at 88 for her novel . . . And Ladies of the Club. And Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first of the “Little House” books, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 65 and the last one when she was 76.

Clearly, as long as you’re not dead, you’re not too old to write a novel.

But the conversation between these two friends on the train made me think about the writing life—a slow and often tedious process filled with (sometimes years of) revisions and then years of submitting and rejections before the hopeful author finds the editor of his/her dreams. Continue reading

Kay: Rituals are Fun, but Process Gets It Done

woman-typing-on-laptop2People like rituals. Some sports stars don’t wash their lucky socks during the season, or always eat the same meal before a game. Actors tell each other to break a leg. Spiritualists burn sage to cleanse a room of evil spirits.

Writers have their rituals, too. They sharpen their pencils and line them up. They crack open a new notebook. They put on the same playlist while working.

There’s a kind of magic that comes with habitually picking up a favorite pen or sitting down every day at sunrise (or moonrise, take your pick). Ritual is emotional preparation. It sets the stage for accomplishment and entices your muse to dance across it. Sometimes when things don’t go well, ritual can trick you into cooperating. But not always. Because ritual is tangential to actually writing, it doesn’t always work.

Process does.

Continue reading

Michille: Ambient Noise and Creativity

noiseI recently stumbled on an ambient noise website (Ambient Mixer) and found it helpful in my creative process. It blocked out the death rattle on our aging Advatium oven, the scritching and scratching of our highly allergic dog, and other aural distractions. I started to dig around for more sites that might have other ambient mixers that I could use and stumbled on a research study from 2012. Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition (Mehta, R., Zhu, R., & Cheema, A. (2012). Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(4), 784-799). I’ll start with the conclusion:

“Results from five experiments demonstrate that a moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the buying likelihood of innovative products. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity. Process measures reveal that a moderate (vs. low) level of noise increases processing difficulty, inducing a higher construal level [physiological distance] and thus promoting abstract processing, which subsequently leads to higher creativity. A high level of noise, however, reduces the extent of information processing and thus impairs creativity.” Continue reading

Justine: Flexing Your Writing Muscles

manlifting-weightsIn many ways, writing is like working out. The more you do it, the easier it is, and the more stamina you have. On the flip side, when you stop working out, it’s a bitch to get back into it again.

One of my New Years Resolutions was to get moving for 30 minutes a day. Aside from not writing, I’ve also been neglecting myself, and I decided, after reading this stunning NY Times article about how much of your LIFE you can lose by being inactive, that I needed to Continue reading