Category Archives: motivation

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When nothing works

Often, when I tell people what my job is, they reply that it sounds really fun.  The fact is that most of the time it is. I get to read for a living.  I live in a world of ideas.  I work with people on all sides of the business who are creative and passionate about helping writers succeed in a pretty competitive marketplace.  I love that there is so much variety in what I am doing in a single day—editing a proposal, discussing a new idea with a client, talking about a potential project with a publisher, negotiating contract terms, helping to plan a publicity and marketing campaign, etc.

The other side of this, though, is what to do when nothing seems to be working.  Yes, there are times when it seems nobody is interested in the projects we are submitting.  Editors like the idea but can’t relate to the “voice”; they don’t think the concept works for their list; they can’t define a big enough market; the author isn’t qualified to be writing the book he or she is proposing or don’t have a big enough platform…I’ve heard it all.  Sometimes this gets really discouraging, especially during periods when it seems to be happening with everything we are submitting.

We ask ourselves what we are doing wrong.  Are we picking the wrong projects, presenting them in the wrong way, sending to the wrong editors and publishers?  What is it?  And then we think that maybe we should change up everything—do things differently.

While considering this the other day, I looked up “what to do when nothing works” on Google and I found 300,000,000 entries.  Astonishing! I read through some of them, but, in the end, after a long career full of these experiences, I have come to the conclusion that what I need to do is to stop second guessing myself and just keep doing what I’ve always done: Look for those new ideas and help our clients present them in fresh and original ways.  Identify new editors and new publishing opportunities.  Just keep moving forward.  To quote myself:  “NEXT!”

What do you do when nothing seems to be working in your world?

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Music is Fuel For Your Writing

Everyone knows the expression, “Music is food for the soul.” Here’s my spin on it: Music is fuel for your writing. Last month, I had the privilege to attend one of NYU’s Media Talk series, and the one thing I remember the authors saying over and over again was that they did not necessarily enjoy the writing process (I myself can attest to that). So, what do I do to get in the writing mood? I put on some music. I have a playlist carefully put together just for my listening/writing pleasure.  I personally prefer music without lyrics, so here are a few my favorites :

Honor Him/Elysium/Now We Are Free by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard

My Name Is Lincoln by Steve Jablonsky

Song For Bob by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

In this short blog post/exercise, Melissa Tydell explains how music is key in an author’s writing journey, and I implore you all to give this exercise a try if you don’t already. You’ll never know what beat gets you writing because, as we all know…

 

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Mixing Music and Writing

A friend of mine recently introduced me to the art of listening to music while writing. He said it helps bring him inspiration and motivation in the same way some musicians use books as inspiration for their songwriting. My friend creates a playlist of songs that match the scene he’s writing—so if he’s writing a scary scene, he’ll listen to the kind of music you might hear in a horror movie—to help him better get into the mood of the scene. While it may seem like a self-explanatory concept, there really is a finer science to it the way he sees it.

Lyrics are the most important key to inspiration. Certain word in the lyrics can trigger new thoughts, which could lead to ideas for your novel. Hopefully if you’ve picked the correct song—which is why it’s important to take seriously—those ideas will match the theme of your book. The mood of the song is important to motivation. If you’re writing an action scene, you want a song with a faster tempo. If your own heart is pumping, you’ll feel more inclined to stay in the mindset of a character that’s escaping some type of danger.

I recently tried this method, being skeptical because the process of choosing music, and not just any music but that which would appropriately match my writing, seemed like a waste of time that could be spent actually writing. I also have a very difficult time hearing people sing words when I’m trying to write down different words. However, he was so enthusiastic about his method, I had to at least try it.

And it was magic.

Because the songs I’d picked were all about the subject of my attention, the words in the lyrics didn’t send my mind spiraling off topic, and it was much easier to get into the heads of my characters when the music matched their feelings or actions. Writing became more of an interactive experience; it became not only the soundtrack for my characters but for me as I wrote. I also worked for about twice the time I usually do, and I found my writing much more imaginative than normal.

I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be using this method more, and now I’ve become so much more interested in trying out different writing methods. Any suggestions?

2

You’re A Good Writer, Charlie Brown

A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and last night ABC ran it with a feature on the history of the special’s creation. Did you know that Coca-Cola contacted Charles Schulz’s team to express interest in sponsoring a Peanuts holiday special, and he and his animators put the basic story together for a pitch in just a couple of days?

Funny that such an beloved holiday movie, one that we all grew up with, takes as its theme (if softened by animation) very adult struggles with self-doubt and seasonal blues. Don’t we all have an internal Charlie Brown…I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn’t have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don’t know what Christmas is all about...especially when we’re writing or trying to do something creative. Everything can turn into a competition – write the best manuscript, make the most important lists, get the shiniest awards – and meanwhile we’re full of self-doubt.

 

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Oh brother…

Here’s an idea! Try to laugh off the Lucys in your life, the people barking orders, pointing out your flaws, or trying to hold you accountable to arbitrary standards that aren’t what really matters to you.

Lucy: What has Beethoven got to do with Christmas? Everyone talks about how “great” Beethoven was. Beethoven wasn’t so great.

Schroeder: What do you mean Beethoven wasn’t so great?

Lucy: He never got his picture on bubblegum cards, did he? Have you ever seen his picture on a bubblegum card? Hmmm? How can you say someone is great who’s never had his picture on bubblegum cards?

Don’t worry about getting your picture on a bubble gum card! Or finding the perfect pink aluminum tree, or writing a world-changing story in a couple of days. Surround yourself with friends like Linus who will believe in your talent, give you valuable feedback, and encourage you to do work you believe in.

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I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really.

Maybe it just needs a little love.

 

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Failed Writing Motivators: Do Not Attempt

As a writer, I’m always on the look out for the next motivating factor. The one ritual, the quietest coffee shop, the most caffeinated drink, the tastiest cake, the awe-inspiring view, or the most mind-clearing alcoholic drink that will get to me the status of writer’s nirvana and allow me to write an instant classic. The problem with motivators is, like a sugar-high (which many of them definitely are), they don’t last long. They work for a week before I have to find the newest and more improved device.

Well seeing how I’ve been through plenty, I wrote a list of my worst failures so you can do yourself a favor and steer clear of them.

Enhanced Coffee: Regular coffee blended together with purified (grass-fed-only cow’s milk) butter ghee and a special brain performance coconut oil. Okay, I was alert. But the process of purifying butter to squeeze out a few more words was not worth it. Plus, I didn’t sleep that night or the next.

Driving: While working on an opera that takes place in cars, I drove around downtown Los Angeles for hours. Until I got a ticket for texting. “I wasn’t texting, officer. I was writing opera,” didn’t go down well.

Wine Bars: The new coffee shop. If Hemingway can do it, why can’t I? Except what Hemingway probably left out of his quote, “Write drunk; edit sober,” is how much longer his editing process was than most.

I do know that successful writers say the only way to be successful is to have a routine. But don’t you have to be successful before you can do that? With day jobs, families, etc, and no cooks or maids or PAs, routines are not easy to come by, so I’m still in favor of the ever changing motivation tools.

What are you some of your failures or successes with writing motivators?

3

Finding Time To Write In the Busy Season

There is much rejoicing on Twitter and the general social media parade: fall is (almost) here. It is almost time for scarves and boots, the pumpkin spice takeover, a breath of relief at cooler temperatures, and the crispness in the air that seems to perk up everyone’s steps. The ushering in of fall also means a renewed flurry of activity in publishing as everyone shakes off the residual sand and rays of sun from their vacations and gets back to work. Fall (and spring) seem to be the busy seasons: something in the air is conducive to productivity and bursts of energy.

As lovely as these busy seasons are, as a writer myself, it’s been hard to find time to sit down and write (much less read) with all the new activity at hand. By the time I get home, it’s time to make dinner, say hello to the other humans in my house, prep for the next day, and go to bed. Making a literary life for oneself proves much more difficult outside of the academic setting. Many writers also hold full time jobs, have active families or a significant other, and are engaged in the process of going about the business of the everyday world.  So I suppose I ask: how do you find the time in your day to find the mental space to write or engage in creative work? How do you set aside time to unwind and pull a book off your ever-growing “to-read” stack?

And, on a more fun note, with all these new books to curl up with as the days get shorter: What books does everyone have in their fall queue? What are the best things about fall in your opinion? 

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Behind the scenes of a bestseller

We are all looking for great books that will hit the bestseller lists. That’s the reality of being a book agent. There is nothing more exciting or rewarding than having a project you absolutely love be well supported by the publisher who acquires it and then subsequently embraced by the public who come out to buy it. In our dreams, this happens with every book we sign up. In our reality, it happens very, very rarely.

So, I like hearing about and sharing stories like this one about a nonfiction self-help book (a category I still do a lot of business in despite a very tight market for it) published in 2013 called YOU ARE A BADASS by life coach Jen Sincero that started off slow and has since become a surprise bestseller. It does illustrate that working hard throughout the publication process and beyond is critical for authors, as well as their publishers, if they want their books to be successful. Too often we see books come out of the gate slowly and never able to hit their stride due to a combination of the publisher withdrawing their support and the author slowing down their brand building and marketing efforts. I think that edgier books can really work in the current market, and I’m thinking about this one as well as the recent cookbook bestseller THUG KITCHEN: EAT LIKE YOU GIVE A F*CK, which also has profanity in its (sub)title!

I also think this approach translates to those who are seeking to be published in the first place. Often these roads are long and winding, and you need to be resilient and fierce in your efforts to both produce high quality work as well as your attempts to sell, market and promote it. Remember, you are a badass, like Ms. Sincero says, and clearly her message is resonating in a big way.

 

 

 

 

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Crazy genius

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the crazy genius. So many times we see talented, creative individuals struggle with mental health issues – depression, anxiety, addiction. Some of the most brilliant artists of our generation have had tragic endings to their lives, most recently and notably Robin Williams which brought the conversation to a much more mainstream place. That struck an emotional response with so many of us. He made us laugh, we loved him like a friend, he was so funny. And yet his personal demons ultimately got the better of him. The outpouring of support and willingness to talk about a difficult subject and offer help to those who need it was the best thing that came out of Williams’ untimely death.

I found this piece in Authormagazine.com by a freelance writer and it resonated with me. It talks about the links between creativity and sensitivity, as many artists have elements of both. It also highlights the fact that so much of the darkness we sometimes experience in our creative lives is normal. I like her line: “This buildup of feeling is where art is born”. It reminds me of a quote I once saw on my nanny’s Facebook page: “Life is beautiful, not easy.”

I have an interest in this subject and have worked on many books over the years that explore some of these dark issues. Perfect Chaos by Linea and Cinda Johnson was a dual memoir by a daughter and mother about a brilliant young pianist who suffers from bipolar disorder. The pair have worked tirelessly within the mental health community to raise awareness of the condition and reduce the stigma associated with it. And Come Back by Claire and Mia Fontaine was also a mother-daughter memoir that delved into the issue of child sexual abuse. It was a Target book club bestseller and has sold over 200,000 copies. These authors have shared stories with me and others of how their books have helped people who felt lost and hopeless. Ultimately they send a positive message about triumph over adversity that is both hopeful and inspiring.

So embrace your inner crazy genius and let it take you somewhere you’ve never gone before. That is often the place where great things can happen.

And if you or someone you know is feeling like there’s no way out, here is the number and website for the national suicide prevention line: 1-800-273-8255 http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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BEA: Not just about the free books

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$16 for this, folks.

As you heard from Jessica, last week brought the crowds and chaos of Book Expo to the cavernous Javits Center. Once you’ve got a few BEAs tucked under your belt, it’s easy to get a little jaded, or even grumpy – yes, it’s cold in there. Yes, the floors are hard, the food is overpriced (and not good), the aisles are crowded, and all the hot galleys vanish so quickly! I get it, I do. But I still kind of love BEA. And I recognize that it’s an incredible privilege to GET to attend, let alone have my entry pass and day out of the office handed to me.

Sure, it’s fun to dash around collecting pens, buttons, posters, even ice cream sandwiches and champagne, if you work it right! It’s fantastic to be handed early copies of books you’re dying to read, and to have publicists shoving books you’ve never heard of in your hand, promising you it’s going to be amazing (one of these I read in one sitting over the weekend because omg yes it IS that good). And, when you’re Industry, it’s also a bit of a reunion week. You get to catch up with friends from previous jobs that you haven’t seen in a year, or meet contacts face-to-face that you email every day or know from Twitter. If you’re lucky one of your industry pals might even let you stash your bag of galleys under their table so your back doesn’t break!

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Bag of books!

But it’s not really about the free stuff or the socializing. As Jessica said, BEA is “a tangible manifestation of people whose lives revolve around reading.” At BEA I chatted with a blogger from Georgia who was thrilled out of her mind to be at BEA. She had cashed in frequent flyer miles and was sharing a hotel room with three other ladies in order to be there. In another line I talked to a delightful mother-daughter pair of children’s librarians from Iowa who were so eager to meet children’s book authors – not just to meet them, but to talk to them about the books their little patrons love and the books they believe need to exist. They took their responsibility to the kids in their community so incredibly seriously. I was inspired.

I love working in publishing in NYC, but it’s also so easy to take it for granted because I get to live and breathe books without even trying. I am surrounded by indie bookstores and could go to an author event every night of the week. I don’t have to plan my year around one big book event, or spend my vacation in a grim convention center. So I’m going to try to be a little less crabby about BEA’s inconveniences next year. And in the meantime, I’m going to work even harder on my little corner of publishing to make sure that the bloggers in Georgia and the librarians in Iowa get incredible books to keep them excited about reading. Because that’s what this industry is really all about. And I’m proud to be a part of it.

Have you ever been to BEA?

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The backstory

Backstory is important, you’ll agree.  It’s what gives depth and weight to a narrative, allowing us to understand motivations and giving us context.  A common error authors make is letting the backstory overwhelm the narrative.  Then, it’s pages and pages of genealogy or irrelevant details about, for instance, the hero’s years spent kayaking in the Pacific Northwest, even if the novel is a legal thriller set in DC and having nothing to do with water craft.  Well thought out and incorporated backstory, however, is a joy.

Always having been intrigued by the part of the iceberg that hides beneath the water (to mangle part of a Hemingway quote), I also like to know the interesting arcana about the books themselves.  I like to know what the author was thinking, why s/he made the choices s/he did, what weird circumstances were taking place in the author’s life during the writing of the book, etc.   Being on our side of the publishing biz, we know a lot of books’ backstories—some funny, some sad, some sexy, some…surprising—and I always feel that they add a dimension to the reading experience.

If you’re like me in this respect, check out this clever and informative Buzzfeed compilation of weird book factoids, creation tales, and trivia.  My favorite?  Nabokov, notecards and butterfly nets in hand while creating Lolita.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve learned about a book you love?