Sunday, July 31, 2011

Marketing: Like A Kid In A Candy Store...

        I've been asked, as part of the WordServe blog tour, to post a few thoughts about marketing my novels. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought about the phrase, "Like a kid in a candy store..."

         Like a kid in a candy store with a ten-dollar bill, the writer is faced with a myriad of choices when it comes to marketing his or her work. To extend the analogy, trying to have some of everything can lead to a figurative bellyache—or, in this case, migraines and stress ulcers. On the other hand, choosing only a few things from the enticing jars lining the shelves around us can make us think back to what we left unsampled. What if we’ve elected to focus on the chocolate-covered temptations of bookmarks and postcards, but would have been better off with the caramel-centered social networking? And the coconut-flavored blog tours beckon us with a siren song that makes us forget how filling—of our time and efforts—they can be.

I still remember sitting beside another author of Christian fiction at a book signing (another activity that may be pure chocolate or just zucchini in disguise). She confessed that trying to do everything at once to market her book was driving her crazy. I admitted to the same feelings. The ultimate goal of marketing is developing readers. It goes without saying that this involves writing the best work you can produce. Beyond that, how should you go about letting the world know? That author said her agent advised her to look at all the avenues, choose the ones with which you’re most comfortable, and don’t look back. It sounded like good advice, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. It’s worked for me, but might not be right for you. Then again, it could be the cherry-centered bonbon you’ve been seeking as you consider how you’re going to market your writing.

Bookmarks are a low-effort, multi-use tool for me. Mine have a one paragraph summary of the book, three one- or two-sentence endorsements, and a jpg of the book cover, plus my contact information at the bottom. I give them to bookstore managers (when they’ll take them), since a stack at the cash register may lead to an impulse sale. I give them to friends and acquaintances that ask me about my writing or my latest book. And I’m certain to include them in every book I sign or mail out. Do they help? I think so. Some authors prefer postcards. It’s a matter of choice. Remember, the key is “whatever works for you.”
And what if you’re not published? That sort of lets bookmarks and postcards out. But you can still have something to hand out. Carry a supply of cards that feature your picture and something about your writing, as well as contact information. Sure, you can print them on your computer, but it’s a good investment to have them professionally done.
Another thing to do, even before you’re published, is establishing a web presence. Consider both a website and a blog. My website gives information about me and about my books. My blog is about my writing life and life in general. I’ve settled into a twice –weekly blog posting routine, because 1) I didn’t have time for more, and 2) I’m not sure I have that much to say. I’ve established a presence on Twitter and have my “tweets” automatically posted to Facebook as well. (Google “posting tweets to Facebook” for the latest options.) What’s the commonality in these online efforts? They help build a base of people who know a bit about you. Just that much name recognition when encountering a book on a bookstore shelf may mean the difference in buying or passing by. 
I arrange to post interviews or guest blogs by my fellow authors when it’s time for their new book to launch, and most return the favor for me. I follow a number of blogs and try to leave a comment from time to time. But I never use a comment on someone else’s blog to promote my own writing. And on Twitter and Facebook I try to follow the 20/80 rule: 80% of my posts are fun, 20% mention my own writing.
I don’t actively seek out signings. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes not. I meet with book clubs when invited. I make an effort to give one of my author’s copies of each new book to my church library and my public library. I speak to writing groups, not so much to sell books as to pay forward what others have done for me on my own road to writing.
These are some of the things I’ve done. Others have been successful with different approaches. Remember, the key is “whatever works for you.” And lose the guilt.
Are you unique if you suffer guilt about not marketing enough? It’s universal, unless your name is Lee Childs or J K Rowling. It happens to us all. Jack Cavanaugh said it best: “When you’re writing, you’re not marketing. And when you’re marketing, you’re not writing.” Aside from human cloning, I don’t have an answer for the problem. But if you’re a published writer, it’s a nice problem to have.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Preparing Your Manuscript

This is the last in a series of posts on a writer's journey. Not the one that involves learning the craft and writing a novel. That road has been described to death in books, articles, lectures, and conversations over endless cups of coffee. This is about the other journey--the one that involves pitching the finished produce to agents and editors. When I first started on my own road to writing, I figured that I could just step out to the curb and wave my manuscript, hailing an editor like I'd flag down a cab. How wrong can anyone be?!!

We've talked about the elevator pitch, the preparation for a face-to-face interview, the proposal, and now let's suppose that you've been asked for "a full." They want to see your completed manuscript. The first response of any writer is to hurry home and send off what they've written. But this first response is the wrong one. And, like most lessons I've learned in life, I learned it the hard way.

No matter how good your work of fiction looks to you, it can be better. Editors and agents don't expect perfection in a writer. If that were the case, their work would be extremely easy. Just pick a few submissions and set them up for publication. What they're looking for is potential, and they know there'll be some editing along the way. But to adopt the attitude of "they'll correct the errors anyway" is a recipe for disaster. And, as my mother told me, you only have one chance to make a good first impression.

So what should you do before sending off the manuscript? First, read it through---again. Spellcheck is wonderful, but it and Autocomplete can be a writer's worst enemy, since they may insert a different word than the one you meant (although spelled correctly). Look for and correct both word and grammar errors.

Check for what one of my colleagues calls "weasel words"--words that don't contribute, as in "his approach was completely different," where "completely" is unnecessary. By the way, that's a "pleonasm." Avoid those, as well as tautologies and oxymorons. (Those concepts deserve a post all their own, I guess. Maybe later).

Finally, make your writing as tight as possible. Don't say in fifty words what you can say in twelve.

How do you know when it's time to stop editing and re-writing? You really don't. It's been said about many things--works of art, movies, poems, books--they aren't finished, they're abandoned. The best advice I can give is that, as you write, you develop a feel for this.

After you hit "send," what do you do? Why, you begin writing on your next project. After all, you're a writer. Welcome to the club.

Note: I hope you'll come back  for my next post, which will be on Monday instead of Tuesday next week. On August 1, clients of my agent, Rachelle Gardner, will all be blogging about marketing their writing. She'll have links on her blog site. Check them all out. I think you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Proposals--No, Not That Kind

In previous blog posts, I've talked about queries and elevator pitches by authors. What happens if the agent or editor likes your idea? Then they ask you to send them a proposal.

The proposal introduces both the book concept and the author. For fiction, it generally includes a 3- to 5-page single-spaced synopsis. (The rest of the proposal is double-spaced, Times New Roman 12 point, but the synopsis is single-spaced. Why? No one knows.) The fiction proposal also includes a sample of the work, maybe 30 pages or so. But with fiction, a proposal should never be sent until the work is completed, unless you've previously had novels published. This is to prevent people from sending proposals but never completing the work when the full manuscript (a "full") is requested.

A non-fiction proposal may include an annotated table of contents--the title of each chapter with two or three sentences about it. It also includes a sample of the book. And, for some reason, it's considered okay to submit a non-fiction proposal without having completed the book. Go figure!

In either case, the proposal also includes information about you, including your "platform," which is a subject for another post. The format for a proposal varies from agent to agent and publishing house to publishing house. For a detailed look, I'll refer you to a post by my own agent, Rachelle Gardner, whose blog is a gold-mine of such information.

Okay, now we've covered approaching an agent (or editor). What happens next? If you're not successful, a long wait followed by either a rejection or total silence, depending on the preferences of the person to whom you're submitting. If things go well, however, you may be on your way to representation, and after that starts the real climb--getting a publisher's interest.

Hurry back. There's more.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What In The World Is A "One-Sheet"?

The average reader has no idea what an author goes through to eventually acquire representation by an agent and get a contract from a publisher. Even fledgling authors aren't totally sure of the journey that lies ahead of them. That's why I decided to do this series

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mistakes To Avoid In Your Pitch

My agent, Rachelle Gardner, posted a tutorial on the so-called "elevator pitch" and invited readers to leave their examples in the comments section. I left a satirical one, and challenged my own readers to identify the mistakes. Here is the pitch, with my comments:

 I have the next best-seller (that line doesn't fly...ever), better than anything J K Rowling ever wrote (avoid comparisons at this stage, especially those that are derogatory). And God gave it to me (this may be sincere, but it has no place in a pitch), so it’s got to be a smash (that's for the committee at a publisher to judge much later). Since none of the other agents were interested (don't talk about your failures), I thought you might want a crack at it (sell it, don't offer it in a back-handed fashion). (Ding) Oh, here’s my floor. Want to meet for breakfast to talk about it (Don't ask for another meeting, ask if you can send a proposal)?

And the last error? I never mentioned the title of the book, the genre, or anything else about it.

Hope you had fun with this one, and good luck crafting your own pitches.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Do You Need An "Elevator Pitch?"

In my last post, I talked about queries, which are the means for initially approaching an agent via the Internet. I also mentioned an "elevator pitch," which is an abbreviated--much abbreviated--query. As time draws near for the annual conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers, lots of aspiring writers are preparing their pitches, so I thought it was appropriate to visit the subject, including how this maneuver got its name.

Two people get on an elevator at a writing convention. One is a top-flight editor. We'll call him "TFE." The other is an aspiring writer. He can be "AW." They glance at each other's name badges. Here's the conversation:

TFE: Enjoying the conference?

AW: Yes, very much.

TFE: What are you writing?

(Here's where the elevator pitch comes in. Contrast these two possibilities.)

It's about...I guess you could say it's action. But with some romance. But not too much. This guy is a detective, and he's divorced. And his ex-wife is working in a big office building. And...

Ding.The elevator doors open and TFE exits.

If AW is prepared, it might go like this:

Terrorists take over an office building, but unknown to them a detective is in the building and his wife is one of the hostages.

TFE: Sounds interesting. (Hands AW a card) Send me a proposal.

Of course, AW is describing Die Hard, and in one sentence he's hooked the editor. This is also what's called "high concept." That amounts to describing a story in a few words that allow the listener to sketch out the general structure of the plot in his mind and captures his imagination.

You may not be a writer, but elevator pitches work for everyone. Salesmen have an elevator pitch prepared in case they only have a few seconds of face time with their prospective buyer. Ever wonder why entertainers do so well in interviews? They generaly know what they'll be asked, and the sound bites they give out are often the equivalent of a prepared elevator pitch. What about you. Do you need to have an elevator pitch prepared? Now is the time to work on it--before the elevator door opens.

And for more on this from my super-agent, Rachelle Gardner, read her post from yesterday.

Late Note: Rachelle continues with a tutorial on the elevator pitch. I left a satirical example on the comments section of her blog. There are a number of errors in it. Let me know what they are in the comments section here. I'll list the answers in a special post on Thursday.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What's This "Query" Thing?

Many of you who read this blog are writers, either published or aspiring. I generally include some of my own experiences on the road to writing as I go along, but it occurs to me that for the non-writers in the audience, it might be of interest to know a little about the process. Although the finish line is a published book and the path might seem to be simple, nothing could be further from the truth.

The process begins with a query, which is a one-page communication to an agent. Why an agent? Because, unless you've made contact with them at a writer's conference (more on those at a later time), direct submission to editors is no longer a valid option. It's rare that something is submitted "over the transom" (directly to an editor) and rarer still if it gets an editor's attention.

If the query generates interest, it's followed by a proposal, then (if things go your way) a request for a sample of your work (a "partial"), followed in the case of a novel by a full manuscript. Then, if there's continued interest, the agent will contact you and discuss representation.

I just looked at the query I submitted to editors in 2005 (when direct submission was possible) as I began trying to get my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, published. (In case you're interested, the book is currently #8 on Amazon's list of books on grief and loss). Despite changes in the system, this still has all the basic elements suggested for a non-fiction query, so I'm posting it here.

I am writing to inquire about your interest in my book, The Tender Scar:  Life After The Death of a Spouse.  Please allow me to briefly introduce it.

Overview: This is a book with which everyone who has ever experienced the loss of a loved one can identify. Covering every emotion and pitfall along that road, excerpts from the journaling of a Christian physician after the unexpected death of his wife are followed by sensible comments and practical advice, based on the experience of one who has coped with all these situations.  A relevant scripture passage and a brief prayer conclude each chapter. Although it is true that one may never fully "heal" from the death of a spouse, this book provides help for achieving the best possible closure of that wound, a wound that always leaves a tender scar.

Target Audience: The book is aimed at those who have recently experienced the death of a husband or wife.  However, children, siblings, and friends who have suffered such a loss will also benefit from reading it.  Moreover, it will be a valuable addition to church libraries, and will be useful to pastors and lay persons alike.  It is a potential text for use in church seminars for adults of all ages.  Finally, it will provide important insights into the emotions of the grief-stricken for those engaged in Stephen Ministry and similar grief counseling programs.

Unique Character: There are a number of books already available on the subject of "how to get through grief," some secular and some with a Christian viewpoint. Having read dozens of them during my own grieving time, I found it hard to "connect" with them.  I believe the emotions revealed in the journalings that introduce each chapter of this book will resonate with those suffering a similar loss.  As a Christian physician, I write from a unique perspective on disease and death.  The commentary is neither saccharine nor superficial, but rather has a “real-world” ring to it.  The chapters are short enough to hold even a distracted reader’s attention.

About The Author:  For over thirty-five years, I have been a prolific medical writer, including a number of best-selling medical textbooks, as well as over one hundred professional papers and dozens of editorials. I remain an active speaker and teacher in my medical specialty. The Tender Scar is an outgrowth of my real-time journalings during the first two years after the death of my first wife, and was influenced by several mentors at the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference two years ago. Over the past five years, I have spoken to local and regional church and secular groups about spousal grief, presenting my experiences in the form of a monologue: Navigating The Speed Bumps On The Road Of Life.  

Because I have been fortunate enough to have others express an interest in this work, this is a simultaneous submission. I realize that you cannot respond to all queries, but to expedite any further communication, I am enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope. I would be happy to provide an annotated chapter outline, sample chapters, or the full manuscript (113 pages) should you desire. Thank you for taking the time to review this query.

Next time I'll talk about approaching an agent or editor at a conference with an "elevator pitch."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Medical Error Is A Carol Award Finalist

The American Christian Fiction Writers is a 2300+ member organization dedicated to the furtherance of Christian fiction and those who write it. I've been a member since I began writing, and am privileged to serve as Vice-President this year.

Each year, hundreds of books are submitted for judging for the ACFW's annual Carol Awards (formerly "Book of the Year") in various categories. I'd entered this year, the first year when I had books that were eligible for the contest, but knew I was up against stiff competition. That's why I was floored by the phone call I received a couple of days ago, advising me that my second published novel of medical suspense, Medical Error, was named a finalist. Only three books make it to the finals in each category, so I was (and remain) thrilled, honored, and humbled by all this.

The official announcement is to be made at 3 PM Eastern time today at the International Christian Retail Show in Atlanta. So now I can let everyone know.

Thanks to each of you who've supported me in so many ways along this road to writing.

Will My Social Media Presence Help My Book Proposal?

Does a presence in social media give a writer a better chance with an agent or editor? I’ve wondered about this, but never seen a satisfactory answer, so I decided to do an informal poll on the subject. I emailed a few editors and agents and asked them: When you see a query or proposal and recognize the name from seeing it on a blog post, blog comment, Twitter, FaceBook, or some other social media site, does it give the person any advantage?
Here’s what they said, starting with responses from the agents.

One agent put it very succinctly: “Yes. Name recognition means a lot in today’s distracted marketplace of ideas.”

Another was even briefer: “Sure, it does.”

A third agent went into a bit more detail: “Yes … Sometimes a person becomes so familiar to me from Twitter and blog comments that I feel like I know them, even though I don't. So it can lead to my giving the submission a bit more attention, perhaps sooner, or perhaps considering more carefully… But I often have to say no, even to those with whom I've become familiar. “

The fourth agent I asked said, “Recognizing a name because of comments on our blog is a big plus. Because it conveys more than name recognition; I've gotten to know the person a little, and I realize that individual has been reading our blog and knows who we are.

“Other social media doesn't carry as much weight, but it does help. I realize you're involved in the social media community.”

Editors also said they paid attention in this area. Here’s one response: “If I… see a proposal from someone I recognize—no matter where I know the name from—it does color my interpretation of that proposal. If I know the person but he/she’s a jerk, I’m negatively predisposed, and vice versa.”

Another editor puts it this way: Yes, but not because I’m showing any favoritism. It’s because if I’ve gotten to know the person better as a result of FB (I’m not on Twitter or LinkedIn), I better understand who they are and what their goals are. Plus—and it’s a big plus—when I see them post on FB about writing, I know they’re serious about their career.  That’s especially true when they post something about writing that intrigues me.  When I do a “like” to someone’s FB post, I usually remember the name of the person—especially when it happens more than once.”

Lest all the writers out there immediately “friend” every editor on Facebook, take note of this response: “I have 1000 FB friends now, most of whom I don’t know and after I’ve had them for awhile, if I’ve not interacted with them in some way, I ‘hide’ them. I have to order to keep up with the ones I DO interact with.”
And the responses weren’t unanimous. One editor voiced a different view: Not really. I’m very selective in the blogs I read, and I don’t follow any authors on Twitter or Facebook.”
Another editor gave advice on the question of including your social media experience in your proposal. “I think you should include any and all information that is pertinent to your book or you as an author and that will help you sell your book. If you have a Facebook page with 10 friends and a blog that gets 3 unique viewers a month, I would leave it out entirely. But if you have 7,000 Twitter followers, by all means include that—and your Twitter name so the publisher/agent can verify your claims.”

What’s the take-home message for writers from all this? Unfortunately, it gets back to that hated word: platform. Make sure that one plank of that platform includes such social media as Twitter and Facebook. And, if you’ve got a good following there, it might not hurt to include that in your query.

One more comment about social media. If you want to add to your fan base, include your Facebook and Twitter contact information in your signature line. You might just pick up an extra reader or two that way.

That’s my two cents worth. Now you can give me yours.

Note to writers in the Austin/Round Rock, TX area: I'll be speaking to the Centex chapter of ACFW this Saturday, 9:30 AM, on Medical Details In Your Fiction. Hope to see you there.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Author Christa Allan Returns

With the release of her sophomore novel, The Edge of Grace, author Christa Allan returns for an interview at Random Jottings. Christa doesn’t write about the “safe” things in our modern society. In her debut novel, Walking On Broken Glass, she dealt with alcoholism. This time, it’s the trauma experienced by a widowed single mother whose brother cancels his wedding and leaves for a vacation in Mexico…with another man.

RM: Christa, please tell my readers a bit about why you’ve chosen these subjects for your novel.
CA: Both of these subjects originated in personal experiences. I am a recovering alcoholic and, by the grace of God, I’ve been sober for 24 years now. Like Leah in Walking on Broken Glass, I did admit myself to a treatment center. And, like Leah, did so days after being confronted by a friend. So, the reviews that slam me for not understanding alcoholism or recovery crack me up. One of the reasons I wrote the novel was to show that all alcoholics are not strewn over doorsteps or blocking gutters (I live in New Orleans; that’s, unfortunately, typical in the French Quarter). They’re the people we sit next to in church, or stand behind in the grocery check-out line, or cheer with at our children’s games.  While the novel is not-as some think-a memoir or thinly veiled autobiography, I did have to reach back into a past that I’ve been blessed not to recreate to channel Leah.
As for The Edge of Grace, over a decade ago, my brother-my only sibling-told me he was gay. The news fractured our relationship, but the truth of it is I was the one with the hammer. It took years, too many years, for me to realize that placing the word “gay” in front of the word “brother” did not change the substance of the person I’d known and loved all my life. He is my brother, and I don’t define him by his sexual orientation. In fact, he doesn’t define me by mine either! When my brother’s partner of over fifteen years was attacked in the French Quarter, that was my motivation for getting serious about the novel. The Edge of Grace grew out of those experiences. I wanted other families to realize that they weren’t alone, and that what God wants most, from all of us, is to love.
RM: I’d imagine that it wasn’t easy finding either an agent or a publisher for novels like yours. Tell us about your writing journey in that regard.
CA: Both Rachelle Gardner, the agent for these two novels, and Barbara Scott, the editor at Abingdon Press acquiring them, championed these works. I truly see God’s hand in bringing us together. Eight or nine publishing houses turned down Walking on Broken Glass and, on the heels of that, Abingdon Press started their fiction line and sought new voices. And-no kidding-just as Rachelle and I were having a phone conversation about the direction of the still unplaced The Edge of Grace, we both received an email from Barbara that it was on its way to committee, and she felt strongly it would pass.
So much of this business is subjective, which is why I believe if your voice is strong and you’ve grasped the essentials of storytelling, your writing will find a home.
 RM: In Edge of Grace, the protagonist is a widowed single mother who is eking out a living as a caterer. I gained five pounds just reading about the various foods in the book. Why did you pick that occupation for her, and is there something in your background that contributed to it?
CA:  I grew up in New Orleans, still live a half-hour away, and we equate food with love…without apology. Over breakfast, we’re talking about what we want for lunch, during lunch we discuss dinner. We don’t care what a restaurant looks like on the outside as long as the food on the inside rocks our world. And don’t go looking for the holy trinity of New Orleans in church. It’s kept in the refrigerator: equal parts onion, celery, and green pepper.
So, that’s my background. I wanted Caryn to pursue a business that allowed her to be home with her son. Catering allowed her opportunities to move beyond the mundane, to explore and express herself creatively.  And, it provided me a legitimate excuse to browse menus!
RM: When you’re not slaving away at the computer, you’re a teacher. Tell us a bit about those experiences, if you would.
CA: Hmmm…I think that’s a book waiting to happen! For 23 years, I’ve taught English in public high schools in Louisiana. Contrary to what some believe, not all public high schools are breeding grounds for future convicts, drug dealers, or minimum wage workers! In fact, I happen to teach in one of the more affluent communities where I live, which-ironically-means many of my students are too unaware of the world beyond their luxury cars and gated homes.
I teach American Literature, both regular and honors, and Advanced Placement English Language and Composition to approximately 125-150 juniors. Four years ago, I received my National Board Certification. In addition to teaching, I’m the English Department Chairperson, I sponsor the National Honor Society, the Gay-Straight Alliance, and co-sponsor the Junior Class.
The pressure, though, for high scores is relentless and exhausting. Imagine being told you have to treat thirty patients at once every hour, and none of them are allowed to die—ever. Then, there are the “helicopter” parents, the ones who persist in hovering over their teens, protecting them from consequences.  Many students try to schedule themselves out of my classes because they know I won’t tolerate mediocrity, I insist on their being responsible, and I don’t apologize for challenging them to become better citizens of the universe. The ones who don’t eventually come to realize that I’m passionate about learning, enthusiastic about their futures, and a wee bit on the quirky side!
My students also keep me from being too enamored with myself! When they learn that I’ve written books, their response is generally, “Real books? Like the ones in a bookstore?”
RM:  And…hard to say this…you’re a rabid New Orleans Saints fan. Don’t you think that talking trash via Twitter might alienate your readers (not to mention your other author friends who are, for example, Dallas Cowboys fans)?
CA: Ah, Richard, you know I’m just not feeling the football love here. It might amuse you to know that I spend almost every LSU and Saints football game alternately pacing around the den, screaming at the television, and texting my children and my brother about the score (or lack thereof). Twitter trash talk about football is what endears me to you!
 RM: What’s next on your writing agenda?
CA: I have a three-book contract with Abingdon for releases in 2012 and 2013. Writing the sequel to WOBG is something I’d like to tackle within the next year. And, soon, I hope to be able to announce more!
 RM: And, as I always ask, any last words for readers and writers out there?
CA: Thank you, to all the readers who turn the pages of my books, recommend them, and encourage me. I feel tremendously blessed.
As for writers, I continue to learn so much from those who generously share themselves, their successes and their challenges.  Some days I wonder if we’ll be the ones at the second coming asking Jesus if we can just finish “this one sentence” before the final, final deadline!

Christa, thanks for joining us here. You were right in the prior interview when you said that if there’s an elephant in the room, you’ll find it. Thanks for not ignoring the unpopular (and sometimes unlovely) things we encounter every day in our Christian walk.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Any Old Excuse...

It's been tough to get down to writing this summer. Family obligations have popped up, I've spent a lot of time in my position as Vice-President of a national writers' organization, and the season itself has made it somehow easier to say, "It's too pretty outside. I'll write later."

When I was practicing medicine, I had no such temptations to procrastinate in performing my duties. I had patient appointments, surgery, and (in the last decade of my practice) the added responsibility of academic duties. The same constraints fall on people in other fields. As my friend, Hugh King, says, "You take the man's dollar, you do the man's work."

Now that I'm retired from medicine and pursuing writing full-time, I can see why writers need an extra spark of stick-to-it-iveness to get anything done. The prime rule of writing is to place rear end firmly in chair and write for a specific amount of time or to produce a specific work product each day or week. Mentor and author James Scott Bell taught me this, and although I don't always adhere to it (sorry, Jim), it's excellent advice.

William Faulkner is credited with saying,  “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” When I'm tempted to procrastinate, I think of the story of Murphy and his neighbor. Murphy's neighbor knocked on his door one Saturday and asked to borrow his lawnmower. Murphy thought a bit before replying, "I'm sorry, but my car is in the shop right now."

The neighbor walked away, scratching his head. Murphy's wife heard the whole exchange and asked, "What does your car being in the shop have to do with loaning your lawnmower?"

"Nothing really. But I wasn't going to loan it to him, and that was the first thing that came into my mind."

When my procrastination gene wants to exert itself, I'm like Murphy. Any old excuse will do. Even writing a blog post, instead of trying to figure out the next twist in the plot of Stress Test. But that excuse won't hold anymore, so I guess I'd better get back to writing.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Musings On July 4

I grew up in an era of patriotism. Two of my uncles fought in World War Two--one of them didn't make it back home. Even in the early 1960's, when I was called upon to serve in the military at a time when unpopular wars and "police actions" were becoming the norm, I wore the uniform proudly. I might not have agreed with all the actions of my Commander-in-Chief, but I'd taken an oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," and I took that oath seriously. Today, when I stand for the National Anthem, I stand at attention, wishing at times that I were once more in uniform so I could salute Old Glory instead of simply doffing my hat and holding it over my heart.

Do I believe in the adage, "My country, right or wrong?" Not totally, but neither did the author of that oft-misquoted phrase. Naval hero Stephen Decatur actually said, "Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!" In 1872, Senator Carl Schurz said it even better. "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." Yes, it's still my country. And this July Fourth I'll fly my flag to celebrate the millions who have sacrificed so much to give us the freedom we enjoy. And I'll pray that, where the United States is right, it's kept right. More important, where it's wrong, my fervent prayer is that it will be set right.

God bless America. Have a wonderful weekend.