Sunday, April 26, 2009

As the Writers Juggle...Episode #9 - Karen Rider

Hi, welcome to another episode of "As the Writers Juggle," in which we ask writers to share their tips on keeping balance in their writing lives. Our guest today is Karen M. Rider, a freelance writer of both nonfiction and fiction. In addition to contract and promotional writing, she's a columnist for Inner Tapestry Holistic Journal, Natural Nutmeg, and The Door Opener. She tells us, "... my dream is still in the launch phase—off the ground with all engines working at maximum thrust…. What I am experiencing might be inspiration for others who are uncertain how to begin living their writing dream."

Q: Welcome, Karen! Tell us about the other responsibilities that you juggle along with your writing.

Karen: I have two daughters; the eldest is almost three, and the youngest is six months. My children are the reason I write. Writing was a dream trapped by fears for a long time. When I became a mother, I realized the only way I could truly encourage my daughter to follow HER dreams was if I let her see how I was living my dream. So, in the Fall of 2006 I began to do just that. However, my husband and I felt it best to have a stay-at-home parent, so family life is my full-time work. Since I don’t have family that lives in-state, I don’t have the benefit of easy access to a babysitting grandparent—my girls go with me just about everywhere, weather permitting.

My schedule shifts as their activities and developmental needs shift. I also write in balance with what they need from the family, but I try to structure blocks of time based on freelance assignments and fiction writing goals that I have for myself. I am a contract writer for an educational association and a write promotional copy for an event management company and small businesses. I also write a column six times a year for a regional holistic health magazine (that does not pay, but great experience) and I landed a four-issue column with a wellness magazine that currently publishes in three states. This, I hope will grow into something more. I’ve written profiles, features, essays, and interviews and promotional copy of all kinds. Income is not always consistent; over time it adds to the piggy bank and keeps my clips file fresh.

As far as fiction writing- I also write short stories and have a novel under construction. Last summer, I launched and facilitate a writing group that has spawned a spin-off group a few towns over. THE WRITER’S CIRCLE is innovative in its group structure, intention and offerings. Non-dues paying membership is capped at 12, groups decide to cater to men or women or both sexes. Each monthly meeting focuses on an activity: writing practice, guest writer/speaker leading a mini-workshop, Critique JAM Sessions, Writer’s Grand Rounds, resource sharing, a holiday gathering and a mid-year retreat in July. I will be marketing the Circle format so that others in need of a true writing group don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I’m active in the CT Authors and Publishers Association, too.

Did I mention, I have husband, too. And, a big Siberian Husky.

If I had to calculate time – then there is not enough time in the day for all that I hope to do with my writing, my family, and my recreational time.

My husband’s support of my writing has waxed and waned, especially in the beginning. As he witnessed my commitment to my passion, he realized this was something to be taken seriously. He also likes the months when extra money comes in!

Q: That's great that you're providing support to other writers. It's so important to have colleagues to share your journey with.

When you're done chasing down the kids, about how many hours a day does that leave you for writing?

Karen: I almost always get two hours a day, four days a week—that’s nap time for the kiddies. Two days a week, my older child goes to a preschool program, so I can usually get four hours on those days. The more energy I have, the more I am actually sitting down to write. Don’t misunderstand… my mind is always working on something. As I drift off to sleep I am asking questions about my fiction project and usually waking up with notes to make.

And when a child is ill or not cooperating on my terms, I have to reschedule my time. That might entail a 4 a.m. wake-up call. Depends on how much energy I need for the day that looms ahead.

Q: Yeah, keeping up with two little kids can take a ton of energy. If only they'd give us some of theirs! How do you organize it all?

Karen: I try to plan a day or two out—beyond that, with kids, is a waste of energy.

I’m trying to get up earlier, but I hate winter and that makes it tough for me. Not to mention “earlier” in this household means 3:30 or 4:30 a.m., as my daughters are up and ready to take on the world by 6:00. If something is really driving me, then I do get up extra early, for one hour and go back to sleep so I’m not totally shot for a day with toddlers and crawlers.

So, I structure my morning based on my kids' activities, the weather, household chores (which I will slack on until I can’t take the sight of things!), and if I want to exercise that day (usually a requirement for sustaining my sanity).

Q: You might be pleased to know that most of our previous interviewees highly recommend slacking off when it comes to housekeeping. So you're in good company!

You mentioned that when the toddlers and crawlers rest, that's when you get busy.

Nap time comes and I am working on something. If naptime doesn’t come when I expect it (or at all) then I have a mandatory quiet play time in which I take care of the most important work item, then return to caring for my kids. Now, I know I have to write that night, no matter what.

Every day is different—if I had to get up with one of the girls overnight, and I’m mentally or physically tired—I’ve learned to let go and take the path of least resistance that day. (as long as a client isn’t waiting on me, which is rare, because I excel at planning for deadlines)

When all else fails—and there is extra m

oney--I call a babysitter.

Q: Do you have a favorite writing place?

Karen: My sunroom.

Q: Oh, gee, I'd lo-o-o-ve a sunroom!!

How do you keep from losing your momentum?

Karen: I never lose sight of WHY I’m doing this: to inspire my daughters to live true to their passion and

follow their dreams.

Q: What a lovely source of inspiration!

What do you do when you get blocked?

Karen: Play with my kids; do yoga; go for a walk; window shop; read; email mentor; email members of The Writer’s Circle; cry J

Q: Oh, yeah, I can definitely relate to the crying part.

Do you find it difficult to make the transition between your family responsibilities and writing? How do you handle it?

Karen: My family and writing responsibilities are seamless….but when I sit to write, especially fiction, I am in the zone, as they say.

Q: What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?

Karen: Combination. My children, my writing group, my inner drive.

Q: How do you deal with distractions—either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?

Karen: Usually, if a distraction is in the form of my three-year-old saying “you did enough working today, mommy.” Or her behavior is getting out of hand, then I know it is time for ME to stop what I’m doing and focus on her. I ignore the phone and sometimes forget that I put clothes in the washer….. I give my inner critic space to vent and counter everything it has to say to keep it from stopping me from writing (took me a year to master that!)

Q: Do you feel you have enough time for fun/relaxation/non-writing hobbies or activities you’d like to pursue?

Karen I used to do two-a-day workouts—one with the dog, and one at the fitness center. Bad weather, nap schedules, sick kids (or parent), kids classes… all this has to be balanced. I do less volunteer work unless it involves giving back through writing, like with The Writer’s Circle, or the Mom’s Network.

Q: What advice would you give to others struggling with writing/job/time management issues?

Karen: MY 4-Ps: Know your Priorities and Focal Areas. Keep an honest Perspective. Develop a Process that works for you. Stay grounded in the Present-moment. And always, allow your Passion to be your guide.

Get a personal coach if you’re really struggling. By the way… an article on this very topic will be published in the next few months.

Q: Are there any other issues/ideas you’d like to mention?

Karen: Get your spouse on board.. it may not happen overnight, but that support is critical. Well, for me it is. It tickles my writer’s funny bone when my spouse is as interested in my professional pursuits as I am in his. A simple "how’s the novel going?” or “Do you need some time this afternoon for that project you mentioned?”--that’s all it takes.

I’m starting to realize that there are more ideas in my head than the time in the day to flesh everything out on paper. Until my kids are school-age, I have to choose more carefully what kinds of paid work I look for and accept—especially if I want to get my novel out from under construction and standing in its own binding in a Barnes & Noble!

OH… create a professional image. Before I started querying local and national magazines, I designed a logo… came up with a tag line that reflects my core values… which are also symbolized in the logo along with my “writer’s mission”…

Karen's nifty logo is at the top of the page. For the story behind the logo, go to:

Thanks, Karen! Hope to see you in Barnes & Noble soon!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

As the Writers Juggle...Episode #8 - Anne Broyles

Hi, welcome to another episode of "As the Writers Juggle," in which we ask writers to share their tips on the writing life. Today's guest is Anne Broyles, the author of PRISCILLA AND THE HOLLYHOCKS (Charlesbridge, 2008) and SHY MAMA’S HALLOWEEN (Tilbury House, 2000) and author, co-author or contributor of twenty books for youth and adults in the religious field. Anne also writes high school curriculum for youth groups and Sunday schools and is a regular contributor to MERRIMACK VALLEY MAGAZINE. Two traumatic incidents in Anne's life inspired her to make a leap of faith into a career as a full-time writer, combining fiction and non-fiction writing to feed both body and soul.

You can find out more about Anne at her website: Or read her blog on Live Journal:

Q: Anne, you came to writing full-time after a career in the ministry. Can you tell us a little about that transition?

Anne: After college, I attended seminary with a desire to write books and produce films for my denomination, but that wasn’t a viable career option. So I threw myself into local church ministry and loved it. From the first year of my professional life as a United Methodist minister, I wrote magazine articles and high school curricula in addition to my 60-hour a week ministry. I couldn’t NOT write.

In 1996, as I madly typed away on an impending deadline assignment, I received a call that a beautiful 21 year-old woman from our church had accidentally overdosed on alcohol and heroin. I left my computer, drove to the hospital, and spent the next twelve days going back and forth to Bridgette’s hospital bed until we decided to take her off of life support. Those were stressful days as I tried to do my other church work, interact with my family and complete the writing assignment. I felt an anguished push and pull between responsibilities, and didn’t get much sleep.

In 1997, an emergency surgery saved my life and kept me in the hospital for eight days. Having almost died brought clarity. I realized that while someone else could do my job as a church pastor, no one else could write the stories in my head. Five months later I took early retirement from ministry and began to write full-time. I’ve never regretted the decision.

Q: So this was definitely both a spiritual and professional journey for you. How did your family react to your decision?

Anne: My husband and kids have always been supportive. (They know how grumpy I get if I don’t get to write regularly!) That first year I made myself available to every editor I knew, and earned almost as much money as I had in ministry. But I wasn’t writing what I wanted to write (fiction); I was writing to pay bills. At the end of that year I chose to use part of an inheritance to “pay myself to write” for one year. My mother always encouraged my writing and I figured she would’ve wanted to be my patron.

When my children were young, I sometimes went away on writing retreat for a few days or a week to immerse myself in a longer book project so that I could come home and better use the bits and pieces of time I found. It was easier to leave for a while than to get on track with little uninterrupted time (my husband is a wonderful father, obviously). Each family or situation is different, so writers can make adjustments according to what works for them.

Now, my kids are independent young adults, so it’s just my husband and pets at home. I am also a Big Sister to a thirteen-year-old girl. I still count on the support and encouragement of all my family members, especially for those moments I am discouraged and I think I should give up this writing career and “get a real (better paying) job.”

Q: What sacrifices did you have to make to take the plunge?

Anne: I often had and still have to choose writing nonfiction over fiction because that’s what pays the bills, but those assignments give me the luxury of working from home, being my own boss, scheduling my time, and squeezing in children’s fiction writing and visits. I work fifteen hours a week at Habitat for Humanity. The rest of my jobs are writing-related.

Q: About how many hours a day/week can you spend writing?

Anne: I work on writing 4- 10 hours a day, six days a week but that includes research, business, correspondence, preparing for school visits and other presentations, traveling to give presentations, promotion (see below) and encouraging other writers. Because of my magazine and curriculum assignments there are days I don’t get to write or revise fiction at all. I try to focus on and clear all of the other tasks off my “to do list” so I can take several days in a row to do nothing but work on a novel or picture book, but it’s hard to balance everything. I don’t work for a page count per day, but tend to write fast when I am focused.

Q: About much of that time is spent on book promotion?

Anne: I spend an average of at least an hour each day preparing promotional materials, networking, contacting schools and enrichment councils, updating my blog and GoodReads. In the months before and after a book comes out, I sometimes feel swamped by the marketing demands. For instance, with PRISCILLA AND THE HOLLYHOCKS, I sent emails and postcards about the book to everyone I knew around the United States and traveled to several states to publicize the book. Each time I do a bookstore event, I send info to the pertinent geographic database. I try to supplement the efforts of the publisher’s PR department. For instance, when I discovered the New York Botanical Gardens carried PRISCILLA, I did research and sent cards to all the botanical gardens in the U.S. to encourage them to carry the book in their garden shop.

Q: You're writing and marketing dozens of books plus nonfiction articles. How do you organize it all?

Anne: On my office closet door I have index cards with the names of my 30 children’s books that are either 1) out to editors, 2) my current focus, or 3) need more revision and work. I don’t expect to get all those books completed and sold before I die, but I will keep trying!

Q: So what does a Day in the Life of Anne Broyles look like?

Anne: A typical day starts with an hour of Pilates, yoga, or cardio at 8 a.m. Then breakfast, after which I check email and respond to ‘writing business.” I usually have a to-do list for the day. Next, I spend several hours of focused time on that day’s project, which depends on whether I must work to an editor’s deadline or can choose my fiction project. With 20 minutes off for lunch and a 30-minute exercise break somewhere in the afternoon, I work until dinner, after which I often work some more. I go to bed around 11 p.m.This describes a day without social and family commitments.

Q: Very busy! But I notice you take time out too keep in shape--a must when you sit at a desk most of the day! What are your best places and times for writing?

Anne: I spend most of my writing time in my office with a view of woods and fields and occasional wild creatures.

Q: What a great view! And her office is pretty nifty, too!

Anne: For longer, complicated projects, I like to sit on my bed with papers scattered around me: a queen-sized work space. And comfy! Because I travel a lot, I write in airports and on planes, but that’s not nearly as comfortable.

Q: How do you keep from losing your momentum?

Anne: I remind myself that no one else can tell the stories in my head.

Q: What do you do when you get blocked? (Or do you get blocked?)

Anne: I don’t think of it as getting blocked as much as needing a change. I’m always working on multiple projects (magazine articles, curricula, a couple of picture books, a YA novel), so when I feel fatigued with a project or no sparks are flying, I switch and work on something else.

Q: Do you find it difficult to make the transition between your non-writing responsibilities and writing? How do you handle it?

Anne: I actually like working at home because when I need a mental break, I walk the dogs or put a load of laundry in or kayak when it’s warm. Short breaks (usually 15-30 minutes) refresh my head and I feel ready to work again. I try not to do housework or yard work or family business in my designated writing time. I do get frustrated when my not-writing-fiction jobs intrude on my “real writing” (as they often do). I sometimes wish for a patron to fund me to write fiction full-time. Or an office assistant to take care of all the writing business would be wonderful, but that’s probably never going to happen. I’ve learned to live knowing I may never feel like I have everything done in my writing career or around the house.

Q: I think you've covered most writers' first three wishes: 1) a sugar-daddy (or mommy); 2) a personal assistant; 3) a house elf.

What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?

Anne: I am totally self-motivated by the desire to write and get more work published. I set my own deadlines even if no editor is waiting for my work. My agent has a monthly “reading week,” so I often try to have something new to her so I test out my ideas before I am too immersed in a project.

Q: How do you deal with distractions—either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?

Anne: I’m resolved this year to more clearly separate out “writing” from “writing business/tasks,” and to designate certain times for Internet use. Otherwise, Facebook and email could eat up an hour or two. I just read Cory Doctorow’s blog on this topic ( and it inspired me to make necessary changes.

Q: Yes, Facebook and all that other social networking stuff can be a HUGE time sink!

Do you feel you have enough time for non-writing hobbies or activities you’d like to pursue?

Anne: Yes, I spend long hours writing, but that is balanced out with lots of physical exercise (yoga, Pilates, cardio, hiking, kayaking or snowshoeing, depending on the season), reading (numerous books a week, since I am a fast reader), going to movies and plays with my husband, mentoring my Little Sister, getting together with friends, studying Spanish, travel. I need to balance my mental and physical and emotional energies. I also am a high-energy person with no young children who need me at this stage in my life.

Q: What advice would you give to others struggling with writing and time management issues?

Anne: Don’t squander your gifts. You’ve got this one life, however long, so choose how you want to live it within the confines of your reality. That said, be gentle with yourself. It may be that other things are more important at this stage than your writing, and that’s okay, too.

Q: Well-said, indeed! Are there any other issues or ideas you’d like to mention?

Anne: I think it’s crucial to participate in a critique group. I count on my two groups for challenge, support and resource-sharing. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely profession; there’s a great writing community in children’s lit and SCBWI.

Thanks, Anne! Your story is an inspiration in so many ways.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

As the Writers Juggle...Episode #7 - Jessica Burkhart

Hi, welcome to another episode of "As the Writers Juggle," in which we ask writers to share their tips on the writing life. While many of our previous guests have written about juggling full- or part-time jobs with their writing careers, this week's guest, Jessica Burkhart, jumped into her full-time writing career right out of college--a brave move indeed! Now 22, she says she started freelancing at 14 to feed her lip gloss addiction. (And if you know how well fiction-writing pays, you'll know that earning enough to buy lip gloss is pretty impressive!) Her first two middle grade novels, TAKE THE REINS and CHASING BLUE (CANTERWOOD CREST), are available now and are the first installments in a series of eight. Visit Jess online at her Website or the Canterwood Crest series Website .

Q: When did you decide to take the plunge? Was there a deciding moment that convinced you it was time to strike out as a full-time writer?

Jessica: I went right from college to writing full-time. I'd wavered between being a full-time writer and going to grad school, but ultimately decided to take the big step and be a full-time writer. The intense pub schedule that I'm on with books coming out bi-monthly would have made it a little difficult to juggle both. :)

Q: A book every two months--now that's impressive, especially to someone like me who writes excrutiatingly slowly. What hurdles have you had to overcome?

Jessica: Since I got the book deal, I've had to deal with a few negative comments about my age. I've had a couple of people say that I haven't worked hard enough or long enough to "earn" a book deal. They have the misconception that I sat down, wrote a book and got an agent in a week. Um, no! I freelanced for five years before I wrote Take the Reins. My rejection pile is ENORMOUS and that doesn't even count the e-mailed rejections or editors who never responded. It didn't happen overnight. Trust me.

Q: (Looking at own rejection pile...) Oh, I trust you on that--been there, done that (though at a much, much older and more decrepit point in my life...)!

Tell us a little about your writing routine. You must be pretty disciplined to work under such tight deadlines.

Jessica: When I'm working on a draft, I try to hit at least 2000 words a day. When that's done, I can move onto something else, but I must hit that goal. So, if I want to play around on the Internet and work, it'll take me that much longer to meet my word count. The mind games of, "Oooh! When I reach my word count, I'm technically done for the day" works well for me and it keeps me from procrastinating too much. On my best days, I can average 3500-4000 words a day. I usually write seven to eight hours a day when I'm in crazy-draft mode to meet my deadline.

Q: That's something like 15 pages a day. I'm impressed! And then you have to go out and sell those books, too. About how many hours a week do you spend on book promotion?

Jessica: Wow. I honestly don't even know. If I had to ballpark it, maybe 12-16 hours a week. I count blogging, vlogging, doing interviews, visiting local stores, responding to e-mail, seeking horse blogs, etc. I try to keep up a steady stream of promotion and not do everything in a week and then disappear.

Q: Okay, so what's the secret to staying so organized? Can you describe an average day for us?

Jessica: Okay!

Average day:
6:30-7am-Up and I stumble to my laptop and turn it on. I check Facebook, read e-mails and browse LiveJournal. I start typing by eight and work until The View comes on. That's my cue to get away from the desk, move around and have that second cup of coffee and/or soda depending on the day.

I take a break for lunch and catch up on blogs.
After lunch, it's back to writing, editing, checking copyedits or doing promo.

I take my next break around 3pm and shut down my now overheated laptop. I usually watch General Hospital (hello, it's awesome!), look at my calendar, make a list of things to do and work on editing any printed drafts that I have.

I'm back on my computer at four (with Oprah on in the background) and work 'til dinner. I'll take a couple of hours to chill and read or go outside.

After that, I keep going until ten or eleven depending on where I am with my deadline. If I'm being super-obsessed with work, I'll take printed pages to bed and work on them 'til midnight.
If I'm feeling good about my pace, I'll read until eleven-thirty or so and then pass out.

Q: Yeah, I'd pass out, too--that's a pretty full day! But it's good to see that you schedule regular breaks. Do you have a favorite time or place for writing?

Jessica: I do my best writing in early afternoon. I'm too fuzzy in the morning, so I really get going around 10am. I love writing in my room, but I get sleepy on my bed. So, I'm usually in the living room--either on the floor or on the couch.

Q: How do you keep from losing your momentum?

Jessica: It's just in me not to stop. I want to be a writer for the rest of my life and I'm only just getting started. I use the goals and dreams I have for myself to propel my writing. It motivates me to sit at my desk for hours.

Q: Do you ever get blocked? What do you do to get unstuck?

Jessica: I've never had writer's block (thankfully!), but I have had times when I've been too excited or distracted with something going on in my life that I just can't write. So, I don't try to force it. I take a day off to address whatever is going on with me and then I'm back at it. I don't want to waste all day sitting at my laptop if I just can't work.

Q: Is there anything that comes between you and your writing?

Jessica: I don't have kids or another job, so I write full-time. Perhaps the biggest hang up is dealing with family drama and I'm slowly learning how to pull back from that.

Q: Ah, family drama! I don't think any of us can escape that.

What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?

Jessica: No naggers necessary! *grin* I've always been pretty good with motivating myself. I love being my own boss and I don't need someone telling me to write.. And I've said before that a couple of people from NYC would show up at my doorstep and threaten to take away my favorite thing-my lip gloss collection--if I didn't meet my deadline. So that keeps me typing away! ;)

Q: (Filing note to self on Jessica's lip-gloss addiction for possible blackmail use at a later date...)

How do you deal with distractions?

Jessica: E-mail is definitely my biggest distraction. Instead of refreshing my inbox every five minutes, I log into MSN and read the new message alerts as they come in. When I do that, I can either choose to go read the new email or ignore it and check later. That seems to work for me.

Q: You sound pretty driven. Do you feel you have enough time for non-writing hobbies or activities?

Jessica: I do have enough time, but I'm being a neurotic workaholic writer and I'm not giving myself much time for outside hobbies. I will soon, but right now I'm trying to focus fully on my career. I'm just getting started and I want to do the best job I can.

Q: What advice would you give to others struggling with writing and time management issues?

Jessica: Treat your writing as a job and not a hobby. Make it that important and encourage your family/friends to realize how serious you are about writing. Whatever it takes to make time to write, do it.

Hmmmm....that might be a tough one for me, since I have a hard time treating my JOB like a JOB, never mind my writing ;) (Only kidding, boss, agent & publisher!!)

Thanks so much Jessica. Oh, and about that lip gloss addiction? Check out Lip Balm Anonymous. They even have a 12-step program. And I don't think they're joking...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Interview on Concord NH Arts Telefest tomorrow

Judith Jaeger, author of The Secret Thief, and I recently taped interviews for Concord NH Community TV's Arts Telefest, a celebration of area artists and arts organizations. The Telefest is an all-day event tomorrow, March 29, from 9 am to 9 pm, and will be broadcast on Concord NH channels 6 and 22, and streamed online at The program features live performances, interviews, and more. If you're in the Concord area, head on down to Concord High School to check out the fun. If you're not in the area, go to the website and check out the online stream. I'll be on deck at 6:52 p.m.

And remember that Community TV stations like Concord Community TV, public television, and public radio all depend on your support to survive. So if you have a favorite NPR or PBS or Local Access TV station in your area, don't forget to give them a little loving whenever you can!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

As the Writers Juggle...Episode #6 - Ellen Jensen Abbott

Hi, welcome to another episode of "As the Writers Juggle," in which we ask writers to share their tips on balancing work, family, and the writing life. This week's guest is Ellen Jensen Abbott, author of the soon-to-be-released fantasy novel Watersmeet and member of the Class of 2k9.

Here's what Ellen has to say about how she juggles her roles as high-school teacher, mom, and writer:

Ellen: I feel like I have at least three full-time jobs. For pay, I teach high school English at a boarding school. I have a full-time teaching load (four sections of English, two preparations), but I do not do dorm-duty, coaching or weekend duty—required of full-time faculty—which means that I am technically 80% employed. Anyone who grades English essays knows that there is rarely such thing as "part time."

Then I am the mother of two children, 9 and 12. My husband works full-time, so since I am "part-time" and have a slightly more flexible schedule, doctors' appointments, hair cuts, snow-days or sick days with the kids all fall to me. Then there's car pool, sports, piano lessons, church choir, etc. It may not sound like it, but our children are actually LESS scheduled than many of today's children. We also have a family dinner every night and try to do real hands-on parenting. Full-time job #2.

Full-time job #3: book promotion/writing. (Wait—I think that's two jobs!) My debut YA fantasy novel, Watersmeet, comes out in April 2009 (Marshall Cavendish). Of course, this is a dream come true. I started writing YA fantasy about ten years ago, submitted one MS and received a positive rejection (a term only writers seem to get!) and then wrote this one. I knew that writers were largely responsible for their own publicity, but I didn't know that in any real way. Major learning curve. I can finagle my way around the web but I really didn’t know much about blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc—which is of course where so much book promotion now occurs. And being new to book promotion in general, I don't know which of ninety-seven directions to put my energy in.

And then there's writing. That's why I got into this, right? Because I love writing? It is a true struggle to find the time for this. The promotion stuff seems so immediately necessary. Grading papers, prepping my classes for tomorrow—also necessary. Feeding, bathing the children—pretty damn necessary. That leaves writing where? (Let's not even get into couple time! Thank goodness I'm married to a saint!)

I was hopelessly floundering in the "finding time to write" department, and even though it was killing my soul, I couldn't seem to snap out of it. Then I got a deadline. Deadlines are magic. My editor strongly suggested I get the first three chapters of my option book to her by June 1—and suddenly, I am finding more time. And—oh, God—I love it! I don't need much time. When my kids were little, I trained myself to grab what time I could. The fact is, I will never have a span of several hours on a daily basis to write—or at least not in the foreseeable future. I knew that unless I learned to write in 45-minute chunks, I would be scuttling my dreams before they got going. Don't get me wrong—I love those long chunks! But I can survive on an hour a day—or even every other day. Giving myself that bite-sized time-span is key. It doesn't work for me to say I need to write one page or 1000 words. I prefer time parameters. So when I see some time coming and feel all the different projects vying for that time, I say, "Ellen, you are just going to write for an hour. You can afford an hour." And often I do have to stop after an hour, but at least I put it in.

I know it's a cliché, but for me, writing is a lot like exercise—hard to get going and so fabulous once you get started. After a few days of writing regularly, I sit down at my computer and feel a grin spreading across my face. When my hour is up, I leave myself a note in the text to remind me where I was headed so I can jump right back in. With only an hour, I don't have time to gaze into space and try to recapture my train of thought, or reread. In fact, that's why regular writing is so important for me. It takes too much time to go back and remember who had just said what to whom. It's critical to be able to get swept into the stream of the narrative again. To go back to the exercise analogy, leaving myself those notes is like beginning a run at the top of a hill. It gives me an easy start so I'm warmed up when I start in on new ideas. I also resist revision of what I just wrote. I love revising—it's the inventing that's work—so given the choice, I'll revise—and my hour will be gone and I won't have moved forward. In first drafts, I can circle back to the first chapters twenty to thirty times trying to get them just right when what I really need to do is find out what happens to my characters later, who they become, what their challenges will be.

Finding a place to write is another problem. While my family understands that one of my jobs is writing, it is very confusing for them to see me at home. If I'm there, why can't I help with math homework? Oooh and aaah over a new drawing? Throw in that load of laundry or empty the dishwasher? I used to write on the dining room table, thinking that it would help to be in the midst of things. I'm not sure why I thought that was a good idea—it was just frustrating for all of us. It helps somewhat when I go behind a closed door, but really its better when I leave the house. I love Panera: good food, good background music, free Wifi, English breakfast tea, fireplace—so I usually head there. I also live across the street from a university library which works for me, too, but tea is critical and the librarians frown at that!

In terms of housework, my family has a cleaning session every weekend. My husband and I both like things relatively neat and clean so unfortunately "letting the housework go" does not really work for us. (I once heard Donna Jo Napoli say the following: "You can eat off my kitchen floor…(pause, pause)…for weeks and weeks without going hungry!" I aspire to this but it seems a constitutional impossibility.) We had to let our housekeeper go to save money so we instituted the family cleaning. One week, we do the upstairs, next week the downstairs. We each pick a room to do and go to it. If someone finishes their room first, they go help someone else. We can stop after two hours, even if we're not done, but we usually finish all we set out to do in an hour and a half. The kids grumble far less than you might think. They feel good about pitching in for the family well-being, and they have learned how to clean. We do need to rotate rooms so that the nine-year old doesn't do the same room week after week (!), but my twelve-year-old out-cleans me most of the time. And my husband should open a service.

In exchange for keeping up with the cleaning, I've given up exercise. I love exercise—as you can tell from above, I was an avid runner—but as so many authors on your site have said, something has to give! A hip injury took me out of running and I never found another sport that I feel the same way about. Still, I know how important exercise is. I have not given it up forever. I just realized that beating myself up daily for not exercising was not good either. So, for now, I don't exercise. And I'm okay with that.

I have two hobbies: I knit and I ski. I knit during faculty meeting or on car rides (to skiing!) so I don't knit much, but I love working with yarn. I seem to knit baby gifts almost exclusively these days. (I'm 43! When will my friends stop having babies?) Skiing is something we do as a family—every weekend that we can. (And as we live in PA, this is no mean feat!) The skiing is a struggle; almost every Friday night I decide there is no way I can do it. Too much work! But we've made this commitment and it is so good for the family, that I grit my teeth and go—and love it. I'm away from my computer, my desk, my ungraded papers. I'm in the fresh air with my kids and in a beautiful setting. I come back refreshed and ready to face the next week. And the ski season only lasts for thee and a half months, so it works.

So that's how I am currently making it work—only it doesn't work that well. My epiphany about this came one weekend when my daughter and I were walking out of square dance at her school. I had been loathe to go—I could have been writing!—but she was so excited about it, I agreed. And it was really fun. I'm a pretty extroverted person so I can throw myself into those kinds of things. As we were walking out, she said, "Mommy, you're so much fun when you're not working—but you have to work all the time!" Knife in the belly. The next morning, my husband stormed out of the house to pick up our son at some event. As he left, I asked him what was wrong and he said, "I hate our schedule!" As I stood in the shower—where I get all my best epiphanies—I thought over my options. It had always seemed so muddy before, but suddenly, with perfect clarity I said: "I have to quit my job." In the end, we decided it was best to cut my teaching responsibilities in half—but this will still require some significant lifestyle changes, the most significant being that my children will have to change schools. The switch will be challenging for them, but it's clear to me that we will all gain by having me available for the family in a real way. (I'm not going back to cleaning the house by myself, though!) Thankfully, no one ever suggested that I should give up my writing.

Now the challenge is to get to June—when I can cut back—and then to September when the kids face the reality of a new school. They'll be some bumps, but I continue to feel that this is the right thing to do—for my family, for my marriage and for my books.

Thanks, Ellen! Readers, be sure to check out Ellen's blog, especially this great post about the power of living in the story world of our favorite books.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hearts all around!

Hearts all around to author Mitali Perkins and publicist Deborah Sloan and Company for setting up last Saturday's Kids Heart Authors Day. I had a great time at Chapters Bookstore in Pittsfield, with Stacy DeKeyser, author of Jump the Cracks. Store manager Aimee MacLear was a perfect host, keeping us well supplied with cookies, coffee, and conversation. Thanks, Aimee and Kelly for your hospitality! Thanks, Mitali and Deborah for all the work you did to boost independent bookstores and authors!

I picked up a copy of Stacy's book, a story about a teenage girl who's accused of kidnapping when she takes charge of an abandoned toddler while on a train trip to New York. It's a book I just couldn't put down--and when I was done, all I could say was, "WOW!" The suspense is great, and the bond that quickly forms between Victoria, the heroine, and the little boy she rescues is beautifully told. Without giving too much away, I'll just say there are no easy answers for either character, but I found the ending satisfying nonetheless. So if you're looking for a great new book to read, ask your bookstore or library to order it up for you!
Later this week, I'll be hearting Hitchcock Academy Community Center in Brimfield, MA with 20 other authors for their Local Authors Night fundraiser. 10% of book sales will go to benefit the community center, and there's a silent auction that includes artwork, books, and more! Class of 2k8fans can bid on a basket of a dozen books by Class of 2k8 authors donated by yours truly. The lucky bidder also gets a complimentary "Meet the Author" event with me for the organization of your choice. Call the Hitchcock Academy at (413) 245-9977 for more information about auction items, bidding procedures, and the evening's event. The event runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 24 at the Hitchcock Academy, 2 Brookfield Road (Route 20), Brimfield, MA

I have a couple events coming up in March as well--if you're in central or western Massachusetts, stop by and say hi!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009, 6:30 p.m.
"Fireside Authors" discussion series
Fobes Memorial Library
4 Maple Street
Oakham, MA 01068

Tuesday, 10 March 2009, 7:00 p.m.
Book discussion
Wilbraham Public Library
25 Crane Park Drive
Wilbraham, MA 01095

As the Writers Juggle...Episode #5 - Laine Cunningham

Hi, welcome to another episode of "As the Writers Juggle," in which we ask writers to share their tips on balancing work, family, and the writing life. This week's guest is Laine Cunningham. Laine is a novelist whose works cross boundaries of race, culture and religion. Her first novel, Message Stick, is a brutal suspense thriller set in Australia's outback. The book won two national awards and was supported by fellowships and arts residency programs. To support her writing habit, Laine has owned and operated her own publishing industry consulting business, Writer's Resource, for fifteen years. She has been interviewed by CNN, MSNBC, and a host of other media outlets as both a writer and a consultant.

Q: Okay, Laine, 'fess up. How do you support your writing habit?

Laine: My dirty little writing habit is supported entirely by my business, Writer's Resource. Since my office is home-based, I have about a ten-second commute from the breakfast table to the office. There are times I need to travel for research, to meet with clients or to conduct seminars which averages out to a few hours every week. Despite all the moaning and groaning about the bad economy, 2008 was a banner year for my company. I've averaged about 50-60 hours per week for the business.

Q: So your "day-job" is still writing-related. What other time-consuming responsibilities are you involved in?

Laine: As few as possible! I do volunteer for my local homeowners association but really that's an every-other-month thing. I am a member of two writer's groups and help individuals with their projects (both during the creation process and during marketing). I also meet every month with a small coallition of fellow authors for marketing sessions. We brainstorm new ideas and share information, what works, what doesn't.

Q: You went from the corporate world to running your own business to support your writing. When did you decide to take the plunge?

Laine: I was working for a corporation in a very cushy job as a technical and production editor. The politics and the fact that I didn't have time to write was killing me. I walked out one day, cashed in my 401K, and wrote full-time for the next year. The memoir I wrote won an award the following year. Then I needed to figure out how to finance this new lifestyle, and started up Writer's Resource. So although I haven't achieved "full-time writerdom" for my own works, I do write all day for my clients. I find that it helps me learn, grown and, of course, network! Perfect solution, if you ask me.

Q: So you write to support your writing. Were there any personal or family issues you had to worry about when you made that big leap to strike out on your own?

Laine: Nothing like that here. My only companion is my dog. He's very supportive! Every time I come home with groceries, he tells me what a great hunter I am! My friends are very supportive of me. They understand why I travel so much (in support of the writing process) and we see each other whenever we pressure or hurt feelings if I can't see them terribly often. It's really amazing how people who don't live the writing life can still be very supportive and understanding.

Q: I hear you about the dog--the only love money can buy! What sacrifices did you have to make to take the plunge?

Laine: See 401K comment above! Also lost my health care benefits after COBRA ran out. I've rectified the insurance situation and am working toward starting a retirement fund this year.
I've also moved a great deal. While writing my first novel, which took four years, I moved...let's see...five times. From California to Minnesota to Virginia to North Carolina (with a few local moves in between). That makes for a lot of long-distance friendships and the need to spend years building new local friendships.

I don't "go out" much in the way most people think of going out. But I do spend a lot of time on the powwow trail dancing at Native American gatherings. That connects me to part an important part of my heritage and I do get to socialize with all the great folks who come together to dance. And that's a three-season activity, nearly every weekend at the height of it.

Q: Powwows--that sounds really exciting! What a great way to connect with your Native American heritage.

What conflicts or hurdles have you had to overcome?

Laine: The working-in-a-vacuum mode. It doesn't impact the work; in fact, it helps me focus on getting the big-concept ideas down on paper, especially when you're talking about novels. But it does lend itself to self-doubt. Is this good enough? Will it sell? Am I good enough? Yadda-yadda. Every writer has to learn how to turn off that switch!

Q: Yeah, that working-in-a-vacuum really sucks, doesn't it? (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

About how many hours a day can you spend writing?

Laine: When the consulting workload is managable, I average two hours a day first thing in the morning on my own novels. Production is usually about five pages. I handwrite all first drafts, enter it on the computer, then edit by hand on the hard copy. About once a year I take off for thirty days to do nothing but write. Those days I can do up to twenty pages during creation work, or about six to eight hours of editorial work. In one hour of editing, I might do as little as a page or two per hour on the initial draft. In the last stages, I can do as much as ten pages per hour.

Q: I like that idea of taking a month off for just the writing--especially when you're in the editing stage.

What about promotion? About how much time do you spend on that?

Laine: Two hours per day average. In less than three months of pre-publication marketing, I've netted a mention on MSNBC and quotes in multiple large-circulation regional newspapers, and hundreds of blogs and book review sites. The campaign is working into the second phase, post-publication marketing (the launch date was Jan 20, 2009) so things are looking great!

Q: That's great! Sounds like you're a promotional dynamo! How do you organize it all? Can you describe an average day-in-the-life-of-Laine?

Laine: First two to four hours of the morning are always writing time. Whether that's for myself or a client depends on my workload. Consume one pot of coffee during this time.

Q: Note to self...caffeinate before writing...

Laine: Then I spend a half hour to two hours answering email and checking internet analytics, doing quickie research on potential new marketing ideas, blogs, reviews, etc.
Lunchtime! 1/2 hour
Wrap up any small details - 1/2 to one hour.
Post office run/groceries/whatever - 1/2 to one hour
Make a cup of tea (or two) and work on client research, editorial projects, and similar tasks - two to three hours, sometimes four
Exercise: walk or hike with dog - one hour
Check email, begin novel marketing - one to two hours.
Final email, any administrative duties (invoicing, filing, shredding) - one or more hours
Yes, by now it is about 8 p.m. or so. Shut down office and do household chores - one hour
Cook dinner, watch news, do some yoga, read newspapers/magazines - one hour
Bed by 11 p.m. or 11:15. Up at 7 (OK, alarm goes off at 7. Sometimes I hit the snooze button more than once. Usually up by 7:30 a.m.).
For the past year, this schedule has been seven days a week to keep up with client projects and still be sane enough to write fiction. Often the schedule on the weekend is less client work and waaaaaaay more novel writing, plus sleeping late on Saturday morning to catch up from the week's efforts. When I'm not at a powwow, of course!

Q: That's definitely a full day. What are your best places and times for writing?

Laine: First thing in the morning. Access the subconscious better than later, after I've dealt with a million details and my conscious brain is in full control.

Q: How do you keep from losing your momentum?

Laine: I keep my eye on the prize...that big book deal that will allow me to stop consulting and free up more time to travel, research, write, write write!
Plus, I've lived the other side of the American dream. It just about killed me. There is nothing else I can do in this world and live well, healthy and happy.

Q: What do you do when you get blocked? (Or do you get blocked?)

Laine: I don't get blocked, not really. I go for long walks whenever I'm trying to figure things out. Move the body, I always say, and you move the mind.

Q: Do you find it difficult to make the transition between your consulting work and your own writing? How do you handle it?

Laine: Always put the most important things first. The little things always get done whenever. Writers must understand that they need both sides of their different write well. The intuitive side is all about the first draft, accessing the flow. The judge must be silent at that time! Then you have to switch gears for editing, to bring the judge in to work through problems. To solve the problems the intuitive side must come back with the flow for revisions.

Switching can be done by changing locations. For example, I have two dedicated spaces in my house. One room is the office; the other is for writing only. The spaces are decorated differently, each has its own supplies so I don't have to walk back into the other space for paper or pens, and each has different lighting. Everything about the spaces triggers my mind to do one thing or the other.

Q: I like that idea.

What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?

Laine: Self-motivated, obviously. I'm motivated, again, because I've had the corporate success and found it to be deadening. This is what I must do; no choice.

Q: How do you deal with distractions-either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?

Laine: Turn off the phone! Only check email at certain times of day! Can't stress those enough.

Q: Yeah, email is a real time sink! Do you feel you have enough time for non-writing hobbies or activities you'd like to pursue?

Laine: Clearly, the answer is no. However, I'm willing to make the short-term sacrifice for the benefit of the rest of my life.

Q: What advice would you give to others struggling with writing/job/time management issues?

Laine: You'll never "find" time to write; you must make it.Thirty minutes a day is enough. Really! The more you write, the more brain cells become involved in the writing process. It's like any other skill...playing piano, working the stock market, whatever. The more consistant you are about your practice, the easier it becomes.

Q: Any other issues or ideas you'd like to mention?

Laine: You know, I walked out of that corporate job because I was working about sixty-five hours a week. My schedule now is the same but it's different. Yes, I get tired. But I couldn't be happier or healthier. I'm doing what I want to do...helping others and helping myself in a very, very tough industry.

One of my goals when I reach "full-time writerdom" through my novels is to set up some sort of program where authors can come together and help each other. It's so tough doing this on your own...and even if you're married and have a house full of kids and extended family, if they aren't artists or writers themselves, you're still very alone.

I have been able to take a first step with this. I'm sponsoring a novel award through a regional literary magazine. We haven't worked out the details yet but writers can go to The Blotter Literary Magazine's website to check for dates. I think we'll be offering the first award at the end of this year, perhaps as early as the fall. I don't have the infrastructure to do it myself yet but the magazine's going to handle all the details...I'm just putting up the cash!

That's great that you're able to give something back to help your fellow writers. Thanks for the inspiration, Laine!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

As the Writers Juggle...Episode #4 - Howard W. Penrose

Hi, welcome to another episode of "As the Writers Juggle," in which we ask writers to share their tips on balancing work, family, and the writing life. Our last three writers all came from the world of children's literature. This week, we'll switch genres and gears to get some time-management tips from high-tech writer, editor, and webmaster Howard W. Penrose. An expert in electric motor systems and in the Reliability, Maintenance, Energy, and Environmental industry, Howard is the owner of SUCCESS by DESIGN Publishing, Executive Director of the Institute of Electrical Motor Diagnostics, Inc., and editor and webmaster for several technical Websites (and that's only a few of the hats he wears!). Those of you interested in green transportation might want to check out and see what he's been doing in the field of hybrid cars. Anybody this busy had better be organized, right? Right! Let's see how he does it all.

Q: Welcome, Howard. Tell us a little bit about your writing background and how that fits in with all the other things you do.

Howard: I am an independent consultant and publisher. I work with companies such as General Motors on the design of hybrid and electric vehicles, as well as projects related to maintaining GM manufacturing and facilities equipment and energy conservation programs, companies such as US Steel for facility condition-based maintenance and motor management programs, and a number of other similar projects for companies ranging from utilities to military and food processing to mining. I do some work overseas for nuclear power companies and factories in China, South Korea, Malaysia and Australia. I fired my last boss in 2004 and went into business for myself. However, SUCCESS by DESIGN Publishing was established in 2001; I expanded it to include Reliability, Maintenance, Energy & Environment consulting in 2004.

I am the publisher for several eZines, including the eMagazine and the Reliability, Maintenance, Energy & Environment eMagazine . We are expanding both from the newsletters they were through December last year to full eMagazines. The blogs include the blog , the Hybrid Tahoe blog , and the RME&E blog . The primary purpose is to provide an avenue for response to the different eMagazines. I evenly spend my time between writing, publishing and editing, my hobbies, and my consulting work, also a hobby. Writing provides about 15% of my income.

Q: I understand you've dabbled a bit in science fiction...

Howard: I do write across multiple genres as well as publish. From 2001 to 2003 I had an online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine which was more of a hobby as more money went out than came in. However, I did publish several ebooks with some of my own work and an anthology (Stories of Myth, Legend and Future: SBD SF&F 2002 Anthology) as well as How to Become Your Own Publisher and a couple of technical books. In all I write and publish through magazines and conferences over twenty-six professional papers per year and at least one book per year. In 2008, fourteen magazine articles, eight conference papers, fifty-two editorials and eMagazines, operate/own four Websites, Web Editor-in-Chief of a major professional Website (330,000 members), self-published two books, wrote a number of reports and studies, and quite a few blog posts.

Q: Wow! That must keep you hopping. Tell us a little bit about the Websites you manage--it sounds like you're dealing with some really cutting-edge technological stuff.

Howard: The websites I would like to mention are: and an associated eMag (first one out on the first Tuesday in February). I am the owner and webmaster. I have an Editor-in-Chief who now selects the content. We launched the site on January 5, 2009, and we are still adding quite a bit of content. I am getting encouragement from GM, Meyers Motors, and Tesla motors on this site – it is self-funded right now, but I am expecting it to be profitable by summer. We are also fully sponsoring a high school electric race car, which is pretty fun! is my professional website and associated with my Reliability, Maintenance, Energy and Environment eMag which has been in circulation with a variety of formats to 7,000 subscribers since 1997. We are working on expanding it and the number of subscribers in 2009. is my archive site for a number of white papers that cover technical topics and the Motor Diagnostics and Motor Health research study. There is information on my work related to Skilled workforce. is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation Society (IEEE-DEIS) Website. I am the Web Editor-in-Chief. The Website is a large project that has been in progress since August, 2008, with the developers in the Netherlands and the editorial staff in Europe, Australia, Canada, USA, and Asia. The site is officially released to the public on February 6, 2009, at 6pm EST. For the first three sites, I am Webmaster as well.

Q: You must be pretty organized to keep all those responsibilities straight Could you give us an idea of how you manage your time?

Howard: I spend an average of two hours per day writing, or more. As I travel a fair amount, I get written drafts of work and ideas flowing on airplanes, airports, or think through an article on long drives (average four+ hours). I spend approximately ten hours per week on book promotion – sometimes more.

I am normally up around 6 a.m. and in bed by about midnight. While I do not always work from waking to sleeping, I do spend a significant amount of my time "working."

It is hard to describe how I manage my day. First, I have been actively writing since I was nine, wanted to be a writer since I was thirteen, headed a different path when I discovered how well it paid, but kept my passion to the present. By developing drafts in my head and short sketches on paper, through years of practice, my first draft is often my only draft with only a little editing. In the 1990s, I would average an article or news item once per week and eventually got to the point where I can put out a few thousand words a day on subjects I have an interest in. However, if I have a particularly challenging project I may put writing to the side for a few days or a week or two.

A typical day includes setting up breakfast and coffee with a notebook nearby. I will sort through my day and create a to-do list noting anything that is time-dependent, such as a speaking engagement, consulting work, teleconference, etc. It is important to begin to figure out a balance of time such that you do not assign too much or too little work for the time you have allotted.

Q: Yes, underestimating how long things takes is definitely a big pitfall for me. Tell us a little more about what a typical day looks like for you.

Howard: On a day like today, my schedule looked something like this:

6:30 a.m.: organize my day;

7-8 a.m.: respond to emails;

8-10 a.m.: teleconference with client to discuss research and report results;

10 a.m-noon: work on report for GM facilities related to maintenance;

30-minute lunch – no work;

12:30 – 1 p.m.: answer emails;

1 – 3 p.m.: complete GM facilities report;

3-3:30 p.m.: answer emails;

3:30 – 5 p.m.: work on IEEE website; 45-minute dinner;

5:45 – 7:30 p.m.: Organize information for Detroit Auto Show article – images, press releases and notes, sketch out order of article;

7:30 – 9 p.m.: answer this email;

9 p.m.: review day and organize for tomorrow, answer remaining emails, relax.

Q: That's a pretty full day--and now I feel guilty for taking so much of your time! You're not tied to the computer all day, though, are you?

Howard: I will usually work in ten-minute sessions on my exercise bike during the winter – randomly to get things moving, or hour walks when the weather is above freezing.

Q: When and where do you prefer to write?

Howard: My best places and times for writing tend to be early in the day and at a desk with a little background music. The genres range based on my mood (anything but country or hip hop/rap). I try to match the music to my mood and the type of writing I am doing. If I am writing a "debate" piece, or controversial, it will be something like electronica or metal/hard rock. If it is a research piece, it will often be meditation music or "seasons."

Q: It sounds like music really helps you keep your momentum. Do you have any other techniques for keeping the flow going?

Howard: Practiced meditation, turning off TV, turning off phone or email, turning off IM. If I have to concentrate on a specific subject I will get out white boards and put my notes together across the room. I have also set up my desk to look over a pond and fountain, which is soothing and not distracting. If I am writing on an airplane, I will use an iPod and music to block out everything else. If I am trying to think, I use pen and paper--for some reason that generates thought versus typing.

Q: Charting out your notes is a really good idea--it helps you see the big picture. It sounds like writing longhand helps when you get stuck, is that right?

Howard: When have a bout of writer’s block, I will sit with a notebook and pen and write by hand. Literally anything, could be a to-do list, grocery list, and then I start writing down exactly what pops into my head. After a while things begin to make sense. Whatever I do, I just think about whatever the topic is and I do not force anything.

Q: So free-writing is a big help for getting the flow going again. Do you have any trouble with transitions between your writing and all your other work?

Howard: I have had no trouble with the transition. I have been going back and forth for over twenty years.

Q: What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?

Howard: Self motivated: meaning that I am disciplined enough to drive myself. If I feel I am slipping, I fall back to to-do lists. I will set goals and pursue them. I used to have to write them down at least once per day until they were ingrained. Now I just focus on the goals I have set and keep myself going in that direction. In fact, when viewing my writing, all of my work at any given time will relate to what I am doing and the topics will directly relate to each other. When I start something, I need to finish it.

Q: I admire your drive. I'm very good at writing to-do's the doing that I have to kick my butt about! How do you deal with distractions—either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?

Howard: I just get things done or get rid of distractions. I set a location and turn everything off with the exception of music. However, there are days when I even feel that is an issue and I need to work in silence. I also trained myself to ignore a ringing phone. Drives people nuts if I am talking on stage and I am the one who forgot to turn my cell phone off, I will usually let it ring with only a few exceptions. Once I looked at who it was, answered the phone on stage, and told the person I was speaking then asked the audience to say ‘hi.’ It was great!

Q: I love it! Gotta love that caller ID, too. It definitely makes it easier to ignore the phone. What advice would you give to others struggling with writing and time management issues?

Howard: Organized steps, to-do lists, organization, time limits. I will usually keep an eye on the clock or may even use the calendar in Outlook to organize my day. The pop-ups are a great reminder if you are typing. I never use a timer, for some reason they distract me. I need to keep looking to see how much time is left and it can disrupt my train of thought.

Q: You're so right. Lists and time limits and breaking things down into smaller steps help me, too--when I make myself stick to them! Any other issues or ideas you'd like to mention?

Howard: Multi-tasking and dealing with everything at once. What to do when everything happens at once or when it all goes wrong. Are these easy or difficult? I thrive on stress. Once in a while when things happen all at once it is a break from routine and rapidly solving issues can be exhilarating. The biggest thing is learning how to prioritize on the fly and when to just let some things go.

Q: Hmmm...and from what our previous guests have said, one of the things we should let go is housework ;)....Speaking of prioritizing on the fly...One of your books is called Physical Asset Management for the Executive (Caution: Do Not Read This On An Airplane). So of course I just have to ask--why shouldn't we read this book on an airplane?

Howard: The statement about not reading the book on an airplane actually has to do with Chapter 4.7. Chapter 4 discusses instances when reliability and maintenance of assets goes wrong and the results. Section 4.7 relates to personal airline travel experiences related to R&M (Reliability & Maintenance). In my weekly newsletters when I was traveling forty-three weeks per year, at least one leg of a flight would have some type of major problem that delayed or cancelled the flight. I would write about each instance in my weekly newsletter and actually gained a reputation such that when people recognized me they would ask if they should change the flight. These days whenever some R&M issue happens wherever I am, it is usually attributed to my being there! The problem relating to airlines actually has to do with the qualifications of the people doing the work, in particular when airline maintenance is outsourced. Right now all 747 maintenance is performed in China and most wide-body planes are maintained in Venezuela. In each case, the technicians are usually not FAA certified nor do they report maintenance issues.

Q: Now I get it. You definitely don't want to know all the things that can go wrong when you're 20,000 feet in the air! Or you at least want to be sure you have Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger for your pilot. Thanks so much, Howard. You've definitely inspired me to get better organized.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Have a Heart



Authors Mitali Perkins and Deborah Sloan have come up with a brilliant way to share the love on Valentine's Day for readers, writers, and independent bookstores across New England. They've organized more than 40 independent bookstores and 160 authors and illustrators to participate in  Kids Authors Day.  From 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, February 14th, children's authors and illustrators across New England will be gathering at independent bookstores to sign their books for kids and teens and talk about writing and drawing.

I'll be celebrating at Chapters Books with author Stacy Dekeyser
78 North Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
413-443-BOOK (443-2665)

So heart that special kid in your life with a book on Valentine's Day--and heart local authors and bookstores at the same time! It's a win-win-win situation!

For more details, go to the Kids Authors Day Website at:

Press and media contacts interested in Kids Authors Day should contact Deborah Sloan and Company, and any site inquiries go to Mitali Perkins. And, last but not least, here's why Authors Indies.

Continue the discussion on

Monday, January 19, 2009

As the Writers Juggle...Episode #3 - Rosanne Parry

Hi, welcome to another episode of "As the
Writers Juggle," in which we ask writers to
share their tips on balancing work, family, and the writing life. This week's featured writer is Rosanne Parry. Rosanne is a member of the Class of 2k9 and author of the middle-grade novel Heart of a Shepherd (Random House, Jan 2009) and the picture book Daddy's Home! (Candy Cane Press, Mar 2009).

Q: Hi Rosanne! Thanks for joining us and congratulations on your upcoming releases! Tell us a bit about all of your responsibilities and how you keep them straight.

Rosanne: I’m going to telescope these questions into one answer. My principal and favorite occupation is raising my four school aged kids. I have aging parents near by. Sometimes they help me. Sometimes I help them. It’s a pretty even give-and-take at the moment, but that balance will shift my way eventually. I have a part-time teaching job that is flexible. If I want more hours, I contract to teach more classes. If I need more time to write and less money, I can scale back. In addition to the novels and picture books, I sometimes write curriculum and do parenting articles for magazines. I do volunteer work every week in a variety of places. I need exercise every day or I get little else accomplished, and my husband and I have a long-standing habit of a date every Friday night.

I wake up at 6:30 and go to sleep well past midnight most nights, so I’m working at one of the above mentioned jobs 18 hours a day. I don’t have a regular writing schedule. I might work 12-15 hours a day for a few weeks when I’m revising, or six hours a day when I’m plodding along with a first draft, but when I’m in between projects I may only write short practice pieces and work on promotion. I seldom write less than three hours in a day.

Q: I'm impressed that you still have time to write in between everything else. Sounds like LATE to bed and EARLY to rise is part of the secret. I like the idea of a date night to keep your relationship fresh. It's easy to neglect spouses when you're so busy (just ask mine!).

What are your best times and places for writing?

Rosanne:I love to work outside, especially in my tree house, but I’ve learned to write anywhere and any time I have available.

Q: What a gorgeous spot! No wonder you're inspired. I think I have tree house envy.

How do you keep from losing your momentum?

Rosanne: I try to set an attainable goal for the project at hand. For example, I just finished a first draft of a new novel. I did about a chapter a week or 700-1000 words a day for five months. I also try to do things that keep the character in mind even when I’m not writing. I’m working on a character that plays the violin, so I practice mine every day, just to keep my head in that character.

Q: Wait a minute! You play the violin, too? That's amazing!

What do you do when you get blocked? (Or do you get blocked?)

Rosanne: I don’t think of it as being blocked. If I don’t know what to write next I put a note in the text—“more about what she is thinking here,” or “characters run from the Sorbonne to the Montmartre train station, describe scenery here.” That way I can do the research or reflection later and stick it in.

Q: That's a good trick. I'll have to remember it when I get stuck.

Do you find it difficult to make the transition between your non-writing responsibilities and writing? How do you handle it?

Rosanne: Transitions are pretty easy for me. I tend not to think of inspiration or mood as having anything to do with the actual nitty-gritty of writing, so I don’t have to psyche myself up in order to write.

Q: What helps motivate you and keep you on track?

Rosanne: Need of money is motivation aplenty, and I really like to write so it’s not hard to make time for that. Housecleaning is a whole other story.

Q: Ah-ha! More ammo for the "Successful writers don't do housework" thesis!

How do you deal with distractions—either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?

Rosanne: I’ve learned to trust my memory. If a scene is strong enough I’ll remember where I was going with it if I get called away in the middle. If I can’t pick up the thread of a scene after I’ve been called away, my reader won’t be able to either, so I might as well let it go and start over with a stronger scene.

Q: Do you feel you have enough time for non-writing hobbies or activities you’d like to pursue?

Rosanne: Nope, I don’t have any hobbies. I genuinely enjoy the things I do for exercise and I love to write, so I don’t feel a pressing need for other hobbies

Q: Outside of playing the violin, that is... ;)

What advice would you give to others struggling with writing/job/time management issues?

Rosanne:I’m not sure I have any sage advice here. Writing is hard. If I didn’t love it I would have given up ages ago.

I think you're speaking for all of us writers there! It's definitely a labor of love.

Thanks so much, Rosanne. You need to have a balanced life when you're writing in a tree house!