Take a Break From The Industry and #WRITELIKECRAZY

“What are publishers looking for?”  This is a question that I am often asked by emerging writers.  My question back to them is– “What would you do with that information if I told you?”  Would you write a book to match what you think “they” want?  Would you just feel terrible because what you’re writing doesn’t match what “they” are looking for?  In truth, I have no idea what publishers are looking for and I don’t really care becauase it has nothing to do with me, or with you.

You see, I have to say what I have to say, whether it gets published or not.  I got myself completely blocked when I was writing Silver Sparrow because I feared that publishers didn’t want it.  I almost let it wither on the vine because I was all tangled up in industry this, and industry that.  I don’t feel like going into it, but you can read about it here.)  Short version: what you know is your own heart and mind.  And as they say: write what you know.

For August, let’s agree to take a little vacation from industry news.  You don’t need to know what kind of deals other people are getting.  Don’t look to see who gets reviewed in the New York Times.  Doing a demographic round up of whatever award is recently announced is just going to spin you out.  And being spun out is not going to help you finish your project.

When we started this month, the plan was to be eager and enthusiastic about our work.  I must tell you that I have never heard one morsel of industry news that has made me feel excited about sitting down to write.  Furthermore, all the industry news in the world is irrelevant if your manuscript is still a half finished stack of papers on your desk.

Truth:  The journey is hard.  For everybody.  I know that some people make it seem easy, but that’s a performance.  It’s intense.  For everybody.

And here’s another truth:  All of us who write– no matter where we are in our career have something in common– we must write the next book.  Yes, you can spend a lot of time thinking about how it’s easier for some people.  And it is. And it’s hard.  And you still have to do it.

I’ve seen the VIDA numbers and I know that it’s rough out here if you’re not an straight, white, male.  (And I know it’s rough out here for many of them, too.)  But that roughness is not limited to publishing.  It’s true for life, yet you manage to get out of bed this morning.  You find joy in your life.  You experience passion.  And you will do the same with your writing.  Do it anyway.  And do with enthusiasm and do it well.

You got this. And we got you.

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Hey Brooklyn, “Secrets and Mysteries” are coming your way on Monday, August 13- Franklin Park, 8pm

On Monday, August 13th at 8pm I’ll be taking part in the Franklin Park Reading Series and I cannot wait. The theme is “Secrets and Mysteries.”.  Here are the deets:

TAYARI JONES, VICTOR LAVALLE (The Devil in Silver, Big Machine) will be joined by fiction hotshots LINCOLN MICHEL (Tin House, Gigantic), COURTNEY MAUM (Hobart, Electric Literature) and CAITLIN ELIZABETH HARPER (The Renegade Reading Series) for an evening of thrilling tales and shocking surprises. And we’re.. incredibly honored that VICTOR LAVALLE will be giving a SPECIAL SNEAK PREVIEW of his highly anticipated new novel THE DEVIL IN SILVER!!!


LOCATION: FRANKLIN PARK BAR AND BEER GARDEN 618 St. Johns Place, between Franklin and Classon Avenues Crown Heights, Brooklyn Subway: 2/3/4/5 trains to Franklin Avenue

Come on. It’ll be fun. I promise.

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So, it seems that I am not the only one struggling with writing about s-e-x.  Here are some links that might help.

  • Steve Almond tells  How to Write A Sex Scene. “Therefore, in the interest of preventing more bad sex writing from entering the  cultural jet stream, I am officially setting out my 12-Step Program for  Writing Incredibly Hot Scenes.”
  • Were these sex scenes written by a man or a woman?
  • The Joy of Writing Sex is a great how-to guide. You know she had me when she used Toni Morrison has an example of a really sexy writer.
  • Writing about sex for YA audiences. “The considerations of how to deal with the (touchy, sticky – insert pun of choice here) topic of sex in such a way that is appropriate for readers of varying levels of maturity can seem extremely complex. Add to that the worry about censorship, people accusing us of corrupting their kids, the issue of portraying responsible sex, etc. “
  • In the spirit of no inhibitions, here are 25 Tips for Writing About Sex. “Do not watch [porn] for inspiration..because porn is to sex what McDonald’s is to food.


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Let’s Talk (I mean WRITE) About Sex #WRITELIKECRAZY

My work in progress is a love triange.  A love rectangle, really.  (It is also a pretty intense look at the collateral damage of mass incaceration, but love thing is what I am working on now.)  When you have at least three people in love, there is going to be some physicality and I have to write it.  I spend my whole writing day trying to write a scene between Roy and Davina.  In the writing, I discovered something about myself: apparently, I’m shy.

I thought about going the innuendo route, sparing myself from having the write anything hot and sweaty.  Afterall, I reasoned, sometimes you can convey a lot just through describing touches, glances, etc.  But I had to face it– I was pretending to take some sort of high ground because the scenes that needed writing made me uncomfortable.  And let’s face it, when you feel uncomfortable while writing, it probably means you really MUST write that scene.  What famous person said tha literature is meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

So for this week, I have been trying to get Roy and Davina in a room and let nature take its course.  For the last two writing day, Ive had these characters taking their own sweet time having dinner because I am too shy to really GoThere with what happens after dinner.  I never would have thought of myself as a hesitant writer. I’m not a prude.  My friends can tell you that I can girl-talk with the best of them.  But me in my own living room pouring cosmos for my girls is different that me writing something that the whole world will read.  And here was the issue.  When my students say, in squeaky voices, that they fear certain subject matter, I urge them on.  I tell them that they should never be afriad to write. Writing is private. It’s between you and the page.  Don’t worry about exposing yourself until it’s time to publish and by then you might not even care.

But there I was, timidly typing.

I pushed through my fear and wrote the chapter.  I am trying to recollect exactly how I pushed past the block.  I tried to think about the craft of writing sex scenes.  The rule of thumb is that sex scene must advance the plot or complicate our understanding of the characters’ relationship.  But when I thought of it that way, I felt like the story went flat.  What I wrote was the opposite of hot.  So I ripped that page out typewriter and started again.

The way I was able to write the scene was to stop thinking about what would happen when the book is published.  I stopped imagining myself reading the chapter aloud a a sweet little bookstore.  I had to just sort of tune out of the “real” world and llose myself in the world of my characters. I pretended that I was the best friend of the characters and I imagined how she would tell me about that night.  I imagined that I was the male character’s brother and I imagine what he would say.  Then I tried to fill in the blanks and imagine what part of what happened between them that they wouldn’t tell anyone.

It was in the part that they didn’t tell that I found the hotness of the scene, but also the character development what I was looking for.

The fear an self consciousness went away when my own desire to understand the characters became more pressing than any worry I had about what anyone else would think about my work.

That’s the key.

How’s your #WRITELIKECRAZY August going?  Hit any roadblocks? Tell us how you got around them.

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Does This Count? Yes it does. #WRITELIKECRAZY

To-Do ListI am so happy that so many folks are doing #WRITELIKECRAZY for the month of August.  If you have pictures to share or testimony, you can leave a comment here or you can bop over to my fb page and leave your message there. (I love the pictures of your writing spaces!)

We’re just a couple days in, but I have been gettin questions from folks who want to participate.  Many people tell me what they’re doing and they want to know if it “counts” toward #WLC.  My basic rule of thumb is that if it helps you finish what you’re doing, it’s legit.  But here’s an incomplete list of what you can spend the month of August doing and consider yourself Writing Like Crazy:



  • Reasearch (but be sure to make specific and concrete goals)
  • Generating new pages
  • Revising existing work
  • Outlining
  • Poetry (of course!)
  • Reading to “fill the well”
  • Morning Pages
  • Random Writing Exercises
  • Letter Writing
  • 30 in 30
  • Academic Writing
  • Proposals

What did I miss?

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How was your first day? #WRITELIKECRAZY

Change the World, Obama. | Nobel Prize for Peace versionYesterday, my #WRITELIKECRAZY got started with a challenge. I am a morning writer.  I am a morning person in general, but I am not a crazy morning person.  I don’t wake up at 4:30 am and watch the sunrise.  I wake naturally around six, and putter til seven and then I work.  I sometimes see the sun rise, but I don’t watch it.  You know what I mean?  And to be such an early bird, I tend to go to bed early.  I like a good solid eight hours of shut eye.  Nine if I can get it.

So last night as I was preparing for #WLC, I got a call from my friend, Lisa.  “Hey Girl! I’m in town.”  Now, I love Lisa. Adore her.  And I never get to see her, and here she was in NYC.  We were to connect at 8:30, but then her meeting ran late.  As the hour approached 9:30, I had to sadly tell her I would take a raincheck.  Afterall, I had a meeting with my writing at 6am.

You see, when you are a morning writer, you have to say goodbye to nightlife.  It’s hard to accept that you can’t do everything.  For years I tried to be a superwoman– I could work my full time job, keep a clean house, get my social butterfly on, workout four times a week, etc, and write.  But the truth of the matter of that something has to be sacrificed.  Far too often it was the writing.  But not this month.

At 5:30 am, I had my feet on the floor.  (Thank goodness I set the coffee pot before I went to bed!)  I got my two hours in.  It was rough at first.  My writing bones were creaky like grandmama’s knees.  But I remember my grandmother used to warm up her achy joints in the morning and by mid day, she would be moving just fine.

I spent the first 30 minutes or so looking over what I had already written.  It was like seeing an old friend that you haven’t seen in a while.  You know each other, but you have to catch up to get the rhythm on your relationship right again.  But like the best friendships, this only took a few minutes and me and my manuscript picked up where we left off.  I wrote about four pages, give or take.  I feel good about them and I feel good about myself.

So how was your first day? Did you make your goal?  If you didn’t, it’s okay.  You’re warming up.  Try again tomorrow.  If you haven’t written in a while, it may take you a minute to get your rhythm.  Be patient with yourself.  If you write today  than you did yesterday, give yourself credit.  If you write more today than you did all last month, then give yourself even more.

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Ready. Set. #WRITELIKECRAZY. Do you know what works for you?

Part of #WRITELIKECRAZY is to learn what your process is, and honor that process.  Once reason why I don’t get obsessed with word count is because that’s not how my writing brain works.  I don’t like deadlines. I don’t like pressure.  For me, the pleasure of writing is that I’m doing my own thing my way without having to accountable to any bean counter at the end of the day.  So my goal for #WRITELIKECRAZY is going to be to spend two solid hours a day writing.

I have written under deadline, and I will admit that I did get the work done, but I didn’t enjoy it.  I know that writer like to say that “writing is my work.”  And I will be first to say that it is hard work, in that it takes a lot of effort, but I don’t think of it as my job.  Maybe it’s because the job doesn’t sound like joy to me, doesn’t sound like the luxury of self expression.

I know that there are people out there who haven’t quite figured out how you write best.  For you, I would recommend trying to spend this first week figuring out what makes you feel best at the end of the day.  Try a word count goal and see if that works for you.  Did you find yourself banging out nonsense pages just to meet the goal?  Or did you accomlish something meaningful.  The next day, try using the timer.  You can also set revision goals.  Promise to revise a short story over the course of the month.  Or set daily revision goals.

Remember, the point of this is to leave you feeling good about yourself and your work.  I want us all to be eager and energized and ready to write the next draft.  This is not like a crash diet where we starve ourselves to fit into a slinky party dress.  This is about enbracing what we do, how we do it– and to actually do it.  To write. To think about writing.  To talk about writing.  To express.

Me,  I’m using the timer method.  Two hours.  I know that doesn’t seem like much, but you would be surprised what you can accomplish with 120 minutes.

When I say accomplish, maybe it will be an awesome work count, which I can report the next day.  But the two hours may be what I need to figure something out that’s been hanging up the story. And I know there will be days where two hours just isn’t enough, where the getting is good and I just need to write for another two hours.

The photo you see here is my ladybug timer. (Isn’t she cute.  She reminds me to play a little.)  If you hear ticking, that’s the sound of my first hour starting. Ready. Set. #WRITELIKECRAZY.


And tell me, what’s your plan?

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Right Brain Planning {elements}If you’re participating in #WRITELIKECRAZY, (like my fb page to be included) try and think of what you want to accomplish and how much of it you can accomplish in a month.  Do not overreach and set yourself up for disappointment.  The goal of this whole project is to leave you jazzed for what you will do next, not to leave you exhausted and feeling like a failure.  We are in this to feel good about ourselves and our writing. I know that there are people who feel like you need a “boot camp” or “tough love”, but for me, the only boots I like are made of Italian leather and I prefer the healing, gentle kind of love.

Now is the time to decided what it is in your writing life that needs doing.  I will tell you that I am not a page count freak.  As a matter of fact, I HATE NaNoWriMo.  (Here’s my essay NaNo Hell No.)  I usually give myself goals of how much time I spend trying.  I figure I cannot control how fast the words come (or not).  But I can control how much time I feel trying and if I have spent the day honestly doing my best, then that is a good day, regardless of outcome.  And, for me, this usually works.  All the days aren’t great days, but the absence of pressure frees me up and allows me to love my process.

But that said, I know counting words or pages works for some people.  So figure out what works for you.

If you are doing a historial project maybe you want to spend the month researching? Or maybe a combo-platter– some researching and some writing.  Just figure out a way to measure your goals.

And last but not least: prepare your space.  I’m scrambling to get my writing room together.  I am still in cardboard from my move from Cambridge more than a month ago.  But come tomorrow morning, I will be ready.  I hope you will be ready too.

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CrazySummer is almost over.  I know ALL of us planned to get more done this summer, but there is still time.  I plan to devote the month of August to writing and if you want to join me, come on board. Just “like” my facebook fan page because that’s where the action will be.

I am choosing August because A) that’s all the summer we have left and B) the best time to start is now.  I have a vacation planned for August, so that’s not real convenient, but is there ever a “convenient” time to get serious?  Let’s get started now.

To get ready start making your writing plans for the month.  Also start prepping your writing space.  Clear off that desk! Buy yourself some flowers if it helps.  Run to Staples and get the paper or pen you like.  Have a back up printer cartridge in the ready position.  Grind those coffee beans. Whatever you need to do.

Because in two days… It’s ON.

Remember, like my fb page so you can report of your progress.  We are going to be so glad we did this.

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The Case for the Book– The Paper Book That You Can Hold in Your Hand

I Love BooksI recently took a trip to Brazil. It was meant to be a work-cation– sightseeing, beaches, but also writing time. It also involved about twelves hours on a an airplane.  I llike to think of myself as a with-it person, so I decided that I would read e-books while I was away.  Afterall, I am a superfast reader and I wouldn’t want to be carrying two weeks worth of books.  No, not hip super-techie me! iPad baby. Nook app.

I ordered the books from but forgot to actually send them to my device.  No worries, I thought.  I’ll just zip them from the cloud when I get on the place.  Didn’t the promo material say the jet was WiFi enabled?  Well, there was no WiFi on board, but that was okay. I entertained myself with the movies offered by my friends at American Airlines. (Young Adult wasn’t bad.) When I got to the villa in Brazil, there was no WiFi there, either.  (Moral of this story– don’t believe anything you read in promo materials.)  So there was was, stranded for two weeks with nothing to read.  Keep in mind that this was a communal living situation– think The Real World.  And everyone that was ever a nerdy child knows that a good book can give you privacy in your head, even when you have no privacy in real life.  And I had NOTHING.  Before you can suggest it— there was no sense looking for a bookstore since everything would be in Portugeuse.

Yes, I know that this falls under #firstworldproblems, but it was a little bit of a wake up call to me.  The ebook requires a certain amount of infrastructure and privilege. Not everybody in America– let alone the rest of the world– is plugged in 24-7.  And let’s say that I been able to download my ebooks, I wouldh’t have been able to share them with my new friends in Brazil.

The ride back was a nightmare.  For one, No movies because I lost my upgrade. (That’s a long story which I will only tell over cocktails.)  And second, I had nothing to read, having exhausted the SkyMiles catalog on the outbound trip.  All around me people were flipping through paper books with what looked to me like joy.  Glee, even.  On my lap, my iPad mocked.  I know this sounds dramatic, but I was in flight twelve hours!  There is only so much solitaire and Texas Hold ‘Em a person can take.

Next time, it’s real books all the way.

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