Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's Your Theme Song?

All week I've had a song stuck in my head.  Usually this can be ultra-annoying, especially if it's the jingle to a product I don't use, or it's something truly awful like, "The Wheels on the Bus" sending me instantly back to kindergarten and the smell of tempera paint and the brown vinyl mats we used for naptime (ah, naptime).  On the good days, however, a certain song or piece of music seems to help me glide through my days, filling me with the urge to create and make sense of my life.  That's how it's been for me these last few days.

It started on Sunday night.  I was listening to the radio when I really should have been sound asleep (no wonder I want to nap all the time).  Just before I drifted off, I heard a few lines from the Cat Stevens' song If You Want to Sing Out from the film, Harold and MaudeNot only did the song make me even more wide awake than I already was, it made me suddenly obsessed with the thought that I had never seen that movie.  Worse still, I wondered why I hadn't heard any Cat Stevens' songs for years and years.  The song then dissolved into an ad, but not before it was firmly installed in my brain and I knew I was going to have a difficult job getting rid of it.

By Monday afternoon I was still humming along.  I'd also done a bit of online Cat Stevens research, looking at pictures of his own cat and reading the entire story of how he became Yusuf Islam, which of course was very interesting, but by now I was ready to move on, nice song or not.  The tune was on the verge of becoming downright irritating, and I had to get to the real reason for why I kept hearing it.  So I went to the place that always helps me out:  my journal.  After a few false starts the answer was very obvious:  the song reminded me of being a teenager, and my current WIP is about--teenagers.  Duh. 

As I continued to listen, I could hear the sound of all the emotions and hopes and dreams teens have always had, no matter their decade or century.  As a writer of young adult fiction, I believe that no matter how hard their cynical veneer can sometimes be, young people are essentially optimistic and eager to explore the world.  The possibilities of what they'll become are endless, and that's what I'm trying to express in my latest WIP.  At the same time, I realized the song was telling me what I could do as a writer and artist, too.  The song's lyrics are all about how you can do anything you want to do, the perfect message for both me and my characters. 

Rather than being sick of the tune, I'm grateful to have discovered what has become my book's "theme song."  It's one I can use every time I get stuck or veer away from my plot too far.  Of course, I can't actually use the lyrics in my book, but that's okay too--in fact it's even better.  Having a little song to inspire me will find it's own way to appear through my characters' thoughts and actions.  It's a nice piece of "inside information" and I have every reason to believe it appeared for the good.  Writing is full of lucky happenings, and music can be a very helpful source to make sure you get plenty of those happy occurrences.

Tip of the Day:  The first time I tried writing to music was in the fourth grade.  Our teacher put on some classical music and left us free to create, a wonderful experience I've never forgotten.  Yet it's also something I don't do enough, and I miss it.  Over the next few days, experiment with some music you don't usually listen to.  Set the radio to an unfamiliar station and try a timed writing, either as part of your current WIP, or an entirely new freewriting exercise.  Have fun--you may be very surprised at what happens.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

30-Minute Marketing

One of my goals and resolutions this year is to spend 30 minutes a day on marketing.  While it may not sound like a lot of time,  30 minutes a day can add up to some pretty impressive figures, and is also something that is entirely do-able in between the rest of my day's schedule and demands.

The key to making 30 minutes an effective use of time is to stay consistent and treat my daily marketing half hour like any other business appointment:  I set a clock on the desk, start on time, and conclude the "meeting" as soon as 30 minutes is up.  Penciling in an "appointment with myself" in my planner makes sure I show up for the meeting, and it also makes sure I don't go beyond the allotted minutes and into the burn-out zone--a surefire way to make me want to cancel tomorrow's meeting.

To help me get to work the minute I sit down to market, I've brainstormed a list of activities that can easily be accomplished in 30 minutes.  As more ideas come to me I'll add them to the list, but so far this is what I've come up with:
  1. Make a list of 12 book reviewers with addresses, requirements, and policies.
  2. Package up 2-3 books to send for reviews, complete with cover letters, author bio and photo, and any other related materials.
  3. Spend 30 minutes finding new blogs for return visits or to follow.
  4. Visit 3 blogs, comment, and/or follow.
  5. Research and make a list of 12 agents for future manuscript submission; include notes about why I chose these people.
  6. Write my own review for one of my books.  (This may sound strange--but it's not about praising yourself, it's closer to writing a good synopses that allows PR people to know what your book is about if they can only read--and comment--on a few pages.)
  7. Brainstorm 12 blog ideas with log-lines for future use.
  8. Pre-write a blog post to have on hand for emergency.
  9. Design a new trailer or video about either a book, workshop, or writing-related activity.
  10. Work on a trailer idea--get it finished.
  11. Make a list of 12 ways to use or place trailers or videos.
  12. Plan out a blog tour--what would it be about and what will I offer?
  13. Contact blogs to ask if they'd like to be on the tour, or simply would like a guest post at any time.
  14. Spend 30 minutes on one social network or author's site.  Get to know the people I interact with.
  15. Design a 30-minute workshop based on one of my books that can also be expanded to 1 or 2 hours.
  16. Design a bookmark.  Brainstorm a list of themes so I can have a variety for different groups, places, holidays, etc.
  17. Do the same with a postcard.
  18. Brainstorm a list of places to send cards, bookmarks, other freebies.
  19. Address, stamp, prepare cards for mailing.
  20. Brainstorm 12 new places to sell books, offer a workshop, or be of assistance in some way, e.g., volunteering at a writer's conference.
So there's 20 ideas and it's only January 11!  Having my list pre-made has also helped me avoid any excuses of being "too busy" or "too tired" to accomplish a task that is really one of the most important of the writing day.  Hope the list gives you some good ideas of your own, too!

Tip of the Day:  Because I'm a Libra and have trouble choosing which marketing idea I want to follow on any given day, I've written each idea on an index card which I then turned face down and put in a pile I keep shuffled.  Every day I draw one of the cards from the top and follow the instructions provided.  Not only has this turned my 30 minutes of marketing into something of a game to play, it's also brought in a nice element of surprise that keeps me from dreading (or avoiding) a particular task I might not like so much as the others.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Prize Give-away! Starting the New Year Right

Happy New Year, everyone!  Hope this finds you all ready to start the new year right with some great goals, manuscripts, and of course plenty of inspiration to keep those pens moving.  Personally, I like the sound of "2011."  For some reason it makes me feel very business-like and organized.  In order to stay that way, I'm keeping my goals simple this year:
  1. Publish my eighth book on June 30, 2011.
  2. Edit and revise Book #9 to be submission-ready by January 2012. 
  3. Write 3 pages every day on new ideas, WIPs, poetry, or screenplays.
  4. Take 30 minutes a day for marketing.
  5. Help more writers and artists to achieve their goals by sharing as much of my writing and experience as I can.  Which brings me to:
Blog Prize Give-away!  Starting today until the end of the year, every time I get 50 new blog followers/subscribers I will create a random drawing to give away a "Writer's Workshop in a Bag."  So that nobody is left out, existing followers will be counted, too.  Workshop-in-a-Bag consists of: 
  • 3 books on creativity and writing.
  • A new journal.
  • A new pen.
  • Writing-related goodies such as index cards, prompts, and bookmarks.
  • All packaged in a colorful, large-sized canvas tote.
And I'll do this from today until December 31, 2011 every time I get 50 more followers/subscribers.  So what are you waiting for?  Follow or subscribe today!

Tip of the Day:  Yes, start the new year by following my blog and be eligible to receive the give-away.  In the meantime, make sure you've charted out your creative goals for the year.  You might find it's helpful to start with just a couple of your most important goals and then add to your list later in the year once you know your time and energy levels a little better.  Good luck!