Friday, September 30, 2011

In Brief: Nelogism

quer.a.noi.a (n.) 1. That moment shortly before you hit "send" when you turn yourself into a quivering mess, asking "Is this the right agent at this agency?" despite having spent hours or days verifying the same, or look at the opening you've already over-edited and declared complete and realize you used the same word twice in twenty words (and it wasn't an article!), or are otherwise convinced that somehow this agent will not only reject you but also communicate to the wider publishing world that you are a hack.

Symptoms alleviated only upon clicking "Send Mail."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing Hack: Launch Your WIP With Your Keyboard (Windows Only)

I'm a pretty big adherent of David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology for productivity, which I've mentioned before. About a year and a half ago, David interviewed Buzz Bruggeman, co-founder of Activewords. Activewords is an add-on to MS Windows that allows you to assign tasks (text substitution, webpage launch, folder navigation, file launch) to a single word. For instance, you could set it so that when you type "blog," hit the trigger (two taps of the spacebar) and it will launch the "new post" page for your blog.

The amazing bit about Activewords is that it works anywhere--it's using your keystrokes, not an input panel. So if I'm right here in my blog and type an activeword and the trigger, the word disappears from my blog and launches the activeword. I can type words straight from my desktop, or any other place where I can't even see the word being typed, and the active word will still trigger.

Why is this a writing hack? Sometimes, the biggest barrier to getting to work is just getting started. Each of my WIPs is saved as WIP_current in my Dropbox (more on that later), and I have an activeword which points to it. So for SONATA, I could just type  "Sonata" wherever I happen to be in my system, hit the spacebar twice and boom! There's my document. 

Some people have estimated that a huge percentage of our time is lost moving from keyboard to mouse to keyboard. The more you can shortcut under your ten fingers, the less resistance you put between yourself and your creative output. So give Activewords a try. It's free for a version which allows you to create up to 30 Activewords, and $50 for an unlimited version. If you try it, come back and tell me what you think.

Friday, September 23, 2011

In Brief: Longterm Pride

I had a project/shelf reset in the Humor section, and had to pull a book by cartoonist Richard Thompson to merchandise on the feature shelf. He was one of the very first authors the house I worked for published in our humor imprint, many years ago.

Seeing the title of that book on the back of this newer title, I couldn't help but feel a little swell of pride that I got to work (however tangentially) on his first book. It's good to remember as I'm out querying with my first book, that this is why editors and agents go with the books they truly love. The feeling of pride in an author you've had the pleasure of publishing lasts for decades, even if you're just the publishers' assistant.

So, I suppose I'll wait for the people who love mine, too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Strict Pick: EVERYTHING ON IT by Shel Silverstein

Some time ago, when I was old enough to find it hilarious, I heard that Shel Silverstein regularly wrote for Playboy and didn't care much for children. I've confirmed the first, the second remains a mystery, but both make him an intriguing children's poet. I've wondered if it is precisely because he was used to writing the absurd and not particularly invested in writing "for children" that made him such a wonderful writer.

One of my fondest memories of first grade (and yes, I remember first grade very well--I'm odd like that) was my teacher doing a very dramatic, and very drawn-out reading of "Peanut Butter Sandwich." It's one of those formative things as a writer, the kind that you remember dozens of years later because you hear words being used like that and think, "How do I do that?"

Of course, I think it takes someone like Silverstein to be Silverstein. To get the quirky and the touching, and the brilliantly wacky illustrations all in one. 1999 was a sad year, to see a man whose poems I'd memorized gone forever (I've been known to quote "How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes" at people whenever I'm stuck in that "awful, boring chore").

That said, posthumous books usually suck. The way I figure it, if you didn't publish it during your lifetime, it's probably because it wasn't good enough. PIRATE LATITUDES by Crichton is a pretty prime example of this. So I was wary until I set my hands on this one on the SOS cart.

The poetry is just as sharp as always, the drawings every bit as intriguing and absurd. Perhaps this collection might turn out to be even more funny-quirky than usual, because after all the things he did publish, you have to start wondering what was so crazy even he considered it too off-the-wall. I read about a dozen poems in the book while shelving it, and they brought back wonderful memories of reciting and laughing at WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS and A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC.

So tonight, I'm going to curl down with FALLING UP, and then tomorrow, dive into EVERYTHING. You should, too.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing Hack: Use an E-Reader to Organize your "To-Read"

I wish I wish I wish I could remember who to credit with this ingenious idea. If I find them, I will of course link back. (And if it's you, please holler!)

I was reading around the net, perhaps an agent blog, perhaps Absolute Write, and came across the most wonderful suggestion for managing your "to-read" list. One of the wonderful things about e-books is that they often have that nice, twenty-page or so sample you can download for free.

When you get a book recommendation, rather than write it down, go ahead and nab the sample. You can put it on a to-read "shelf" (nook) or collection (Kindle, Sony). Then, when you have some time on your hands and money to burn, peruse that collection, and purchase the books you want.

I've been doing this on my Sony ever since I discovered this advice. For me it's even a little more cumbersome than it would be on a nook or Kindle, as I have to download the samples from the web and put them on my reader via USB. Yet still, I find it completely worth the effort. I get recs every single day from blogs, from friends, from goodreads...this is a super way to corral them and work through them in a very disciplined way.

Reading is a huge part of being a writer. Some advice says you should try to read 1,000 pages for every one you write. So, why not let technology handle some of the hassle for you?

Image from:

Friday, September 16, 2011

In Brief: Don't Need a Title Computer

A customer last night turned to me and asked who wrote The Sun Also Rises. It was clear from her expression that she expected me to know this off the top of my head.

I did, and told her she could find it in fiction under H, but she should also check our promo table for summer reading.

Minimum wage jobs are often unfulfilling drudgery, but as a grad student, sometimes you need the dough. I like that I have one that at least requires me to dress nicely and be familiar with Hemingway.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blog rec: Bookavore

Jennifer Laughran (@literaticat) tipped me via a tweet to a fantastic series being done on organization over on the Bookavore (@bookavore) blog. I'm a longtime adherent of the Getting Things Done / David Allen methodology for productivity and personal organization, and bookavore is diving in to how she's applying some of these principles to her work and life.

I'll come back with a longer blog post once I've read them all, but right now, I'm just going to recommend them as a great read. Head on over there!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Strict Pick: PERFECT by Ellen Hopkins

If there's one thing I remember about my own teenage years, it was the tremendous pressure--not peer pressure, because I was never very good at paying attention to what made me "cool," but pressure to perform, to get into the right college, to be a very particular person.

Ellen Hopkins captures this drive in PERFECT, her latest addition to her ever-growing stable of blank-verse novels. It's about four teens, two girls and two boys, each of whom is struggling to be their own definition of perfect, whether that's being a model, holding up after a brother's suicide attempt, being a baseball superstar, or staying true to yourself.

I admit to having not read Hopkins's CRANK trilogy, nor IMPULSE, which is the companion book to PERFECT. But I picked up an ARC of TRIANGLES, her new adult novel (a review on that will come a little closer to the release date), and was impressed by how engaging the blank verse style actually is. It's possible to identify at once with each of these characters. Even in 20 minutes of perusing this title, I could tell it's one you won't want to put down.

Here's what the publisher has to say about PERFECT:

Everyone has something, someone, somewhere else that they’d rather be. For four high-school seniors, their goals of perfection are just as different as the paths they take to get there. A riveting and startling companion to the bestselling Impulse, Ellen Hopkins’s Perfect exposes the harsh truths about what it takes to grow up—and grow into our own selves. Because everyone wants to be perfect, but when perfection loses its meaning, how far will you go?
For being a terrifyingly engaging and accurate portrayal of teenagerhood, PERFECT is my Strict Pick this week.

Perfect at Powell's
Perfect at Amazon
Perfect at Barnes & Noble 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Writing Hack: Prepping the first 5

Many agents these days want a peep at your first five pages along with the query. But how do you get them formatted quickly so that they won't show up garbled, and will represent you to your very best? This question gets asked on Absolute Write several times a month, and since I just got on the query-go-round (yay!) I thought I'd share my quick tips for getting those pages beautiful, fast.

Many email programs will strip the formatting for you correctly if you just select "plain text" before cutting and pasting your 5 pages into the email. But if you want to be certain, here's how to make sure everything is stripped. 

These steps are for a reformat in Microsoft Word; in most word processors, the steps will be nearly identical, but do consult your help documentation to figure out the nitty-gritty.

Friday, September 09, 2011

In Brief: Write First

Ruth Whitman's words to me were very simple: "Write first." By this she meant, make writing the highest priority in your life. But she also meant those words literally; that is, write before you do anything else in your day. I saw how she translated this maxim into action when we were staying in the same house during a poetry workshop she led. There were eleven miles of beach right out the door of that house that sat on an island off the coast of South Carolina, but Ruth didn't begin her day with a lovely walk on the beach. Nor, for that matter, with any casual conversation with the rest of us. She woke up, made herself some coffee, and retreated to her bedroom, where she spent the next two hours reading and writing. Then she emerged, ready to teach us what she knew about writing poetry. 

--Joan Bolker, Ph.D. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Strict Pick: BUMBLE-ARDY by Maurice Sendak

Right? I'm recommending a picture book.

I'm young enough that WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE was part of my childhood repertoire, and old enough that I now teach it to my kindergarten reading students. So when I saw BUMBLE ARDY on the SOS cart this week, I had to pick it up and have a look.

And it's lovely, as expected. BUMBLE follows the same sort of trajectory as WILD THINGS, namely, a protagonist with a penchant for getting into trouble. In this case, it's a nine-year-old pig, sent to live with his Aunt, who's never had a birthday party. He invites all sorts of people over, and chaos ensues.

Unlike WILD THINGS, BUMBLE is missing some of those wonderful multi-page sentences that make THINGS such a fun read. However, Sendak retained the "wordless pages," which can be so much fun to sit with a young reader (or not-yet-reader) and let them make up the story. There's also much more rhyme (brine, nine, swine, etc.) which reinforces good early reading, but I thought made it not quite as an interesting read as WILD THINGS.

But of course, the highlight is Sendak's artwork, which is just as brilliant as ever. BUMBLE might not end up quite as enduring a classic as WILD THINGS, but it's definitely worth the gift list. I picked up a copy for each of my nieces.

Bumble-Ardy at Powell's
Bumble-Ardy at Amazon
Bumble-Ardy at Barnes & Noble

Monday, September 05, 2011

Writing Hack: Firewall Your Attention with a Lamp Timer

So I'm a big fan of productivity hacks. One of my biggest banes as a writer (which is one I imagine many of us share) is staying off the internet when I need to be getting work done. I have time set aside for writing every day, but for some reason, clicking the little red "X" on Google Chrome, and keeping it clicked, requires some insane willpower I don't have.

I'm a big fan of the Lifehacker blog,  and there I discovered a nifty little computer program called Freedom. Freedom shuts off your internet for specified periods of time, and in order to get it back before your time is up, you have to completely reboot your computer. This sounds like a great idea. Rebooting is just enough of a hassle to keep me from trying to disable the software. It's $10, which is a small investment to make in the name of writing productivity.

However, I'm also notorious for being frugal (read: cheapskate). So I thought, is there anything I could do for free that would accomplish the same end? And then I remembered my lamp timers.

Yes, a new one will set you back about what Freedom will, so this might be a toss-up if you don't already have one lying around. But as it happened, I had a couple of these from when I lived in a ground floor apartment and it was important to make it look like I was home. They interrupt the power between an outlet and a plug at set intervals, useful for having your house light itself--or for having your internet cut itself off without your help.

I plugged my router into one of these babies, set at 8AM and 10AM (my morning writing hours). And boom! No internet, and to turn it back on, I have to mess with that tangle of wires over in the corner that is entirely not worth the time. It even has an advantage over Freedom: with Freedom, you have to have the willpower to tell Freedom to start running (unless you schedule it to start). With this? My internet is gone, sayonara, adios at 8 everyday. No willpower required.

Who says freedom isn't free?

Friday, September 02, 2011

In Brief: BICHOK*

 Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. "I write only when inspiration strikes," he replied. "Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."

That's a pro.
—Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

*Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.
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