Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Wishes and New Year Plans

Hi, everyone! Just wishing you all a happy holiday season and terrific new year, which will soon be upon us. (Because, after all, if the Mayans are unfazed about the end of the world and it's their calendar causing all the talk, then why should I be worried? Right?)

If you've stopped by the blog recently, you've no doubt seen that I haven't updated it very often this month. You know what the deal is? Well, I'll tell you... It's just been so busy that I unofficially decided to give myself a few weeks off. I will be back with new posts as of January 4, with a possible fun post on December 28 if I can get it done.

In January, though, I will be back for sure with a series on maintaining life and writing balance, including some tips on how to recharge when you write after a full day working for "The Man." (He's a harsh taskmaster, that guy. But he pays, which is probably why you work for him full-time and do your writing on the side.)

Seriously, though... It's definitely a challenge to figure out the day job, family, friends, fun, and writing balance that works for us. I can share what I've found works for me, plus what others are saying works for them, so I plan to do that in January. I've got some great feedback and suggestions on this subject from a bunch of people, young and old, some students, some full-time employees, some parents... all of whom tried to make time to write during National Novel Writing Month in November.

And I can tell you this: If you're writing (or trying to) in the midst of a busy schedule, you're not alone. In fact, most people seem to be in that boat. And finding balance is key to doing it long-term, so I'd like to talk about it here.

Also, I'm planning to talk either in January or February about mindfulness and how it can be of benefit for recharging your creative batteries, as well as helping keep you sane in a busy world. So, look for posts on that topic too, and be sure to let me know any thoughts you have...any questions you'd like me to tackle...or any tips that work for you. If you've written about either the work-writing-life balance or the recharging your creative batteries topics, and you'd like me to link to your posts, let me know. I'll do what I can.

In the meantime... Enjoy the holidays, stay safe and warm and dry, and I'll see you in a week or two with new thoughts on writing for a new year...the year in which I will finish my novel. (More on that too, soon!) Best wishes to you all!

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Learning When NOT to Write: A Reality Check

So...

Today, I am not doing what I planned to do on this blog. That is, I am not posting what I planned to post, which was a look at how we can energize ourselves to write when we're busy. Obviously, if you have read this blog often, you know I'm busy, often too busy (I confess). So I do have some thoughts to share about keeping your energy up and taking care of yourself so you have the power of creativity behind you, even when you have a busy schedule.

But there are times when you just have to recognize you can't do it all.

And that's my personal lesson for this month, which maybe you can sympathize with. I started out the month planning to get 50,000 words written on a novel in progress that I want to finish in draft by the end of this year. And if all things had been equal, I could have done it.

This month, all things have been decidedly unequal. Drastically so. There is just too much going on in my life to meet that goal. And I've decided, after a talk with my best friend who kindly gave me a reality check, that it is entirely okay to let go of the 50k word count goal for the moment. It means I won't be winning Nanowrimo this year. But it also means I can put more energy into being there for a friend recovering from surgery, as well as supporting my young nephew who is currently in the hospital. It means I can better guard my energy levels given that this is an absolutely insane season of deadlines at my day job. It means I can concentrate on the writing class I offered to teach without burning myself out.

Yeah, I have to admit it: the Chipper Muse can't do it all. So, I'm giving myself a break and not writing this week. It's not the end of the world. So, for those of you in this boat too, like my Twitter friend Derek (@wrytersblockDH) who said to me: "It's the mental energy to write after a 12-hour door-to-door day I can't find," I say this:

The writing life is life, not an event. We are still writers, even when life demands that we not write at the moment.

Next week, I hope to be back with a look at how I energize myself to write. But hey, if it doesn't work out for me to do this series of posts until January, that's okay. I'm learning when not to write.

Do you ever find yourself in this position? How do you reconcile your hunger to write with your need to rest, spend time with others, and take care of yourself? Share, please!

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Writing with Thankfulness

AI am so thankful I am a writer. There is no doubt in my mind that writing is something I was created to do and made for, because I love doing it. And of course, with this being Thanksgiving week, I began thinking about how thankfulness and writing go together. They do, you know.

Here's how I think about it:

I'm thankful for the challenges of writing. Aren't you? Sure, writing is a demanding profession. It requires us to continually strive to learn more and be better at what we do. It's not something you can succeed in for very long if you are lazy. Those challenges can remind us of how important it is to pursue the things that we are passionate about, even when they're hard at times. So... Thank you, God, the universe, and life, for that.

I'm thankful that the writing community is one of the warmest, most helpful communities I've ever belonged to. Sure, there are a few curmudgeons out there. There are some bad critiquers and some jealous people in the community. But by and large, most writers I've met, no matter what level of skill they're at or how successful they may be, are glad to take a little time to answer questions, offer suggestions, encourage you when you're down, and giving you accountability when you need it to boost your word count on days that are hard for you. I've made some great writer friends in person at critique groups, online on blogs, and through Twitter. To all of you... Thank you for your support.

I'm thankful that I don't have to define success in writing as only a book deal. Sure, I want a book deal. We all want to be published. But a popular blog is success, because you're reaching your audience. Having opportunities to guest post for other blogs is success, because somebody likes you and what you have to say well enough to give you space in their world to speak. Success is writing more good words than bad words, more in word count that you usually do in a day, better quality than your past work. Success in writing takes on many forms. For that... I say thank you.

And finally, I'm thankful that a good attitude can help you write better, write more words, and write with more joy. When I'm feeling content and thankful, it is somehow easier to be creative as well as to sit for longer at the keyboard and type. This is also true when I feel rested and centered. That state of mind is energizing for my writing, and I'm thankful for that. In fact, I'm going to share about this in a blog series starting next week, because I know that finding and maintaining the energy to write when we're busy is crucial for a lot of us, and sometimes it seems hard to find. I have some ideas about that, and I want to share them with you.

Now, let me ask you: What are you thankful for these days? Share anything, of course, because I love good news. But I'd especially love to know what writerly things you are thankful for.

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Help! I Can't Find Time to Write

For the past two weeks, this blog has been focused on finding time to write. My buddy, James Garcia Jr., shared how he finds time to write, and I shared some great blog links from other writers who have some good time management tips. (Links to both posts are below.)


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Today, I thought I'd take a look at the things that busy writers can do when they feel like they can't find time to write...because I think a lot of us feel that way. Sometimes it's as though the whole world conspires against us to keep us from putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. There is definitely a battle that happens for each of us, no matter who we are, to do what we feel most passionate about in the midst of situations that want to drag us away from our life's calling, whatever it may be.

For me, I work a day job where I write and edit all day long. As a copywriter for a nonprofit, I'm busy penning words for other people. That can be tiring if I allow it to be. Part of my personal battle is to maintain balance and keep myself refreshed and in a good place mentally daily, so that I have the energy to write my own work in the evenings.

But even when I take care of myself, life has a way of getting in the way. At the moment, I have set the goal of finishing Nanowrimo with 50,000 words by November 30, to finish my novel draft by end of December, and to edit and get it out to publishers/agents in March. This is a reasonable goal for where I'm at in my novel right now. Yet life has rolled in with an outpatient procedure for me that pushed some of my other projects into backlog, a broken cell phone that took hours to resolve, unexpected day job deadlines that required me to put in extra hours, a trip to the ER with a sick friend, a planned outpatient procedure for that friend, some freelance deadlines that I expected to have met by now...

You get it. I'm not complaining. I'm just saying that even the best of planners are forced to pants sometimes because life is fond of forcing you to pants. And I mean in every area of your life, not just writing.

So, how do we resist the tide that pulls us away from our writing shore?

  1. It starts with attitude and determination. Do we want to write so much that we can't let it go? Hunger to write is vital. And it's something we have to maintain daily. If you're reading this blog, you probably consider yourself a writer. So, take a little time each day to think about your passion for writing. Remind yourself how much you love it, why you want to do it, where you want to end up, and how it felt the last time you wrote something that made you feel proud and satisfied with your gift. Let that drive you to find time to write today. And then repeat the process tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow.
  2. Know what you do with your time. We all find time to do things we don't necessarily have to do, like watching TV or getting up for a second cup of coffee. And it is all too easy to waste time without even thinking about it. Half the battle is just to be aware of where your time is being spent. Get into the habit of asking yourself what you want to do with your next hour. Check in mentally with your daily goals every so often and ask yourself what really needs to get done today and what can wait until tomorrow. When I make that evaluation, I often realize that tomorrow is an even better day to get that errand done, so I really do have time to write today.
  3. Be prepared to write anytime, anywhere. I have a friend, Kristin Nador, whose blog title is Write Anywhere. I'll link to her blog below. Her idea is to write in different places as a challenge to herself, but you can adopt the idea as a tool to fitting in time to write in a busy schedule. I do it by taking at least a small pad of paper with me everywhere I go, plus I carry a flash drive with copies of my current projects on it. If it's a slow hour at work, out comes the flash drive. If I get an idea while driving, I jot it down at the next stop light. You can even use your smart phone to capture notes or an actual piece of writing and then email it to yourself.
  4. Don't beat yourself up if all you could do was fit in 15 minutes, or 100 words. Personally, I've had to learn to pace myself. Writing a novel is a long-term goal. Short-term goals of finishing a chapter a week or 1500 words a day may be helpful, but there will be days when you can't make it happen. Instead of looking at it negatively, look at it positively. On a particularly tough day, if you managed to get 500 words down in spite of everything that conspired against you, it's an achievement. Enjoy it as a victory, because it is. And the positive outlook will help you be energized to write the next day.
Well, those are some things that are working for me. Have you tried any of these ideas before? How well have they worked for you? Let me know in the comments below, or chat with me on The Chipper Muse on Facebook or Twitter about it. I'd love to hear from you!


Links I mentioned above:
Managing Your Time When You're Busy
Finding Time to Write: Guest Post by James Garcia Jr.
Kristin Nador Writes Anywhere blog

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Managing Your Time When You're Busy

I hate time management. I mean, I love the idea of it. I love being organized. The part I hate is trying to make it work in a chaotic, unpredictable world of suddenly sick friends, unexpected and immediate new work deadlines, accidentally broken cell phones, long lines at the voting booth, Nanowrimo word count deficits that are compounding worse than the national debt...

In other words, life is a bitch sometimes, and this week in particular she has been super mean to me. I can barely figure out if I'm coming and going, and yet I have a blog post due today. Yeah, sure, I can just not post, but I care about being consistent. So, I'm doing what any self-respecting blogger/writer would do after a week like I've had...

I've looked up what other people are saying about time management and I'm sharing their links.

The truth is, I'm not sure I have enough wisdom myself to share with you yet on managing your time for writing. I kind of suck at it, and I need to get better at this skill as much as anyone does. So, barring my own insights, I can at least share the wisdom of others. Here are some cool things I've found so far, and I hope you have fun exploring the links and maybe meeting a new blogger because of it:

  1. Over at Writing Is Hard Work, busy teacher Roger Colby is offering some of his tips for surviving National Novel Writing Month (the said Nanowrimo that is kicking my butt at the moment). His first post is about time management, and he is busy enough that I'm embarrassed at my own lack of productivity. Read his Compartmentalizing post, and then check out the rest of his Nanowrimo series.
  2. Nanowrimo's website has a post on time management for college students who are writing. I'm not in college, but I like the post's title, which is about the "preservation of sanity." That's about where I am right now. Barely holding on to quirky so as not to pass into crazy bastard territory, a la Sheldon of the Big Bang Theory. That post is here, if you'd like to remind yourself that no matter how busy you are, you don't have a essay due on top of it. Unless, of course, you do have an essay due today, in which case I extend my sympathies.
  3. If you're a software nut, you might look into RescueTime, which supposedly helps you to manage your writing time better. I haven't tried it. I won't recommend it. But it's interesting to know that it's out there. If you've tried RescueTime before or if you decide to try it now, let me know in the comments what you think of it. I'm curious to know how effective it is.
  4. BookBaby has a blog post on time management for writers on a deadline. And let's face it, who isn't on a deadline? If the deadline isn't for your writing, it's for something else, like fitting your writing into a certain time slot before you have to go to work, the doctor, etc.
  5. Rebecca Bradley shares her tips for time management, including what to do with the kids (if you have them). I don't. I'm glad about that. I think I'd probably forget them at the library for hours, or something equally un-mom-like. She also recommends cutting out unnecessary TV, which of course can be extended to cutting out anything that we don't really need to be doing and that we're using just as time-fillers.
That's the best I can do in the limited time I have this morning to get this post live. On the other hand, that's pretty good information to get you started, and I came up with it in 20 minutes. Proof positive that I can, in fact, manage my time and get some writing done fast, if I set my mind to it.

So, what's my excuse? And what is yours? Something to think about, isn't it?

How do you manage your time? And have you found any resources that help you stay on track when you're busy or when life throws you the unexpected? Please share below! And don't forget to check out how fellow writer James Garcia Jr. manages his busy schedule and writes novels at the same time, in his post Finding Time to Write. This guy is actually making it happen, and we can learn from his advice. Plus, he has a new book that you might want to check out. So, give it a read if you haven't already.

See you next week, and if you're Nanowrimo-ing like I am, best wishes to you, and may your word count increase exponentially!

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Finding Time to Write: Guest Post by James Garcia Jr.


Hello. I write vampires. I currently write them with a Christian slant. Are you still with me? Good. How about you? Chances are that if you are visiting today, you’re a writer, too. Or perhaps you’re a reader. Most likely, you’re a little bit of both. And although there may be a few among you who are lucky enough to be able to write until your heart is content, chances are you are struggling to find the time to write. This is what has brought me to you today.
Guest blogger and fellow author, James Garcia Jr.
He's cool, folks!

How do you find the time to write?

Do you carry a notebook with you at all times? Are you jotting ideas and plot twists down on bar napkins, the Life Section of the newspaper, or the back of the grocery list while you wait in line at the checkout? In order to write, one has to make a conscious effort to fit it in.

I like to shock people by telling them that it took me twenty years to write my first novel. It’s a true statement. Believe me, I was there. I wrote while in college, but family and careers pushed that to the back burner, as they say. Eventually, I realized the regret that I was facing were I never to write again, so I dusted off that manuscript and got it done. Much can be said about it being God’s good timing and I believe it was; however, there was also some maturity that I needed to have before I could continue. In those early days, if I didn’t have a couple of hours to write, I simply shut it down and refused to even begin. Twenty years later, if I had forty minutes I could be found scribbling furiously. I’m guessing many of you are like that.

These days, I get up at 3 AM in order to be at the office by 4 AM. I work as an Administrative Supervisor for Sun-Maid Growers of California. Are you familiar with the lady on the red box of raisins? That’s us. I work 5 days a week and about 11 hours each day. Being that I’m pushing 44 years old, most days you can find me in the garage on my treadmill for an hour. Beyond that, we all have our chores, etc., to handle each day. As you can well imagine, that doesn’t leave me with very much time to write, promote, blog, and check in on any of the seemingly hundreds of social networking sites. I’m on nearly all of them. I see you are too. It’s a lot, isn’t it?

Having listed all of that, you might be asking when I find time to write. That’s easy, I don’t; certainly not regularly. I believe the first rule of writing is to write every day; however, with my schedule, I would be able to do little else. So, what I do is let my mind work all the time: picture a staff of men in my head, constantly working plots, characters, etc., and waiting until they’ve got something good before putting forth their proposal. Usually I take on a writing project every year and a half or so. By then, I typically know what the story is and where it ends up.

Jimmy'a book is now available!
I find I outline a bit more with each project, so I’m somewhere between a pantser and a plotter at the moment, but for the most part, much of the story is already written in my head. On a day-to-day basis, I let my mind gestate the next chapter while in the shower, driving to and from work, in those moments before sleep takes me away, and every free moment in between. The next day at the computer I simply write down everything I “saw” the day before. When I’m done, I leave the computer and the process starts all over again. It’s working for me so far. How about you and your process? Is it quirky like mine? I’d love to hear it. I’d also like to thank our gracious host, Michele, for granting me this opportunity to share with her readers.

Whether you like vampires or horror at all, I’d really like to thank you for taking the time to hear me out. I’d love for you to stop by any number of my sites and say hello. If you do like to sit on the edge of your seat without having to be grossed out by the ugly side of horror, I may have a book or two for you. More importantly, however, I’d really just like to encourage you that dreams do still come true. If writing is your dream, please write—anyway you can. You’re going to hate yourself one day if you don’t.

James Garcia Jr. was born in the Central California town of Hanford. He moved up the road to Kingsburg with his family as a child. After graduating KHS, he attended Reedley College where he met his wife. They, along with their teenage sons, still make their home in Kingsburg, which is also the setting of James’ vampire series. Dance on Fire was published in 2010 and its sequel Dance on Fire: Flash Point was published Halloween 2012. James is an Administrative Supervisor for Sun-Maid Growers of California. You can find him online at his blog, Dance On Fire; his Facebook fan page; his Google+ page; and on Twitter as @danceauthor. His books are available on Amazon

Friday, October 26, 2012

Look: An Eye on My Writing, and Yours

Hi, everyone! I'm back!

Let me tell you this: Recovering from sinus surgery is an interesting process. And when I say interesting, what I really mean is that it took more out of me physically than I expected, and that it was more intense of a process that the doctor conveyed. I'm doing well and feeling good now, but I was out of commission for a while, and that's why I didn't blog last week. Life happens, even to writers and bloggers.

This week, I'm back to share a piece of my young adult urban fantasy, what I'm calling a blend of King Arthur and Stephen King. I'll be finishing the draft during National Novel Writing Month, and then I plan to edit it and shop it to agents next year.

In the meantime, I thought it'd be fun to participate in the Look Challenge, a blog share that has apparently been popular as of late. My friend and fellow blogger, Kristin Nador, posted on it yesterday, and I thought I'd meet her challenge and post an excerpt from my novel.

Before I do, let me give you a little tip if you're writing a book right now. Try this challenge in principle, even if you don't post your writing online. Here's why: When I pulled up my current draft and searched for the word "look," I was amazed and perhaps a little embarrassed at how often it came up in my writing. I swear, I'm wondering right now if I know words other than look. I do, of course, but man! It seems to me that word searches like this can help us identify lazy areas of our writing... the places where we tell too much, instead of showing the action. I'll be searching for "look" in my drafts from now on, and seeing where I can be more descriptive or creative than I'm being right now.

But... In the meantime, here's that look (pun intended) that I promised you at my young heroine, Shae, who has just received a set of letters from her father, who has been incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for years. Enjoy! And feel free to share in the comments a link to your own blog if you'd like to participate in the Look Challenge for yourself.


 * * * * *


“You’re losing it, Shae,” she told herself. “Pull it together.” Shakily, she put Sloan's creepy calling card on the bed and picked up her father’s latest letter. With careful fingers, Shae slit open the envelope and reached in. Her fingers hit something hard. Odd.

A key bounced out onto the soft bedspread. It didn’t look at all familiar. What was it for? And for that matter, how did her father get access to a key? Wouldn’t that be off limits? Maybe the inmates really did run the asylum—literally. Swearing softly, she set the key next to Sloan’s card, a mystery to be solved later. Maybe Sloan would even answer her question if she asked about it.

No. What was she doing even thinking about asking him about it? “You’re really losing it,” she said, more firmly.

A pinch of anxiety pressed its claws into Shae’s spine as she pulled out her father’s final missive, written on what appeared to be scraps of construction paper, possibly from some ridiculous attempt at art therapy, just like the first one. Jagged, ripped strips of pink, green, and blue paper had been taped together, and the handwriting was sloppy, as if her father had been forced to write it in haste. The letter read:

Shae,

Need to see you as soon as possible. Must make plans for your birthday. You will be free of the fools who know no better. Free to do as fate requires of you. It is urgent that you choose the proper path, and soon. Come as swiftly as you can, as soon as you get this letter. Don’t delay.

Don’t let yourself be followed. He’s watching, and he knows everything. Take precautions! Beware of those who speak promises. Share your secrets with no one, and be ready to fight for your life at all times. The hounds of hell stalk the unwary, but I have raised you to know better. You know what to do. I pray you will do it well.

I trust you have kept up your training with diligence, but there is much more to teach you. Be prepared for a test when you arrive. It is imperative!

2101 E @ Post. Stam. Lilly.

Your father

Swallowing her bile, Shae read the letter again, hoping another pass through would help her comprehend it, but it only made her father’s arrogant demands stand out all the more. Not even a please. Or a miss you. Or I love you. Ire rose in her like volcanic lava.

“God…” she spat. “Bastard!” She crushed the letter.

* * * * *

Stay tuned for news when I finish this book, because I'm going to celebrate and I want you to join me. I'll do the same for your writing projects. In fact, fellow writer Jimmy Garcia is stopping by next week to share about his writing and his new novel, so be sure to stop by next week. After that, I'll be doing a series of posts on taking and giving feedback on our writing, including some thoughts on ways to work around Amazon's penchant for deleting reader reviews of self-published books. It'll be good, so keep an eye for it.

See you next week!

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. Excerpt from work-in-progress used by permission of author. All rights to blog and excerpt reserved.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Quick Update and Random Thoughts

Just wanted to give a quick update to my blog friends:

I'm having outpatient surgery this week, so today I'm not posting as usual about writing. There just wasn't time to write something thoughtful in time. I expect to be back in a week with my normal schedule, and at least an update on how I'm doing.

In the meantime, I'll offer some random observations so you don't totally feel left out of the Chipper Muse's mad thinking.

1. I'm super-excited that the new Harry Dresden book is coming out. Finally. Love those books.

2. I saw today that the actor who played Harry Dresden on the TV series now has a part on the new TV show
Arrow. Coincidence? Or brilliant marketing ploy by Harry Dresden's author, Jim Butcher? Discuss.

3. In all seriousness, I'm doing pretty well on my work-in-progress novels. I know I don't talk about this much, but here's the latest news for those who want to know:

My urban fantasy, young adult novel about a cursed girl (Shae) who has to care for Excalibur (and of course, save the world), is about 50% done. My first set of readers gave me feedback on what I've done so far; I'm editing, reviewing, and starting the book's second half. More ideas come to me daily for book two, and I'm sure the same will happen for book three. Yeah, it's a trilogy, but there's a logical reason for this, based on Shae's character development and growth.

The other book I'm working on is an alternate history and fantasy mashup set in approximately the 13th or 14th century, about a guy who loses everything, even his name, and is sold into slavery. He wants his name back and his freedom, but his owner stands in the way...a woman who is hated because she killed her husband. This was a surprise project that came to me as I was waiting for my readers to give me their feedback on the trilogy I mentioned above. This book is about 20% done.

I hope to have both somewhere in the process of going to print next year, so don't worry, I'll let you know about it when they're ready. You'll want to buy them, because they're going to be good. Working hard to make them a cut above the rest, you know what I mean? And they'll be fun too. So keep an eye out for more.

Now, your turn: What are you working on these days? What writing projects (or other parts of your life) have you excited? I like hearing about how you're doing, so please share!

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Networking by Listening: Say What?

Yeah, I went for the cheap title today. What can I say? Today's post is quick and dirty because I just read what is the coolest quote ever. Or at least it's the coolest quote I've come across in the last five minutes.

Seriously, though, the quote comes from a September 14, 2012, article on Inc.com by Jeff Haden, called "Best Way to Introduce Yourself." It has some great tips for getting to know others, enjoying networking opportunities, and not being a jerk while doing it. That's useful information for writers. And in talking about the skill of listening, he points out:

"The best connections never come from speaking; the best connections always come from listening."

That idea resounds with me, because I have found it to be so true. Think back to the last time you met someone who only talked about themselves for your entire "conversation" with them. Do you remember how long it took you to start wishing you were out of the conversation (which was more like a monologue)? Probably about 30 seconds.

Now, think back to a time when you met someone who turned out to be a good listener. How did you feel when you were done talking with them? I'll bet you'd be glad to talk with them again. Maybe that person is a good friend to you now, or a business partner, or a spouse.

Listening works.

I've been told I'm a good listener, and that's probably partly because I like to get my bearings in a conversation and get comfortable before I truly open up. I'm a tester, I guess you could say; I test the waters before jumping in. But I also really enjoy people, and it's fascinating what others say and do. People can be endlessly surprising, in a good way, if you'll let them. And it takes listening for those good surprises to happen.

Listening works well for me. I meet lots of interesting people that way, and I've made some great friends.

But the other thing that's really cool about listening and networking is this: If you pay attention to what others say, you can figure out at least one thing that they like or need. And if you come across something that they like or need, you can share it with them. That is, you can give them something. Like, recently... (And yeah, I'm being slangy today, quick and dirty, remember?)

But as I was saying, recently I connected with someone on Twitter who wanted an editor for her middle-grade fiction book. It so happens I have another Twitter friend who writes and edits different things, including fiction for young readers. And he's been looking for work. I knew that about him because I was listening. So, I hooked them up because the connection made sense. It seemed like they could probably help each other.

Cool. Frankly, I just like connecting people and seeing what happens. It's fun for me, and I like the idea that my friend might be able to help that writer out, and if so, they'll both benefit.

But I also find that paying attention and helping others brings good things back to me. Karma. Whatever you want to call it. I call it good business. Who wants to work with someone who only cares about their own bottom line, especially if there's someone else out there who cares about your bottom line too?

Listening definitely has its advantages. And it's a good way to give yourself perspective on life. It's all too easy to get stuck in your own little world, when there's a bigger, wider world out there for you to participate in. Listening helps you avoid that trap.

Of course, I'm not saying you need to be the sole audience of an excessive narcissist. If you're talking to someone who just wants to monologue, it's okay to walk away. But it's usually clear early on in a conversation if the other person is open to listening to you too. And if they are, it's not so bad to let them talk first and really hear them.

Now, you share! Tell me about a time you found listening skills helped you network with someone, get new business, find an agent, meet a girl... You know, whatever. I seriously do like hearing positive stories and good news, and this is a great topic to share on, so talk to me, people!

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Scandal-Less: Should Writers Follow a Code of Ethics?


In the aftermath of the John Locke scandal—and what else can you call it when the guy faked his book reviews and then sold countless writers a book on his sales techniques that didn’t mention his little “trick”—we have to ask an important question. What code of conduct do writers owe it to their readers and to their fellow writers to adopt? How should we behave in the marketplace?

You might think the answer would be obvious. But clearly it isn’t. John Locke proves that, of course. But he’s not alone. Consider this short list of well-known writers in recent years who have failed in ethics. Some of them have lost jobs and no longer make their living off their writing. Others have survived, but their reputation is tarnished.

Doris Kearns Goodwin
2002
Crime: A Pulitzer-prize winner and historian who plagiarized by failing to properly attribute the writing of three other authors in a book she wrote about the Kennedys
Punishment: PBS NewsHour dropped her as a participant on the show (and presumably she lost money over that)

Jayson Blair
2003
Crime: Plagiarized and fabricated numerous articles he wrote for The New York Times.
Punishment: He’s no longer a journalist. He’s now a life coach. Would you hire him?

James Frey
2005–2006
Crime: Published and marketed a “memoir” in which he faked, exaggerated, and played loose with major events in his supposedly true story
Punishment: Public humiliation on Oprah. Dropped by his literary agent. Did damage to his publisher’s career. Lost a seven-figure, two-book deal with Riverhead (an imprint of Penguin). His own career is still surrounded by controversy.

Jonah Lehrer
2012
Crime: Made up quotes from Bob Dylan to bolster his views on creativity in his book Imagine.
Punishment: Forced to resign from his prestigious position as a journalist at The New Yorker.

RJ Ellory
2012
Crime: Used pseudonyms and fake accounts to give his books 5-star Amazon reviews, while also trashing the books of other authors in his genre with 1-star reviews.
Punishment: Lost the respect of fellow writers who were attacked by his sock puppet identities. Being investigated by the Crime Writers Association to which he belongs.

This short list is evidence enough that something needs to change. And the best people to police the writers are the writers themselves. I’m saying we have to do this for ourselves. We have to take responsibility for the choices we make, and especially how our choices affect the people we come into contact with because we are writers.

Sure, it’s tempting to focus only on taking care of yourself. You want to make a living, and you’re feeling pressure to pay your bills. Maybe you’re obsessed with fame. And who doesn’t want to do things the quick and easy way?

But you can’t live that way. I know this sounds old-fashioned, but it isn’t right to take advantage of others for your own gain. You degrade yourself as a writer when you refuse to embrace honest business ethics. You degrade yourself because you stop being, first and foremost, a writer. Instead, you start becoming a con artist whom no one can trust.

Here’s the code of ethics I’d like to see every writer embrace for the sake of their own character, for their friends and family, business acquaintances, fellow writers—basically, everyone who relies on the writer in some way. We can hold ourselves and our fellow writers to this standard, being accountable to each other for offering the following commitments to the public at large:

  1. Don’t leave it up to readers and reviewers to “catch you if they can.” Write and sell your work ethically.
  2. Put honesty and integrity above the benefits you think you’ll get by lying. Deception may work for a little while, but it never works forever. At some point, you’ll pay a price for dishonesty. It’s not worth it.
  3. Vet your source material for accuracy and fairness. Don’t assume it’s true just because one person says so. Do the work it takes to write intelligently and with authority, which comes only from the depth of knowledge you have.
  4. Be committed to putting out the best work, the best marketing, the best of everything. You wouldn’t put up with shoddy maintenance on your car. Readers shouldn’t have to put up with shoddy or faked research.
  5. Don’t make up quotes and statistics to fit your argument. That’s babyish. Period. If you can’t prove your argument, then change your argument, not the facts. Be accurate.
  6. Do your best to avoid miscommunication and vague language that could easily be misconstrued. It’s impossible to be perfect in this area, but some people make no effort to be clear, and it produces unnecessary controversy.
  7. Give full disclosure for anything that can be considered an influence on your opinions, because those influences can introduce bias. Your readers have a right to know this.
  8. Be accurate in quoting sources, and give proper attribution whenever it’s due. People work hard to write, study, research, give speeches… You have no right to steal their work, no matter how pressured you feel to reach a deadline.
I think this kind of commitment to ourselves and to others can only improve our writing. I know this much: the only person who can protect your credibility is you. No one can do this for you. If you don't take charge of it by resisting unethical behavior, eventually you'll be hurt by it. And it's very hard to recover from that sort of public humiliation.

What do you think? What do you do to protect your own credibility? Have you ever compromised or felt forced to compromise your integrity for the sake of marketing success?

Next week: I expect to write a little more about honesty and how a lack of it damages more than just the writer's career. If you have any thoughts on that topic, share them below. I may incorporate your ideas!

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Blast from the Past

Well, it's been a crazy work week. I've got a series on writing with honesty planned, but haven't been able to prepare the posts yet, so in the meantime, I have some oldies but goodies to share today.

These are some of my favorite posts, as well as some of the most popular posts that have run on this blog so far. I know many of you are new readers here, and maybe you haven't seen these, so I hope you'll enjoy some of the different things featured here.

Great guest posts:

Rules and How to Break Them - a guest post by Scott Bury
Shoehorning God - a guest post by Scott Roche

Popular posts on improving our writing:
First or Third: Which Viewpoint Should You Use? - part of my series on choosing POV
To Pants or Not to Pants - part of my series on plotting your writing
Time Management for the Busy Writer - a look at how I make time for writing

Posts that tell you a little about me:
Why I'm the Chipper Muse - a short explanation of the name for this blog


Fun and entertaining looks at life:
Confessions of a Cyberchondriac - a funny look at how the Internet influences our thinking

A taste of my fiction:
Strange Vacation - I can't tell you what it's about. You'll just have to read it.

Now... For those of you who have been joining me here for a long time, you've probably read most or all of these posts when they initially went up. So rather than asking you to read old posts again (unless you want to, of course), I have a special request: Please share your ideas with me.

What I mean is: Let me know if there's anything you'd like me to talk about related to writing, because I'm always looking for new topics. And let me know if there's anything I've done in the past that you really liked and you want to see more of. If you love "Fun with Headlines," let me know. If you love the funny posts like the ones I've listed above or if you'd like to see more snippets of my fiction, I'll share more of that. If what you like the best are thoughts on the writing process and practical writing tips, I'm always glad to do offer that kind of information.

Bottom line is that I want to hear your thoughts and your feedback on the blog, whatever you'd like to share.

Have a great weekend, and stop by next week for the writing with honesty series!

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 7, 2012

When Scam Artists Call Themselves Writers

By now, if you're a writer, you have probably heard about the big John Locke/paid Amazon reviews scandal. If you haven't, I'll provide a link below so you can get the ugly details. But the gist of the story is this:

Sad Story of a Con Artist Writer

A self-published writer cares more about making money than anything else that should matter to a writer—like finding a legitimate audience, delivering a book that people are glad to have spent money on, and earning your street cred by honest work. So, he hires a fake review writing (aka false advertising) company to write something like a billion reviews of his book for Amazon, so it looks like a billion different people have read and loved it, rather than one sad guy who never read the book but is willing to lie to make money.

If you've got an e-reader,
I've got a deal for you...
Things go so swimmingly that said self-published author manages to sell a million copies of his crappy book in five months. (Or at least he claims he did.) So he writes a how-to book about how to sell a million copies of your book (crappy or not) in five months. He shares all the tricks he used to garner success. Except, of course, for the fact that he gamed the system and conned people left and right. Thus, he is able to con again, this time running his scam on tons of would-be writers who dream of making it big and would probably also buy the Brooklyn Bridge if you offered it to them for a small, bargain-basement price.

Eventually, though, this author is caught in the act, and he's raked through the news media coals. (Which is what he deserves.) The fake review writing company he hired is also caught in the act, and soon shuts its doors for good. (I hope.) The rest of us are left debating, as usual, what this means to those of us who actually care about writing good books and earning our followers legitimately.

What I Have to Say About All This Mess
Here's the culprit, John Locke

You can say what you want to about how unfair the book business is. You'd be right; it's patently unfair. Many writers never make a living off their writing. Good writers may make money for a while and then, all of a sudden, they fall off the success wagon and can't get back on. Great books don't get accepted by publishers because they don't fit a clear sales category, so no one knows how to sell it. (By the way, I think that's a legitimate concern, though it's also reasonable to say that people can't know they want a new kind of book unless you show it to them.)

You can say what you want about traditional publishers being evil gatekeepers who won't buy your work unless you're the keymaster (thanks, Ghostbusters, for the pop culture allusion). You can refer to authors who write for traditional publishers as fools, house slaves, or whatever else you want. You can refer to authors who self-publish as hacks and accuse them of weakening the whole book market with their lousy, unedited writing. You can say the whole system is a mess, and you'd be right. It is. I don't know what the whole answer is to the mess.

But the one thing I can say is that it is unethical and immoral to use the world of writing for your con games. Yes, I know it happens. Yes, it happens in all endeavors that involve money. Yes, buyer beware. But still... You don't get to call yourself a writer when what you really are is a scam artist. Not with me. I won't put up with that. It's one thing for all the writers out there to work their asses (butts, if you prefer) off to make a following for themselves. It's one thing to tweet, Facebook, blog, and otherwise brag and advertise your work. That may make you obnoxious sometimes, but it doesn't make you dishonest.

It's the dishonesty that's unacceptable. If you sell a million books by buying a lot of them for the reviewers you've hired, you haven't really sold a million books. You've created a false appearance of selling that much. If you sell books based on hundreds of phony reviews you've bought, and consumers buy your books on the basis of those phony reviews, you haven't sold books. You have stolen money from unsuspecting people. You are a thief. Call yourself a thief and write a how-to book titled, How I Conned Amazon and Millions of People into Buying My Crappy Book: And You Can Too!

Bottom Line

The bottom line is this: I know this kind of thing happens all the time. But I'm angry anyway. When some jackass (con artist or idiot, if you prefer) decides to pull a scam on readers, it hurts all the innocent people in the writing community, because it makes readers more suspicious and less willing to try the work of a stranger. It's hard enough to get your name out there and to sell your work, isn't it? John Locke and people like him have just made it a hundred times harder for all of us. To borrow from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life, we ought to tar and feather the creeps and run them out of town on a rail.

Reference Material

To read more about what people were saying about John Locke before he got caught:
LA Times article questioning the value of Locke's achievements back in 2011
Novel Publicity's interview with John Locke, so you can read his personal blah-blah-blah

To read more about what people are saying now that Locke and his review company have been exposed:
Porter Anderson excoriates Locke, with lots of backup material
NY Times crucifies the jerk who ran the phony review business

To read someone else's ideas on writing a bestseller, because John Locke isn't the only person who has talked about this (I know you're surprised):
A review of Hit Lit by James Hall (I haven't read it, can't endorse it, but it's out there)

What do you think? If you have ideas for solutions to problems like this, I'd love to hear about it. This is one of the things that concerns me about the loss of book stores and the glut of self-published writing on Amazon. Consumers have to work so much harder to find good books. Will they eventually stop trying?

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Giveaway

Got this info from Scott Bury, who did a guest post here on Rules and How to Break Them. And i did a post for him on the Good, Bad, and Ugly of Writing

Now, Scott is part of a book giveaway. If you're looking for new books, check this out. It's FREE. Here's their official announcement:
***

From September 1 to 3, independent Authors international (iAi) is holding its first free book giveaway: seven great books from seven free-thinking, independent and original authors.

iAi is a cooperative publishing organization of independent authors from around the world, whose aim is to support and legitimize the independent author movement, and bring new voices to readers throughout the world.

To promote the organization and its authors, seven iAi members are making their books available for free downloads for the Labor Day long weekend through Amazon.com

3 days
7 independent writers
7 great books 

The Five Fortunes of Fulano by Benjamin X. Wretlind — contemporary literary fiction
LOST by R.S. Guthrie — mystery-thriller/contemporary horror
American Goddesses by Gary Henry — contemporary urban fantasy
Gray Justice by Alan McDermott — action/adventure thriller
Cassidy Jones and Vulcan's Gift — MG/YA superhero adventure
At Road's End by Zoe Saadia — historical adventure fiction
The Bones of the Earth by Scott Bury — epic fantasy/magic realism

For full information on all the titles available for the first iAi Labor Day Free Reads, visit http://robonwriting.com/iai-labor-day-free-reads-2/ or iauthorsi.org.


***
Enjoy, and let me know if you like the books!

~The Chipper Muse~

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sweet Swag Almighty: The Benefits of Local Blogging

Ah, yes. You're a blogger. You blog, blog, blog about whatever suits your fancy. But do you take advantage of all the benefits you get from being a local writer and photographer? Because, believe me, they're out there. Swag awaits. And so does a good time!


Blogging and candy going together?
That's what I call sweet!
Lately, for me at least, the benefits have involved food. Which makes me happy because as an Italian, I've grown up loving food. It's a sign of love when an Italian feeds you. And good eats are a vital part of enjoying life. But what's really great is when I get to connect my love of food and my love of writing, and that's where writing locally comes in handy.

To take advantage of being a local blogger, you've got to let people know you're out there.

For me, this happened when another local blogger, Tasha, scheduled a Meet Up for bloggers in our area to meet and greet each other. She arranged with a local restaurant to host us, and the restaurant provided light snacks while we paid for our own drinks. (Let's face it: alcohol is a major money-maker for restaurants, so this was a win-win situation for everyone.)

I went to the Meet Up, even though I tend to be a little shy in crowds of people, especially when I don't know anyone. It stretched me out of my comfort zone. I chatted with a few people, most of whom I admit I haven't stayed in touch with. (I made a friend, though, Marty aka the Napkin Dad. I keep in touch with him on Facebook. Check his work out here.)

Now, this event happened two years ago. But my name went on a list of local bloggers, and lo and behold, I got invited this week to stop by the grand opening of See's Candies in our area. Because my name was on the list. Cool, eh? Here are pictures of the store. And all the lovely candy!







Talk about fun! We got to go behind the counter and attempt to box candy, like the classic I Love Lucy episode, which as it turns out, was filmed at the See's Candies factory in Los Angeles. We watched video of the 7,000-pound, Guinness Book of World Records chocolate lollipop that See's made and displayed in California. We sampled chocolates. We took candy home. My sweet tooth is quite content today.

And the opportunity came about because I'm a local writer. How cool is that!

So, how do you take advantage of being a local blogger?

1. Do a Google search to see who is blogging in your local area. Or use Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter to ask around for contacts in your area. When you final local authors and bloggers, connect with them and see what happens. This is how I connected with a local food blog that I plan to write for.

2. Keep an eye and ear out for media pieces on TV, radio, and in the local newspapers. Often, local bloggers are local freelance writers looking for opportunities. Tasha, my initial contact, used to do a radio segment on things to do locally on the weekends. I connected with her on Facebook because of it, and that's how I found out about the Meet Up she was arranging. Which leads me to...

3. Check Meet Up (meetup.com) to see if there are already writers and bloggers groups in your area. If there are, join the group! If not, consider starting one. Most writers know the value of networking. Not all of them will be good at it. But some are. And it'll be fun to meet them, so do what you can to get out there.

4. Tell people you're a blogger. Word of mouth is a great way to network. Often it happens indirectly. You know the whole Kevin Bacon thing. Six degrees. But you can often do it in less than that. Friends of friends may be blogging. Friends of coworkers may be freelance writers. The nurse at your doctor's office may be working on a novel of her own. (That's a true story, by the way.) This is a good way to connect because it's informal, but these people know you and know their friend, and they may be able to hook you up so you can help each other.

Now, you share: How do you make local writing connections? If you have ideas I haven't mentioned, I'd love to hear them. Do you find it easy or hard to network locally? Have you had successes because of your local connections? Tell me all about it. Inquiring minds want to know!

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.