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Guest Post and Giveaway: Tamara Holland

Update, Winner Announced:  The winner of Tam's book is…..Alexia Stevens!  Alexia, I will give your name to Tam and she will make arrangements to get you the book!

It is my privilege to introduce you to my wonderful cyber-friend Tam Holland!  She and I met on Twitter over a conversation about raisins.  Yes, raisins.  Rumor had it that eating raisins before bed prevented trips to the bathroom.  Anyway, we've been buds ever since we debated that notion (I still claim it works).  And once we discovered we each had a granddaughter about the same age, our friendship was sealed.  And here's the exciting part–she has a new book out!  It is historical fiction of the sort you've likely never read before and is already getting rave reviews. And…..drum roll….we have us a giveaway!  Tam has agreed to give a copy of the Ebook to one lucky reader.   So read her brilliant thoughts on Twitter and I'll give you details of the giveaway at the end. 6 Reasons Writers Need Twitter TamHolland

by Tamara Holland

I got on Twitter in 2011. Reluctantly.  Up til then, I'd been looking cynically, judgmentally, unfavorably upon all of social media.

Since then?

I've sent nearly 60,000 tweets.

Why?

Because Twitter rocks for writers.  Here are six big ways it does.

1.  Immediate support, instead of delayed rejection.

This is the thing that grabbed me first and hooked me instantly. Twitter is responsive, immediate, interactive.  How much better does that feel to writers than what we've done traditionally: toiled away alone on a piece, sent it somewhere to see if someone liked it enough to publish  it, waited forever to hear back . . . and then usually heard, "Sorry."

You know how much better instant positive feedback feels? Tons better. Life-saving, spirit-saving, enthusiasm-producing tons better.

On Twitter, when you follow and are followed by cool and supportive people, you will get immediate responses to the 140-character missives and questions that you send out. This feels wonderful. It feels like someone is listening. Like someone cares. Which can make all the motivational difference in the world to a writer.

 2.  Tribemates

I believe whole-heartedly that when you tweet authentically (as in, not just canned/automated tweets about your book-for-sale, and not in some "branded" form that does not really express who you are and what you're actually dealing with), you end up communicating on Twitter with wonderful, like-minded folks who become your tribemates. The people who say, "It's okay, I've been there, too," about the hard parts. Who say, "Want to meet for coffee?!?!?!" when they read you've just tweeted about landing in their city.  (This has even happened to me at the Copenhagen airport during a lay-over on a flight from New York to Rome!) Who say, "I would LOVE to review an advance copy of your book, if you'd be willing to send me one." Who, like Charlotte, say, "I'd like to feature you on my blog." Folks with whom you become fast friends and meet in real life when you can. Folks who  know you for how you tweet about your life, and like you for it.  And you, them.

 3.  Creative play

Twitter was made for writers. Tweets are 140-character bits of writing.  Over and over and over again. You can do all kinds of things with them. The possibilities are endless. Communicate with your friends in little "walkie-talkie" tweets back and forth. Or blast out your take on how things are going in any particular situation. Dream out loud. Send people inspiring messages.  Chronicle something cool or interesting or frustrating.  Participate in any number of "microfiction" groups — like when I play along on Fridays with "Friday Phrases," using the #fp hashtag.

Aside from being fun as hell, what's also great here is that they are all easy, low-stakes, fast-paced ways to keep practicing and practicing and practicing the art of writing. And, because the character -length of tweets is relatively short, they are especially great brevity-training exercises.

 4. Business opportunities

It's on Twitter where I've bonded with several fellow authors who publish serialized fiction at the very cool jukepop.com. (Check it out . . . vetted fiction of many different genres, which readers access for free and support with their votes.) JukePop itself has a strong, author-supporting Twitter presence, which is still relatively rare in the Old World publishing houses. Even better, many JukePop authors are also big tweeters, and support each other . . . offering words of encouragement, passing along news about your writing in their own tweets, and becoming "behind the scenes" friends who do even nicer things like reviewing and writing blurbs for your books and pulling for each other in life-outside-the-fiction activities.

 5. Style liberation Photo (37)

For the three years before I began drafting  The Road Presents Itself, I read about life in ancient Rome. Visual snippets of scenes would pop into my brain. I had a sense of many of the characters, and a bit of the plot.

But I had absolutely no idea about how the story was going to tell itself.  

On the plane to the writing workshop where I was going to do drafting, I got the sense it was going to be the protagonist talking. He did. When Tiberius started talking through me as I wrote, he talked like a 21st century guy. And in the present tense. And often in sentence fragments. In a story that ripped along.

 I'm pretty sure Twitter hatched that.

Because I think that two years of reading and tweeting tens of thousands of tweets changed the way my brain's neural pathways  hear, process, and expect narrative.

I no longer care for, or even "trust," most third-person narratives.  I just don't.  Because so much of my writing and reading is social media-based — where we read and write in the "I" — my brain now resonates to "I," instead of to the removed "he" or "she" or "they" in older narratives. Now when I read most third-person fiction, I feel an impatience.  (There are exceptions, of course.)  But usually, I feel irritated that I don't know the imaginary person, the omniscient third, who's telling the story. We don't know THEIR backstory, their predilections, etc.  They are god-like. Removed. They make choices about  how the story goes, without us having access to knowing why. Which at this point in my life and writing career seems to bug the heck out of me. I'm looking for more transparency.  When a first-person narrator is telling you the story, you are also knowing them through what they are doing themselves in the tale. This is what feels comfortable and right in narration to me now.

And there's more.

I no longer want to put up with being explained in too much detail what happened. That's right — happened. As in, in the past. Already occurred. Which is what past-tense is. And, unfortunately, most fiction (especially historical) has too much detail for my mystery-based, thriller-based brain. What I want is characters I love, and a story that moves. That's it. The very fact that something's told in the past tense builds in a distance, a layer of removed-ness, that makes it feel far away . . . which makes me feel like I'm missing something. It's not happening now.  It already happened. And inside, my brain asks, "SO?"

In short, writing in first-person present tense is the way fiction feels right to me now. It never would have, before. And that is because of Twitter.  

 6. The "traditional" business model

 "Tradition" is in quotes here because selling your fiction via social media is still, of course, very new compared to the Old World models of publishing and publicizing.  Still and all, there are already experts and ("experts") who will be happy to tell you the "ways you must" (read: traditionally) market your fiction on Twitter.  With certain hashtags. Through certain groups. At certain times. With certain kinds of tweets. Etc. But because I am more of a "make up your own rules" writing and marketing gal, I'll  leave  that to them, and to you to find in ways that help you best.

You can follow me on Twitter @tamholland. I'd love to follow you back!

Tamara Holland is a writer, mixed-media collage artist, bartender and former post-conviction death penalty attorney. Her previously-published books include two non-fiction books about the art business, and a children’s book. For the past six years, her art company Bean Up The Nose Art has been where she’s played and marketed six greeting card lines as her own distributor and with national licensing deals. She tweets almost non-stop as @tamholland, and posts on Instagram as @tamholland123 and @tiberiusroad. She's the happy mother of two now-grown-up married people, and grandma of Zoe Rose. 

And now, for the giveaway.  All you have to do is leave a comment, answering the following: what's your favorite social media site?  Add a few words about why if you like.  We'll give you until next Monday, December 8th, to enter.  I'll draw a name that day and let Tam know the winner!

12

Social Media for (Clueless) Writers

AxobIjdCAAAogDx.png-largeI don’t write a lot about social media, but I’m on it all the time and I’m a big believer in its importance to us as writers.  It is good for your platform, good for networking, and it is also a lot of fun, too.  I can hear you all groaning, but stop, I’m serious–it is fun.  The reason people (i.e. writers) shy away from it is because they over think it.  They take it way too seriously and think it takes way too much time.  

But, guess what?  Social media is a fact of life and it is not going anywhere so one way or another you need to make your peace with it. And the time to do it is now–no matter where you are in your writing career, just starting out, almost published, or published.  

Here’s my best advice on social media: do what you love.  For instance, you won’t find me on Facebook much, because, well, I don’t like it.  But I’m on Twitter and other sites all day long.  Over and over again I hear that everyone needs a Facebook presence and I make another lame go at it and then I give up.  

I think the best way to approach social media is to find one channel you enjoy, get comfortable with it, and then choose another one.  To that end, I’ve listed the sites I like best below, along with what I like about them and how you can connect with me there.  

Blog.  You must have a presence on the web, and a blog is far and away the easiest way to do that. The average person surfing the internet doesn’t understand the difference between a blog and a website, and honestly, these days there isn’t a lot.  The standard advice you’ll hear is to get thyself a WordPress blog, but I started blogging before WordPress was even a thing, so I went with Typepad and I remain loyal because I like it.  The site is easy to use, looks great ( a lot of designer types use it) and best of all, if you get stuck, you can ask them for help and they respond quickly. So I’m staying here.  

One of the things I always tell people who are afraid to start blogging is to just dive in. It’s good to remember that the genesis of what we now know as blogs started as web logs, i.e., online journals.  A blog is, by its nature, an ongoing record of what’s going on.  And so here me now: it does not have to be perfect.  I have over 1,000 posts on this site, and some of them quite frankly, are crap.  But a lot of them are pretty good.  If I worried about perfection none of the posts would exist.

Twitter.  My favorite.  I’ve been on it since a short time after it debuted, and I love it. Twitter is easy, direct, and fun.  If you tweet something, it stays up and all your followers will see it (unlike Facebook), although the Twitter stream does move fast. You can easily connect with other writers, authors, agents, editors, indie publishing folks–you name it. You can search with hashtags (#amwriting is a great one) and find like-minded people.  I’ve made some great friends through the site–I love my Twitter peeps!  Again, don’t over think it, don’t worry about it, just jump in and see what happens.  You really can’t do it wrong, unless you spam people. And one piece of advice: put an icon up right away or people will shy away from following you, thinking you’re a bot.

Connect with me on Twitter here.

Google +.  I’ve been fooling around with the Google’s social media site for a simple reason which I will share with you: because its crazy good for your search engine rankings.  The more you’re on Google +, the higher you’re going to show up on searches.  I experimented with this myself, with astounding results–my own posts or Google + posts rising to the top of very popular searches.  (Let me also point out that Google likes me a lot already, thanks to the afore-mentioned 1,000 posts. Nothing the Goog likes better than fresh content.) I’ve also heard that Google is getting quite overt about Google+, and that it would behoove you to at least go fill out a profile there–or you won’t show up on searches at all.  Google+ is good for when you want to write something longer than Twitter, or share a link with a bit more supporting information.  I’ve not yet found a lot of traction in terms of community, but I think that will change the more I’m on it.

You can connect with on Google+ here. 

Pinterest.  Oh, let me count the ways I can get obsessed with Pinterest.  Like, losing two hours on a Sunday afternoon to it.  Which is why I stopped using it much for about a year.  Pretty and fun as it was, I never saw much traffic from it, or felt like I engaged with others there.  Until a couple of weeks ago, when I started noticing that I was getting a lot of traffic from the site.  Consistently.  So I decided to update my presence.  And, yeah.  Spent an hour on it yesterday when I should have been doing something else.  But there is a lot of good stuff for writers on it–and a ton of beautiful images as well. It is probably the easiest of all the sites to figure out–just create a board and start adding pictures to it.  (Yesterday I also discovered the Pinterest mobile app.  Talk about something to do while you’re sitting in a bar at the airport lounge alone–you can pin to your heart’s content.)

You can connect with me on Pinterest here.

Instagram.  No, I take that back–Instagram is may be the most user friendly.  Just open an account, start taking pictures and post them.  You can add all kinds of fun effects to your photos as well. Apparently, hashtags are the thing on Instagram–the more the merrier.  But I don’t generally worry about that too much.  I hate seeing a post with a bunch of hashtags cluttering it up and I get bored feeding the in.  So I do a couple and then skip it.  I’m a sporadic Instagram user, tending to take a lot of photos when I’m traveling (I initially downloaded it when I went to France last year), the daily life of a writer not being all that photogenic (unless you like images of me in my jammies).  It’s also a great time waster when you find yourself waiting for someone or something.  (I do so miss the days when we used to read, or knit when we had spare moments.)

You can connect with me on Instagram here.

So that’s my take on social media for writers.  Oh, and by the way, speaking of blogs, next week is the seven year anniversary of this one.  I’m planning something special.  Don’t know what yet, but something.  So stay tuned. 

And comment, please–what social media sites do you use?  Feel free to share your handles for each site, too and we’ll all come follow you if we don’t already.

 

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Give It All Up, Get It All Back

Yesterday I had jury duty.Justice

I resisted, mightily.

Perhaps it is because I'm called to serve on jury duty more than anybody else on this planet.  This was my third time, and I've gotten excused from service several times before, when my children were little.  I know people who have never gotten a summons, ever. So I was a bit taken aback when I was called yet again.

I told myself that I was too busy.  I had a trip to Nashville planned.  I'm self-employed and can't afford to take a day off.  Yada, yada, yada.  I called the number on the summons and was told I could reschedule, so I did.  Then called again and rescheduled once more.

Finally, the day came.  I had to be in the jury room by 8 AM and if there's one thing I hate, it is having my morning routine of writing and introspection interrupted.  But off I went to the courthouse,clutching  my bag full of manuscripts to read and work to catch up on.

The county really makes jury duty as painless as possible.  You only have to serve for one day, or one trial, whichever is longest.  And there's a large room full of chairs to hang out in, with big-screen TVs, vending machines, books, newspapers, and magazines galore.  I always head straight to the back, where there are tables and chairs.  I found me a good spot and staked my claim to it.

It is tradition for one of the judges to come down and talk to the jurors, and she did, reminding us that the founding fathers of this country thought so highly of the right to a jury trial that they died for it.  This made me feel highly virtuous for a few moments.  Then she talked about how for women, jury duty is the only compulsory service we must give to our country.  By then I was preening, so proud was I.  But when she finished her talk and pressed the button for the cheesy video, I was deflated once again.  I gave up my precious writing time to watch a bunch of yahoos talk about how great it is to be on jury duty?

Once the video was finished, we were left to our own devices until such time as a jury pool would be convened.   I looked around at all the people who had brought their laptops and wondered why on earth I hadn't brought mine.  Even when I remembered that I had made a conscious decision to use this day to get reading done and stay away from my computer, I pouted.  I wanted my computer, wanted to write a blog post, work on my novel, tweet away the day (which I did from my Iphone anyway, but never mind).

I pulled out the manuscripts I had to read, but soon was interrupted by a loud burp.  A plump gray-haired woman in a polka-dot blouse was drinking Coke and apparently it made her gaseous.   It also didn't do much to keep her awake, because soon she was curled at one end of the couch beside me, feet propped on a chair from my table, snoring loudly.  Which was a festive counterpart to the counter-culture type (orange shirt, hair in a pony-tail) who sat at the other end of the couch, head thrown back, mouth open, snoring even louder than the woman.

I muttered under my breath and pondered dark thoughts, like I wouldn't want either of them to serve on my trial, as I tried to read.  Then I looked around at all the people with their computers and started feeling bad about that again.  I needed my computer desperately.  What was I thinking, leaving it at home?  I could be getting so much done.

I started obsessing about what would happen if I got on a trial.  I thought about my Friday, the plans I had for finishing projects, the appointment I had.  I started figuring out options for making sure I wasn't chosen for a trial.  My daughter told me to tell them I loved guns.  A friend on Twitter told me to tell the judge I had diarrhea.  Another friend told me just to say I'm a writer, that that gets them every time–attorneys don't want free thinkers.  So I pondered all this and then my brain looped back to how horrible, how utterly awful it would be if I had to serve on a trial and take another one of my precious days. Because, you know, I am important.  I am a writer with things to do, brilliant words to commit to the page.

And then, something happened.  Either I got sick of listening to this endless drivel in my brain, or my brain got tired of providing it to me.  I sat back and realized that no matter what, it would all be okay.  If I got called for a trial, I'd work late, or work on the weekends to get things done.  I'd rearrange my appointment.  All would be well.  This was only a very short time out of my life and it was just fine.

Ah, the sweet release of letting go.  I went back to my reading and finished two manuscripts in rapid time–for such is the power of focus.  I had a thought about a new novel I'm fooling around with and wrote three pages on the legal pad I'd brought.  I was so wrapped up in my work that it was a surprise when I looked up from it to see the gray-haired burping lady gazing at me.

"Have they called anybody yet?"

"No, they haven't," I answered.  And I realized that it was nearly 10:30, and every other time I'd been on jury duty, several groups of potential jurors had been called by then. 

A few minutes later, the jury clerk addressed us from the podium at the head of the room.  All eight trials slated for that day had been resolved in one way or another, she said.  They wouldn't be needing any jurors that day.  We were free to go.

The stunned silence that ensued was quickly followed by a rush to the door, as if everyone was thinking the same thing–let's get out of here before they change their minds.

And so I was home by noon, and I had time to go grocery shopping, get some writing done, write a blog post, take a walk.  And as I walked and thought about my day, the thing that stood out in my mind was the moment of letting go.  The minute I quit resisting and accepted the situation as it was, I got everything I wanted–the chance to focus on my work, the opportunity to leave early and go home. 

Give it all up, get it all back.  I first heard that in a book written by Alan Cohen, and I often quote it in my Writing Abundance workshops.  And yet, every time I am shown the power of letting go, I marvel anew at what an amazing tool it is.

The same rules hold true in writing: put it all on the page every time you go to it.  Don't hold back.  Give it all up. 

I promise, you'll get it all back, and then some. 


Photo by navets, found on everystockphoto, used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

10

The Accidental Vacation

I've been on hiatus.  Unlike when the television networks do this to one of their shows, this was not actually a planned break, just one of those things that happen once in awhile in the writing life.   Last week I moderated a panel at AWP, and as is the case with most conferences, didn't have a spare moment while I was there.

Since I've been home, its been wedding central.  Since my daughter is getting married, um, tomorrow, life has been hectic, moreso because we had about three weeks notice on the nuptials.  (And no, its not for the reason you think, her fiancee is being deployed by our beloved army.)

But I've also been enjoying life away from the computer.  Shocking, I know, but true.  I've not been on Twitter for over a week and I've been ignoring all but the most vital of emails. (Let's not even talk about the work projects I've temporarily set aside.)  Amazingly enough, the world hasn't ended. 

So all of this has been causing me to think, or Think, if you prefer.  I have some ideas (or Ideas) and will be sharing them with you soon.  In the meantime, I've got a house to finish cleaning before my sister arrives to stay with us this weekend.

5

Twitter: The Art of Writing Tweets

Twitter is, of course, the social networking rage.  Seems like everyone from corporations to small businesses to solopreneurs to politicians are tweeting.  And with good reason, I some people find it addictive.

There are posts galore on how to best use Twitter to promote yourself or your business, how to not waste time on Twitter, (yeah, right), how to save the world using Twitter (I'm making that one up, but Barack Obama did use it to help get himself elected).

But what about the tweet as a creative art form?  A mini-essay?  Yes, I know that it is hard to consider writing something creative in 140 characters or less.   However, once you start using Twitter a lot you begin to mold yourself to its limitations–and find creative ways to work within them.  Ah, of such restraints are genres formed.

I've been thinking about this over the past couple days as I've found myself tweeting a lot.  I'm really a moderate tweeter.  As of this writing, I have only 800 tweets (there are people who have thousands) and about that many followers.  But the more I tweet, the more I get addicted to it into it, and the more I get into it the more I learn about the art of being succinct.

Not only that, but while being succinct, one can also express deep thoughts and tell mini-stories.  Here are my how-tos for the art of writing tweets:

1.  Cut all extraneous words
.  So this:  "I went to see my mother tonight and she had what looked like a really bad meal" becomes this: "Saw mother tonight, she had bad meal."  Now I have room to describe the bad meal, or say something of related interest.

2.  Create tweets that stand alone but are part of a larger whole
.  I've been experimenting with this one.  Sometimes when I get back from doing something away from the computer (gasp! It does happen upon occasion)I'll write a series of posts about my activities.  Each post links to the other, but each post stands alone and makes sense if that is all you read.

3.  Use good, active verbs.  Amazing how the rules of good writing cut across all genres.  I'm guilty of not paying enough attention to this one.

4.  Express it differently.
  We don't want to hear that you just walked in the door to the coffee shop.  We want to learn what is going on in that specific coffee shop at the moment you walk in the door.  I'm probably more interested in your reaction to the painting on the wall then how much you need caffeine.  I've heard the latter a million times, the former can come only from you.

5.  Find the telling detail.  This is, of course, intimately related to #4.  What is the one detail of the coffee shop that brings the whole scene alive?  If you can do it in your creative writing, and I feel certain you can, you can do it on Twitter.  As a matter of fact, writing tweets is probably damn good practice for any kind of writing.

Which gives me an excuse to keep using it as much as I want.

8

It’s Sunday: Do You Know Where Your Niche Is?

I just found mine.

It wasn't really lost, in the sense that it was something I desperately missed.  It was more like it was buried under the multitude of interests and ideas that crowd my sometimes-mushy brain (too much going on in there!) 

It wasn't even something that I felt I needed.  The experts, however, say otherwise.  It took quite a bit of convincing, and reading a book to get me searching for my niche.  And then, as is so often the case, I found it right under my nose.

Are you ready?

My niche is information about creating a writing life while writing your book or waiting for it to sell. Or, in short, creating a life devoted to writing.  That has a nice ring to it.  Right?

I know.  Duh. Like I haven't been writing about just that already.  But you'd be surprised how difficult it can be to decide what it is exactly that I do.  Because, like many writers, I do many different things.  I'm terrible at networking events because my 20-second elevator pitch goes something like this:

"And what do you do?"  (Woman dressed in killer designer suit with beautifully lacquered nails.)

"Um, I'm a writer."  (Me, in my usual writerly outfit of gypsy skirt and lots of jewelry.)

"What do you write?"  (Killer woman.)

"Well, I ghostwrite.  And I teach writing.  And I coach writers.  And I run a writing program.  And I write this blog that talks about writing.  And then there's my own writing, the novels and short stories."

I'm telling the last part of it to the woman's back–the suit cuts a gorgeous line from the rear, too–because I've lost her.  She is off looking for someone who can tell her succinctly what he can do.

Since I'm not a big fan of networking events anyway, except for one I belong to in LA, I've managed to convince myself I don't really need a niche.  I have now seen the error of my ways and will spend the next year repenting. 

Actually, I'm really happy about this because identifying my niche gives me permission to do more of what I'm already doing.  I'm going to continue writing posts about craft and creativity and how they apply to making a life devoted to writing. 

One of my twitter friends, Mary, asked me to define "writing life" after I proudly tweeted about my niche.   And so here goes.  Creating a life devoted to writing can mean actually making a living writing, supplementing your income with writing, or just learning how to make contacts and attend events relating to writing, even if you don't need to earn a living from it.  A life devoted to writing implies that you make time for it regularly–another thing I talk a lot (some would probably say too much).  Creating a life devoted to writing means that the written word (and you practicing it) is front and center in your life.

So, there you have it, a niche, found.  And now excuse me while I go practice my elevator pitch.

3

Oh, What a Night

It is Thanksgiving Eve here in the states and I, like so many others, have much to be thankful for.  Health, family, a career I love, a house that isn’t going into foreclosure, new energy in the country after the elections….I could go on and on.

Tonight is a night that many of us are focusing on preparing a feast for our loved ones.   I should be making pie crust and pondering the intricacies of the vegetable dishes I’m preparing.

But I’m not.  Tonight I’m glued to Twitter, watching real-time updates of the situation in Mumbai, and alternately cringing in horror at what is going on over there and marveling that I can be so up to date on it through the power of social networking.   People on the scene are tweeting, people in other parts of Mumbai are tweeting, people are aggregating news from TVs and other sources and tweeting.  It is citizen journalism at its finest, and it is beating out any other media source for real-time news.

What’s happening in Mumbai is shocking and horrible beyond imagining.  My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who is affected and to all of India.

But in an odd, strange way, the reaction on Twitter tonight gives me hope.  Terrorism and evil breeds in hidden, dark places and citizen journalism shines a light on those dark places so that the rats and vermin have to scatter.  Physicists say that all matter changes just by being observed.  Social networking, at its finest, has the capacity to change matter and more by virtue of the fact that everyone is paying attention now.

Global is now truly local.  General is specific.  The universal is in the details.

Join with me in sending prayers, or positive thoughts, or good wishes for the people in Mumbai.  And let’s all be grateful for what we have on this Thanksgiving Eve, okay?

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

4