Archive for the ‘John C. Caruso’ Category

“Intriguing But Not Compelling” by John C. Caruso

Well, Portland Mayhem Company made it through a bumpy start to the new year, but it seems like we’re all as committed as ever to keep bringing you fresh fiction each Friday and sharing with you our daily tragedies and triumphs here in the trenches as “early career” writers.  We’ve got some great things planned for the coming weeks and months, including some guest posts from a few local writers whose novels and stories you may have read.  Keep coming back for updates on this.

A couple weeks ago, my friend and colleague Aaron Hilton shared with us the rejection letter he received from an editor who had been considering his first Grunge Operatives novel.  It’s a hard thing to get a rejection, and I admire Aaron’s courage in the face of this as well as his willingness to share with all of us his process in dealing with this apparent set-back.  The thing about being a writer at this stage is that you put in long hard hours behind the scenes and when you emerge with your manuscript, ready to share it with the world, you’re often not quite prepared to be banished back to the study.  After sending your little treasure off to an editor across the continent and waiting patiently for several silent months of secret hope, you feel a cold shock when your months of labor are answered with a brief reply of just two or three paragraphs.  Try as you might, you can’t quite read between the lines well enough to fathom whatever cryptic pearls of wisdom may be offered.

You want to be logical about it.  You want to be rational and really take in the criticism so your writing can get stronger and you can do even better next time.  But it’s hard to be clear-headed and analytical about a rejection because, well, it’s a rejection.  Emotions get mixed up in there and you tend to take it hard.  I know I do.

Just this last week I got my own rejection letter from an editor who had been looking at my novel The Lawn Man for several months, and since he had requested the full manuscript this had been just long enough to get my hopes up.  He sent a nice rejection.  Not the best one I’ve ever gotten, but at least I could tell he’d read the whole thing and seemed to appreciate a lot of things about it.  He said he liked the escalation of the crimes committed.  He said he “found the characters interesting” and enjoyed the “clever elements . . . throughout.”

Ultimately, however, the answer was no.  Although the plot was “intriguing,” he hadn’t enjoyed the novel as much as he had hoped.

“Intriguing but not compelling” is a phrase I’ve heard before.  My previous novel, Gasoline, still unpublished and now collecting dust in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet also made it pretty far with several editors but never saw its way into print.  And the rejections, polite as they were, boiled down to this phrase.

I haven’t given up on selling The Lawn Man.  Far from it.  This is just the beginning, and I’m still confident that it will find a publisher — and plenty of enthusiastic readers — but as I work on my next novel, I know what I need to do: make damn sure from day one that I have something compelling.

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“After Midnight” by John C. Caruso

After midnight the warehouse district down by the train yard has a haunting deserted stillness to it.  Although the day’s long rain has stopped for the moment, the pavement of streets is still slick with dark standing water.  Deep puddles swell the gutters at corners where leaves and litter have clogged the drains.

The cool night air has a hushed quality to it, interrupted only by the faint hum of a solitary streetlamp, reaching its lighted arm high over the street and standing tall in the yellow pool of its own light glaring off the wet pavement.

In the distance, approaching gradually from where a small cluster of dive bars and pool halls huddle together down by the waterfront a mile or so away, a faint and rhythmic noise edges softly into hearing range. As it nears, the noise slowly builds into an actual sound – the sound of shoes striking the pavement.  Someone is running.  The footfalls come fast together.  The person is moving fast, running as hard as they can.  But the shoes repeatedly striking on the pavement don’t have the padded squeak of athletic cross-trainers.  No, these shoes make the sharper clapping sound of leather soles, like men’s dress shoes.  Someone is running as fast as he can in a pair of leather oxfords.

As the sound of these feet striking pavement nears it grows louder, and another softer rasp becomes audible as well.  The second sound is wetter and warmer than the first, but like the first it has a desperate, insistent rhythm to it, coming quick.  It has a jagged quality to it, like someone tearing a wet cotton sheet into long strips, and only as this sound arrives and rises in volume does it make itself clear as the frantic, breathless gasps of this man in dress shoes running as fast as he possibly can.

Faster than would seem possible after the gradual build in the sounds of his approach, this man dressed in a dark suit splashes out of the darkness of the street to flash quickly through the yellow pool of light under one of the streetlamps.  His rain coat flaps behind him like a dark flag blowing in a stiff wind, but the night air is cool and still.  As soon as he’s there – a frozen silhouette of a suited man in full sprint – he’s gone again, the sound of him faintly retreating into the overcast darkness of the night.

The damp rasp of his breath has faded out of hearing range and the clap of his soles on the pavement has retreated to the edge of hearing when another soft set of sounds begins to emerge in his wake, just as rhythmic but with a different quality.  This time the approach is slower, more methodical, almost plodding, and it comes in a brief pattern of three repeated sounds: clomp, clack, scrape.  Only the third sound in the series is dragged out so that it’s twice as long as either of the other two sounds, like clomp, clack, scraaaaaaape.

Clomp, clack, scraaaaaaape.

Clomp, clack, scraaaaaaape.

This is the sound of the running man’s dogged pursuer.  It’s slow, almost ridiculously slow after the other man’s furious dash, but it’s relentless.  It keeps moving.  It will not tire.

And there, the second shadow appears briefly in the pool of yellow lamplight, a hunched figure draped with a long coat, a strong booted leg coming down with a heavy clomp, then a cane stabbing forward to clack sharply against the pavement, followed by the dragging scrape of a dead leg.  Clomp, clack, scrape, spotlighted for a moment as it moves slowly into the dark night.

“Sleep No Sleep” by John C. Caruso

It’s just your imagination.  You should go back to sleep.

You’ve heard this before.  That scratching sound is coming from the wind scraping a branch against the side of the house.  That’s all.

That twisted shape dancing along the far wall is the shadow of a branch moving in the wind.  It’s the moonlight.  That’s all.

Did you hear that?

The dog is asleep.  He’s your protector.  He’ll keep you safe.  If it were something else the dog would wake up and bark.

You shouldn’t have had more coffee after dinner.  That might have helped.  You should have had another glass of wine.   You’re never going to fall asleep like this.  Why aren’t you just lying there peacefully?

Why?

Why are you just lying there peacefully?  You’re going to fall asleep like this.  You shouldn’t have had another glass of wine.  That might not have helped.  You should have had more coffee after dinner.

If it were something else the dog wouldn’t wake up and bark.  He won’t keep you safe.  He’s not your protector.  The dog isn’t asleep.

Didn’t you hear that?

That’s not all.  It isn’t the moonlight.  That twisted shape dancing along the far wall is not the shadow of a branch moving in the wind.

That’s not all.  That scratching sound is not coming from the wind scraping a branch against the side of the house.  You haven’t heard this before.

You shouldn’t go back to sleep.  It’s not just your imagination.

“The Perils of Self-Publishing” by John C. Caruso

Now that electronic publishing is cheap and easy, and places like Amazon make online sales as simple as one-two-three, a lot of early-career writers are thumbing their noses at established agents and publishing houses as they surrender to the blandishments of self-publishing; however, before anyone rushes headlong into this utopian paradise of 21st-century authorship, prudence dictates first examining some of the rather treacherous perils along the way.

Scrutinize the Pros:

Avoiding Editors – Finding a publisher for your novel can be a daunting, soul-taxing task.  Editors seeming to love to say no, and you hear the statistic batted around that only 1 in 2,000 novels written is ever published.  I know, as the gate-keepers of the literary marketplace, editors can seem like the enemy of writers – after all, they’re the ones keeping you outside the gates.  But editors are trained professional with a highly acute sense of the readership they serve, and that vast readership (which writers eye so eagerly) rely on those gate-keepers to ensure they don’t spend time and hard-earned money on books that don’t meet their expectation.  For all the faults you can find with many a published book (and there are often faults), books that pass through an editorial process tend to be well-crafted and entertaining in the right ways.  Those books are also coherent, free of typos and grammar problems, and generally, well, better than the original manuscript our hopeful writer sent to the editor.  This is an important, even vital process for readers.  I’d also suggest it’s important for writers.  (See “No Rejection” under Consider the Cons).

Avoiding Agents – Getting an agent seems impossible.  Here’s why, as I see it: if finding an editor who wants to publish your novel is like trying to date a high school cheerleader, then finding an agent who wants to represent you is like trying to date the friend of a high school cheerleader.  The high school cheerleader won’t go out with you unless she really likes you or you’re the captain of the football team or your dad is the mayor or something along those lines, but the friend of the high school cheerleader won’t go out with you even if she does like you unless she also believes the high school cheerleader would approve.  But, like editors, agents provide a valuable step along the way to publication because they also act as a way to filter out things that (they believe editors would find are) not ready for presentation to mass reading audiences.  But agents are also important because they know the ways to help writers ramp up their careers – selling movie rights, tackling foreign markets, etc.  These are all things that most writers will have no clue how to do on their own.  Self-publish and you lose out on all that expertise.

Better Royalties – Self-publishing advocates like to cite the vastly improved royalty rates they expect.  Selling your own e-book on Amazon nets you seventy-percent of the sales price.  That’s great until you start doing the math.  For the first thousand copies at $2.99, you could expect to make about $2000.  Subtract from that your initial publishing and preparation costs and you just might break even.  Except that very few self-publishers have enough friends and family to sell that first thousand copies, which means you’re probably looking at more like 300 copies if all your Facebook friends come through to buy a copy.  300 copies nets you a little over $600.  You can’t rent an apartment for that any more.  And meanwhile all the time and energy you’ve put into the publishing efforts is time and energy you have not spent writing that next book your little readership are (perhaps) eagerly awaiting.  Okay, okay, no need to beat this dead horse.  You’re not doing this for the money anyway, right?  Then why did you bring up better royalties?

Success Stories – At the last Willamette Writer’s conference, one of the early sessions presented the success story of a writer who self-published her first three novels electronically and sold them through Amazon.  She not only spent over $50,000 of her own money getting this undertaking off the ground, but she really worked her ass off – personally emailing every person who bought her book and asking them to give the book a rating and write a brief review.  And over the course of several years, she broke into the list of top-sellers on Amazon.  Her reward?  Her success attracted the attention of a fancy NY agent who was able to get her a three-book deal with a major NY publishing house.  Am I the only one who finds this story sadly ironic?  And stories of big-fish authors who were originally published by major houses and then jumped ship to self-publish and rake in the profits are an entirely different kettle of fish than the newbie minnows who will be struggling to keep from starving or being eaten by the other bigger minnows.

Consider the Cons:

No Rejection – Believe me, I dislike a rejection notice as much as the next guy.  But I’ve learned to appreciate them.  Not form rejections – nobody appreciates those – but a personal rejection can provide you with valuable information and can spur you to do better and better work.  When you get personal rejection from an editor, that’s code to try them again.  They noticed you.  It’s also a way to learn how to revise your manuscript or at least adjust your pitch before you submit your work to the next editor.  Literary history is rich with stories of rejected authors who tried and tried again.  James M. Cain’s first novel was supposedly rejected so many times that he titled it The Postman Always Rings Twice in reference to the code ring his mailman gave when he was returning the damn thing yet again.  But eventually Cain did get that novel published, along with many more novels.  But ask yourself if it would be considered an American masterpiece if he’d self-published it as print-on-demand and sold 300 copies to his friends and family.

No Market Placement – Publishing through a reputable house generally automatically gets you in the loop as far as market placement.  The publisher will send out Advance Reading Copies (ARCs in the biz) to bookstores and newspaper reviewers.  Do this on your own and you’re cutting even further in to that $600 you made.  And you’re wasting your time as well because (fairly or not) most bookstores and newspaper reviewers can’t be bothered with self-published works.  Okay, maybe they haven’t gotten the word that self-publishing no longer has the same stigma attached to it.  You go ahead and have that discussion with them.  While you’re at it, think of yourself as an overwhelmed reader trying to find a good book to read in a world where instead of only 1 in 2,000 novels being published, all 2,000 of those un-edit manuscripts are available to you.  Not to be an elitist fuddy-duddy, but yikes!  Where does the democratization of the process end and where do the virtues of a juried meritocracy start?  Maybe it’s just because as an English teacher I’ve read too many badly written papers in freshman comp classes, but I don’t want to wade through everything that everybody writes ever in order to find something decent to read during a weekend at the beach.  Do you?

No Publicity – Okay, sadly, very few first time authors get much out and out publicity from their publishers any more.  Gone are the days of the full page add in the New York Times for someone’s debut novel.  But by going through a publishing house you still get all sorts of indirect publicity.  You show up in their catalogs for one thing.  That means you’re also automatically available through Ingram Books, etc.  Don’t know who Ingram is and you’re still set on self-publishing?  Well, you better stop reading this and get cracking.  You’ve got a lot of work to do.

Finally, all that said, I do wish my friends and fellow-bloggers Jim Smiley and Aaron Hilton all the best with their self-publication efforts.  I’ll be watching closely to see how they do, and I’ll be cheering them along the way.  I just don’t think it’s for me.

“The Electronic Tides of Change” by John C. Caruso

A couple months ago, news sources reported that for the first time ever monthly sales figures for electronic books (or ebooks) had outpaced sales of hardbacks.  Of course, most books are sold in paperback and sales of these continue to far surpass both ebooks and hardbacks.  At least for the moment, but some say that ebooks beating hardbacks signals once and for all that the future of reading is ultimately digital.  This reversal had been building for some time so it didn’t come as a surprise, but the significance of the change stimulated a lot of discussion among publishers and retailers, who for the most part had already been heatedly discussing this and related topics for quite some time.

This tipping-point shift in the media market caused much less excitement among those more intimately (and perhaps somewhat less fiscally) involved with the stuff being bought and sold.  That is to say, readers and writers.  Part of that lack of excitement stems from the fact we’ve been hearing about the death of the paperback for so long that we’ve become jaded to the idea and don’t really take it very seriously anymore, but part of the writerly and readerly disinterest in the changing media would seem to come from the underlying truth that we don’t really care that much about the mechanics of delivery.  Writers gotta write.  Readers gotta read.  Whether that business happens via paper or an electronic screen is ultimately irrelevant.

Let’s think about this for a moment.  For now, it would seem that most of us write electronically but still read physical books.

As a writer, although I was born in the dark ages before the advent of the personal computer, I’ve still done the majority of my writing on an electronic device of some sort or other for most of my life.  At first, yes, it was weird getting used to the idea that my stories existed first as virtual files on the 40MB hard drive of my Macintosh rather than as sheets of paper stacking up next to my old Smith-Corona manual typewriter.  But I got used to this fairly quickly.  And I learned to appreciate – indeed, to rely upon – the absolute ease with which I could edit drafts in all sorts of large and small ways.  Want to rewrite the opening paragraph without having to retype the whole story?  Done.  Want to change the name of a character everywhere it appears?  Done.  Want to share a draft of something with your writing group without having to go to a copy shop and pay for a dozen copies?  Done and done.  I know we take these things for granted these days, but I’m here to tell you, it wasn’t always so.  And there were a lot of annoying missteps along the way.  I’ve lost lots of my earlier stories because of abandoned technology.  How could I ever find a machine capable of reading my old floppy discs?  I can’t – those drafts are gone forever.  Ironically, my stories from the Smith-Corona days are the ones I still have in a desk drawer.  It’s the ones from the early days of word processing that are lost.  Thing is, the conveniences are great, but they came at a price and we shouldn’t forget that.  Going electronic puts us at the mercy of the medium and subject to the whims of the corporate giants selling us hardware and software.  That said, most of the writer-editor interaction seems to take place electronically these days.  Most publishers want things emailed to them as an attachment.  It’s easier all the way around.  And that means most writers compose on the computer rather than any other way – it saves time and headache.  Ultimately, I don’t know hardly anybody who writes in longhand anymore.

By the same token, I still don’t know hardly anybody who does more than a very small amount of their reading on an e-reader.  Personally, I don’t own one yet.  In fact, four out of the five members of Portland Mayhem Company still read books made out of paper and ink.  That’s not to say I won’t someday switch over to an e-reader, but I’m not there yet.  And it’s not that I’m a luddite.  Far from it, but I’ve shifted to a place where I don’t want to be an early adopter anymore.  The growing pains along the way are too great.  I can’t bear the thought of taking the plunge and expanding my personal library into the electronic realm only to have to re-purchase the same works four and five times over the next couple decades while the media continues to evolve.  Seriously, I have music on my iPod now that I’ve purchased four times – first on vinyl, then on cassette tape, then on CD, and finally in a purely digital format.  I’m not doing this with my books.  Not until they solve some of the remaining issues with e-readers.

First off, I don’t want a device that limits me to buying all my books from a single source.  So the Kindle is out.  Amazon is fine for some things, like tracking down rare and out-of-print books, but I won’t buy newer titles from them because I prefer to support small, independent booksellers.

Secondly, I want a device that supports multiple reading formats and allows me to borrow books from public and academic libraries.  I’d also like to be able to exchange books with friends.

Thirdly, I need to be able to mark up the books I’m reading, making marginal notes, underlining key passages, marking pages, and copying excerpts for quotation into word processing documents.

So, for me, the e-readers haven’t arrived yet.  Old fashioned paper-and-ink books are still better and more convenient for the type of reading I do.  That doesn’t mean I won’t ever change, it just means that I can’t make the transition until I’m completely satisfied I’ll gain more than I lose.  Yes, I know some houses are shifting entirely to electronic publishing, but so far I haven’t run across any titles I need to read that I can’t still obtain in hard copy.  We can talk again when that changes.  For now I’m sticking with paper and ink.

“Mr. In-Between” by John C. Caruso

I’ve taken a few beatings in my life, and I can tell you, there’s all different types.  There are beatings for love or hate—the sorts that leave you bruised and bloodied but also angry and vowing some sort of undying revenge on the one who delivered it.  Not only are love and hate beatings the most common types, but they’re also very hard to tell apart, which is why I lump them into one here.  I’ll spare you the whole tattoos on the knuckles business about the battle between love and hate.

There are lecture beatings that start out as philosophic differences of opinion and then escalate to back-alley brawls where it becomes quickly apparent that one of the fisticuff philosophers is too drunk to put up much of a fight or perhaps was already a bad fighter to begin with and the whole physical debate rapidly degenerates into a lecture on the dangers of misjudging your ability to support your side of the argument.

There are two types of beatings for money: on the one hand, we have the sloppily given rush-job of a mugging that’s apt to leave you either unhurt or dead with very little room for messing with Mr. In-Between; and, on the other hand, we have the professional beating where some third party is paying good money for your private dance, and this one is likely to hurt a very lot because it’s all about Mr. In-Between getting the job done and verifying that you’ve gotten the message.  Sign here, please, and have a nice day, sir.  Sure, these can seem cold and impersonal, but that doesn’t keep your teeth in your head.

But these are all beatings of a more-or-less safe nature.  You mostly don’t ever have to fear that things will go too far or last too long.  Of course, there are also beatings as preface to the big send-off, but these are outside the scope of our present inquiry, and they tend to be about bigger socio-economic concerns anyway.  Pre-execution beatings don’t really count in this discussion because they don’t involve real people.  Sure, I’m certain it feels real enough when you’re getting one, but my point is that the actors in such a beating are playing roles in a larger cultural drama about race or religion or politics.  Such Punch and Judy Shows lack intimacy.  You be the angry communista and I’ll be the naïve missionary, and we’ll see what we can do to work out the problems of Euro-Christian corporate colonialism.  Somehow it lacks the passion of the beating a drunken husband lays on his cringing wallflower of a wife, or the messy, inexpert bludgeoning given by a scared, crack-jonesing street punk to a foolish if well-dressed office monkey who stayed out a little too late in the wrong part of town.

But the worst type of beating that really counts in our present discussion of beatings—that is to say the type I feel qualified to speak frankly and personally about—is the informational beating.  The beating it out of you beating.  The I’m-going-to-make-it-hurt-more-and-more-until-you-tell-me-what-I-need-to-know beating.  The thing about such interactions that I have always found so distressing is the gamesmanship that’s involved.  You can’t just roll up in a ball and take it till your assailant’s arm gets tired.  You can’t occupy your mind with window-shopping for the ideal weapon to pop the sumbitch next time he comes after you with his belt.  No, you need all your wits about you.  Spill too early and the beating gets worse because he (or I suppose she, though I’ve never personally been handled in quite this way by a woman—not physically anyway), your personal quiz master, won’t believe you’ve given up the truth without more of a fight.  Go on too long and you’re endangering permanent resources—unscarred facial features, eyes that see, functional fingers and toes (or thumbs if things get really out of hand), and nicely working reproductive equipment which most people seem to be particularly attached to—myself included.

In my line of work, I’m often in a position to dish out beatings, and unfortunately even more often in a position to take them, since the bad guys invariably outnumber the good.  I wish it were the other way around.  Or better still, I wish we lived in the sort of world where I could lay down my sword and shield altogether, and we could work our collective way through the tangled webs we’ve woven to arrive at perfectly acceptable compromises without resorting to violence.  When the day comes that you can sort out your differences with your neighbor by scheduling a little chat with your preacher or you can patch up problems with the better half by spending a cozy hour sipping tea and bawling into tissues while a nodding shrink really, really listens, that will be the day I hang up my blackjack and my shoulder holster and learn how to concentrate on my fishing.  But until that glorious day of universal enlightenment comes around, I’ll be walking the pavement and pounding out justice the best I can with my fists and the hammer of a 9mm pistol.

Finding Time

Posted: November 15, 2010 in John C. Caruso, The Whole Works

“Finding Time” by John C. Caruso

Last time I wrote about overcoming writer’s block and learning to “vomit in the morning and clean up at noon.”  If you missed this post, scroll on down and find “On Writing the Bradbury Way.”  Or you if you click on my name to the left under the heading “Sort by Posts” you can find that and everything else I’ve written for Portland Mayhem Company.  That sort feature is a new one for us, by the way.  We’re still making improvements to the blog, so we welcome any feedback you have.  We’re also happy to tackle whatever topics you might be interest in, so send us a comment and we’ll see what we can do.

This time around, I thought I should discuss the other big problem that seems to plague most aspiring writers – finding time.

Believe me, I grapple with this one too.  Since I’m currently working three different gigs – as cubicle-jockey from Monday to Thursday, as an adjunct professor one night a week, and as a clerk at an indie bookstore just for the love of it one weekend afternoon – my time is always at a premium.  Besides earning my daily bread, I’m married and like to spend quality time with my wife.  And we’ve got two high-energy herding dogs that need frequent exercise.  Add in the two or three TV shows I follow (Castle, Sherlock, and the Thursday night comedy line-up on NBC – except for Outsourced which I find racist and offensively un-funny) and whatever the latest hot videogame title is this month (CoD: Black Ops).  Oh, yeah, and I’m always in the middle of reading a book or two because I love reading and I need to keep up on what other people are writing and what’s getting published and because, you know, I’m trying to make it as a writer.

Funny how in life, just as in the preceding paragraph, being a writer always seems to come last.  And I think that may be the crux of the problem.  Making time for all those other things seems to happen as a matter of course, but carving out an hour or so for my creative work remains a daily struggle, and one I don’t always win.

But there’s hope.  There must be.

Considering that most successful writers also have families and full-time day jobs and other outside interests, clearly the challenge to find time to write while having a busy life is one that can be conquered.

Here are the five things I’ve found to be most helpful:

Books – Specifically, reading them.  If you want to write, you should read as much and as broadly as you can.  Okay, I know I mentioned reading above as one of the things that can seem to limit the time you have available for writing, but the more you read the more you will write.  If you want to write, presumably the thing that sparked that desire inside you was a love of the books and stories you read.  Reading continues to fuel that fire.  What’s more, you need to live in the world of words, constantly thinking of how to phrase things and describe actions.  The world of writing is like a giant conversation.  Imagine yourself sitting at a giant table with all the other authors who have ever lived.  In order to have something meaningful to say to this table filled with all the people you admire (and even those you don’t), you need to first get up to speed with the conversation.  That means reading books and lots of them.

Deadlines – Sad but true (cue the Metallica).  Nothing gets me to leave dishes unwashed and errands un-run like the pending deadline for some anthology or other.  While I have (mostly) taken to heart Lawrence Block’s injunction to write novels instead of short stories, I still love the form and will jump at any opportunity to find a home for some pet idea I’ve had collecting dust in a notebook.  And this works!  Just this month I’ve placed two recent works – a brief piece called “Awakened by the Taste of Blood” in an anthology of flash horror and a short story called “Everybody, Do the Apocalypse” in a collection of post-apocalyptic science fiction.  Seriously, there’s nothing like a narrowly-focused call for submissions to provide a prompt and get you writing to a deadline.  You won’t make much money doing this, but it’s pretty easy to see things into print and every short piece you sell also finds a home on the happily growing list of your writing credits.  For more on this idea, see Jim Ehmann’s excellent posts (“Duotrope is Your New Best Friend” and “The Anthology Game”) about websites that can help you find markets for your work.

Habits – Some habits aren’t your friends.  Smoking cigarettes, shooting heroin, hitting on other men’s wives – none of these things are likely to improve your life.  On the other hand, good writing habits can make a huge positive impact on your career as a writer.  Whether your goal is the merely-mortal 500 words, the industry-standard 1000 words, or the truly masterful 2500 words that Jack London claimed, writing every day will keep your mind nimble and strong and ensure that the words are flowing well enough that you’re getting something accomplished and you’re in shape enough to ramp up your output when you learn of a deadline just a few days out (see above).  If you’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing, you know that he claims the secret to his success is writing every day.  King writes every every day – birthdays, holidays, days when it’s a family vacation at the beach, every day.  Yeah, I know he’s Stephen King, one of the most successful and prolific writers in the entire history of writing, and neither of us is Stephen King.  But riddle me this… how do you think he got to be Stephen King?  Set yourself a word-count goal and write every day.  As a side note, emails to friends, posts to your Facebook account, and entries in your journal do not count towards your daily word total.

Rewards – Want to dive into that fat new tome by your favorite author or treat yourself to a big slice of chocolate cake covered in vanilla ice cream?  Do your daily writing first.  Your personal budget and your waistline are your own concerns, but I’m here to tell you that you’ll be able to enjoy both that delicious novel and the thrilling dessert a lot more when you can come to them with a prior sense of accomplishment.  Another little trick in the rewards category that you might find useful is to reward yourself while you do your writing.  Pick up that new music CD you’ve been wanting on the way to your favorite café and order yourself a decaf non-fat mocha.  Then do your daily 1000 words while you’re grooving to the new tunes and sipping your tasty beverage.  This one really works, but remember to use it in reverse as well.  Deny yourself rewards when you haven’t been doing your writing.  No ice cream for you till you’ve done 1000 words every day for the next week.  See how fast you grab that laptop and find yourself a chair.  Speaking of chairs, that brings us to our last help in finding time to write.

Chairs – Yes, chairs.  As in somewhere to park your busy posterior so it won’t be moving around town while you’re supposed to be getting your daily writing done.  Seriously, you need to just sit in a chair and let yourself write.  It’s not always about being inspired or having the muse whisper sweet nothings in your ear.  But it is always about getting the work done.  The very successful mystery writer Craig Johnson, a much droller man than I, says he doesn’t believe in writer’s block because he treats his writing like digging a ditch and he’s never heard of anybody suffering from digger’s block and complaining, “You know, I’m just not feeling the ditch today.”  When Johnson’s non-writing workday on the ranch is done, he sits himself down and does his daily writing.  Oh, and another good thing about chairs is that when you’re sitting down, it’s much harder for someone who knows you’re supposed to be writing to come along and kick you in the ass.