The Creative Year: 52 Workshops for Writers

Elisabeth Sharp McKetta grew up in Austin, Texas and now lives in Boise, Idaho. Her fiction, essays, and poetry have been published widely, and she has been a featured storyteller at many events. Her 2012 poetry collection, The Fairy Tales Mammals Tell, was described by Ben Fountain as “wise, unflinching poems.”

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Elisabeth has literature degrees from Harvard, Georgetown, and the University of Texas at Austin. She wrote a PhD dissertation on the intersections between memoir and myth, a concept that now informs her teaching. She teaches writing at Harvard Extension School.

Elisabeth lives with her husband, two children, and the best behaved Labrador you’ve ever met. She enjoys hiking, reading, cooking, making new friends and drinking tea with old friends.

Today, she gives us the gift of six minutes in the following guest post. She also has some terrific writing prompts on her website. Thank you, Elisabeth. Here is her post.

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As I stood at the sink in the 5’s this a.m. and pulled the lever for instant-hot water (we installed it after I burned the bottoms of three teapots because I got distracted while waiting the six minutes for the hot water to boil) I felt a lesson coming on.

Those missing six minutes glowed at me, a symbol for how in requiring things like hot water to be ready now, we lose small pockets of creative unmapped time.

Obviously I didn’t spend those six minutes well or particularly mindfully.

The reason for all the burnt teapots is that I usually spent them feeding the dog, opening some mail, trying to unload the dishwasher without waking the whole family, wandering off to clean some mess. Tasks, to-dos. The practicalities that spread a foundation for being able to indulge in my chosen luxury, the luxury of writing poems.

But those minutes were my minutes, minutes all to myself, minutes that hadn’t yet been spoken for. And as a new mother for the second time, I am aware of much life can fit into six minutes. Real life, good life, not just tasks. In six minutes I can write some compost into a journal. I can whisper “walk” to the dog and spend six minutes in the early morning moonlight. I can read, really read, an e.e. cummings poem.

I’ve spent years courting the opposite extreme, that for any creative thing to occur all of the practical tasks have to be finished first. I don’t believe this anymore. What I know now is that in the thick of a full life with all its major components – work, people, travel, habits, housework, spontaneity, eating, using the body – that the most reliable moments of recording beauty happen in tiny dashes, six minutes here or there. And a writer’s main job, in my book, is to force us to really look at all the beauty.

I don’t always accept this, but I try to remember it. I feel regret for the lost time I have spent disengaging with beauty and creativity because I was so intent on getting things done. I would like to tell my younger self, “You girl, you writer, you use those six minutes to be there for it all. Get distracted by the moonlight and by the words, by the poems you love. Be there and write about it and use a timer to go back to the tasks in time so another teapot won’t burn.”

Here, this morning, I take my hot tea (made instantly) into my perpetually cold hands; I whisper, “walk” to the dog and go outside in the early morning moonlight.

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Elisabeth Sharp McKetta’s new book The Creative Year: 52 Workshops for Writers was born out of her experience as a writing teacher and her desire to create a series of short, fun workshops that busy people can do in as few as six minutes.

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Lillian Holmes and the Leaping Man – Guest post by Ciar Cullen

Today I’m proud to introduce Ciar Cullen, author of Lillian Holmes and the Leaping Man. 

At the cusp of the twentieth century, an heiress turned detective enters a world of deception and danger and must learn to trust her nemesis with both her life and her love.

Tormented by a tragic past, Miss Lillian Holmes nonetheless found the strength to go on, to become the greatest female detective of her time. To make her uncle proud. Except…he was not truly her uncle. Sherlock was a fictional character, and Lil was less a true detective than a sheltered twenty-six year old heiress with taste for mystery…and  morphine. But then she saw him. Leaping from her neighbor’s second-story window, a beautiful stranger. With the recent murders plaguing Baltimore, here was a chance to  reveal the truth.

Except, the Leaping Man was far more than he seemed. A wanton creature of darkness, an entry point to a realm of deception and evil, and to a Truth she had waited countless years to uncover, he would threaten far more than Lillian’s life. He would take both her heart and soul. And she would rejoice in it.

Read an excerpt here.

She has written a guest post for the blog today in honor of her book tour with Virtual Writers. Let’s see what Ciar has to say about her heroine. 

My Heroine, a Most Unusual Woman

 Baltimore, 1899

Single heiress, 5’8”, on the too-slim side, brunette. I love to read books that women shouldn’t read, especially the novels of A.C. Doyle and other mysteries. I ride a velocipede at night to avoid public scrutiny, avoid balls and gay evenings with my peers, and prefer the company of a few close friends. I am prone to the Melancholies, but find that reading helps soften my anxiety. I seek a companion who doesn’t want my money, who doesn’t bore me to tears, who would favor an adventurous wife over a normal lady. Are you out there, anywhere? No, I think not. 

My heroine, Lillian Holmes, is not so different from many of us (especially introverts)… she craves love, but doesn’t feel as if any of the gentlemen who come knocking on her door are sincere or interesting. She loves her books better than shopping for dresses or new bonnets. She treasures her one close friend, Bess, but feels she often fails her. She has chronic depression, but no one recognizes the disease, and she turns to the medicinal of the day, laced with morphine. Lillian craves adventure, fantasizes about being something more than a woman locked in the gilt cage of her mansion. She’s just like so many of us, except that it’s 1899.

Unlike the women in Pride and Prejudice, for example, a woman of means in this era didn’t need a man’s hand in marriage to survive. But she has the same longing for love, for partnership. Lillian does find love, a happy-ever-after (well, as long as she disposes of all of her enemies), but it is in the last person she would have expected…her nemesis.

Writing this book got me thinking about unusual women in literature, and about the reason so many of us love them. Of all things, I thought about Nancy Drew. First written in the early 1930s, Nancy Drew was a most unusual girl. She had a few close friends, and a boyfriend, but nothing gets in her way, not even handsome Ned Nickerson. She will solve the case, and you know it from the first page. I remember clearly going to the big Hutlzer’s store in downtown Baltimore with my grandmother, and as a special treat, she would buy me the newest Nancy Drew book. Looking back, I see what many feminist literary critics have mentioned—a somewhat anachronistic sketch, filled with tension between the era and the wish-fulfillment of the reader. And looking back, I realize that all those Nancy Drew books got deep inside of me, probably had a little to do with me pursuing a doctorate in archaeology, and certainly colored my rendering of Lillian Holmes. Thanks, Carolyn Keene (all several dozen of you, including the man who started the series). Oh, and by the way, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my hero is named George (although that’s another girl in Nancy Drew) and her best friend is a plump Bess. It’s a nod of thanks.

Thanks so much, Ciar, for sharing your thoughts with us. You can enter the raffle below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I encourage each of you to visit Ciar at the tour other stops along the way. Click the banner below to see more details.

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I hope you find time to snuggle up with a good book this week!

 

More lessons in self-publishing

Today, I learned yet another lesson in self-publishing and I’m going to share it with you. As you may know, KDP Select allows a five-day free promotion period for ebooks. You can schedule it whenever you like using the Manage Promotions link from your Bookshelf. I’ve been extraordinarily busy and my three month term has almost flown by so when I realized this today, I decided to pull the trigger on the 5-day promo. Easy and simple to do.

Then I realized that as with everything else in self -publishing, the key was promoting it. Why would I want to give away free ebooks, you ask? Mostly because I hope to generate interest in the book and garner more honest reviews on my Amazon and Goodreads pages. I approach the book promotion process exactly the same way as I manage my social media platform – I seek to slowly and intentionally build a strong network of followers. I try to effectively utilize every tool available to me. I give more than I expect to get.

So…how to maximize my 5-free days? I found some places to promote free books and I quickly realized that last minute isn’t the best way to do this. Next time, I’ll plan better. It might sound like a lot of work, but I suggest that about a month before you plan to offer your ebook for free on Amazon, you do some research and sketch out a general marketing plan.

There are lots of places which will accept your submission and add your book to their sites and feeds, but the rules vary from site to site. Some require that you submit 14-days ahead of time while others will not even accept your submission until the free offer is live on KDP. Some have very strict guidelines about genre, content,  number of reviews, and the score of your reviews. For instance, I ran across several places which would only accept a submission if your book has a review score of greater than 4 based on a set number of reviewers.

I’ll leave you with some ebook promotion links and the suggestion that you plan ahead for your free book promo with KDP. Also, don’t forget to utilize every other social media channel available to you – Twitter, Tumblr, FB, etc.

The good news is that as soon as I began submitting, I started to see my number of downloads climb. It works.

The above list is just a starting point. A simple Google search will yield hundreds of sites willing to promote your free ebook. Pay close attention to their rule and guidelines. Don’t waste your time (or theirs) submitting to those which aren’t suitable for your ebook.

The art in this post was created by Tessa Pearson, one of Ink & Alchemy’s Featured Artists. Click any of the pieces to go to her website. If you have art or writing that you want to share with the world, consider submitting to me. Click here to access the form.

Love & lit,

Robin

How to begin?

Good question! One which could be answered in a myriad of ways. We tackled this difficult question at a recent More Ink gathering.

We shared some examples of terrific beginnings, but sadly, I didn’t take notes and so most of that is lost in the nooks and crannies of time. I’d recently finished reading The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell, so I had several ready examples from this excellent collection of short stories. Here’s my favorite, from a story called Uncle:


A cradle won’t hold my baby. My baby is two hundred pounds in a wheelchair and hard to push uphill but silent all the time. He can’t talk since his head gto hurt, which I did to him. I broke his head with a mattocks and he hasn’t said a thing to me or nobody else since. 

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What? Holy hell! What is going on here? Well, I know how the story turns out, but I can’t tell you. That would ruin the excellent suspense and sense of wonder that the author has created.

What should a beginning do? 

  • Introduce conflict and tension
  • Start with action, not boring background information
  • Make the reader wonder
  • Introduce – the setting, character, and proper tone

It’s generally not a good idea to start with:

  • Lots of dialogue
  • A cliched hook
  • Description
  • In a dream sequence

…and don’t start too early in the story. Crank it up a bit and start further along when the action is really starting to cook. One guest did have an interesting story about starting too late in the scene and thereby not allowing the reader to properly empathize with the character. Whiiiich brings me to an important point, and something I think we already know. Rules are made to be broken and none of this guidance is absolute. Do what makes sense for your story. 

At the very least, a beginning should make the reader want to turn the page.

Chuck Wendig, my current author crush, has much to say about how to start. Read it here. Be warned that he can be profane at time; it’s one of my favorite things about his writing. That and the fact that he’s wickedly creative and cool.

We did an exercise using assorted bad beginnings culled from the world wide web of horrible writing. Given the beginnings below, we attempted to re-write them to make them more compelling:

  •  It was a dark and stormy night.
  • Although Sarah had an abnormal fear of mice, it did not keep her from eking out a living at a local pet store.
  • Like an overripe beefsteak tomato rimmed with cottage cheese, the corpulent remains of Santa Claus lay dead on the hotel floor.
  • Stanley looked quite bored and somewhat detached, but then penguins often do.
  • The sun oozed over the horizon, shoved aside darkness, crept along the green sward, and, with sickly fingers, pushed through the castle window, revealing the pillaged princess, hand at throat, crown asunder, gaping in frenzied horror at the sated, sodden amphibian lying beside her, disbelieving the magnitude of the frog’s deception, screaming madly, “You lied!”
  • No, he never does manage to win her over but let me tell you how he didn’t.
  • Boy, that sure is a lot of giraffes, I see one giraffe, two giraffes, there’s three, and four giraffes.
  • It was a blustery fall day when Optimus Prime returned home early to find his wife boning Dracula.
  • Bullets rained down on us like– nope, that’s actually just rain. 
  • I’m a dumb shithead and even though this isn’t really the first line no one will care because I, Donald Trump, am pure garbage.

This exercise actually made me want to stab my own eyes out with a mechanical pencil.  I resisted but the fact that I sucked seems indicative of the fact that I need practice. Lots of practice. Many of the attendees had a gift for this. I can vouch for the fact that it’s much harder than it looks. Try some of the examples above and see how you do.

The raffle prize was a terrific book called The Successful Novelist by David Morrell and our own very talented Jonathan Kahn is the lucky recipient. Congrats! Jonathan is preparing for the release of a collection of very short stories called Vanity Plate Tales. You can find some of them on his FB page. I’ve been lucky enough the proof the manuscript and it’s good. Look for its release soon.

The art in this post was created by Andew Salgado, a featured artist at Ink & Alchemy. It made my morning just looking at it. If you want more, pay him a visit at his website.


If you’re interested in my Feature programs for your writing or art, here are the details.

Writer promotion in exchange for honest reviews

I am seeking honest reviews for a recently published collection of midwestern-noir short stories. In exchange for your review posted at Amazon and Goodreads, I will add you to my Featured Writers program and promote your work or site throughout my platform now and in the future. You’ll find details about the program on my website. If interested, submit the form and note that you are requesting a review copy of my manuscript and I’ll provide it by email.

Thank you!

Sanderson Summer Course – no charge!

On July 8, Brandon is releasing a 2013 lecture series. Incredibly, there is no cost. There is some work and commitment involved, so read the description first, then get yourself over to his site and register. And if you haven’t finished the 2012 series, you’d better get right on that!

http://www.writeaboutdragons.com/extra/2013-summer-class/

Please stop doing this.

You keep hearing that you need to establish an online presence in order to promote yourself, right? This is absolutely true, and while it might seem that there are no rules and that anything goes out there in the insanity that is the cyber world, I think there are some things that you should avoid.

 

This post is about what not to do while you’re out there trying to pimp yourself on the internet. Don’t…

 

  • Take things personally.  Understand that when you post things online, your potential audience is enormous. It’s unlikely that everyone will agree with you all the time. Sure, you can engage in intelligent conversation and debate, and in fact this is strongly encouraged, but be aware that there is very a fine line between enthusiastically disagreeing and becoming angry or antagonistic.The latter is unprofessional.

  • Announce your numbers. No offense, but I really don’t give a rat’s ass how many fans or followers you have and neither does anyone else. Yes, yes, I know that oftentimes FB giveaways and the like are predicated on your fan page making it to the big 500, etc. I also know that in the desperate scramble for something to post, this seems easy and it’s so tempting. Stop doing it. I can think of a thousand better reasons to give something away. It’s Tuesday. The sun is shining. Just because you want to. All of these are better reasons than making promotions or giveaways hinge on your numbers. In fact, I will go so far as to suggest that all of us should be focusing much less on our numbers and far more on engaging with our existing fans and producing useful content.

  • Assume some contacts are better than others. Networking is a fabulous and mysterious creature. Don’t make the mistake of judging any interaction as “good” or “bad” based on stereotypes or incorrect assumptions. I deem all interactions on my page (and in real life as well) as super freaking fantastic and so should you. Anytime a person takes the time to visit your sites, you should be flattered right out of your boots, and if they go really crazy and like, share, or comment on your posts, you should be doing a happy dance. Don’t worry about if you sold anything to them. Don’t worry about if you will ever sell anything to them. Understand that people have no shortage of things vying for their attention, and just getting people to your site is a tremendous accomplishment. Revel in it and then nurture those contacts. Every single one of them is a real person and is valuable. They may change your life by encouraging you or causing you to think outside of the box. They may lurk and never do anything terrific on your page. They may share your page and eventually lead to a sale or a new connection. They may actually buy your book (settle down over there, crazier things have happened). The point is you don’t know, so you should treat every single contact as a VIP.

  • Steal content. This is just bad form and in some situations, it’s illegal. Of course it’s fine to re-post and share the work of others. That’s a huge part of this whole networking thing. But be very careful to give credit where credit is due and ask for permission if you are at all uncertain.

  • Constantly toot your own horn. Yes, I know it’s your platform and it should be centered around you, you, you, but take my word for it – if you constantly post sales links and rarely interact with others, you’re whistling into the wind. Chances are, no one is even listening any more. I know you want to sell your stuff, but this is the tough part. This is where so many people fail. You need to cultivate relationships, not become the cyber equivalent of a door-to-door salesman at dinnertime.

  • Publish poorly edited work.  This is self-explanatory. It reflects poorly on you and your business when you publish things with errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Typos slip by even the best of us, and if you’re producing a lot of work, the odds of missing a mistake increase, but do try.

  • Be negative. Nobody likes complaining or whining. Life is hard enough. Try to be the bright spot in someone’s day. Aim for uplifting and encouraging.

  • Try to promote a business using a personal profile. This applies to all venues, but especially Facebook. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. FB pages are free and are so much better suited for a business. If you’re using your personal profile, you are requiring people to send you a friend request in order to interact with you. If you are doing this, stop immediately. I guarantee that you lose many potential fans because of this. It also becomes problematic if you decide to participate in Adsense or other promotion and affiliate programs because the whole process gets convoluted. More on this in a later post, but suffice it to say – it is prohibited for your friends and family to click your ad links. Adsense has bots which can detect term violations, and if you have customers/clients on your personal profile, it can appear as if you are in violation. Take my word for it – if you don’t have a FB page, stop reading right this second and go create one.

  • Expect immediate results.  This is a big one. I should have placed this one first, or maybe just written about this one all by itself. Promoting your work using networking via social media is not fast and it’s not easy. Why? It requires a constant, consistent push. On top of that, everything is constantly changing, and so must your approach if you want to to keep up. Finally, if you don’t offer genuine, useful content, you’re dead in the water. It takes time and  intention to build a strong platform.

A quick reminder that I’ll be leading a workshop at Southwest Writers in August. It’s called The Basics of Building a Social Media Platform and it will be jam packed with good, practical information to help you get up and running in the cyber world. I’m working on the syllabus and will post it to my website soon.

The art in this post was brought to you by Angela Petsis, one of Ink & Alchemy’s Featured Artists. Click here to visit her website, or here to check out her Etsy shop.

We’re also writing and reading up a storm over at More Ink. I’d love for you to join us!