Excuses & Reasons | A Response to Bob Evenhouse

My writing buddy and fellow Weakling, Bob Evenhouse, did a great blog post yesterday about excuses. I’d like to offer another point of view.

Josh Mosey, confidently leading a session at the Breathe Conference about blogging as if he knows something about it.

Josh Mosey, confidently leading a session at the Breathe Conference about blogging as if he knows something about it.

I recently led an hypocritical workshop at the Breathe Conference about blogging (the truth comes out!). My presentation was an introduction to blogging. I gave some reasons why people should be blogging. I gave a few strategies for how to get started and how to keep going. Then I gritted my teeth and gave the advice that I too have been ignoring: how to keep your blog from killing your other writing projects.

I’ve been very consistent on my blog, but to be completely honest (because complete honesty is what the internet is for, right?), I’ve allowed my blog to kill my novels.

I am, and always have been, a great un-finisher. It’s amazing that I manage to finish these sentences as I type. To date, I have three unfinished novels (two of which are the firsts of unfinished series), and a whole slew of unfinished stories revolving around a squirrel and his invisible roommate (the stories are at least written, but I need to illustrate them or somehow get them published still). Plus, I have a number of short story ideas that need written down. Then somewhere in the midst of these projects, I decided to start a blog.

Why would I start a blog when I have so many unfinished manuscripts crying out to me from within my brain? There are some days I ask the same question. The answer I eventually circle back to is that I want to one day be published and I want a community of readers and other writers with me when that happens. I want to hone my craft by sitting my buns in a chair everyday and banging my head against a keyboard until words form themselves into sentences.

A strange thing happened when I started my blog. I didn’t stop writing it. Granted, I need to figure out how to work this perseverance into my other projects, but at least I’m writing something consistently.

I could come up with a lot of excuses for why I haven’t published a bestseller yet. Instead, I’ll give you the only reason that I think stands a chance at plausibility: I’m still learning to finish things well. This blog is part of that. You, reader, are part of that too.

Thank you for the encouragement along the way. I need it.

Writing for the spike.

reddit_spike

There are probably many approaches to blogging, but there are specifically two with which I struggle.

The first is the steady, themed blog that consistently offers interesting posts that are linked by a common theme. The guys in my writers’ group, The Weaklings, are great examples of this style of blogging. Bob Evenhouse regularly publishes encouraging posts for fellow writers who are shooting for their dreams while still paying the bills. And Andrew Rogers publishes posts from the perspective of a publishing industry insider who also writes.

The second style of blogger is the one who offers quality content that follows no theme, but is usually worth reading. It has no clear audience, so it is probably mostly read by strangers. In case you couldn’t tell. The example for this style is my blog.

The reason that I struggle with these two is because, ideally, I’d like to emulate the first style, but in reality, I just spout off on whatever enters my head. Why do I do this when what I admire is the consistency of message and tone offered by my fellow Weaklings?

'Murica!!!

‘Murica!!!

Perhaps, I’m more of a ‘Murican than I like to admit, because I love the freedom of being able to write whatever I want. And sometimes, writing along a theme can be hard, so it is easier not to worry if my content follows no discernible pattern.

Also, I’m far too motivated by the spikes in traffic offered by my hit-or-miss posts. For instance, thanks to Reddit.com, last week my blog had its best day ever. I wrote about the woman who married the Eiffel tower, put a link on Reddit’s “Today I Learned” page and next thing I know, I topped my previous best day by 2,819 hits.

But will any of the people who visited on that day be back to my blog? Probably not. Why should they come back if I’m so inconsistent about the type of content that I offer? Hmm.

Maybe I should work the fix for this into my goals for the upcoming year. But how do I decide where to focus? What is of the greatest value to you, the reader? I know that I shouldn’t be writing for the spike, but past that, I’m at a bit of a loss.

In case you can’t tell, feedback is very welcome.

Ask Josh | How Do I Find a Writing Agent?

ask_josh

Welcome to a new segment on my blog! If you have questions, I will try to answer them.

I was recently asked about how an author goes about finding representation. The question came from someone who was unable to come to my writers group’s recent event, Jot: The GR Writers Mini-Conference. This was the question:

Hi Josh,  I had all intentions of attending your last seminar but was unable to make it at  the last minute…bummer! :(

My young daughter and I have written a children’s book based on a true story  from her childhood.� I am looking for a literary agent….any ideas? Blessings, Kim McClimans :)

agentquery_screenshotKim, there’s one main resource that I think will help: AgentQuery.com I learned about AgentQuery from my friend and fellow Weakling, Bob Evenhouse, on his blog.

AgentQuery is a searchable database of publishing industry agents. And within a few clicks, I was able to identify a list of 38 agents who deal in children’s books, accept email queries, are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, and are actively looking for more clients. The site features links to each agency, so you can take a look at which authors they represent and how you might fit in.

Thanks for your question Kim!

If you have a question, feel free to leave it in the comments below!

Breathe Conference Keynote with Terry Whalin

Last Friday evening, my wife graciously encouraged me to attend the Breathe Writers’ Conference Keynote Address with my writing pal, Bob Evenhouse. She did this even though it meant that I wasn’t around to help with putting the girls down, finishing the housework, or taking the dog for a walk. That shows two things in itself: I am loved by a wonderful woman, and she believes in my writing dreams.

Oh, so tasty!

And so, Bob and I met at my house and went on a man-date. We hit up Wendy’s for dinner, where we were given some lovely coupons by an even lovelier little, old lady. After dinner, we made our way over to the church where the Breathe Conference was being held.

One really nice thing about having been to Breathe before is that I recognize so many of the attendees. It wasn’t a full minute after I had walked in before I was greeted warmly by someone I knew. After a few minutes of chit-chat, Bob and I found our seats in the auditorium and waited.

Our friend, Andrew Rogers, got up and introduced the evening’s speakers. Before Terry Whalin spoke, we were blessed to hear Alison Hodgson, member of the Writer’s Guild and speaker extraordinaire. Alison meant to speak on how the publishing process is like a courtship, where each contact is like a date and we endlessly primp ourselves and our manuscripts in order to be loveable by that special publishing house. But she ended up speaking more about how our lives and our writings don’t always go according to our plans. She spoke about the fire that consumed her home. She spoke about the opportunities that are borne out of hardships. She spoke eloquently about poignant matters in a funny way. It was quite a thing.

After Alison’s opening, Andrew popped back up to introduce Terry Whalin. As I mentioned previously, Terry has written and published a number of books and has held many positions within the industry. Now, he is an acquisitions editor for Morgan James Publishing. His talk was an encouragement for writers to “never give up”, and his points were practical and thought-inspiring. Included below are the points that I found it helpful to jot down.

  • Figure out your goal. What is your plan to get there?
  • What is blocking you from achieving your goals?
  • Take control of the things that distract you.
  • Overcome the Catch-22 of publishing (only published writers get published) by starting small. Write for magazines.
  • Seek out apprenticeships and critique groups to hone your craft.
  • Read. Read your genre. Know your readers. Make sure that reading is part of your plan.
  • Join an organization of the type in which you write. (e.g. Fiction writers should join a Fiction Writing Professionals organization)
  • Build your platform. Work at it consistently. For a free e-book on how to do this, visit terrylinks.com/pb
  • Engage your marketplace by blogging, etc.

These don’t cover everything he said, just the bits that I thought to jot down. And while many of these may seem obvious, they probably should. These are the tactics that have worked for many successful writers.

And above all else, Terry said, never give up. The forward for his book Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams is from Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Time and again, Terry mentioned how Mark Victor Hansen was rejected by publisher after publisher for a total of 140 rejections before finding one who would publish his book. And the publisher that did take a chance on Hansen has sold millions of copies of his books. As for how Terry got the forward from Hansen, it was eerily reminiscent of how I got into Honors College at WMU. He wrote it himself and then had Hansen look it over and sign off on it. Terry said that the key to getting endorsements like that is by asking. I agree.

And after the keynote speech, I got to mingle with my fellow writers. It was like walking into the cafeteria in high school and every table is saving a spot for you and the jock table is nowhere to be seen. I even set up a meeting with an agent to discuss some of my projects and talked to a published author about submitting a chapter for one of their upcoming books. It was a really good time.

If you are a writer, or if you are afraid to call yourself a writer, or if you are thinking about becoming afraid to call yourself a writer, the Breathe Conference is a great place to mix and learn. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Breathe Conference Reminder

The theme for this year’s Breathe Conference

I know that I’ve written about the Breathe Conference before, but since it is happening this week, I wanted to toss another plug for it onto my blog.

The Breathe Conference is a writer’s conference unlike other writers’ conferences. That is to say, while it still has sessions with amazing speakers that talk about the many aspects of the writing life, it is a conference where writers feel welcomed, supported, and worthwhile. I’ve been to some conferences where you walk away from a session feeling lost and intimidated. The Breathe Conference isn’t that. Attendees come away encouraged and with the tools they need to make their writing dreams published realities.

The main speaker for this year’s Breathe Conference is Terry Whalin. When I heard that, I said, “Who is Terry Whalin?” A common response, I think. But when I read the biography from his website (posted below), I feel a bit foolish for not being familiar with him before now.

W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk–as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor and his magazine work has appeared in more than 50 publications. A former literary agent, Terry is an Acquisitions Editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 books through traditional publishers in a wide range of topics from children’s books to biographies to co-authored books. Several of Terry’s books have sold over 100,000 copies.  Terry’s newest book, JUMPSTART YOUR PUBLISHING DREAMS, INSIDER SECRETS TO SKYROCKET YOUR SUCCESS is packed with insight. Also Terry has an innovative online training course to help authors effectively connect with literary agents and editors called Write A Book Proposal. Terry is a popular speaker and teacher at numerous writers’ conferences and an active member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

I’m looking forward to this weekend. My friend Bob and I will be there Friday night to hear Terry speak. I’m pretty sure that the title for Friday night’s talk is “Never, Never, Never Give Up”, but I could be reading the schedule wrong. Anyway, it sounds like a good session and a good reminder if nothing else.

I’m probably just as excited to hear Alison Hodgson open for Terry. I’ve been reading and enjoying Alison’s blog (olderthanjesus.blogspot.com) ever since I found out she had a blog. I’m proud to count Alison among my friends-who-are-also-writers, and can honestly tell you that she is one of the funniest people I know. But she’s also had a bunch of bad stuff happen to and around her, so she is also one of the most poignant people I know. I don’t know if she’ll be doing a funny talk or a serious talk, but I do know that whatever it is, it’ll be good.

It isn’t too late to sign up for Breathe. I hope to see you there!

Guest Post by Bob Evenhouse | Advice for the Writer’s Struggle

My good friend Bob Evenhouse of the blog Part Time Novel was kind enough to send me a guest post while I am trying to catch up on my sleep (new babies are cute little time vampires). Enjoy!

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Writers struggle. It’s our most consistent state. We struggle for the correct word. We struggle for the proper word. A word that is rhythmic, fitting, mood setting, decisively explanatory, and altogether perfect. Doing this once can be exhausting. Doing it one hundred and sixteen thousand times can be debilitating, especially when you are at the bottom of that hike looking up at the grand snow capped Himalayan-like climb that is your first draft.

This is why the writer needs goals. Just like climbers work in stages. The state of defeat lingers so close behind us that we must have a target on which to fix our eyes and it cannot just be the end, but a good healthy check point.

Here are some ways to do just that.

  • Set Reasonable, Yet Achievable, Goals: I have trouble conforming to the idea that my life is lived within the confines of time. My wife often accuses me of trying do too much in a day. When I get home from work I’d merely like so spend quality time with her, my daughters, watch a movie, do a blog post, write 2000 words, maybe write another blog, read and comment on my friends’ blog, start a business, and sail around the world. It’s difficult capping myself, most of the time, but realistic goals are especially necessary for the part time writer.
  • Set Time Specific Goals: As a part time writer it is easy to be sprinting through life then realize you have not written on your book for a few days or weeks. It is important to stay in the rhythm of writing or your novel will never get done. Make it a goal to write every day. Stand by it with a this-has-to-get-done-before-I-sleep-every-single-night mandate. Writers are sleep deprived manics. You must know this by now.
  • Reward Yourself: In the words of the employees of the parks department of Pawnee, Indiana: Treat Yourself. When you reach a goal, say 5,000 words, do something fun. Writing is draining and your mind will be happy for the repose. It’s healthy and fun to reward yourself for slaving over your baby. If you are out of ideas, see below. There are some great ways to Treat Yourself.

Frugal Grooveshark Writes Like He’s Unshelved – or – Links!

Today’s links are aimed to make your writing life a bit easier and a bit more fun.

My buddy Bob wrote a guest post this week on Roger Colby’s blog about free tools for the frugal writer. He compiled a great list of resources, so rather than spoil the mystery and tell you what they were, here’s the link so you can find out for yourself.

If you are like me, you like to write (or work, or live) with a bit of music in the background. This link is to a site that provides access to full albums and lots of artists as well as radio stations for your favorite music genre. If you like Pandora, you’ll love Grooveshark, which only asks that you see one ad for every three hours of music, unlike Pandora which puts in an ad every three songs.

Are you fretting that you aren’t going to be the next Shakespeare? Maybe you are! If you haven’t tried out the online tool “I Write Like” yet, do it now. By the way, according to the site, this post so far says I’m the next Arthur Clarke. I could see that.

Lastly, if you love books and humor, you will probably enjoy this web-comic. I stumbled across Unshelved a few years ago, and since working in a bookstore is a lot like working in a library, I found it hilarious. Just don’t spend so long looking at it that you neglect your writing!

How I did this week. Also, fun links!It’s been a little while since I did a report card for myself. So this week, I’m going to give myself a B. I might have done better, but I had to take my laptop in to get fixed, and when it got returned, the keyboard didn’t work. As it happens, the guy who fixed it just forgot to reattach the keyboard cable inside the laptop. Easy fix, but it did mean that I didn’t get to write much on the night I went out to write. I did, however, manage to post everyday on my blog. I even have a new contest going! It is easier than the last one too, so don’t be afraid to try it out.

Thanks for reading!

A Monty Python Fan’s View of Writing in Groups

I’m a pretty big Monty Python fan. I wanted to share this because as a member of a writer’s group, I found insight in Eric’s experience of writing with others.

Now, I realize that Eric Idle was writing comedy sketches to be performed with other members of the Monty Python troupe, but the process of writing in the same room as someone else is the same.

My own writer’s group, the Weaklings, is made up of very different types of writers. I write flash fiction and YA fantasy and I work best in public settings while listening to music. My friend Bob writes epic fantasy tomes and can seemingly write anywhere with anything going on. Andrew writes in silence and preferably in seclusion. And Matt writes poetry, which is as far from my understanding as writing upside-down while wearing a pink tutu (I don’t actually know Matt’s process that well, so maybe he does this).

During the 3-day Novel Contest, however, we all write together in the same room. When we write communally, there is a synergy of ideas, a free-flowing exchange of new perspectives that brings out the best in our work. When I get stuck in my manuscript, I shout out the problem to the world at large and my writing friends shout ideas back to me. When they write themselves into a corner, they shout out and I shout back.

Those of us who need music use headphones. And when our eyes begin to melt from staring at the screen for too long, we stop and eat together, encouraging each other along the way.

I say all that to say this: a good writer’s group has been vital to my experience as a writer. There are some folks out there who say that writing is a solitary journey of hardship, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. Sure, when you are putting pen to paper, it is your hands following the instructions from your brain and you have the ultimate freedom to make your story do what you want it to, but there is value in sharing the experience.

If I am allowed to give a little advice, write with someone else this week. Maybe you’ll be frustrated by how they plan out every little detail before figuring out the larger story. Maybe you’ll both have such a good time together you won’t get any writing done. Maybe you’ll write in silence and question why you invited the person along in the first place. And maybe you’ll find someone who you can bounce ideas off and it will make your writing come alive.

Report Cards, Writing, Blogging, and Hidden Messages, Oh My!

Here we are. It’s been an eventful week on the blog. I had my most hits to date on Monday (65 for those of you who like to know that sort of thing). I introduced the main character from my WIP, and posted a review of a book within the same genre. And, I started my first book giveaway (you can still enter to win until Monday morning when I pull the winner).

How I did this week. Also, fun links!As far as a grade for my writing report card goes, I’ll give myself a B. In taking time for blogging (which is totally worthwhile in its own right), I’ve not taken as much time to work on my novel.

Perhaps I’ll do better this next week.

Perhaps I won’t. But I’ll try.

You should visit me again to find out.

But I digress, let’s get on to the week’s top links!

In first place, I’d like to share another link to my writer friend Bob. He and I made a gentleman’s challenge this past week to see who could get a certain amount of hits on a given day. I’m new at this, and Bob has been blogging for a while, so it was an ambitious challenge for me to make. Anyway, I’m convinced that Bob is cheating, because he did a post this week that was pure quality. If you are a writer or have ever encounter’s writer’s block, check out this link.

Right up there with Bob’s post is this post from a blog called “Writing is Hard Work”. Truer words were never spoken (or written, as it were). The post linked here gives 6 ways to begin a novel. So if the reason that you haven’t experienced writer’s block yet is because you haven’t started a novel, here are some good ways to get started.

Then, for other bloggers out there, I came across this post on blogging mistakes that is quite good. I got permission to link to it here because I found it helpful as a guy just wading into this murk we call blogging.

Here’s one for all of my non-writer, non-blogger friends. Jessie Clemence and her husband Eric were one of the first people to befriend me when I got to Western Michigan University. After only one year of getting to know them, they graduated and I didn’t expect to see them again, but after a year or so, they moved to Grand Rapids and we reconnected. As it happened, in one of the summers between school years, I had two jobs. I worked in a dirty warehouse in the morning, then moonlighted as a waiter at Big Boy at night. My own house was too far away to be able to go home and clean up between shifts, so Eric and Jessie let me come over and use their shower. They are truly some of the nicest people out there. Anyway, check out Jessie’s blog. It’s filled with spiritual inspiration for people in general and families in specific.

Dare I forget to mention my contest again? If you just stumbled upon my blog, I’ve got a contest going, the prize for which is a shiny used set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Maybe you’ve read it, maybe you own it, but wouldn’t you like to tell everyone you know that this contest is going on? Come on, please?

And that’s pretty much it. If this week’s contest goes over well, I’ll do another one. I work at a bookstore and have access to lots of great books that I can use to giveaway. I’ve already got some good responses and suggestions for my blog, so I hope to continually improve it as I go. Thanks for stopping by!

Yowsa! (Did you catch the hidden message in today’s post? If you did, pass it on to my brother here.)

I am a Weakling.

It I am a Weakling.probably started at a baseball game. Now, I’m not a big baseball fan, but when my mom asked whether my wife and I would like to join her at a Whitecaps game with her work, Cornerstone College, we came along. It was a good family outing.

As it happened, we sat next to the then-president of the college and his wife, with whom I struck up a conversation. I told her that I worked in the music department at a bookstore and she told me that her son, Andrew, was a musician who was moving back to the area and that he’d be looking for a music-related job. I promised her that I’d give him a call and try to connect him with something.

As promised, I called him. But rather than be all that helpful, I told him that Grand Rapids didn’t have a big recording industry and he’d be better off moving to somewhere like Nashville, the hub of all things music. He didn’t listen and moved to Grand Rapids anyway.

A month or two later, Andrew applied at the bookstore where I work. Remembering his name, and the promise to his mom that I’d try to help him find a job, I encouraged the management to give him a chance. He would have gotten the job anyway, but I like to take as much credit for other people’s accomplishments as possible.

We hit it off. Two weeks after he was hired, I asked him to help my wife and I move out of our apartment. Here’s a bit of truth for you: There is no better way to cement a friendship than to ask them to help you move. Andrew and his wife, Kristen, came over as strangers, but within a couple hours of seeing and packing our belongings, lifting heavy boxes, and maneuvering awkward pieces of furniture up stairs backwards, they emerged as friends.

While moving, we talked about our interests, and one of them was writing. Andrew mentioned that he and a guy named Bob were meeting for Bible study once every couple weeks and that he enjoyed writing as well. I was invited to Bible study and the three of us agreed that we should meet again solely to talk about our writing. Along the way, Bob ran into a guy named Matt, a writer friend from college, and invited him to the meeting.

The night we met, the Weaklings were born. Taking inspiration from the famous writers’ group, the Inklings, which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, we formed our own writer’s group, the Weaklings. Matt had been part of the a few writers’ groups over the years and lent his experience and some structure to our meetings.

The early meeting ran along these lines: grab some refreshments – 5 minutes; chat about life – 10 minutes; read something we wrote since the last meeting – 5 minutes each; discuss what was read – 10 minutes each; discuss any writing challenges or goals – 10 minutes; schedule next meeting & leave.

We met at least once every two weeks, usually on the opposite week from Bible study. Inevitably, Andrew and I would discuss writing a lot at the bookstore where we worked (and continued to move furniture together). That encouragement and accountability helped make writing part of my routine.

Since those early days, Matt has  moved to the other side of the state, Bob has two kids, Andrew has one, and I have one with another on the way, but we all still make time for writing. And we all continue to encourage each other.

There is power in writers’ groups, and I am proud to say that I am a Weakling.