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Thursday, December 23, 2010

...And an Iggi-licious New Year!

Wow, it's been a crazy year!  As I look back on it, I still can't believe how much has happened.  Sometimes it doesn't quite seem real, you know?  Here's a snapshot of the past year here at iggi&gabi in writing (and other) milestones:

April:  iggi is born.
            iggi&gabi blog launches.

May:  Gabi finishes thesis and graduates from MFA.

September:  DIY MFA!!!

November:  Rough draft finished.

December:  Gabi and hubby close the deal on dream home!  That's right, it became official on Monday and we'll be moving sometime early in the new year.  We're really excited because we'd been dreaming about this place for ages and now it's finally come true.

As for 2011, I've already got a few things to look forward to with my writing, including some conferences in January, some new classes for me to teach (and maybe some for me to take too) and of course, our new home!
I also want to thank you all for being such awesome readers and such a great community!  I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to share this past year with you all.  The online writing community is amazing and supportive, I'm just thankful to be a part of it and to know I have you guys in my corner.  Seriously, regardless of what happens on my publishing journey, I will always feel like a writer because I am part of this community.  And in the end, that's what really matters.

I wish you all health and happiness in 2011.  May your New Year be filled with all sorts of miracles.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Leverage for Writers

Today I will to admit to one of my guilty pleasures, so please don't point and laugh at me (you can laugh next to me but not at me).  And please keep it just between you and me, 'k?  Don't go blabbing about it all over the internet because then I might cry and sic my pet gremlins on you.  All right, you ready?  I'm about to tell you something super personal and embarrassing.  Here it is in 3... 2... 1...


I know, *gasp* right?  I mean, it's not high-quality television and yes, I feel like I've lost one or two brain cells after I watch each episode.  But it's so deliciously entertaining, kind of like Ocean's Eleven, only with a whole Robin Hood theme going on.

It occurred to me that Leverage is actually a really good metaphor for the writing process.  Each episode follows the leverage team as they plan and execute a "job" to steal stuff from rich people and give it back to poor people.  Each character has a special skill that allows him or her to contribute to the task at hand.  What does this have to do with writing, you ask?

Writers need leverage.  They need skills that work together in order to pull off the "job," which in this case means writing the book.  Every member of the team needs to do his or her job so that they can achieve their desired goal.  The only difference between writing a book and pulling off an elaborate heist is that instead of wearing one hat, the writer must wear all five.  Here are the roles the writer must play in order to get the job done.

Grifter:  Sophie (far left) is the con-artist, the actress of the group.  She is able to step in and out of different roles as easily as you or I might change our shoes.  Writers must be able to do the same thing.  One minute we have to be in our protagonist's head and understand her motivations, the next we have to empathize with our villain.  Writing convincing characters means being able to get inside their heads, feel what they would feel, think what they would think.  Then make them do what we want.

Hitter:  Eliot (second from left) is the workhorse member of the team.  Basically, if some bad guy needs to be punched out, Eliot's the man for the job.  Again, this is an important skill for a writer to have.  Sometimes there isn't an elegant solution to a writing problem; sometimes you just have to use brute force and beat your way through writer's block.  Of course, we would love to be able to solve all our writerly dilemmas with a flourish of the pen, but sometimes there's no other way around it: we just need to beat the story with a stick.

Thief:  Parker (second from right) is the acrobat, the daredevil.  She's the character who plunges off of rooftops or crawls through air vents.  She also has an affinity for all things bright and sparkly, like diamonds.  As writers, we need to remember to take risks and have fun with what we do.  Sometimes we need to jump first and think about finding a parachute after.  And hey, if we end up with something bright and sparkly in our hands, isn't it worth the risk?

Hacker:  Hardison (far right) is the guy who knows how to work the system.  Whether that means hacking into a complex network or breaking some crazy code or getting the team inside a locked-down building, he's the guy who gets it done.  Similarly, writers need to know how to work the system as well.  Whether it means learning how to format your manuscript the right way, or figuring out where to send your work, it's important to understand the network you want to break into and that means doing research and learning about the business as well as the craft.

Mastermind:  Nathan (front and center) is the coordinator, the hub, the nucleus of the team.  He makes sure everyone knows what they need to do and that they actually get the job done.  Again, it's a mighty important skill for writers to have.  After all, you can play all the other parts beautifully, but it won't matter if you can't assess whether your "team" is working together well and doing it's job.  This means stepping back from time to time and looking at the "big picture" of your writing life.  What aspects are working well?  What areas could you improve upon?

So, how's your Leverage team looking?  Which areas do you have covered and which skills do you still need to polish?  More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Monday, December 13, 2010

When You Find Coal in Your Stocking

The universe has a weird sense of humor.  You want to see your work in print but instead you get a pile of rejections.  You want to write something deep and meaningful that will reach people, and instead all that comes out is nonsensical garble.  You want to take the nice flat road and instead you find yourself pushing a giant boulder uphill like Sisyphus.

Like the song says:
"You can't always get what you want.  You get what you need."

No, I'm not going to get all new age-y on you, but I definitely think there's something to be said about a greater construct that can see beyond my own myopic point of view.  Some people call that a divine power.  Others (like Julia Cameron of The Artist's Way) call it synchronicity.  I like to think of it as the universe having common sense.

Whatever you want to call it, I have seen proof that the universe knows what I need much better than I do.  Some time ago I took a writing class and really hit it off with one of my classmates.  After a couple of semesters in the same class, our lives took us in different directions and we fell out of touch.  A few months ago, I got an email from her out of the blue... only it wasn't from her exactly; someone had hacked her email account and spammed everyone in her address book.  Even so, it reminded me that here was a writer I wanted to be in touch with and it inspired me to me to reach out and say hello.  Now, months later, she and I have become good friends and she's one of the go-to people I consult with about writing stuff.  We still crack up about how our friendship was rekindled by a Viagra spam email.

My point is, sometimes the universe plays tricks on writers.  Sometimes a door opens and it doesn't lead anywhere near where you want to go, but it's the only open door so you take it anyway.  Sometimes Santa puts coal in your stocking instead of that iPod you wanted.  It happens.  Here's how to deal:

Just remember 2 things about coal:

1)  You can burn it to make fire.  So you got a lump of coal (READ: rejection letter, nasty critique, door slamming in your face).  So what?  Don't let it get you down.  Instead, think about how you can use it to light a fire in your writing.  Don't let naysayers stand in your way.  Prove them wrong.

2)  Coal is basically the same as a diamond, only not as well put-together.  What can you do with the coal you've got in your hand to turn it into diamond-material?  How can you rearrange those molecules to make that dull lump of gunk into something sparkly and beautiful?

When you find coal in your stocking, think of it as a call to action, a BIG fat hint from the universe.  What you do with that hint is up to you.  After all, a lump of coal is just a lump of coal until you do something with it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Writing, the Rudolph Way

While hanging out in the North Pole, I got a chance to chat it up with Rudolph.  Let me tell you, that is one optimistic little reindeer and a lot of his advice applies really well to writing.  Here are some super-secret tips he shared about how he made it to leading Santa's sleigh.

Be nosy.  That's right.  Writers need to have no shame about asking questions so they can learn about exciting new things.  After all, how else do you get all that material to write about?  If you want to know about something, ask.  Or go to the library.  Or ask Google.  And remember: don't just write about what you know, write about what you want to know.

Develop a thick skin.  Writers are a strange bunch.  They spend years writing a book, then tearing it apart in edits, then querying and collecting rejection letters.  Just as Rudolph had to get used to being picked on by fellow reindeer, writers need a thick skin to survive the volume of rejections that comes with the job.  Rather than letting it get to us, we need to follow Rudolph's example and just let our noses sparkle.

Don't let the fog scare you.  At one point or another, all writers hit the fog.  You know, that feeling that nothing you write is ever good enough and "where's this book going anyway?"  Just remember, real writers don't just work when the weather's clear, they write in the snow and wind and fog as well.  And most of the time, it's when they break through the nasty weather that the real magic happens.

How about you?  What reindeer games have you learned from our red-nosed friend?

Monday, December 6, 2010

News Nuggets

Today will be a short post, but I simply had to write an update to tell you all two exciting things!

Please bear with me as I start today's post with a shameless plug.  I was interviewed on the blog and the interview was posted today!  This is the first time I've been interviewed anywhere so I'm super-excited.  If you want to read about my story-writing experience and learn more about this awesome project called Story A Day, you can read all about it here.

Also, if you haven't heard about Figment and you're into writing (especially Teen literature) you absolutely must check out this site.  It just launched today and it is co-founded by Dana Goodyear, staff writer at The New Yorker, and Jacob Lewis, former Managing Editor at The New Yorker and Condé Nast Portfolio.  Um... shall we say awesome?  Anyway, I've already joined the Figment network because I have a hunch this is gonna be so super-cool.  (If you join, look me up and friend me, 'k?)  Over the next few weeks I'll be exploring everything this site has to offer and posting more about it soon.

That's all the news I have for now.  Have an iggitastic day!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

5 Things I Learned about Writing From Santa Claus

Mr. Claus is a wise man.  In fact, when it comes to important things like making toys or writing books (which are almost the same thing, really) he is the head honcho, zen master, Dumbledore and Obi-Wan Kenobi all rolled into one.  I myself have had the privilege to spend some time hanging out with the Big Man, and he's given me some secret tips on toy-making, writing and life.  In the spirit of holiday sharing, I now pass these on to you.

1) Isolate yourself.  The man in the red suit definitely knows something about productivity.  Imagine making and delivering toys for all the good little children of the world.  That takes serious commitment.  The only way he manages to get everything done is because he makes his home on the most desolate real estate the world has to offer.  Writers too should follow his lead and engage in some major alone time now and again.  It helps us stay focused.

2) Surround yourself with good people.  OK, so maybe in Santa's case these happen be people with pointy ears and twirly-whirly shoes, but they're still pretty darn awesome.  The truth is, Santa would get nowhere if it weren't for his toy-making comrades, and writers would suffer the same fate if they didn't have buddies to help them stay sane.  These are the people who read our work, keep us motivated and let us know when we're being a little bit crazy.  We all need them, and need to let them know how much they're appreciated.

3) Do it for love.  No one in their right mind would dedicate his life to making and distributing toys unless he was seriously committed to his mission.  I mean, how thankless is Santa's job?  He makes all the loot, flies it around the world in his sleigh and then on Christmas morning, the kids are all: "Thanks Mom and Dad!"  Go figure.  The only way he can make sense of it all is to do it out of love.  The same is true for writers.  Write for love or don't write at all.

4) Sometimes you have to be a little bit in denial.  A while ago, I interned at a literary agency because I wanted to understand how publishing worked.  After spending each day reading the slush pile, I couldn't help feeling a little discouraged as a writer, not because the stuff I was reading was horrible but because it was so gosh-darn good.  And I still had to reject it.  I realized that to stay motivated, I had to preserve the illusion that I could make it to the finish line some day.  Just as Santa has to be in denial about certain things ("Yes, I will fit down this chimney"), I needed to give myself permission to be jolly and optimistic or I would spend all my time criticizing my own work and never get any writing done.

5) After a hard day's work, have some milk and cookies.   Santa is a smart man.  He knows that he needs a little recharging snack during the long haul of Christmas Eve, so he makes time for milk and cookies after each stop.  We writers also need to remember to be good to ourselves.  So go ahead and have some milk and cookies.  Or give yourself an at-home spa day.  Or buy yourself a pair of super-comfy socks.  Whatever you do, just make sure it's something that will make you feel special and cared for.

In the end, I think Santa's advice applies pretty much to any calling in life, whether you're writing a book or making toys or trading stocks or building a space ship.  It's all about staying jolly.

What about you?  What pearls of wisdom has Santa left in your stocking? 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Google Reader

One of the most important ways to Boost Your Blog is to interact with other bloggers and read their blogs as well.  We've all heard this a zillion times: to get people to follow and read your blog, you need to read/follow other people's blogs.  Easier said than done, right?

A few months ago, my good friend Ghenet (from All About Them Words) showed me this awesome tool that has made keeping up with blogs I follow super easy. It's called Google Reader, but it should probably be called Blogging Lifesaver, because it's seriously changed how I read blogs.  OK, so this is probably not all that new to most of you and you must think me a computer dunce for thinking this is awesome, but humor me OK? 

This is what Google Reader looks like.  If you have a gmail or blogger account, then you can use that with Google Reader.  When you log in, your reader will look something like this:

Here are a few tricks I've learned to keep things organized and make checking blogs super-easy:

1)  Make folders for different blogs you follow.  I have one folder for publishing-related blogs, one for writers I absolutely must read, one for DIY MFA peeps (because during September I wanted to keep up with their blogs in case they posted about DIY MFA stuff), and so on.  Having blogs in folders works for me because in a pinch, I just check one or two folders, depending on what I'm looking to read at that moment.

2)  Use iGoogle and put a Google Reader widget on your page.  iGoogle is a personalized version of Google that allows you to put widgets on your Google homepage (weather, news, gmail, google reader, etc.)  I keep both my Gmail and Google Reader on my iGoogle page so that I can quickly scan it every time I search for something on Google.  That way, rather than sitting down for an hour or more to read blogs, I just scan my reader widget for a couple of seconds multiple times per day.  If I read a post I want to comment on, I'll just make a note of it and come back when I have time.

3)  Subscribe to your own blog.  This probably sounds narcissistic but there is a logic to this tip.  Here's my dirty little secret: I subscribe to my own blog on Google Reader, but I do this so I can see if my posts look right when viewed in a reader.  These days, so many readers use Google Reader or other such services that I want to make sure the post looks right both on the blog itself and in a reader.  Sometimes something that looks just fine on the blog can actually be hard to read in Google Reader and I want to make sure that my blog is user-friendly on all formats.

Also, keep in mind that when readers use Google Reader, they will not see most of the design elements on your blog (like the sidebar or the pretty header, or any of that stuff).  They will see pictures, but only the ones that are in the post itself.  Any other graphics or widgets will not appear.

What about you?  Are you a fan of Google Reader?  How do you use it to make blog-surfing easier?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

To Blog or Not To Blog?

Here's the big question: Do writers need to have a blog?  Given how publishing is going more and more digital by the minute, is it an absolute must in today's tech-driven world?  Some experts say yes.  I say... it depends.

The way I see it, it all comes down to two questions each blogger should ask him or herself:

     • What are my goals?
     • Will blogging help me achieve those goals?

I know it sounds sort of cold and calculating to see blogging as a means to an end, but hear me out.  See, I think writers should have an idea what they want to get out of the blogging process before they jump into it.  Not only will this help them figure out if the blog is helping them meet their goals, but it will also help them shape the direction of the blog itself.  Here are a few classic blogging goals and how they affect the tone and style of a blog.

Blogging for Fun
Most people who have blogs do it because it's fun.  After all, if you don't love it, the project can quickly become a chore.  If you're doing it for your own enjoyment, things like number of followers or posting schedules don't matter too much.  The visual design of the blog is also not a big deal because you're doing it for you, so if you like how it looks then that's what counts.  This is a perfectly valid and noble blogging goal, and many bloggers out there do it for this reason alone.  In the end, even if your blog goals develop beyond just having fun, remember to take time to enjoy the process.

Blogging for Community
If your goal is to build a community and connect with other people through your blog, things start to shift a little.  For starters, you need to make sure your site is user-friendly.  A few months ago, I asked my sister (an e-marketing guru) to analyze my blog and suggest some changes to the interface.  I never realized it before, but little stupid things--like making sure your font is readable, or making it easy for people to click and follow your blog--can make a huge difference in terms of helping your visitors navigate their way around your site.

In addition to the look of the site, it also becomes important to engage in dialogue with your readers and other bloggers.  Blogging for community is kind of like when you find yourself in a serious relationship and suddenly you're thinking in terms of "we" instead of "me."  All of a sudden you go from wondering "what do I want to write" to asking "what does my audience want to read?"

Blogging for Promotion
I think when people say "writers should have a blog" this category is what they mean.  After all, writers will need to promote their books when they get published, so what better way to do that than with a blog, right?  The irony, of course, is that of all the writer blogs I read, very few of them (if any) go over the top to promote the blogger's published work.  More often than not, the promotional stuff gets tucked in discreetly--in the sidebar or as the subject of the occasional post--but rarely does it make up more than a fraction of the blog's overall content.

In the end, each writer will probably take an approach that combines all three to varying degrees.  It becomes something of a balancing act and depending on what you want to accomplish as a writer, you can give each of these categories more or less weight.  Also, remember that it's perfectly OK for your goals to change over time, so don't be afraid to allow yourself the freedom to shift gears with the blog as well.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Boost Your Blog: The Journey Begins

As I was writing yesterday's post on Myths about Blogging, I realized had a lot more to share on the topic than I could ever fit into one post.  I do not pretend to be a master blogger, after all, this blog has only recently come into it's own and I'm still learning new things every day.  I have, however, picked up a couple of tips and techniques (often learning them the hard way... through trial and error).

Enter my new project: Boost Your Blog.  Over the next few days (or maybe weeks) I'll be doing a series of posts on all things blog-related.  I might throw some twitter in there for good measure too.  My goal is to share with you some tips that have served me well with iggi&gabi.  I figure, if I can help just one person avoid the pitfalls I ran into, then this project will have been worth it.

The journey begins with a little history about how iggi&gabi came to be.
I was really late on the blogging scene.  Like, years and years late.  I remember when blogging first started, my friends would say "hey, check out my blog" and I'd say "your what?"  The idea of keeping an online journal that the whole world could see just didn't do it for me.  (I mean, you're talking to a girl who still keeps a pen-and-paper journal to this day, and whose hubby is under strict instructions to burn all her notebooks in the event of her death.)

It was only when I discovered the wonderful world of knitting blogs that it all started making sense to me.  At first, I read blogs to learn about knitting techniques.  (How do you block a lace shawl?  How do you knit cables without the cable needle?  Etc.)  Eventually, I grew to like certain blogs because of each blogger's voice, and I started reading for entertainment as well as information.

At one point, I even tried my hand at a knitting blog but I quickly realized that I couldn't knit fast enough to keep up with a daily (or even weekly) posting schedule.  My posts began humming to the tune of: "still workin' on that sweater..." ad infinitum. Thankfully, that blog died a quick, merciful death.

Around that same time, I decided to start a blog on writing (because one blog just wasn't enough).  I had no idea what to write about so I just did writing exercises.  Online.  For everyone to see.  I later discovered that there's a reason writers don't publish their exercises: because they're usually awful.  The whole thing was an embarrassment.  Thankfully no one read it.

After two failed blog attempts, I swore off blogging altogether.  Then the MFA came along and tons of my classmates had blogs and I really, really, really wanted to be one of the cool kids, so I caved and started yet another one.  This time, things worked out better.  I even got a few comments too!  For a while I was flying high, but two problems lurked in the shadows:
  1. My blogging schedule was very erratic ("feast or famine" as my hubby calls it).
  2. The blog itself lacked focus.  I didn't have a thread or concept to hang my hat on and I just picked topics willy-nilly.
One morning in April, I woke up early with an itch in my fingers.  I grabbed a pen and started doodling and this little guy is what came out on the page:

iggi inspired me to reboot the blog as iggi&gabi and that's when everything started taking shape.  Suddenly, I knew what the blog was about and, more importantly, what I was about as a blogger.  Through the iggi persona I could try out ideas and take risks that I would never have attempted on my own.  I'm like the kid who blames her imaginary friend for breaking the cookie jar.  Having a partner in crime (even though he's just lines on a page) gave me the confidence I was missing in order to navigate the blogsphere.  iggi is the heart and soul of this blog.

What about you?  How did you find yourself on this blogging journey?

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