Tag Archives: writing tips

Ep. 4 – The Agent-Writer Relationship w/ Carrie Howland & Cat Scully

Play Episode 4 of the Wordy South Social Hour below or click here to download it.

It’s no secret that Donadio & Olson agent Carrie Howland is one of our favorites at Crossroads. (We are secretly plotting to keep her.)

Likewise,  we quickly became fans of writer/novelist/illustrator Cat Scully, who we first met in 2012 as a Crossroads scholarship recipient. Her story is pretty amazing.

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Dynamic duo: Cat Scully and Carrie Howland

In this episode of the Wordy South Social Hour, they talk about the relationship between a writer and an agent, how theirs came to be and what work lays ahead.

Robert Venditti

X-O Manoawesome: interview with Robert Venditti

Rachel: How does working in digital, something you did for the first time in The Surrogates: Case Files, change the collaboration of a writer and artist? Is it essentially the same process or are there some aspects that alter? How does it improve upon the traditional methods?

ROBERT VENDITTI: Brett Weldele and I have a done two graphic novels with each other, so our process is pretty established.  It also helps that Brett handles all of the art himself—even the lettering—so it’s really just the two of us working with Chris Staros at Top Shelf (publisher of The Surrogates).  I will say that the content of The Surrogates: Case Files lends itself well to the digital format, and Brett’s style, particularly his unique color palette, really shines on a screen.  There’s this one page in the first issue where he draws a dusting of fall leaves, and the colors really pop.  It’s one of my favorite moments.

 

Robert with his colleagues Gail Simone and Nathan Edmondson at Crossroads 2011 (Photo: GR Lucas)

Rachel:  You recently began publishing your first month by month, working on X-O Manowar.  How does this sort of quick production and historical sci-fi/fantasy aspect change your style of writing? How does it determine your research process?

VENDITTI: Writing for a monthly book is a big change from the graphic novel writing I’m accustomed to doing.  There are always multiple issues in various stages of production, which took getting used to, since I tend to be a linear writer.  With a monthly book, there’s also a need to reorient the reader every issue—without making it read like you’re reorienting them—and I’m still learning how to do that as effectively as I can.  On the plus side, you have a new book on the shelf every month instead of a graphic novel every other year, so that’s nice.

On the research side, since X-O Manowar has a heavy historical element, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to get the details right, particularly in the opening half of the first issue, where we see the main character as a Visigoth in the 5th Century.  I won’t claim that everything is accurate, but if I got something wrong, it wasn’t for lack of effort.  I spent almost a whole day trying to find out whether or not Visigoth saddles would’ve had stirrups at the Battle of Pollentia.  Historians seem to differ on that point, so I went with no stirrups, since that would look different than every other saddle that’s been drawn in a comic.

 

Rachel: You have, like a lot of comic writers, a handful of projects going simultaneously.  How do you keep your feet on the ground functioning as a writer in so many worlds?  What is something that you do to keep yourself present for the stories as individual worlds?

VENDITTI: I divide my days up into even chunks, working on a separate project for a couple of hours at a time, so I’m always moving ahead on everything at once.  At least that’s my plan.  Inevitably, something of the this-needs-to-be-done-right-now variety comes up, and the day gets blown apart.  The alternative method would be to not have a plan and let each day decide for itself what you’re going to work on, but of course when you do that, nothing happens and you end up wasting a day.  So I start each day with a plan, and even though I know going in the plan isn’t going to be followed, I allow myself to hope that it will.  I’m an eternal optimist.

 

Rachel: X-O Manowar has been described as “the cornerstone of the Valiant brand”(Simons, CBR).  With the challenge of producing a month by month for the first time while this precedent exists… how’s that pressure treating you?  What’s something you do to wind down in the midst of such a wild schedule?

VENDITTI: Honesty, I try not to think about things like that.  If I considered it my responsibility to make X-O Manowar the “cornerstone of the Valiant brand,” I’d probably freeze up at the keyboard.  I just try to write the best comics I can the way I write them, and hope the audience will respond positively.  Thankfully, things have gone well so far, but with a monthly book you’re only as good as the latest issue, so there’s no time to rest on your laurels.

As for winding down . . . I do anything that has nothing to do with writing.  But it all makes its way back to the page in one way or another.  All writing is autobiographical in the sense that it’s made from the writer’s influences and experiences, so on days—and there’s plenty of them—when the words just don’t seem to come, I go out and make some of those experiences.

 

Rachel:  It’s been said that The Surrogates “reads like Philip K. Dick writing an episode for The Wire” (i09).  In my book, that is some damn fine praise!  How do you continue to push yourself to kick it up to the next level or is it a “slow and steady wins the race” game?  Do you pay much attention to your reviews (I mean other than when an interviewer forces you too) or do you find it distracting?

VENDITTI: I’d like to say I don’t read reviews, but it’s hard to ignore them.  Especially in the digital age, when reviews are posted online in advance of the book’s release, so for a week or so, they’re the only response that’s out there in the world.  I try not to get too wrapped up in them, though.  I just keep my head down and do what I think a story needs.  Whether I’m successful in the end is up to each individual reader to decide for themselves.

 

Rachel:  Your work seems to push toward the “new.” How do you find your challenges and adapt to a changing marketplace?  What would you say has been your most valuable learning experience over the years and what is one challenge you have on your mental list that remains unchecked?

VENDITTI: I make a conscious effort to do something different with each new project.  So far in my career, I’ve written cyberpunk sci-fi (The Surrogates), political/medical thriller (The Homeland Directive), middle-grade fantasy (the adaptations of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), young-adult vampire romance (the adaptation of the Blue Bloods novel), and now with X-O Manowar, mainstream superhero comics.  A lot of people will say you should brand yourself with a particular genre and build your career from there, but if I did that, I think I’d feel like I was in a rut.  Changing things up keeps me engaged with the story.

As for challenges I’d still like to tackle, writing a prose novel is definitely at the top of the list.

 

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Don’t Be Boring: the Susannah Breslin interview

When we at Crossroads HQ asked Makenna Johnston to interview writer Susannah Breslin, it wasn’t just because they’re both so damn tall. They share another important factor. Mak is not, as us Southerners are sometimes wont to say, “from here,” but this big-minded outsider has made a home here and at the same time, made it a safer place for cool ideas to flourish. Like giving Macon its own licensed TED Talk conference this past spring.

As a writer, Susannah Breslin has made her name working on the outskirts, showing us the other side of people who dwell on the fringe. And from the same pen also flows career advice for Forbes.com and INC.com. She is an expert on the “Gig Economy”—the cultural shift from steady jobs to off-shift and temporary positions, freelance, etc—and the lessons she offers extend beyond the nuts and bolts about how a writer can function in this era.

WANT TO LEARN MORE FROM SUSANNAH? IN-PERSON? REGISTER FOR THE FREELANCERS SUMMIT.

Yes, for freelancers, Susannah is a gold vein of heady knowledge, but take a step back and you’ll see that a lot of her advice is just as valuable for writers of fiction, screenplays, memoirs, comics and poems as it is for bloggers and magazine writers. When you finish reading this interview with Susannah, check out her website and explore her work.

Without further ado…

Makenna: Freelancing is a tough gig, we all know this.  Your piece “Why You Shouldn’t be A Writer” is brilliant. But, if you could give a prospective freelancer a single piece of advice (other than, ‘don’t do it’) what would it be?

Susannah: Don’t be boring. This is more challenging than you’d think. Most people think they’re interesting. Therefore, they think their pitches are interesting, their writing is interesting, their stories are interesting. Most of the time, it isn’t. Think about it. The editor you’re pitching is getting hundreds of stories daily, weekly. They’re looking for a reason to delete you. How do you stand out? How high is your bar? Are you reinventing a genre, breaking news, doing something that really hasn’t been done before? And if you’re not, why bother?

M: You talk a lot about ‘the hustle’ specifically that being a good marketer, traffic pusher, and editor of your own writing is increasingly important in the freelancing world.  Any specific tips and/or suggestions on how to become a kick ass and take names hustler and/or improve one’s hustling skills?

S: Your article isn’t going to read itself. You published something online, and nobody’s reading it. That’s probably because you thought writing it was enough. It isn’t. Send out the link to your piece to anybody of influence who may be interested in it. That’s networking on behalf of your prose. It’s not enough to write. You must also work to be read.

Start a blog or Tumblr if you haven’t already and update it at least once a day, five days a week. Tweet links to your work. Ask your friends to share links to your work on Facebook. Read people who are good at stirring it up online like Penelope Trunk and James Altucher.  Read Romensko and Media Jobs Daily. Get PR tips from Cassie Boorn’s Ask a PR Girl. Ask someone to do something for you every day and offer them something in return.

M: Being a freelancer often comes with a ton of ‘up in the air, oh crap where is my next job coming from’ moments. How do you handle that with grace and dignity and without looking like a crazy person?

S: Well, I think, counter-intuitively, I act like a crazy person. Some of my most popular work involves me acting crazy: They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?, The Business About My Breasts. I’ve written about my suicidal tendencies, my cancer, my PTSD. TMI is good for you because it asks you to be brave. Others respect bravery. That gets you work.

M: You have an incredibly audacious style and voice that is rather unique to you.  Do you think that has been crucial to your success as a freelancer?  Has it at times not worked so well in your favor?

S: I’ve been pondering this lately. I don’t think my style or voice has hurt me; they’ve helped me. But I do sometimes wish that I hadn’t burned so many bridges. I wish I’d spent a couple years working as a beat reporter at a newspaper. I wish I’d been an editor at a glossy. I’ve always been very interested in staying outside the circle, but I suppose that choice has limited me, as well.

As for being outspoken, that has never been anything but good for me professionally. You do, though, get criticized. Someone once called me a boil on a neck or some such thing. But, you know, the peanut gallery always has something to say.

chucks secret to writing

The Secret to Writing by Chuck Wendig

Novelist/blog guru/screenwriter/bearded gent Chuck Wendig knows the “secret to writing” and in this quick-hitting video, he shares it with you–TWICE! (Double your fun…)

Best yet, the secret is writing and doesn’t involve drinking unicorn blood (you have to watch the video).

TO GET MORE DELICIOUS TIPS FROM WRITERS LIKE CHUCK AND SAVE BIG ON REGISTRATION CLICK HERE

excerpt from Marge Piercy's "For the young who want to"

For the young who want to

A friend of Crossroads shared this beautiful poem by Marge Piercy with us on Facebook, and it just hit home for us. Too often so-called aspiring writers are led astray by thinking about the fame, the attention–we are aspiring to the wrong thing. Likewise, too often we forget that writers write, that a whole lot of work goes into it before–if ever–the praise comes. So put your nose back on that grindstone and keep writing. It’s work and you just don’t have the luxury of waiting for the world’s approval. Write for the sake of writing, for telling stories and communicating things that you can’t express otherwise.

Remember these closing lines:

Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Read the full poem, “For the young who want to,” here at the Poetry Foundation. We’ll see you in October!

REGISTER HERE FOR CROSSROADS, A CONFERENCE FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE

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TIPS FOR THE WRITING JOURNEY – Part Two

novelist Kathy Holzapfel (aka Cate Noble) shares some of her tips

“I never waited for my Irish Cream coffee to be the right temperature, with a storm happening outside and my fireplace crackling … I wrote every day, at home, in the office, whether I felt like it or not, I just did it.” ― Stephen J. Cannell

My goal is to produce good work, on a consistent and joyful basis. That’s right. I want to be happy. Yes, writers write – alone, but that doesn’t mean I have to be grumpy and undisciplined. I am equal parts cheerleader and drill sergeant. Here are a few more observations from my journey:

ACT LIKE A PRO

Show up daily. No whining. No one is forcing you to do this.

Produce and ship according to your plan. Give yourself bonus points for exceeding your goals.

Rejection comes with the territory. Not every editor and reader will like your work. Read some of the scathing reviews posted on Amazon for bestselling authors like Stephen King and J. K. Rowling. Snark happens to everyone. Take nothing personally.

LEAVE A TRAIL OF GENIUS (Hat tip: Marriott Hotel notepads)

Imagine your thoughts, words, and actions ripple out to leave a psychic trail or energetic wake. Does your trail look inviting or repulsive?

What sort of wakes left by others – inspiring or discouraging – has entangled you?

REFILL THE CREATIVE WELL

Recognize your creative needs. What inspires your imagination? Find places or activities which uplift and expand. Museums. Parks. Coffee shops. Libraries. Places of worship.

Be open to new experiences. Hang gliding might meet the criteria, but so might reading outside your usual genre.

Too much solitude stifles creativity. Same with interacting solely with other writers. Seek a variety of people.

Identify and treat burnout. Don’t let weariness escalate to disillusionment.

CREATE BETTER LUCK

A lucky break is an opportunity to get your foot in the door. What is your action plan once opportunity knocks?

Luck is a temporary phenomenon. Luck is not going to stand outside your door forever, begging you to come play.

MLB executive Branch Rickey, the man who signed Jackie Robinson with the Dodgers, said, “Luck is the residue of design.“ Those words dovetail nicely with Louis Pasteur’s observation that “Chance favors the prepared mind.

BECOME A BETTER PLAYER

View yourself as a player in a game freely chosen. A game means it’s fun. You want to be here.

Learn the odds. View publication as a gamble and know your risk tolerance.

Study the rules of the game you agreed to play. Practice established techniques to build skills.

Memorize your personal stats. How many words-per-day do you consistently produce? How many hours to revise a 5,000 word chapter? Use those stats to set goals and measure improvement.

FAN YOUR PASSION

Be picky. You cannot be passionate about everything. Narrow your focus and specialize.

Know the difference between mere interests and true passions. Life is an endless loop of fleeting interests, but a true passion will linger to haunt and delight.

Check in with your gut and your heart. Passion is more about emotion than intellect.

GO. WRITE.

Act now. Action trumps intention.

Make messes. Experiment. Writing is rewriting. It’s playing with a lump of clay, coaxing formlessness into usefulness.

Keep things simple: At the end of the day, you either wrote or you didn’t.

ENJOY THE JOURNEY

Honor all parts of the creative cycle, the moments of easy flow and the stubborn parts.

Celebrate completions. Acknowledge a project when finished and then clear the way for a brand new venture.

Your turn. What tricks have you collected along the way?

 

catenoble

Tips for the Journey, pt. 1

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”  ― Octavia E. Butler


novelist Kathy Holzapfel (aka Cate Noble) shares some of her tips

Writers write. Alone. Whether you write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or fortune cookies, it’s you, all by your lonesome, putting words on a blank page. The weak perish. The persistent develop a collection of tricks to survive and thrive along the path to publication. Here are some of mine:

  1. DEFINE YOUR WRITING GOALS
  • Make plans. Be specific. With clarity, a vague goal to “write more” becomes “wake up 30 minutes earlier Monday through Friday and write 540 words before work.”
  • Start with broad strokes, then break it down. A plan to produce two young adult novels per year becomes a math equation: two books, at 70,000 words each, equal 140,000 words, or 11,670 words per month. That’s roughly 2,700 words per week, or 540 words per day, five days a week.
  • Be clear on your Why. Why is fuel. Inspiration. Your reason for writing is as individual as your fingerprint. My desire to entertain is no less valid than someone’s resolve to build an income.
  1. KNOW THE FIELD
  • Study the market. Learn the ins and outs of your segment of the publishing industry. If you’re going through traditional channels, know which publishing companies handle your genre. If you’re going indie, you are the company. Know what that entails.
  • Be familiar with your audience. (Hint: most are reading the bestselling and popular writers in your genre.)
  • Understand the accepted practices and standards of the publisher or digital platform you’ve targeted.
  • Join a professional writing association. Their trade journal or newsletter can be worth the dues. And many provide an opportunity for writers to connect online.
  1. DEVELOP A LASER-LIKE FOCUS
  • Select and execute on a single task. Multi-tasking is dead. Think: immersion.
  • Concentration skills can be sharpened through repetition. Practice, practice, practice.
  • Be in the proper mindset before you sit to work. You can’t create and edit at the same time. Remember: right brain for magic; left brain for logic.
  1. MANAGE PRIORITIES
  • Time management does not get things done; priority management does.
  • View time as one of the raw materials needed to build a project.
  • Think in financial terms. Investing time vs. spending or squandering time.
  1. START NOW
  • Author and coach Hillary Rettig defines procrastination thus: “Procrastination is a failure to start.”
  • Commit to a definite start time. Then show up. Better yet, show up early.
  • Willpower and discipline are tools – not personality traits. Keep them handy.
  • Start each morning with three magic words: “Today I will…”
  1. DEVELOP BETTER SYSTEMS
  • List your top three surefire writing techniques. Make them part of your routine.
  • Get organized, but keep the methods simple. The point is to free your creativity for writing, not exhaust yourself maintaining complex systems.
  • Utilize your optimum settings. Are you a morning writer or a night-owl? Do you need to “take ten” for every ninety minutes spent at your desk?
  • Create more efficient routines for non-writing events. Check websites like Flylady.net for ideas on faster/easier cleaning and declutttering.
  1. CONTROL HABITS
  • Identify your good and bad habits, and then commit to strengthening just one weakness. After one is fixed, tackle another.
  • Concentrate on improving key areas first. The return-on-effort is greater.
  1. IMPROVE YOUR WRITER’S SKILL SET
  • Define a successful writer’s skill set. (Imaginative? Productive?) Inventory your own skills and compare to the ideal. Hone and improve where needed.
  • Two more magic words:  Acquired skill.
  • You can learn to write better, faster, and even funnier. Mastery is a byproduct of perseverance.


Enough for now. Watch for more tips, in Part Two.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the Cate Noble website at www.CateNoble.com