Category: Tools of my Trade

The Music That Makes Me Write

I ❤ Music by Dia

As writers we have our lucky pen. And our trusty laptop. And our favorite writing programs. We have our routines, our favorite writing spots, our “bibles”, our quirks and our writing buddies. I am no different. The pen I use changes, depending on what mood I’m in. Some days I can get a ton of writing done at home and some days I can hardly get two words out. I have a three ring binder that I carry with me wherever I go, even if I know I won’t need it, because it has all of my Mind Games stuff in it and I can’t bear to not have it on me (because, the one time I leave is the time I’ll need it). But my most important tool? The one that affects my writing the most? That one never changes.

My music.

Give me my music and I can turn almost anywhere into a writing spot. I can write in the middle of a lunch rush at Chick-Fil-A, with a packed lobby and a gaggle of high-pitched little girls two tables over. Music is one of the most important parts of my writing process. Can I write without it? Yes. Will I like it? Heck no. And it’s not just because I am a music major and have constant need for some form of music to be playing.

Music helps me write a better story.

Now of course, it does often help me to write faster (once I resist the urge to sing). I don’t have a specific writing CD as some do. What I listen to can change from day to day. Right now, country is the music of choice. Tomorrow, it might the Star Wars soundtrack or a Broadway Musical. Or,  it might be a collection of songs that I picked because they sync with my WIP in some way (Yes, I have a Mind Games playlist).

One of the things that music affects the most is the development and the relationships of my characters. For example, if I’m writing from Annette’s point of view, I might listen to Trouble by P!nk or As She Cries by La Rue. For David, I might choose Build Me a Wall from Shrek the Musical or Hero by Bethany Dillon. My friends can testify that I’ve been listening to my iPod in the car or at home and gone, “This is such a/an [character’s name] song.” I eat us any song that fits with a characters journey or relationship with another character. I have (or had, it’s gone apparently) a playlist that was dedicated to the relationship between Annette and David (my two mains in case you hadn’t guessed) which includes Accidentally in Love, both versions of You Found Me, some Disney,  and Haunted and several other songs by Taylor Swift.

In addition to inspiring my work with the characters, music is also extremely helpful in setting the mood when you’re working on a specific section. Creepy beginning? Then I listen to Fog Bound from POTC. Am I trying to get the writing fires revved and type a storm? Then I skip to the section of the list with the Kelly Clarkson songs. This may seem extreme to some, but when I was developing the playlist for Mind Games, I actually sat with my outline and arranged the songs so that they fit the mood of certain chapters. Doesn’t mean that I always stick to that, but it helps when I’m trying to get into the scene.

And who knows, the music you’re listening to might cause you to realize something about a character or discover a plot twist that you didn’t know was there before. Example? Oh boy, do I have one. Picture this: I’ve finished getting the outline for Mind Games down. It’s typed, I’ve divided it into tentative chapters, I’ve started picking songs that match them. And then I go jogging and Speak Now comes on. BAM! I realized that my book was missing a whole four chapters in which the heroine actually agrees to marry the big bad evil dude. What?! Needless to say, David’s not happy. It didn’t affect much of the beginning of the story, but it did completely change the ending of the book. Okay, not really, but it threw quite a loop in the road that got me there.

So what’s your relationship with music and writing? Can you live without it? Is it a necessary part? Or do you just use it when the mood hits you?

Twitter is a valuable tool for any writer. From bestselling authors to those of us just trying to write something—anything—that people will enjoy as much as we do. And Twitter isn’t very hard to figure out, just takes a few months or years…Actually, I’m not sure I’ll ever really know entirely what I’m doing with Twitter. Mostly, I just take a shot in the dark and try it again if it works. The one thing that I’ve noticed, though, is that tweeting good content often, is the best way to engage with others and will get you the most exposure.

But finding good content can be hard. All that searching and reading and having to decide if it’s worth retweeting. It just takes so much effort. Right?


If I’m focused I can plan out a whole day’s worth of tweets in just two quick sit downs (I use Buffer, which only allows me to store 10 tweets at a time). How do I do this?

Tweeting good content is mostly about staying informed and trying to predict what your audience would want to know. Now, chances are you are no more a mind-reader than I am. So, how do you predict what your followers are going to want to read? Simple. Just pass on what you find interesting, chances are they will find it interesting too. After all, they most likely followed you because you share some similar interests. Now that that part is out of the way, we can talk about how to find good content. Or at least, what I’ve learned  about finding good content.

Half the work will be done for you if you follow the right people. If you follow people that are posting good content that interests you, it’s easy to find stuff you want to pass on to your followers. When trying to build your Twitter list look for these kinds of people:

  • Authors like you– Look for others that are in a similar spot in their writing journey. They are the most likely to post information that is applicable to you. They also love to interact with others like them. They will be the first to congratulate you when you make your word count. And the first to encourage you when your book is driving you up a wall. Or slamming you into the wall.
  • Authors that inspire you (or your friends)- I didn’t start following people like Rick Riordan (@CampHalfBLood), Ally Carter (@OfficiallyAlly) or Lauren DeStefano (@LaurenDeStefano) because I dreamed of becoming all buddy-buddy with them. I followed them because I loved their writing…Okay, mostly I followed them for news about their upcoming books, but I have learned so much from following them and other published authors. I’ve learned about book tours and copy editing and keeping going even when you want to burn your manuscript, so I now follow as many of my favorite authors as I can.
  • Publishing houses/agents/editors- These are good to follow so you can stay up-to-date with the publishing industry. They also happen to post a lot of advice about writing and publishing. So follow them. Especially if you’ll be submitting your book to them.
  • Social media experts– Let’s face it, we’ve entered a world where managing your Twitter and Facebook and blog are just as crucial as writing that book. Following social media accounts (good ones) are a good way to learn and keep abreast of what’s going on. After all, the more you know…

Another good source of info for me are the blogs that I subscribe to (Most of them are located in my blogroll to the right). I apply the same criteria to choosing my blogs. All I have to do is log into my email and I have all kinds of interesting posts at my fingertips. Plus, just like with retweeting, it’s nice to support others that you admire.

If neither of those are working for me—or if I feel like I’m lacking variety on that day—I will do a hashtag search. There are all kinds of people that you never even knew about posting stuff that might just tickle you. Plus, including posts with hashtags makes it easier for others to find and follow you. Some that I have used include:

  • #amwriting
  • #writetip/#writetips
  • #writer
  • #writing
  • #author

Finally, even though you want to be passing along the content of others., there is one big reason that people (real people at least) decide to follow you: They like you. Something you said resonated with them. So don’t forget to be yourself. After you’ve got all kinds of fun stuff to pass along, put in a few personal tweets. Twitter is a great place for accountability. Ask people to hold you responsible for goals. Post updates about where you are. Are you sitting down to write for a few hours? Post your word count, people will celebrate with you…or berate you if you didn’t make your goal. Twitter can also be a great place to ask questions and offer any insight that you might have.

Finally, I couldn’t talk about Twitter without mentioning how I make it happen.

The main problem that you may discover if that you don’t have the time to sit on Twitter all day long and space your tweets out evenly. Nor do you want to flood the Twitter stream with everything that you’ve found to share. Here comes the importance of scheduling your tweets using an app like Buffer or TweetDeck or HootSuite. They all have their pros and cons and it doesn’t much matter which you use. It just depends on what your preferences are.

Now I can’t claim to be any kind of Twitter expert. Heck, I can’t claim to be an expert at much of anything (except running a Chick-Fil-A drive-thru). But this is what I have learned so far, so I wanted to share it with you. Please chime in with your own advice.

And if you’re interested in following me my handle is: @TheGladElf.

I recently came across the first story I ever wrote. It was for a creative writing class that I took when I was eleven. I vaguely remember the story: It was during my Beanie Baby phase and of course, they came to life and we had adventures. I didn’t reread it, because I’m pretty sure I would cry (and not the happy kind). After all, it hails from way before I discovered all of the authors that taught me what a good book is made of. But there is something nostalgic about holding that folder, with it’s Lisa Frank stickers and being able to see the date, January 22, 1999, typed in the chunky font of my mother’s typewriter (which was bought shortly before I was born). And something satisfying in knowing that I’ve been writing for twelve years now. It makes me feel accomplished. I can still remember sitting at that little desk, covered in wood grain contact paper, staring at that tiny screen with its glowing green letters armed with nothing but an idea and a deadline.

How far I have come.

I use my own desk now. And I’ve learned that, while a good idea is of utmost importance there are a few other more mundane things that make a writer’s life a little easier.

Like a baby name book. I still remember the look on my mom’s face when she saw me with it for the first time. She of course had (and has) complete faith in me and knew that there was no way that I would actually be naming any babies (not yet at least), but she was really wondering why the heck I had that book. Of course, once she saw the notebook, she got four. It is perfect for when I need a name for a last minute character…or when I discover that all of my characters have names that begin with ‘A’. For my main characters, I like to rely on my reverse name dictionary. This one is great for when I have a character that I know a bit about, but don’t know their name (my leads usually introduce themselves). For example, let’s say I need a name for the sidekick, who will end up being the main characters closest friend–All I have to do is look up the word friend under the appropriate gender and I have a host of names to choose from.

I also have a dictionary and a thesaurus nearby. The dictionary is there is because sometimes I feel the need to double-check the meaning of a word and because when i come across a word I don’t know, I like to actually look it up. The thesaurus is for those times that I I realize that I’ve used the word “glare” six times in the last chapter. Simplicity is best, but there are words, like dazzling, that stand out. You don’t want to use them too often. If I feel I’m using a word too often I’ll look up a quick equivalent. It’s also useful for those times that I know exactly which word I want, but I can’t remember what that word is-but I can remember a synonym. Then it’s time for a word search.

Of course I have my stack of Writer’s Digest magazines…all but the last six months of them still waiting to be read. I know it’s horrible. I’ve always stunk at keeping up with my subscriptions (It was even worse when I subscribed to Dog Fancy right before I got my dog), but there’s SO much in them so I am trying to at least stay up-to-date. You can now find me walking around with the newest issue for about two weeks. I like to spread each issue out, helps me to warm-up for working on my book. As with a good book or a book on writing, these magazines make me want to write, no matter my mood. So obviously, I don’t usually get very far into an issue before I’m putting it aside.

And then there are a the books we all have. Reference books. Mine are mostly books on writing. Actually, mine are all on writing. All of my other research comes from library books because I’m a poor college student.  There’s the textbook from my creative writing class at UF. And the book on getting published that I now refuse to read even though it says “Read this before you start chapter one” (or something like that). Why? Because I read somewhere else that I shouldn’t read any publishing books until after I’ve written the first draft. But it was 40% off at Borders, so I don’t feel too bad. There’s also my B.I.A.M. book that I’ve restructured to do over the course of a year (because there’s no way I can pause my life for a month at this point, but I still like the structure). And then my two personal favorites: 45 Master Characters by Victoria Schmidt and The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein. The first caught my eye because it breaks things down into mythological dimensions and me being a mythology buff, had to have it. It’s been very thought provoking. The latter I bought because I seem to always have one character with some sort of mental illnessand it had a very good chapter on that. They turned out to be a well-spring in my character development process–from thought process to childhood memory to traits that fit the type (I was typing characters in TV and books for weeks afterward).  There used to be a shelf full of spiral bound notebooks also, but I got tired of them taking up valuable book space, so they’ve been boxed until I can get the story starts and the ideas typed into my computer.

Sadly all of this only takes about a shelf on my little desk-side bookshelf (of course, the other shelves are filled with novels, so maybe it’s not so sad). It won’t stay that way for long if I can help it, but right now it seems rather insignificant. And yet, this one small shelf probably tells you a lot about who I am and where I am as a writer.

What about you? What do you find near your writing spot? Or what tools do you have that you favor? And what do they say about you?

Montreal Twestival 2009 Cupcakes by clevercupcakes

Do you tweet?

In an age where authors are having to market themselves more and more on Twitter, Facebook, and personal web pages/blogs, online presence is becoming essential. We’ve become a society where you have to market yourself as well as your book.

Now, if you are not already a Twitter convert (and I understand there may be a straggler or two), I know where you are coming from. I resisted the Twitter trend until last fall. I mean, how could I possibly express myself in only 140 characters?

Turns out you can fit a lot into 140 characters.

Twitter has probably become one of the most influential and useful tools in my writing arsenal. At least when it comes to motivating myself to write. Here are a few ways that Twitter can help you in your writing (btw, my Twitter account is @TheGladElf if you don’t already follow):

1. Connection- What really got me hooked on Twitter was when I started following some of my favorite authors. I was getting up to the minute updates on where they were on their current WIP (work-in-progress for the noobs or the acronym deficient, like me). Twitter is a great way to see what the big names (or not so big names) are doing and to get in touch with other writers who are at the same stage that you are. And there is some really great interaction. Find a Twitter chat to participate in, get to know your peers and the people who’ll be reading your books. Getting yourself out there is key to building an audience.

2. Information- If you know anything about the publishing/writing industry it is that it changes constantly. Staying up to date in the latest doings is key. Following accounts like Writer’s Digest (@WritersDigest) and Publisher’s Weekly (@PublishersWkly) will keep you in the loop and informed. I’m constantly finding links to other’s blogs and to web pages with great information.

3. Motivation- One of the awesome things about following other writers is that they are usually very vocal about where they are on their current WIP. It’s nice to see someone else where you are or where you want to be. And it is a constant reminder to you to pick up your pen and get to work. If my favorite authors can manage to write a book while promoting another, going on tour and buying anew fridge what excuse do I have that can compare. Although, you might want to disengage from Twitter to write. It can be distracting. Just a little. Or just a lot.

4. Promotion- Let’s face it. You write because you want people to read your writing. I’ll admit it at least. Because first thing I do when I write something is shove it in my best friend’s face and demand “Read!” Twitter is a great way to keep people updated and interested in your own work. Especially if you blog (which you should). In the last month since I started really using Twitter to post links to my blog (TweetDeck and scheduled tweets are a wonderful thing) it has become the most dominant form of referral to my blog.

5. Fun- First off, I did try to find a “-tion” word for this, but celebration wasn’t quite right and distraction just seemed offensive (and fun rhymes, sort of). Anyways, Twitter is fun. It cracks me up. I mean, I knew that I loved Ally Carter’s (@OfficiallyAlly) humor in her books, but she Tweets funny stuff too (as well as important, informative stuff). Also, you never know who’ll tweet back. A certain author might have tweeted a picture of a page from their upcoming book. And me being me, I might have gone ahead and read even though I knew it would only drive me crazy (relief comes next week, thank goodness). My retweet/reply read something like “AAAAGH!!!” and she tweeted back. Now, I did not take a picture of my computer screen and have it framed…but I might have thought about. Just might have. Suffice it to say, that one moment made a bad day much brighter.

So, I’m sure that by now you have been won over to the wonders of Twitter, or maybe you were already won over, but there are just a couple more things that I would like to mention. Because on Twitter, nobody wants to be that guy (or girl). You know, the one that nobody wants to follow. So before I go, five things that I have learned to help you tweet smarter (can you tell I’m all about the numbered lists?):

1. Be relevant- I think this is the one I run across the most often. Consider your audience. Do they really need to know what you have for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Everyday? If you’re a chef, maybe. But for the most part, try to refrain from the daily doldrums. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t add a little personal flair or give a brief (key word, brief) glimpse into your perosnal life, but try to keep in mind your audience and what they are looking to read. In my case, anytime I come across a tweet about writing, or about someone’s book or just, something that has me rolling on the floor laughing, I’ll retweet it.

2. Be careful- Once you hit “tweet”, it is out there until the end of eternity. You can’t get rid of it. It’s kind of like that tattoo you got on Spring Break. Tweet with care. Double check that your wrods have all the letters in the rihgt places. And be careful what you tweet. Think twice and then thrice. and try not to offend anyone famous or rich.

3. Be nice- You know that thing your mom told you. Yeah, that one. I won’t repeat it, but, keep in mind that this may be the first impression that people get of you. Or the second. Have you heard of the “lost the job” horror stories because people assumed the big man didn’t do Twitter (Or Facebook, etc.)? It’s not just that you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. It’s that you want to create a professional persona here. It’s okay to disagree with someone, but be polite when you do. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.

4. Be giving- The world revolves around the sun. Not me. Not you. You know and I know it. So don’t just tweet your own stuff. You want people to follow you? You have to follow people. You have to do more than tweet links to your blog. You need to contribute and be useful. And part of that is helping share what others have brought to your attention. Best way to get someone’s attention? Retweet their stuff (but you should also be picky, make sure anything you RT matches up with the last three factors).

5. Be real- By which I mean, be you. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there who are going to get some part of your personality. Who are going to find it entertaining and thought-provoking and fun. Don’t try to be someone else on Twitter. I mean, if your M.O. is jerk-face, you might want to censor it a little (unless you’re famous, apparently it’s okay then). But otherwise, feel free to be you. Because that’s who your readers are going to want. And that is who they will connect with.

Obviously, I’m a Twitter baby. So please, chime in with any other advice or tips or enlightening (funny) stories you might possess.

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