Books Inspiration Publishing Writing

Just Do Something: How to Escape the Slush Pile

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoungI’ve been reading Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will or How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing In the Sky, Etc. by Kevin DeYoung. I picked it up at a recent conference, not because I have trouble with decision-making, but because I’m a sucker for a catchy title (there’s a lesson there for publishers).

It’s a solid little book that takes a serious look at the harm done by indecision, waffling, inconsistency, and the unwillingness to just put a hand to the proverbial plow and get moving. Spiritualizing indecision and inaction may make it more socially acceptable, but it doesn’t make it a more effective life strategy. Just Do Something is more than just a title, it’s a strategy that works.

How does this book relate to writing and escaping the slush pile? Take a minute to read Stephanie Blake‘s inspiring blog post, “How I (Finally) Got a Book Plucked From the Slush Pile,” to get a good look at exactly what “just do something” looks like in the writing world. Stephanie chronicles a year by year saga of her long road to publication heaven, and the thing that stands out is that she simply kept doing something.

Like many unpublished writers, she learned through the process–through slammed doors, frustrating rejections, and tantalizing “almosts.” She went to conferences, worked with agents, did revisions, and did it all again and again. She didn’t wait for the stars to align, for approval from others, or for anything else before she started sending out her work. She sent and sent and sent. She revised. She sent some more. Finally the miracle happened, and The Marble Queen was plucked from the slush pile and accepted.

If she hadn’t written this blog post, there would have been unpublished writers who commented enviously about luck and overnight success and people who get all the breaks (I know, I’ve heard all that– many times, and if you’ve been through Lucky Freelancer coaching with me, you’ll know exactly how to turn those excuses upside down). There’ll probably still be writers who say things like that, but that’s because they’re not out there doing something. They’re just a little too busy–way too busy–to do all that sending and revising and resending, but one day, just watch, they’ll get the call too. Or not.

The fact is that  just do something is the key to almost everything. The book is good too. I’ll be sharing it, so don’t be offended if I send it your way. Just do something!

Contest Writing

NaPiBoWriWee- Another Crazy Challenge

National Picture Book Writing Week, the brainchild of author Paula Yoo, is scheduled for May 1-7. I’m planning to participate, even though I’ll be at at Malice Domestic for the first couple of days. If you’re going to participate, leave a comment below, or stop back by during the week. I’d love to hear how it’s going.

Here are a few excerpts from the press release announcing the event:

In the spirit of National Novel Writing Month (“NaNoWriMo”) where people across the country try to write a complete novel in one month, the fine folks at have decided to start the first ever National Picture Book Writing Week, affectionately nicknamed “NaPiBoWriWee.”

The goal? To write 7 picture books in 7 days.

To summarize, the basic rules:

1. Midnight May 1st to 11:59 p.m. May 7th: Write 7 separate and complete picture books.

2. You are NOT allowed to write the same picture book in 7 variations. Each book must be complete and separate.

3. No minimum word count. Instead, each book must have a clear beginning, middle and end.

4. You are allowed to brainstorm and research book topics before May 1st. Outlines are acceptable. First draft writing is NOT. Do NOT write your books before May 1st – only brainstorming, taking notes, and outlining are allowed.

5. You are NOT allowed to write a single word of your draft until midnight May 1st.

6. There is NO minimum word count required. The fine folks of NaPiBoWriWee require nothing but your word of honor. We will embrace the Honor Code. If you say you have written 7 complete picture book drafts in 7 days, we will believe you. Besides, why would you lie to us? You’re writing picture books for little children! Picture Book Authors are nice, honest people who would never lie!

7. Please register on in order to write comments on Paula’s blog every day with your progress and questions. Go here for help:

8. If you plan to blog about your NaPiBoWriWee journey, please include a link to:

9. Several winners will be chosen from random of all the people who comment from May 1-7 on or who email me to request to be on the drawing list at paula at paulayoo dot com. Winners will receive an autographed copy of my books “SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY” (Lee & Low Books 2009)  and “SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY” (Lee & Low ’05), along with items from our NapiBoWriWee Store( and a couple of surprise autographed book prizes from special guest authors!

10. For those of you attending the national Society of Children Book Writers & Illustrators( conference in August, let me know and I’ll arrange for an informal gathering during the conference so we can meet in person and celebrate our first NaPiBoWriWee!

Inspiration Writing

National Poetry Month- Write a Poem a Day!

National Poetry Month 2010April, once called the cruelest month, is National Poetry Month. The Academy of American Poets is sponsoring a wonderful celebration this month, with a stunning poster, suggested activities, and more. You can even sign up to get a poem a day sent to your inbox.

I know several people who plan to celebrate by writing a poem every single day of the month, and I am just deciding that perhaps I’ll try it this year as well. Even if there are days when I don’t feel inspired, there’s always haiku. Not that it’s less difficult than longer poetry, but it does have the virtue of being short. I don’t write poetry often, but it’s a wonderful way to focus sharply on the craft of writing. A challenge is usually fun, too.

What about you? How will you celebrate?

And if you need to get back in touch with T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, you can find it at at the site, with both text and a recorded segment. Enjoy!

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour. Read more…


The Luxury of Silence

Storyteller Louis L’Amour said he could write in the middle of a busy intersection with his typewriter on his lap. Not necessarily a good idea, I would think, but I envy his concentration. Once started, I can focus like nobody’s business. My family knows that if I’m writing, they have to work hard (aka “be obnoxious”) in order to derail me. However, it’s the getting started that’s occasionally a challenge.

Ambient noise– the ticking of the clock, the wren’s repeated “Sophia” outside my window, the UPS truck in the driveway– doesn’t bother me. If I can start the day quietly, read a bit, check the priority list, and settle into my office around 9:30, all tends to go well. It’s when something interrupts the quiet start that silence seems elusive.

Silence ranks as one of the primary luxuries I crave. When I have a delectably silent day (rare), it’s hard to emerge from the blissful solitude and have to start making noise. I’d rather put thoughts on a page than try to respond to small talk. It’s rewarding to find a voice on paper, but much harder to mine worth from the spoken word.

I dream of taking a solitary vacation to someplace quiet. For once I might reach a surfeit of silence, and find myself looking forward to noise. I can scarcely imagine it, but I’d be willing to experiment– all in the name of scholarly investigation, of course.

Yesterday, I got a lot done on my book proposal. Today, not so much, due to a disrupted morning. I wonder if it’s possible to request a year of silence as a birthday gift? I’d have to wait until June, but perhaps it takes that long to gather a good supply and get it gift wrapped. Let’s see if I can add it to my Amazon wishlist….


Don’t Write What You Know

Write who you are.

Write who you want to be.

Write where you want to go.

What what you want to know.

Write what you want to write.

Write to spend time with people who entertain you.

Write what you want to read.

Write to find out why you write.

J.D. Salinger successfully wrote what he knew, but remembered angst isn’t a necessary ingredient for success. Writers write for many reasons: some to ponder, some to explore, and others to reveal. It isn’t necessary to transcribe actual experience to paper– writers harbor pockets of deep knowledge that can be expressed in many shapes, forms, genres.

Few books are truer than the Lord of the Rings, and while Tolkein know his world well, he’d never physically experienced it–never traveled with a hobbit or sung with a dwarf. He conveyed truth because he transposed who he was and what he believed into a coherently created universe where logically imagined consequences followed creatively imagined events. Tolkein pondered and explored in his work, and through the medium of Middle-Earth, he revealed touchstones of deep truth. He must have written what he wanted to know.

When I write, I write what I want to read and I write who I am. I find the two inextricably bound together, because what I want to read is based in who I am. I write non-fiction because gaps in knowledge niggle at me until they’re filled in, so I write so that others won’t be frustrated. I write fiction because I love the sudden transport of imagination, the vanishing of the present into the possible. I write because I read. I write because I must.

Why do you write?


Telephone Rules for Writers

What’s worse than sitting down at the typewriter and not being able to think of anything to write? Sitting down to write, finding your words flowing easily and well, then being interrupted by a phone call that completely derails your train of thought.

One of the best things I ever did for my writing career was to create a telephone policy. By setting a few simple boundaries, I eliminated an enormous potential source of distraction and frustration, and noticeably increased my daily word count. My rules are tailored for my life and preferences– yours may be different. Whatever boundaries you choose, I recommend setting at least a few. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can get done!

My Telephone Policy

  • Answer no calls during writing time–I have voice mail for a reason.
  • Make all outgoing phone calls at one time during the marketing/administration part of the day.
  • Encourage week-day business and social contact via e-mail rather than by phone (easier and more convenient).
  • Return inquiry calls with an e-mail when possible. It’s much faster, and you have a record of your response.
  • Any call to my personal number that is from an unknown source goes to voicemail (where is usually discovered to be a telemarketer if anyone ever checks the messages).

In what may seem the most curmudgeonly rule of all, I advocate turning off cell phone ringers when you’re out on an artist date (as Julia Cameron recommends in The Artist’s Way), when you’re doing errands, eating out, or any other time you don’t need to be talking. As a writer, it’s important to be present in the moment, seeing, hearing, and feeling all that is going on, and that’s impossible to achieve with a remote person talking at you. And few things are more rude than ignoring the people you’re with in order to talk on the phone.

If you have children or are a caregiver, you’ll have to be somewhat accessible, but other than those needs, try not to let yourself to be controlled by the phone. It’s a major time-waster, and can ruin a perfectly good writing session in no time. If you’re firm, friends and family will grow accustomed to your eccentricity (and if they don’t, you’ll develop a remarkable tolerance for ringing;-)). Business calls can be returned or answered with an e-mail each afternoon, which is usually soon enough. Very few calls are urgent or time-sensitive, so an occasional phone check should be all you need.

Becoming a writer means writing, and one of the things that makes it possible is setting boundaries around your writing time. The phone is often the last intruder to be banished, but when it is, I believe you’ll find yourself more creative and productive. Enjoy!