How to Write Like a Pro (By the Pros) Part 1

Image: Interview between Stephen King and George R.R. Martin at the Kiva Auditorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico (2016)

How to Write Your Best Novel

Every new writer, or even established author, wants to know the “best” way to write a best-selling novel. Even Game of Thrones author George RR Martin asked horror junkie Stephen King, “How the f*** do you write so fast? I have a good six months and crank out three chapters, meanwhile, you wrote three books in that time!?”

I will save you the heartache. There is no textbook way to get the job done. You have to decide on the hows yourself and see what works best for you.

That said, if you want to learn how the most successful writers of today work their magic, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some of their tips and quirks on how they make it in the business and how they finish their works of progress.

Neil Gaiman: The Timeless Writer

American Gods, Coraline, The Sandman
Estimated Word Count (Goal): 150-4,000 words per day

It would be easier to tell you the kind of writer that I’m not. I remember once being at a pub at a convention in England with a very well known fantasy author. I was saying, “Do you realize there are writers out there who are at their desks at 9 o’clock every morning, look up at 12:00, take an hour off for lunch and they’re back there at 1, they go till 5:30 and that’s it for the day? They don’t write anymore. Now if you wanted to do that, why not get a real job?” And this well-known, famous, probably richer then I am fantasy writer said “Well I was always at my desk at 8:30, instead of 9. But other than that, you’ve just described my work day.”

Neil Gaiman prefers to write when the mood strikes. He likes the freedom of inspiration, the lightbulb moments. That’s not to say he doesn’t hit the page on a regular basis. He simply does not put limits on when and where his writing will take him.

Tess Gerritsen: The Persistent Writer

The Rizzoli and Isles series, Gravity, Harvest 
Estimated Word Count (Goal): 4 pages per day

I don’t stop to revise — I just forge ahead, through thick and thin, and through some really rough work. Some of it is horrible. That’s okay — I’ll come back and fix those scenes. Since I don’t outline ahead of time, I don’t always know the solution to the mystery. So I’ll wander in the wilderness along with my characters, until I get about 2/3 of the way through and I’ll be forced to find answers. And then I can finally write to the end.

Like Michael Connelly and Khaled Housseni, she is against any kind of outlining, and like Margaret Atwood and James Patterson, she prefers to write her novels long-hand. What makes Tess Gerritsen stand out is that she does not accept no for an answer, not even from herself. She starts her writing day at 9:30 AM and pushes through until she hits her word count.

John Grisham: The Routine Writer

The Firm, The Rainmaker, A Time to Kill
Estimated Word Count (Goal): 1000-2000 words per day

“Routine is what it’s all about … Same small office behind the house where I’ve been writing for the last 22 years. Same desk, same computer, same cup of coffee. It’s dark. I love it. There’s no phones, faxes, or internet—I work offline. So I’m in a cocoon.”

Neil Gaiman may have been talking about a fantasy writer in the quote above, but he could as easily have been talking about the famous lawyer/author. John Grisham finds that the daily routine stripped of all distractions is what keeps the words flowing. It’s automatic pilot. If you are someone who is easily distracted, this could be an effective strategy for you too.

Stephen King: The King of Writers

The Dark Tower series, It, The Shining
Estimated Word Count (Goal): 6 pages per day

“There are certain things I do if I sit down to write. I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning. I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”

There’s something poetic about Stephen King. Yes, that Stephen King. Whatever genre he is writing in, he embraces it full on. He falls into a dream state and visits that brave new world, no matter how quirky or twisted … and with only a cup of tea! It is more than a routine for King. It is about passion. If you commit to writing what inspires you, it won’t feel like work at all.

George R. R. Martin: The Old School Writer

The Game of Thrones series, Fevre Dream, Windhaven
Estimated Word Count (Goal): 1 chapter every 2 months

“I still do all my writing on an old DOS machine running WordStar 4.0, the Duesenberg of word processing software (very old, but unsurpassed).”

Some of the best writers like to go “old school”. That often means handwriting with a pen or pencil. At least pencils will always be available on the market! The same cannot be said for the DOS software that George R. R. Martin uses to write his novels. Is the use of such antiquated technology the reason Martin is so slow to release his novels? Who cares? If you find something that works for you, stick with it regardless of the naysayers.

James Patterson: The Master Outliner

The Alex Cross series, the Michael Bennett series, the iFunny series
Estimated Word Count (Goal): 10+ novels per year, at least 900 outline pages per year

I’m a fanatic about outlining. It’s gonna make whatever you’re writing better, you’ll have fewer false starts, and you’ll take a shorter amount of time. I write them over and over again. You read my outline and it’s like reading a book; you really get the story, even though it’s condensed. Each chapter will have about a paragraph devoted to it. But you’re gonna get the scene, and you’re gonna get the sense of what makes the scene work.

The man is nothing if not prolific. He finds that outlining not only adds to that productivity but that it helps to keep writing collaborations on track. He co-authors a great many books, and this approach keeps everyone’s expectations in check.

For more writing tips see “How to Write Like a Pro (By the Pros) Part 2” … Coming Soon

Thankful for a Wicked Awesome Turkey Trot

Image: Windham Turkey Trot 2016, Courtesy of the Windham Turkey Trot on Facebook

Welcome to Live-It-Uary, a place to celebrate life while we live it. Live-It-Uary honors people who show kindness, people who create and inspire, people who do good deeds. Thank you for making the world a better place.

The Windham Turkey Trot

I am a proud resident of Windham, NH, and have been since 2013. Not that I ever lived all that far away. I am a New England girl through and through. I’ve lived only in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.

For me, there’s something about the change of seasons, a hearty (pronounced “hah-tee”) Boston accent, and a wicked good clam chowder (“chow-dah”) that does it for me.

This will be my third year registering for the Windham Turkey Trot (unfortunately, I was injured last year and could not run), and although I have had the choice of either a 3- or 5-mile route through the streets of this suburban town of 13,500, I usually stick with the 5K. I plan to up the ante this year.

windham turkey trot
Image: Windham Turkey Trot 2016 (Courtesy of the Windham Turkey Trot on Facebook)

Come Thanksgiving morning, a giant clock is strapped onto the top of a ladder, and the crowd counts down to the start of the race. There are no race bibs, no official times, and no trophies to show off running (or walking or biking or rollerblading) prowess. Instead, a community simply gathers for a good cause.

Thankful for What We Have

It’s too easy to get caught up in what’s not going right, whether that’s in our personal lives or around the world. The truth is there’s also so much that is going right.

Do you have a family that loves you? Friends that support you? Are you in good health? Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have food to eat? Have you had the benefit of an education? Do you have a job?

Not everyone will have all of these things, but odds are you have at least some. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to slow down and take stock of all the good in your life. Even in our darkest days, there is always something to light the way.

windham turkey trot order
Image: Windham Turkey Trot 2016 (Courtesy of the Windham Turkey Trot on Facebook)

Louise Peltz and Heidi Reever knew that more than most.

When it comes to the Windham Turkey Trot, all thanks go to these thoughtful women for starting the event back in 1995. They knew to appreciate their health as runners. They knew to appreciate their time together as friends. They knew to appreciate the wonderful town they lived in. They used that gratitude and shared it with everyone around them.

Now, what started as 50 runners coming together before their holiday feast has grown to more than 1,400 runners burning calories and making memories before the celebratory meal hits the table.

Thankful to Share What We Have

An annual race does not come together on its own. It takes the coordination and patience of its runners, and I don’t necessarily mean the people running IN the race. Sponsors have to be gathered, advertising and marketing efforts have to be planned, volunteers have to be gathered, and the event website needs to be updated. There are even some nifty T-shirts designed for the trot each year.

Most importantly, it is about charity.

At first, the Windham Turkey Trot gathered canned goods for donation from its participants. It has since become a 501c3 organization and accepts monetary donations, 100% of which go to local charities. As it has every year, the event will support Shepherd’s Pantry, a food pantry in Windham that assists needy families in southern New Hampshire. This year’s event will also support Windham Helping Hands, an organization that has literally helped senior citizens and families in need in so many ways since 2003. Please visit their websites to see how you can help.

I want to personally thank Louise Peltz and Heidi Reever for inspiring a community. By paying it forward, you have established a tradition in Windham that makes a real difference.

Speak Up, Don’t Sabotage, Yourself

Image: Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Miramax.com

My October 2017 Resolution Stats

(See my original resolutionsJanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMay, June, July, August, and September stats here)

  • Averaged 210+ minutes of exercise per week (v. good, above goal)
  • 2 recipes tried this month (v. good, at goal)
  • 8,000+ written words for the month (v. good, all writing projects combined but into my top secret writing project.)

Speaking Up For Yourself

When Bridget finally knows what she wants, it seems all too late. She arrives at a party only to hear the announcement that not only is the love of her life, Mark Darcy, moving to New York for a new job but that he is going to marry another woman. It doesn’t help that the woman is beautiful, thin, and a successful lawyer, everything Bridget is not.

Silly Bridget, don’t you know that those things don’t matter? That someone will love you for YOU.

“No! No!” She cries out.

The room grows awkwardly silent and all eyes fall on her.

“It’s just that … it’s such a terrible pity …”

Oops, that’s not much better.

“… for England … to lose such a great legal brain. For the people of England, like me and you, to lose one of our top people. Our top person, really.”

Bridget, Bridget, Bridget, why did you wait until it was too late?

Face Your Excuses

There is a natural tendency towards waiting. It’s a sickness really, one of our worst human traits.

We too often wait for the perfect time to chase after what we want, and our procrastination becomes a sort of self-sabotage. I should know.

How many years have I been talking about publishing a novel?

It all comes down to our excuses, those falsehoods we keep telling ourselves. These justifications litter our brains with tomorrow-isms that will never come to pass if we don’t act.

  • I am not good enough.
  • I am too busy.
  • I am too old (or young).
  • I don’t know the right people.
  • I need to set enough money aside before I can get started.
  • I need to focus on the people who need me.
  • The timing isn’t right.

Admit it. You’ve used at least one of these excuses and more than once. I know I have. While there may be some truth in some of these statements, there is no absolute truth. You always have room to grow and change. You can overcome any obstacle, but you first have to make an effort. When you sit back on the excuse, you only fail yourself.

Stop the Sabotage

Regardless of our excuses, one thing holds true. They are based in fear. Fear that we will embarrass ourselves on the journey, fear that we are somehow not worthy of the success, or even fear that we won’t know how to adjust to life if and when we do succeed.

To be honest, most people are afraid of the unknown. That’s unfortunate because life is insecure. There are no promises, no guarantees. If we refrain from taking any risks, then the things that could potentially make us happy will remain elusive.

Don’t sabotage a hopeful life with your insecurities.

Bridget finally spoke out when she saw it all slipping away, when she saw what waiting almost cost her. She was lucky enough to still snag Mark Darcy in the process (ah, the joy of a rom-com!), but not all of us will be so lucky. Sometimes late is too late.

Sooooo, what are you waiting for?

I am already working on my novel.

9 Myths About Sexual Harassment and Abuse

Image: © Adiano (Fotolia.com)

#MeToo

On October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” In 2006, Tarana Burke, activist and program director for Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, first used the hashtag to support women of color who had been abused, assaulted, and exploited. Milano has rightfully credited Burke with #metoo, and thanks to both women, the movement is now taking the world by storm.

Sexual harassment is first and foremost a form of bullying. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, it is “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature”. These unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks can leave someone to feel unsafe and insecure, make them question their self-worth. Sexual harassment evolves into assault when a person does not or cannot give consent and is forced into sexual contact by force, threats, or intimidation. Sexual assault includes anything from unwanted indecent contact (i.e., kissing, groping) to rape, and any attempt to commit these acts is also, by definition, assault.

In a “boys will be boys” world where the leader of the free world is elected despite his repeatedly disparaging comments about women, it is no wonder #metoo is so powerful. People finally feel they are not alone, that they will be heard. With each #metoo, there is increasing unity and awareness. There is strength in numbers, and together we can hopefully make change.

As a child, I was held at knifepoint by a boy, left in a room with a drunk man, made to feel physically uncomfortable by family members, and touched without permission. As an adult, I have been catcalled, groped by strangers in public places, and have even had patients touch me inappropriately in the workplace. I dare anyway to say I “asked for it” by wearing scrubs and a doctor’s white coat. #metoo

As sexual harassment and assault are discussed on the world’s stage, let’s put an end to these 9 myths about sexual harassment and abuse.

1. Sexual harassment is a political issue.

Sexual harassment has nothing to do with politics. Anyone who attacks the opposing party because one of “their people” committed an inappropriate act is a hypocrite. Why? Because both sides do it. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and President Trump, a Republican, have both used their rank and power to harass and abuse women. Move from Washington to Hollywood, and you have film producer Harvey Weinstein and head of Amazon Studios Roy Price abusing women too. That said, sexual harassment is not limited to any one industry. It is sickeningly pervasive throughout the United States.

2. Sexual harassment is a women’s issue.

Sexual harassment is not a woman’s issue. It is a human issue. It can affect any man, woman, or child. Men can hurt women; men can hurt men; women can hurt women; women can hurt men. No matter who is affected, it has to stop. No one deserves to be physically or verbally attacked for who they are and how they were born.

3. It is how we were brought up.

What happened to the golden days when Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet promoted family values? Politicians and even journalists (I’m looking at you Bill O’Reilly) still campaign on those so-called family values, but instead, we now have shows like Law and Order: SVU to look forward to. There is hypocrisy everywhere. Somehow, society tells people to respect their mothers and protect their sisters but entertains itself watching movies where men in power chase their secretaries around desks. Times have changed. Women are no longer willing to stay silent about the abuse. They are speaking out, and it is time for a culture shift.

4. Boys will be boys.

What woman’s skin didn’t crawl in 2016 when she heard rapist Brock Turner’s father complain that his son’s life should not be ruined for “20 minutes of action”? What woman’s skin did not crawl that same year when she heard now President Donald Trump say “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” ENOUGH. If sexual harassment and assault are what it means for boys to be boys, then America needs to take a stern parenting class. It’s obscene that these “boys” can go with little punishment for pleasuring their bodies (and egos) while damaging another person permanently. Whether it’s physical or psychological, abuse is abuse.

5. Women need to share their personal stories.

I see women using #metoo on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and I see some of those very same women belittling celebrities who did not come out about their harassment or assault sooner. I also see them criticizing them for not calling out their abusers by name, even when these same women did not do so themselves. Victim shaming when you are a victim yourself, that’s a whole new level of hypocrisy. Each woman’s story is her own, and she may or may not be emotionally ready to share her experience with the world. Lupita Nyong’o said it best, “I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead being ridiculed. That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness.” Sometimes, it’s hard enough to say #metoo.

6. Women bring it on by how they dress.

Middle-school dress codes. Several states forbid girls as young as 11 years old from wearing leggings because they are too “distracting” for the boys. They are required to wear long shirts to cover up their bodies. How is it that we teach girls at such a young age to be ashamed of their bodies? By doing that, we teach boys it’s okay to objectify them. If a girl wears clothes she feels comfortable in, clothes she likes to wear, clothes that make her feel confident, whether or not they are to your taste, whether or not you see them as sexy, it’s her prerogative. It is not an invitation, no matter what fashion designer Donna Karan says. Oh, yes, Ms. Karan, you are the ultimate hypocrite, saying “You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.” Yet Ms. Karan designs these very clothes for women. It’s time to put Donna Karan clothes back on the rack and wear something a little less toxic.

7. My abuse does not count.

I find it sad that so many women hesitate to use #metoo. I am in no way saying they need to announce their stories to the world. That’s a personal decision. It’s more that they question whether what they have suffered was “enough” to be considered harassment or abuse. If you have to think that hard about it, it is enough. Catcalls, gropes, it all counts. If you didn’t ask for it, if someone belittled you, humbled you, or invaded your sense of self by touching or even referring to your body, it is sexual harassment pure and simple. Do not give your abuser the power by thinking it didn’t count.

8. I don’t harass women so I’m not part of the problem.

Not all men harass women. Of course not! However, many men contribute to the culture by sitting back and watching it happen. It’s not enough to “not do it”. Laughing along to stories or simply accepting what’s happening around them without stepping in makes them complicit. It’s more than locker room talk. Even when something seems harmless, it can have a lasting impact on a person. While women are not surprised by the number of #metoo’s out there, many men are. Now that they see how many women they know — friends, family, and loved ones — have been harassed or abused, it paints things in a different light. Perhaps now that it is more personal, an issue they can now see does involve them, maybe they can help stop the culture of abuse.

9. This whole sexual harassment issue is being blown out of proportion.

Anyone who says sexual harassment is blown out of proportion is obviously 1) Woody Allen, or 2) not a woman, or 3) out of touch with reality. How many #metoo’s have you seen? How many people do you know? Are you one of them? How many lives are affected by sexual harassment and abuse every day? Tens of millions of people spoke out in the first week of the 2017 #metoo movement alone. Let’s hope we can end the stigma women feel when they speak out and continue to fight for change.

Feel the Music with Mandy Harvey

Image: Mandy Harvey performs during the America’s Got Talent 2017 live finale. (Trae Patton/NBC)

Welcome to Live-It-Uary, a place to celebrate life while we live it. Live-It-Uary honors people who show kindness, people who create and inspire, people who do good deeds. Thank you for making the world a better place.

Feel the Music

One of my favorite movies is Dirty Dancing, not only for a young Patrick Swayze with his sizzling dance moves but for the litany of memorable movie quotes that, even taken out of context, deliver life’s most poignant lessons.

“The steps aren’t enough; feel the music.”

With such genius in our pop culture repertoire, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when Mandy Harvey took the stage for America’s Got Talent, Season 12, auditioning with a guitarist on one side and a keyboardist on the other and nothing on her feet. Sure, her shoes were on stage, but they were placed gently to the side. With a ukelele in hand, she sang a song called “Try”, sharing lyrics of “I don’t feel the way I used to” and “I’ll take my place again”. It would not take her long to win America’s heart.

feel the music
Image: Mandy Harvey on America’s Got Talent, 2017 (NBC.com)

What made the audition so extraordinary was not only that she sang a perfect pitch tune with such emotion but that she could not hear herself doing it.

Mandy Harvey is deaf.

Losing What You Love

Born with hearing, Mandy Harvey dreamed of being a musician. She started with singing competitions at 10 years old, and she eventually majored in vocal music education at Colorado State University.

Unfortunately, things would take a turn at 18 years old. What at first she presumed to be an ear infection was something far more insidious. A connective tissue disease took hold, progressively damaging her nerves until she could no longer hear.

On America’s Got Talent, she said, “When I lost my hearing, music died. I lost my way of communicating. And my parents were the ones who encouraged me to find music again.”

Using visual tuners, she taught herself to sing again and now performs barefoot so that she can feel music through floor vibrations. She told NPR, “You can feel the drums, and you can feel the bass. So, being able to feel the music through the floor, it makes me feel like I’m a part of the band”.

Mandy Harvey literally feels the music.

Finding What You Love

What this 29-year-old woman has done is beyond inspiring. She shows that you can achieve what your heart desires even when people tell you no, even when they assume you are not capable. Only you know what you can do. Only you set your limits.

As an ambassador to both No Barriers USA and the Invisible Disabilities Association, she supports other people who face challenges in their lives and continues to spread her message of hope.

“When Simon hit the Golden Buzzer for me (at the auditions), it just meant so much,” she said on America’s Got Talent. “He was looking at me as a musician and not just as that broken person. Everything is very different from my childhood picture of who I was going to become, and I’m really glad that it’s different.”

Mandy Harvey came in 4th place in the America’s Got Talent finale and earned every accolade. Her music is rich and full, beautiful and maningful. If you would like to hear more, visit her on Facebook at facebook.com/mandyharveymusic, and on her website at mandyharveymusic.com.