Inspiring Words for Writers

The day-to-day grind of completing a book can sometimes leave me little time or energy for seeking inspiration. That sounds counterintuitive, but that's just the sad way my process works. But now, in the lovely lull between books, finding and absorbing inspiration is an imperative -- especially as my brain turns from "creating" to "marketing", which can be such an oppressive process.

Here are some of the recent books and articles I've discovered to me keep focused on how lucky I am to be a writer -- and away from such words as "grind," "sad," and "oppressive."

"Reaching the Next Rung," Romance Writers Report, Jan. 2018

Several authors are quoted in this article from the January 2018 issue of the Romance Writers of America magazine, but my favorite advice came from bestselling author Joan Johnston. Joan offers great actionable advice for a long-term career:

  • Schedule your time so writing is a priority.
  • Make personal contacts with agents and editors who attend conferences.
  • Form a review crew to post digital reviews of your novel. (I'd never heard of his before. Contact me if you're interested.)
  • Do a newsletter at least once a month to stay in touch with readers.

She also says:

"You must give yourself the opportunity to fill the well so you have something to write about."

This is so obvious, but with demands of writing, marketing, working, and taking care of the family and the house, so easily forgotten. It reminded me to embrace the fun in my life as necessary. #Fillthewell is my new favorite social media hashtag.

Be the Gateway, A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience by Dan Blank

I'm a longtime fan of author coach Dan Blank, who's great at offering advice that's tough yet caring for the creative spirit. This book about marketing for creative professionals blew my mind.

"Be the gateway. ... Instead of selling a product in a marketplace, you become the gateway for how your work can shape the world the world for others and inspire them."

The thesis of this book is that rather than focusing on the sell of your creative work, focus on sharing the messages that are important to you. Dan points out that, through our creative efforts, we've created this amazing conduit for sharing the beliefs that shape us. Don't waste that conduit on screaming about the 99-cent sale. Instead, share what you're passionate about. By framing the world for others in ways they can identify with or find value in, we create advocates. People don't want "deals;" they want to believe in something.

Dan puts it simply:

"Tell me about the conversations you would love to be having with others."

Mind blown. I could suddenly see my social media, marketing, newsletters, etc., as an opportunity instead of a burden. I made a list of the themes that are important to me: strong women and the confident men who love them that way, discovering your integral self, enthusiasm and compassion for a diverse world, the grandeur and value of healthy romantic partnerships, the value of filling the well... The list goes on

With Dan's practical tips on how to implement his mind-blowing ideas, I look forward to indoctrinating all of you.

Pep Talks for Writers, 52 Insight and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo by Grant Faulkner

Grant Faulkner, the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, helps support the dreams and energies of almost 400,000 writers who participate in November's writing sprint. So he knows a lot about pep talks.

He's a dedicated writer himself; we worked at the same newspaper in our 20s and when my husband and I invited him out for a weekend brunch, he said no because he had to stay home and write. In Pep Talk's 52 short and inspiring chapters with titles like "Make Your Creativity into a Routine," "Fail Often...Fail Better," and "Persisting Through Rejection," he's able to pair his passion and skill for writing with practical, soul-enriching advice.

"Approaching the world with a creative mindset is wildly transforming--because suddenly you're not accepting the world as it's delivered to you, but living through your vision of life."

He's an advocate for the creator and speaks to the person who needs to keep their feet on the ground (or their ass in the seat) when their head is in the clouds. I love this paragraph about finding your own inspiration:

"...You are the all-powerful God that sends those words--those story-igniting lightning bolts--into a world that's coming to life before your own eyes. You are your own muse."

The Wise Heart, A Guide to the Universal Teaching of Buddhist Psychology by Jack Kornfield

After a tough second semester in college, my son came home early last spring. I desperately needed to get out of my head, out of my anxiety and worry, and a dear friend handed me this book.

The Wise Heart is a wonderful way to reset. Instead of thinking that we can control everything and that all of our beliefs are true, psychologist Jack Kornfield helps guide you through Buddhist teachings that help you think bigger, more holistically, and a little softer.

We think so many things horrible things about ourselves, and for authors, that can be especially true: We're not writing enough, we're not marketing enough, we're not getting any better, everything we do sucks. This book helps you to be kinder and more compassionate to yourself and the people around you. A phrase he asks you to recite, that I think can be especially effective for the author:

May I be held in compassion. May my pain and sorrow be eased. My I be at peace.

I'm always looking for inspiration.

Please tell me about a recent book, song, movie, painting, comic, or squiggle on the sidewalk that inspired you.

What to Ask An Agent Before You Sign

Imagine getting "the call": an agent calls and offers to represent you. After you scream and cry and run around the house, what do you ask the agent to make sure that this is the person with whom you can entrust your career?

I had no idea, either. 

With a completed book under my belt and a full manuscript out to agents, I realized I needed to be better prepared. So I took to Facebook, where I'm connected to a supportive and information-rich network of authors thanks to my years of membership with the Washington Romance Writers of DC, and asked the following question:

Below are some of the phenomenal answers. Romance and fantasy author Fallon DeMornay pointed me to this fantastic blog from her agent, Jim McCarthy of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, and many of the questions are from that truly helpful article.

  • Why do you believe in my work?
  • What is your plan to build my career beyond this first novel?
  • How involved will you get in revisions before you submit it to an editor?
  • What about my book did you respond to?
  • How much revision do you think will be necessary? Are you expecting minimal changes or a major rewrite?
  • What's your editorial style?
  • How long have you been with your agency? What support do you have in your agency? What connections do you have to the romance world?
  • How many clients do you have?
  • What is your typical response time to email/phone calls?
  • How do you like to communicate (email vs. phone)? And how often do you communicate during a submission?
  • What happens if you don't sell this book? Revise? Something new? Part ways?
  • How many editors do you go to before giving up? How does your submission process work?
  • What percentage of projects that you sign do you sell?
  • How long is your average client relationship?
  • Who do you work with to sell foreign/film rights? Do you handle contracts? Rights? If not, who does?
  • What does your agency agreement look like?
  • Can I speak to one or two of your clients about their experiences working with you?

Historical romance author Sally MacKenzie also shared with me a blog she'd written about choosing an agent. She has wonderful suggestions for things to consider before you sign on the dotted line.

Did I want an agent who read my work and gave me editorial feedback or one who considered her job only to sell? Was it important to me to be with a Big Name Agency? Would I mind being a small fish in a big pond? Would I care if I didn’t work with my Big Name Agent but with her assistant instead? How did I want to communicate with my agent—snail mail, phone, email—and how quickly did I want to hear back from her? Was she based in New York City—and did I think her location was at all important? Did I care if my agent was male or female?

I still plan to do all the screaming and crying and running if and when I get "the call." But thanks to some dear friends, I'm better armed to make sure that the agent I sign with can help me keep my dream going.

Want to learn more about the writing journey from unpublished to (hopefully) published?

What I Learned In The 7 Years Between Completing Novels

In 2011, I finished a book. I sweated over it, I celebrated it, I won a contest with it, and then, when I received, like, eight rejections for it (I'm not kidding), I threw it under the proverbial bed and declared that I was done with fiction writing.

Perhaps I wasn't quite as dramatic as all that, but it still wasn't pretty.

Now, seven years later, after starting a successful freelance business that forced me to write quickly and daily, after discovering the joys of writing serially to enthusiastic fans on Wattpad, and after completing a 50,000-word fanfic and a short story that I'm incredibly proud of, I've completed another book.

On Dec. 18, 2017, I gave myself the Christmas present of completing The Billionaire's Prince, a story about a sexy female billionaire who strikes a bargain with a prince. In return for three nights a month in his bed, she will give him enough money to save his kingdom. All she wants is three nights a month in his bed for a year. And his heir.

I know. Juicy.

Everything has changed about the world of romance fiction since 2011. Fortunately, everything about how I write has changed, too.

I'm a "yes-er" instead of a "no-er."

I remember sitting at the back of the room at a Washington Romance Writers' retreat, arms crossed, as Angela James of Carina Press, Harlequin's digital-first imprint, told us about the future of online books. This would have been...2009? My girlfriend and I declared that we would NEVER limit our beautiful books to the digital world.

Yep, I said that.

My tiny little mind has grown beyond those early limitations and now I'm excited about what technology has offered us storytellers. The scrolling panels of online comics, the serial pacing of reader/writer platforms like Wattpad and Radish, and the "let's throw it at the wall and see what sticks" mode of modern-day storytelling have taught me the freedom unleashed by technology. Our ability to tell a story in a way that best meets the needs of that story is only limited by our imagination. And our stubbornly crossed arms.

I've turned down my perfectionist knob.

I became a docent at the Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C., this year, and during my training, our brilliant instructors shared with us the concept of "good but growing." Professional athletes at the top of their field don't rest on their laurels, they explained. Instead, they continue to work and train.

I found this concept revolutionary.

Instead of trying to become the "perfect" author, I should look at myself as "good but growing." I will always be learning. I will always be training and changing.  And instead of assessing the work through the lens of "perfect," I should think of its "keeps and changes." What should be kept? What should be changed? This assessment takes away (somewhat) the sting of objective criticism.

More importantly, this whole concept of "good but growing" keeps me from trying to reach the imprisoning retirement home of "perfection" and instead allows me to stay out on the open road.

I stayed true to my own voice and path.

My mom likes to talk about the freedoms that come with age, and while I roll my eyes when she talks this way (because I'm a daughter and she's the mom), I also have to agree with her.

Yes, mom.

Because The Billionaire's Prince was written using myself as true north. It was written saying things I wanted to say about strong women and supportive men and love and sex and family and self-image. I plan to take this compass into the submission process and, hopefully, the publishing process. I'm old enough now to understand that a dream achieved without listening to the directives of your heart is no dream at all.

I've transformed into a pantser.

Seven years ago, I would have sworn to you that I can't write a book without knowing exactly where it was going.

And then, I tried to write three books with elaborate outlines and notecards and emotional arcs and mountains of research. I hated them. I spent three months doing prep work for the last book I attempted, even taking an intensive course about establishing story theme. I literally could not get through the first chapter.

I began the popular fanfiction piece I wrote on Wattpad with nothing but a threat I offer my husband when he doesn't take good physical care of himself: "If you die young, I'm going to take your life insurance money and buy a gigolo." I began writing The Billionaire's Prince with one single solitary concept: What if the billionaire was a woman? I was as surprised by the twists and turns in that story as the readers. I knew my hero had a sister five seconds before she burst into the room. The photographer who caught my couple de flagrante surprised me as much as he did the couple.

I'm sure my writing method will twist and turn over time as much as my stories. That's because I'm good. But growing.

I'm in love.

I can build kingdoms. I can create corporations and birth beautiful villages in the Spanish mountains and swirl together the most delectable glass of red wine you've ever tasted.

I can make you sweat and break your heart. Don't worry, I'm usually crying right there with you.

And then I take a break for lunch.

"If you don't create, you hurt yourself," says Grant Faulkner in his book, Pep Talks for Writers. "Making art tells you who you are. Making art in turn makes you."

I make myself everyday when I sit down to write. When the words feel stifled, I make myself into someone grouchy and mean, wondering why everything pokes and fits too small until I remember, "Oh yeah, I had a shitty writing day."

But when the words flow, I make myself into something glorious. I find all kinds of joy in this life, but there is nothing that makes me feel more powerful, more capable, more worthy of my place here on this planet than a good day of writing my romance novel.

I've found love. I won't give it up again.

Enjoy Dazzling Jewels and Dresses at the Hillwood Estate

Enjoy Dazzling Jewels and Dresses at the Hillwood Estate

Marjorie Merriweather Post was the owner of the Postum Cereal Company and one of the richest women in the United States before her death in 1973. She also was a renowned collector -- her beautiful Georgian home in the midst of 25 acres of trees and gardens in Northwest D.C. is the museum she left for all of us to enjoy her French and Russian Imperial decorative arts collection.