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Two crucial skills for the writing life.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Each day, we are bombarded by the tasks we must do, by the things we want to accomplish, and by the demands of tasks and people upon our time. There is only so much time, and so often too many things to do. We necessarily must master the skill of multitasking, of doing more than one thing at a time: answering the phone and emails, scheduling meetings and signings, managing children and pets, managing a household, making time for love, tracking our books and our word count.

Writing & publishing have become a multi-skill career, especially for writers, where we must write, have a business plan, set goals, design covers, write a blog, maintain a website, and market our books. Some of us do all of these things, some of us out-source some of it. And most of us do have other demands placed on our time, like family, friends, favorite past-times, other jobs.

And all of this demands that we multitask, and that is necessary. It’s almost a survival skill.

Lost in all of this multitasking, all of this busyness, is the equally crucial skill of … focus. Being able to focus fully, for long periods, is very important. Lost too is perhaps our best work, our richest and most engaging writing, and our real potential as writers. Without focus, our work suffers, our creativity isn’t as great or as deep. The constant interruptions and distractions mean we not only do not get as much done of what is really important for our dreams (writing, for example), but what we do during those crucial hours isn’t of the quality that we could want.

What can we do to more fully apply that skill of mental focus to our work, our writing. On my blog post about writer’s block (filed under Writer’s Life), I recommend using a timer and freeing up the mind from other things that might intrude. It’s kind of like beginning to practice meditation, where other thoughts and distractions must be kept to a minimum, and where mental discipline must be continually exercised. Once you’ve decided that it is more important that you become more deeply focused when you write, then you will probably think of other ways to accomplish this.

Here are some tips on focusing from that previous blogpost:

1) Before ending the day’s writing time, write a few lines of the next scene or a few ideas for that scene, so that it’s easier to pick up at the next session.

2) As you sit there, take the first 10 to 15 minutes to read a section of a book on craft or articles on craft, to switch your mind from the daily grind to writing and craft.

3) Set up your writing time so that all you have to think about is writing. Since you have other pressing things to do in your day, perhaps schedule your day on the evening before, so that when you begin to write, all of those other things are settled, done, and you’re not thinking about all the other things you have to do that day. Instead you’re thinking about and focused on writing. (see No. 5 & 6)

4) Write in a Journal before you begin your writing time, to dump all the things that are bothering you or distracting you. Assign a maximum time for this (5 minutes), otherwise it could take over much of your writing time.

5) Set a timer for the length of time you want to write and then think of nothing else during that time–that is the time you have for writing–until the timer goes off. This allows you to fully focus on your writing, and to set everything else aside for that hour or for whatever time you’ve allocated.

6) When you sit down to write, if other things occur to you that must be done or that are competing with focusing on writing, then quickly create a list of those things you need to do or think about. And then put it aside, so that they’re all written down and will be less likely to distract you.

7) Plan–an outline or variation of one, but at least a general idea of where you’re going with the novel, whether it’s a general statement, a synopsis with the main plot points, or an outline.

And a quote on the subject:  “…when you are completely open, when on all levels you are in complete communication, completely integrated, then there is joy and you begin to create … creativeness is a sense of total self-forgetfulness, when there is no turmoil, when one is wholly unaware of the movement of thought.” — Krishnamurti.

How do you see yourself applying & balancing these skills in your life?



Writing Process en Plein Air

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

The 2012 Plein-Air Write-Out took place this last weekend. I love this time spent outdoors in the country, brainstorming for ideas and writing, but also talking with all the artists and writers who participate every year, and who share their creative process and talents. The Write-Out jumpstarts my writing and creativity for the upcoming months.

The Pacific Northwest Plein Air in the Columbia River Gorge is a series of art events featuring the art and literary works of accomplished painters and writers. It’s now in its 8th year.

The center of the event is a five-day Paint-Out and Write-Out where works of art and writing are created at outdoor locations around the Columbia River Gorge—a National Scenic Area and one of the most beautiful areas in the Pacific Northwest. The locations and atmosphere provide inspiration to the artists and writers. The works created during these 5 days are then displayed (including the written works) at the Columbia Center for the Arts, in Hood River, Oregon. The framed artwork is available for purchase. The writing becomes part of an annual online Anthology.

One of the other things I like about this event is talking with other writers and artists about their perceptions–of the location, the event and their work–and their creative process.

More information about the event can be found at, plus the anthologies for past years. The 2010 anthology, which features my essay, “The Harvest from Earth’s Palette” can be found here: ; and the link for the 2011 anthology, which features my short, short story, “Ghost of a Chance” is here: .

There are usually about 41 artists and about 15 writers each year who partipicate. Some of the artists’ beautiful work is featured on the Columbia Arts website. The writers who share their talents with us in the anthologies, produce some marvelous, imaginative, fresh writing: poetry, prose, essays, stories.

This years anthology will be available in early October, I believe. I’ve written another short story–my own writing challenge.



Your eBook Public Library

Friday, June 1st, 2012

If you haven’t tried the ebooks at your local library, it’s a marvelous option. And you don’t have to have a Kindle or a Nook to take advantage of it. Keep reading…

Here’s a trip through one online ebook system at a local library.

First, you don’t have to log in to scan the books they offer.

The link to the ebooks is on the Home page and once you log in–of course, you do have to have a library card–then the first page you will see offers the following  list of options.

My Cart
Lending Period
My Bookshelf
My Holds
Wish List
Rated Titles: titles you have rated and allows you to change ratings.

The basic rules are that you can check out 5 ebooks at a time, and have 5 ebook holds at a time. Any number of ebooks may be added to the Wish List–as you might assume. Ebooks may be checked out for 21 days, and when due, they just disappear from your device or computer. When ebooks placed on hold become available, the system emails you and then you have 5 days to check them out.  The formats available are Kindle and ePub & epub/PDF, and from 1 to 6 of each title is available for check out–for each title, the screen shows how many copies are available and how many total library copies there are. If you don’t have a Nook or a Kindle for reading ebooks, there is  also Adobe Digital Editions for use on your PC, as well as Apps for reading on Mobile devices–all available for download, right there.

Beginning on the browsing pages, there are several windows: fiction, nonfiction and teen/kids sections. There are also sections to browse, such as:

New ebook Additions
Most Popular
Suggested Titles
Recently Returned
All Subjects
All ebooks 

For the almost 3,000 titles of fiction, the categories are Classical Literature, Historical Fiction, Literature, Mystery & Suspense, Romance, Sci Fi & Fantasy, and View All Fiction. 

The categories for the approximately 1,000 nonfiction titles are Bio & Autobio, Cooking & Food, Health & Wellness, History, Humor, Family & Relationships, Religion & Spirituality, Self-Improvement, and Travel.  For Kids, there are about 250 titles; for teens, about 100 titles.

Once you have your titles in My Cart, you have 30 minutes to check them out. Checking them out requires that you log in to your Amazon account, where they will be available for download to your account and then to your ereading device.  The books you have checked out will then be listed in the My BookShelf of your ebook library account.

Some of the fiction authors available on the system include:

Lisa Jackson, James Patterson, Janet Evanovitch, Heather Graham, Karen Robards, George R.R. Martin, Danielle Steel, Terry Brooks, Nicholas Sparks, John Grisham, Anne Perry, Nora Roberts, Alexander McCall Smith, Tami Hoag, Barbara Freethy, Rita Mae Brown, Toni Morrison, John Case, James Lee Burke, Ted Dexter, Tess Gerritson, Lisa Unger, Suzanne Brockmann, Robert Crais, Lee Child, Iris Johansen, Linda Howard, and Michael Connelly, Jonathan Kellerman, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, D.H. Lawrence, Agatha Christie, Susan Mallery,  Fern Michaels, and so on….

So, what’s on your wish list?

Inspirational Women Series

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Who could not be inspired by a 99-year-old woman,  a world-class physicist and a professor renowned for her research, with a 7-decade career in the field of electron microscope technology, who still visited her lab at age 99? 

Anyone, but especially writers. Not only in her accomplishments, and her longevity and productivity later in life, but also in her persistence, through some adversity, in doing what she loved, and for being ahead of her time in her thinking.

That describes Gertrude Rempfer, who died last October, but who did her most prolific work after she retired at age 65. Known as “Gert,” she pioneered in electron optics, and her body of work includes five patents, 36 publications, and her work in developing night-vision goggles. Her most notable contribution was said to be in the improvement of electron microscopes. Her other contributions were taking what were at the time, controversial stands on important issues in our history.

She was born in Seattle, Washington. As a young adult, she enrolled at a University during the Depression, took her first academic position at a prestigious women’s college, but was passed up for tenure when a man was hired. When WWII began, Gert worked at the Naval Research Laboratory.

She and her husband, the late Professor of Mathematics Robert Rempfer, met when she was at Russell Sage, and were wed in 1942. They were part of the team that developed the electron microscope.

After the war, husband and wife encountered backlash from our nations post-war problems, including McCarthyism. They were forced out of Antioch College (1950s) when they tried to prevent the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and then lost their teaching positions at a black institution, Fisk University, when the couple supported racial integration–this was before the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was illegal.

Then in 1961, she joined the Portland State University (Oregon) Physics department as faculty, and for 25 years, worked closely with University of Oregon biologist Hayes Griffith doing cutting-edge research and developing applications for photoelectron microscopy.  Her last collaboration was with physicist Rolf Koenenkamp and his research team, to build “the best microscope of its kind” based on her designs.

Described as soft-spoken, unassuming and brilliant, she was dedicated to helping graduate students, and sharing her knowledge.  She continued to work until the last year, taking the bus into Portland and then back in the evenings to her beloved farm in Forest Grove, Oregon, where she still did the heavy chores.

Who,  in history or currently, writer or otherwise, particularly inspires you?

Januarius — Looking back, looking forward

Saturday, January 7th, 2012


The month of January was called Januarius by the Romans, named after Janus, the god of doors and gates. Thus a god of Beginnings. Doors open both ways, implying leaving and coming, or looking backward and forward. In pictures, he’s represented with two heads, one looking backward and one looking forward.

So, here we are. At another beginning. Time to look backward, and time to look forward.

Looking back, what have we accomplished? Did we accomplish what we wanted? If we look back over the span of time that represents our life, what do we see? Have we written what we wanted to write? Have we become the writer that we wanted to be?

Where are we today? And what does that mean? Have we applied ourselves to what we wanted, toward things, and goals and abilities and dreams that are important to us?

If not, then now is the time. Time isn’t waiting. It plays in the background of our lives, but moves on, inexorably.

But our past doesn’t necessarily determine our future. To quote a recent commercial ad, “Live like there’s no yesterday.” We can still achieve those dreams and goals that are important to us. And in this case, what is your writing goal? Your dream?

And, what are the dreams we have yet to accomplish? Have we defined them, have we faced them? Have we achieved our fullest expression of ourselves in the world? Honed our skills, developed that wonderful inner potential that is only us?

Another way of looking at this is with the letter “I.” How do we define this “I”? A question that we all must answer, who am I? What am I becoming? This is the time of year to revisit that question. Where am I in the long stretch of time that defines this “me,” from my own beginnings to the present…and onward.

In the sense of time’s passage, I think the letter “I” also represents an interesting idea, one I had just recently. If we allow that the form of this letter could have meaning, and that the serifs in this letter could imply a sense of time, then the left one ” ] ” encompasses all of the past, all the time in ourselves that came before now, that stretches behind us. The right one ” [ “, all of the future, of what stretches in front of us. Of what could be. What might be. What there is potential to be.  And the center ” | ” represents the present time. The thin line that is the present. Now.

Who was it that said, there is only now. We have the most control over now, and how that “now,” the present, will create our future. If we think of our future as like a painting, then what will be represented on the canvas? What we do now paints the landscape of our future, painting over it, overwriting it. And as we gain control of our present, of ourselves, we gain control over our future.

The past is for reference, the future, for dreams. Today is for action. For becoming.  

The New Year. This is the door, the gate,  to the future. To your own becoming. You have the key to that door.  To the door that unlocks your potential. You are that key.  Here is the gateway.

The Kindle Fire…What can I say?

Friday, December 30th, 2011

I received a Kindle Fire as a gift over the holidays, and while I’m new to this eformat technology–at least as a user–so far, I LOVE this machine. I think it will be a wonderful tool, both for work and for pleasure!

First, let me say that I wondered if it would be too small, wondered if (what I perceived would be) the smaller page and the amount of text-at-a-glance would be limiting, and thus, slow me down. Not the case. The screen/page on the Kindle Fire is about the same size as that of a paperback.

Here are some of the things I really like about it, and some of the great features:

It gives me the option of buying ebooks…and I love that. Options are good. 🙂

The back-lighting is a great feature. I read a lot.

It’s very easy to set up and to use.

There are highlighting and comments/notes functions that allow the reader to easily highlight text  and add comments. And…Kindle Fire assembles all those notes and comments in one place for you, under the heading, “My Notes and Marks,” for each separate book. Easy reference.

I can send my own documents to the Kindle.

The New Oxford American Dictionary, a text that was part of the package, gives the reader an instant reference to word meanings, etc., with just a touch to the screen–the short or long version. The longer version can be more than two pages–for those who love words.

The lighting, size of text, line spacing and margins can be changed.

Navigation is very easy.

And so far, customer support has been excellent.

You can also download music, videos, magazines, newspapers, blog feeds, and Apps.

When I received it, there were touchscreen icons available for 12 webpages, which are listed under the “Web” menu: Amazon, Twitter, FB, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Wikipedia, Craigslist, LinkedIn, ESPN and IMDb.

The touchscreen keyboard appears and disappears as needed.

And I’m sure there are more great features yet to be discovered…

What a great machine. I think I’m in love. Will see if it’s an infatuation … or something more lasting. But if this is foreplay, Kindle Fire, then it was so easy to turn you on and Fire you up… with great books.  I’m so seduced.

Anyone like to share their experiences with the Kindle or Nook? Or share other great functions that I haven’t mentioned here?

Fair Use — a copyright question

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

In a previous blog, I covered the topic of how Copyright protects an author from having all or most of their work, the major gist of it, reproduced without their permission, without being paid. While many authors will write because they want to write, most of us also have to earn a living and copyright allows for that.

Associated with copyright is Fair Use, which means someone can quote from the author’s work, but only a comparatively small amount of the work, and not the essence of the work. Fair Use is part of the Copyright Act of 1976, Section 107. 

So, how much is Fair Use when quoting material for a book review or criticism, or when we’re using research in a novel?

As I’ve indicated above, Fair Use is determined by several things, which should be considered  all together:

Is it the author’s expression that is in consideration, or is it just facts or ideas. If it’s not the author’s expression, then you don’t need permission.  (See my previous post on Copyright, for clarification on what is considered the author’s expression, and what may be copyrighted.)

If the work isn’t protected by copyright, then you don’t need permission.

However, if the part of the work in question is the author’s expression and is copyrighted, then the question becomes, is it fair use of the work? If it’s Fair Use, then you might not need permission.

Is the use for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research? Generally it’s okay if it’s for nonprofit educational purposes, rather than for commercial purposes. (There are some other stipulations here, but it’s too complicated to address in the space here.) If it’s for commercial purposes, but you’ve taken these other factors into consideration, then you’re probably okay.

Another factor is the amount that will be used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. Further, under consideration is also the importance of what is used in relation to the total work.

The final factor is how the use will effect the potential market or value of the copyrighted work. If the use reduces that work’s market or value, then it is infringement.

For further reading and details on copyright and Fair Use, I would suggest The Copyright Handbook: How to Protect & Use Written Works by Attorney Stephen Fishman.

(I hope this helps to clarify Fair Use, and I promise to offer something less “dry” next week.)

Copyright and you…

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Since copyright laws sometimes seem a little confusing, I thought I’d post some information about it. While I don’t have a law degree and am not an attorney, during my University years, for the MS in Writing/Publishing, I took a course called “Law for Artists,” and thus, my bookshelf holds several books on copyright law. And I’ve taken 2 courses in Business Law and a couple of CLE seminars.

So, what is copyright?

Copyright laws are the government’s way of  encouraging artists to produce, both by ensuring that artists can fairly profit by their works but also so that their works may, at some point in the future, inspire others to create works that are derived from those original works. If that reads like straight “goop” to you, well…keep reading. It does get better.

On the technical — read dry — side: The US Constitution includes a copyright clause ( Article I, Section 8 ) stating that “The Congress shall … promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors…the exclusive Right to their…writings.”

Basically that says that Copyright provides the artist with the right to control how their work is used.

The copyright law of 1976 provides authors with these rights:

1) Reproduction–the right to make copies of a protected work;
2) Distribution–the right to sell or distribute copies to the public;
3) Right to create adaptations–the right to create new works based on the protected work; and
4) Performance and Display rights–the right to perform or display a work in public.

Thus, a copyright may be considered property, like anything else.

When does copyright begin?

Copyright is in place the moment you put pen to paper–that is, when something is fixed in a tangible form.

What can and cannot be copyrighted?

Some things that cannot generally be copyrighted:  Titles, names*, ideas**, facts. For the latter two, this is true because it would interfere with intellectual and artistic progress.

(*There are exceptions, as when one author cannot use the characters of another author unless permission has been granted. Otherwise, trademark protection can protect certain names, titles and short phrases.)
(* *There are exceptions, such as with a formal contract for the purpose of disclosing ideas, or with a fictional work’s plot–an author’s selection and arrangement of ideas is protected to the extent that the work is original–the sequence of events, scenes, situations, but also plot, characters and theme.)

However, works like histories, how-to books, and news stories receive less protection.

And for how long?

There are several dates involved here, but mostly just go by the year that the work was created. For most of you, it will be this first one, for the years after 1977.

Works created after 1977:  for the life of the author, plus an additional 70 years. 
Works created during 1923-1963: 95 years from the date of publication, if a renewal was filed.
Works created during 1964-1977:  95 years regardless of whether a renewal was filed.

Exception: A copyright in works created, but not published before 1978:  until 70 years after the author dies.

If anyone has anything to add, please feel free to comment or post a question (not being an attorney, I will give you the best answer I can). I haven’t covered everything here, and welcome any constructive input that will help authors understand their rights more clearly.

One of my reference books, from the “Law for Artists” class, is Nolo’s The Copyright Handbook: How to Protect & Use Written Works. By Attorney Stephen Fishman.

Welcome to The Smart Writer!

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

If you’re here, you’re interested in writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, but also share an interest in the creative. This first blog post represents a beginning, and the blog will undoubtedly grow and change. 

Who am I? I’m a Book Editor but also a freelance writer, budding novelist, and budding artist. 

This blog will focus on the craft of writing, fiction or nonfiction, and publishing in general — marketing, self-publishing, copyright, trends, platform, the writer’s life, and submissions. And since my WIP is a thriller/romantic suspense novel (emphasis on the “IP”), I will likely be sharing about writing my novel, and any fun facts that I find in my research. I read, enjoy and edit a variety of books, a variety of genre, so this won’t just be about thrillers or romantic suspense.

About twice a month, I’ll be doing reviews of books, and intermittently having a few guests talk about their books, their writing process, what excites them about writing, about life and creativity, etc.

This is a new thing for me, so I’ll see where it takes me. Beyond here… be dragons.

What is your creative process? What gets you excited about writing?