This weekend marked the 52nd Vermont Maple Festival. Perhaps you've heard of it? It's been featured in several prominent U.S. magazines and draws thousands from around the U.S., and even the world.
This celebration of all things maple is one of perks of living here in northwestern Vermont. In the past few days I've discovered the bliss that is maple syrup dipped French fries (wow!) and met some wonderful "neighbors" at the local craft show where I shared a table with two other awesome Vermont authors.
For the past few years fellow Vermont author, Beth Kanell, and I have shared a booth at the Maple Festival craft show. This year we were joined by a third Vermont author, Lori MacLaughlin.
Beth writes beautiful poetry and historical novels for the YA crowd (her newest has just come out, The Long Shadow, and I can't wait to read it!). Lori focuses on fantasy and writes entertaining and adventurous books that are hard to put down. Her newest book, The Road Once Taken, has just come out on Kindle and will be available in paperback very soon.
And if that wasn't enough, I also got to finally meet the wonderful, witty and completely personable Vermont author, Kathryn Guare, last week as well. We've chatted online before but it was lovely to meet her face-to-face and talk shop. The hour and a half we spent discussing plots and exchanging publishing tips felt like 20 minutes!
It's always a pleasure to join forces with other local authors. Do you like to read books based in your area? Why or why not?
Tell me the truth: when you read a poor book review, does it make you want to run out and buy the book anyway, or cause you to have second thoughts?
Like art critics, I believe that book reviewers can hurt authors. While reviews are important (how else will anyone online discover your work?), I choose not to write them for a few reasons. Here they are:
3 Reasons I Don't Write Book Reviews
1) Book reviews say, "I'm an expert," and I'm not. I think that two people can read the exact same book and one will leave the experience in love and the other will be wondering why they wasted those hours of their life. Who am I to say, "yes, read THIS book," or "no, don't read THAT book"? Reading tastes are so individual that it's impossible to predict whether or not someone will love or dislike the book that as a reviewer you tell them they "must read."
2) I hate reading things I don't want to. Just the thought of having to read something makes my skin feel itchy and my legs twitch. I did loads and loads of that in high school and college. I don't want to "have to read" anything. This is also why I have never joined a book group. I tried and failed.
Book reviewers often have lots of free books coming their way and they are expected to actually READ them. Shiver, shiver. My reading time is so limited that in the few precious minutes I do have, I want to focus on something that I love. Reading is an escape. It's hard to "escape," if you're reading something that you'd rather not be.
3) Reviews can hurt. I nearly gave up writing books a few years ago. I allowed a series of negative reviews online and in person at book events to really discourage me. I thought that I sucked as an author. "Maybe I should just give up," I thought. "There has to be better ways to spend all this time and money than on writing books that I put so much of myself into, only to have them criticized and belittled. Maybe I should take up extreme ironing. (Guys, it's a real thing.)
Anyway, after a long time, a lot of reflection, prayer and introspection, I eased back into writing novels. But my point is this: critical words hurt. It doesn't matter if you're a baby beginner or a stalwartly pro. Creatives are sensitive creatures (some more than others). Putting your work in the world, the work that you've put your heart into, that you've spent hours upon hours on is risky. One too many barbed comments or scathing reviews take their toll.
What I Do Instead of Writing Book Reviews
Rather than writing book reviews, I choose to write book recommendations. The biggest differences?
a) I only write these about books I really enjoy and
b) I follow Mom's rule: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
With that said, though, I do like to write and verbally share book recommendations. Book recommendations are fun! I love making these and do so monthly in my newsletter for readers of suspense. I will also occasionally read something really good and then reach out to the author and ask if I can interview them here on the blog. I also often promote their work on Twitter or Facebook or a private suspense reading recommendation group that I'm a member of. It's a great way to share other authors great work, without writing traditional book reviews.
In the next post, I'm going to tell you more about some suspense reader review sites that I do enjoy. Just because I choose not to write reviews, doesn't mean that I don't like reading them...and enjoying the community that these review bloggers have created.
If you're a creative, you likely feel guilty when you take time "away" from "real life" to practice your art. This is an epidemic in the creative field and one that I am becoming more and more frustrated by.
Too few artists and writers and musicians have the luxury of doing their work on a full-time basis. When we talk about making our art as our career, it's often in awe-laced voices. Smile lines around the eyes deepen and a happy glow radiates from our faces. Phrased like, “Someday…" and “When I retire…" and “Wouldn’t it be wonderful …” are common phrases we too often mutter.
Why is the world set up in a way so that bankers and accountants and software engineers and business owners are lauded and given the head nod of approval, while those of us who create are told to “do it in your free time?” Where has the respect for art and creativity gone? Why do we as a culture no longer embrace the creative gifts the same way as we did in the Renaissance Period?
Maybe my view is skewed. I certainly didn't get enough sleep last night. Still, it irks me that creatives gifts are seen as “less than,” because our society views money-making endeavors as more important. But when did the dollar bill outshine the importance of creating? When did the banks become more important than the art galleries, and Wall Street more valued than creative expression?
When did we decide as a culture that working 40 or 50 or 60 hours a week in a cubicle or warehouse or office was more important than living a full life, one that includes creative expression and communication—not just as a “side hustle,” but as our life’s work?
This is one of the reasons that I recently joined Patreon. Unfamiliar with this community? It's a platform that allows art patrons to support artists and their creative endeavors. I've been thinking for joining for a long time, but that little voice in my head held me back.
"Who are you to think that people would want to support your writing?"
"Don't you think that people have more important things to spend money on?"
"Get over yourself. There is no way that you'll get anyone to take a chance on your work."
Of course, that sealed the deal. If I've learned one thing from that negative, critical voice over the years it's this: do exactly what it fears most.
So I created an account on Patreon. You can watch the video below for more information, or check out my page there right now.
I believe that creativity matters. I believe that people love books and stories. And I believe that my career as an author and writer will grow stronger with the support of a community.
Welcome to my office! Were you picturing something dark and creepy? :) This is where I write. I love the light that comes in the only window, which looks out over the front yard. I can watch the birds flying into and out of the big pine tree nearby, or the cars driving up and down our street (I prefer the birds).
While I don't have a set writing schedule, I'm experimenting this year with some new ideas. One is writing to a word count with fiction (I have been using my 15-minute writing method for so long that I honestly forgot that I can write longer now that my work schedule has changed!). This morning I wrote about 1,500 words on a fun, new project. I'm not sure it will ever make it into a book or even see the light of day, but I'm really enjoying it.
You might notice that there are a lot of old things in my office (or reproductions of old things). I definitely love things that have history and patina. I'm happy when I get to explore junk shops or antique stores ... all those stories!
I wouldn't exactly say that this office is "where the magic happens," because honestly? A writer's work from the outside is yawn-inducing. There is a reason that they don't let us on shows like "American Idol." Still, I love my little space and am grateful for it.
Ahhh, spring. The air is filled with the chirps of migrating birds returned to the northland. The grass changes overnight from dull brown to lush green. Buds pop on tree branches. And suddenly flowers dot otherwise skimpy flower beds.
Spring is the perfect time of year for fresh starts and new beginnings. I’ve often thought this a better time of year for resolutions rather than the dark, cold days of January. Spring cleaning has many of us heaving stuff from the garage and scrubbing away the grimy prints from windows and doors, too.
Last year around this time, I was embarking on a new-to-me journey: a foray into minimalism. For those of you unfamiliar with the term it basically means less of what you don’t need so you can have more (money, mental space, cleared out physical space) of what you love. I loved reading Joshua Becker’s blog, Becoming Minimalist, and later a few of his books. Courtney Carver was the inspiration behind a serious overhaul of my wardrobe when I pared down to less than 40 items. Everywhere I looked it seemed, I found more blogs and books on the subject. And they were inspiring.
Fast forward a year
While I’m nowhere near having a home that looks like this, I still like to keep things clutter-free (as much as is possible living in a small house with a family and two cats). This year I’ve learned some good lessons about decluttering and living in a more minimalistic way. More interesting? I’ve seen how questioning clutter in a physical space is starting to influence my writing. I'll share a few of the lessons learned below.
Lesson #1: Find a new normal. I struggle through the months of February, March and April. No matter how I try to prepare myself and take care of myself through workouts, supplements, light therapy, and new activities, this is the worst time of the year for me. It’s when I put on my “winter weight,” and get lethargic and feel like no matter how hot baths I take, I never fully unthaw. It’s also the time when my healthy habits like decluttering, refraining from buying things I don’t need and keeping things organized slip a little.
I used to consider myself a failure because of this. This year I realized that even at my worst, when I’m browsing clothes stores every week and drooling over things I won't buy, I’m still far better off than I was several years ago. Then I would actually spend money, most that I didn’t have—(hello, credit card, where’ve you been?)—on things that I didn’t need.
It’s cool to look back at where I was a decade ago and see how much my habits have changed. This is my new normal. While it still always feels that I have miles and miles to go before I end up anything like this, I enjoy this new path so much more.
The same thing can be seen in our writing. At first setting up a writing practice is hard. You’d rather trim the dog’s toenails or deep clean the fridge. But then you find your groove, your new rhythm. And realize that this writing thing isn’t so hard after all. Especially after you’ve set up an easy way to win.
Lesson #2: Less really is more. When I was a kid I was the queen of collections. I had sticker collections, stuffed animal collections, book collections, glass jar collections … basically I hoarded everything I could get my sticky little hands on.
Over time, especially after having a child, the importance of less stuff has become more and more a priority. I don’t want 10 of anything. I’m driven mad by the Christmas Tree Shop commercials, “What? Only $4? I’m going to get twenty!” says an over-dressed woman throwing in armfuls of candle pieces or potholders into her cart.
How does this relate to writing? In recent months I’ve noticed a difference in my editing abilities. Now it’s becoming easier to see where I can let words go—unclutter my sentences—and end up with something that sounds better.
Lesson #3: Make room for what’s important. Last year when I did my big closet cull, I donated bags and bags of clothes and accessories. I generally shop at thrift stores and gladly take my sisters’ hand-me-downs so I didn’t feel guilty about filling bags with donations. I did, however, feel a little panicked when I looked at my newly pared down side of the closet.
It looked empty. Yes, it was nice to see everything that I had easily. Instead of too-tightly crammed together pieces, I could actually see every single article in a quick glance.
But you know what I realized in the next few weeks? I had so many more options! Because I could easily see what there was to choose from I had fun putting together new outfits. I love fashion and clothes and it was an eye-opener for me to realize this: make room for what you love most and you’ll always be well-dressed.
Make your writing a priority
This is the same for writing what you love. Writers and creatives in general, all struggle to make time for their craft. When we allow the world (using the term loosely to mean anything outside your priority writing) to make its demands on us, we lose our chance to do that unique writing that only we can bring into the world. Balancing clients’ projects with your own writing is extremely difficult. Until you determine that your own writing is a priority and treat it as such.
I talk about this in The 15-Minute Novelist so won’t go into depth here. But I would encourage you, if you’re struggling to make your own writing project a priority, do it first. When you wake up. Or with your first cup of coffee. Or on your morning commute via subway or bus. Even if it’s just a short segment of time, make your writing a priority. This tells your subconscious, my writing matters. My creativity matters.
And from that point on, your day may be just a little easier.
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