Tag Archives: balance

Just the Right Amount of Adventure

Image-1 (2)I’m so thrilled to be posting on Emu’s Debuts for the very first time! I’ve had my eye on this blog since my querying days (okay, years), so writing this post feels like one of those moments when something big (or small) happens and you think, “This dream is really coming true!”

And yet.

When this post goes live, I’ll be headed to a cabin in the mountains with no WiFi, where I’ll be spending three days drafting my second book that’s really my fifth book. Because there are times to blog and tweet and research and live life abundantly, and there are times when you have to just open up your manuscript and write and write and write. It’s all about balance, isn’t it?

My kids are signed up for a Shakespeare camp this summer (one of the advantages of living near the Utah Shakespeare Festival), and for his audition, my son and I found this monologue and both fell in love:

“The test of an adventure is that when you’re in the middle of it, you say to yourself, ‘Oh, now I’ve got myself into an awful mess; I wish I were sitting quietly at home.’ And the sign that something’s wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home wishing you were out having lots of adventure.”

~ Thornton Wilder, The Matchmaker, Act IV

(It goes on, and it’s wonderful, and you should probably just read the whole play.)

There’s so much we can learn about life simply by being writers. We know what it means to be obsessed and apathetic, despairing and joyful, rejected and triumphant…the list goes on and on. But there’s a depth and dimension that comes to our writing from getting out there and having real-life, non-writing adventures. We all know this, of course, but sometimes it bears repeating. (And sometimes, when you go to a cabin in the woods with a bunch of neurotic writers, it could go either way. *cues scary music*)

So what I wish for you, writing friends, is that you find that balance again in your life, and that you fill your summer with “just the right amount of sitting quietly at home, and just the right amount of…adventure!”

View More: http://morgansladephotography.pass.us/vickersfamilyElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, here on Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂


Filed under Advice, Introduction, Time Management, Writing and Life

In It For The Long Haul

I’m a debut EMU (and so proud of it!) but this is not my first rodeo. I’m the author of four published books. The first, a little non-fiction book, I sold myself and it’s still ticking away. The second and third were novels sold by my previous agent, and the fourth was solicited by my publisher.

My hometown indie, Country Bookshelf

My hometown indie, Country Bookshelf

With each launch I’ve felt the same sense of trepidation – that feeling never goes away. After all, you want the world to greet every one of your babies with love. You want each to soar. You’ve suffered through multiple revisions with each (that never goes away, either) and there are times when you’ve felt you can’t make another book.

Not to dampen your enthusiasm but here are a few sobering statistics, courtesy of marketing guru Tim Grahl:

  • the number of books published in 2013 – 750,000
  • the number of copies most sell in their first year – fewer than 250
  • most sell fewer than 2000 copies in their lifetime
  • odds of being stocked in a bookstore – less than 1%

I’ve been on both sides of these statistics. I’ve sold upwards of 20,000 copies of two of my books, and fewer than 2000 of one (which has gone out of print.) Ironically, the out-of-print book garnered awards and high praise. There are no guarantees that any one book will rise above the huge crowd of competitors. And let’s not even talk about earning a living wage.

But that’s where it’s all about sticking with it. Because, first, this is what we do, isn’t it? We write. And when we finish one book we write the next. Because we can’t imagine living in a world in which we aren’t writing.

And second, here’s the good, if not great news. If you feel as passionate as I do about writing, and you keep writing, and honing your craft, and making each book the best you can in that moment, you will indeed find an audience. Most authors do not spring out of the box as best sellers like Athena springing from the head of Zeus. Most authors who gather an audience do so bit by bit, book by book. With each book, new readers come to the library. With each book, appreciative booksellers grow in number. With each book, reviewers and librarians sit up and take notice. This career has a very, very long tail, and readers can and will discover your earlier work when they fall in love with your newer work.

I tell beginning writers that, as soon as they finish (and polish and vet and polish again) that first manuscript, and hit the send button, they should begin working on their next book. That beauty of a debut may be a hit and, if so, fantastic! But more often than not, readers find authors they love because the authors they love keep writing, and with each book readers want the next.

Write every day. Write the next book. Build a body of work. Build an audience, book by book. I’m in it for the long haul because writing is what I love to do and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

IMG_8226bJanet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the non-fiction middle grade book GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT (Free Spirit, 2006), and three YA historical romances: FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Group, 2010), FORGIVEN (2011), and SIRENS (2012). Janet’s debut middle grade novel THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is an historical fantasy set in 1940 Scotland (Viking, 2016). Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she lives in Bozeman, Montana. You can also find her at www.janetsfox.com


Filed under Advice

Finding my balance between promotion and writing

On Thursday, Luke put up an honest, heartfelt post about the realities of being a writer (please go read it right now—all the way to the end!). There are often many years spent waiting—writing, revising, submitting, revising again, submitting again, writing something new, repeat—the quiet, largely unrecognized work behind the scenes. We long for that golden ticket, that recognition, that validation that will make all of that effort worth it.

Then, finally, success: we’re published! We think our new status will make things easier for us somehow, like we discovered the secret formula and can just apply it over and over whenever we need to produce a publishable manuscript. In some ways it does: people do take you more seriously when you’re published. But in many other ways, it actually makes things harder.

I’ve seen writers with a successful first book struggle with the second, fearful that it won’t live up to their previous work. Others want to write something completely different, but feel pigeon-holed in a single genre. An unlucky few are so stung by negative reviews that they have a hard time putting themselves out there for more. Still others spend so much time promoting the first book that they simply don’t have time to write another one!

My challenge was similar to Luke’s: It’s so exciting to check on the status of your book, so compelling to want to nudge it out into the world a bit more, so easy to pop in and do quick, light promotion. And there’s always more you can be doing pre- or post-launch to get the word out. You’re constantly wondering what else you should be doing, who else you should be talking to. It’s easy to completely lose yourself in the world of that first book.

It’s not so much that you don’t have time to write anymore. You really don’t have to do all of those things. It’s more that all of the checking, nudging, and promoting feels necessary. It seems important. In fact, it feels like a betrayal of your first book—and, heaven forbid, of that first publisher who took a chance on you and made all of your big dreams come true!—to do anything less. It’s exceedingly difficult to switch gears and go back to the waiting; back to the quiet, largely unrecognized work behind the scenes; back to the writing.

This was actually one of the scariest and hardest parts of the whole journey for me. For months after Be a Changemaker came out, I worried that I’d never be able to write again, never be able to get myself back into that mindset, back to the focus and discipline needed to dive into writing something new. It was part of the process that I wasn’t at all expecting, and it took me completely off guard. Fortunately, I had other author friends (mostly Emus!) to discuss it with. They all said things like, “Yep, the same thing happened to me. Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.”

And, you know what? I did. I’m back to writing, and I’m loving it. I still do promotion, and I’m loving that, too. But, I’m finally starting to find my balance, discovering ways to foster the creative beginning of the process with one project while at the same time managing the more analytical business end of the process on another.

As I told the kids at the school visit I did last Friday: “Writers write. Period.” And, eventually, we discover that the writing itself is what makes it all worth it. We realize that we can’t NOT write. And we get back to work.

Writers write

Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, was published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. Her debut nonfiction picture book, EMMANUEL’S DREAM, was published by Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House in January 2015. MY DOG IS THE BEST, her debut fiction picture book, will be available June 9, 2015, from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Maybe then they’ll finally force her to retire from Emu’s Debuts, unless…

Please visit Laurie at her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.


Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Colleagues, Creativity, Discipline

Cycles, balance, and making plans

Lately, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the idea of cycles in our lives. Cycles in nature—life cycles, the water cycle, seasons, etc.—keep our physical world in balance. Man-made cycles keep the government running (usually), prevent mechanical failures and medical mistakes (hopefully), even wash our clothes and dishes for us. If you’re an author, you’re probably familiar with the creativity cycle (see below). And as I’ve mentioned before, one of my all-time favorite Emu’s Debuts post was Melanie Crowder’s The Run/Rest Cycle, about sustaining balance as a writer. As creative types, we often have some leeway about how we choose to spend our time each day, so having a cycle in mind can help us manage our activities and maintain balance in our personal and professional lives.

The Creativity Cycle

The Creativity Cycle

One cycle I’ve personally followed for a long time is a year-end review plus goal-setting and planning for the upcoming year. It’s not so much a resolution as a chance to reflect on what I’ve accomplished in the last year, what I hope to achieve in the coming year, and how I plan to make it happen. I don’t necessarily follow this plan, or even look at it throughout the year (cough, cough), but I feel like the act of pausing to reflect on the past combined with setting goals for the future helps me feel more centered and guides my intentions.

This year, though, as I tried to plan for 2014, I got a little stuck trying to figure out how to balance the creative cycle, the production cycle (draft, revise as necessary, submit!), and all of the marketing tasks that a debut author ought to be thinking about (make swag! give talks! do blog tours! press releases! curriculum guides! all the things! and more!). Can I be creative AND treat this as a business? Can I keep working on new projects while promoting the books that are coming out? Can I do either of those activities justice if I’m also doing the other? It was starting to make me feel like I’d need to develop a dual personality (or perhaps create a clone) to even survive the coming year, let alone achieve my goals for it.

When I brought up this dilemma to another creative friend of mine, he mentioned how a co-worker of his seems to cycle through various types of activities, choosing one for a given day and focusing on just that particular activity. Apparently, the co-worker knows he can get a little obsessive about things sometimes, so to maintain balance he consciously cycles between days filled with either programming, researching, or interacting with colleagues, all of which are necessary to his position.

I’ve been thinking about how this might apply to me, and I think I’ve formed some guidelines for a sort of cycle:

  • Create—I must keep making new things, or my career will stall. And let’s not even talk about how grumpy and depressed I’ll become if I don’t have a new project to think about!
  • Consume—I want to read more, observe more, experience more. These are the things that feed our souls, and our art. Yes, consuming other people’s creativity feels like leisure time, but it should still be built into our daily routines in a conscious and thoughtful way.
  • Connect—I need to dedicate time to interact with readers, writers, friends, and family. Despite the fact that I’m an extreme introvert, I crave connection. It keeps me sane, and at the same time is the key to successfully promoting my work in the world.

So, how to work that into an actual “plan” for the year ahead? I’m still not entirely sure. I probably can’t commit to doing each of the three pieces every day. Maybe making sure they each get their due at least once per week will work for me. Or, maybe just asking myself, “Which of the three have I been neglecting lately?” whenever I am deciding what to work on next. My main goal for the year will be trying to find a system that reliably incorporates all three.

In any case, being aware of the need for dedicating time to creating, consuming, and connecting seems like a good place to start. With three upcoming releases to look forward to, this year is bound to be more heavily focused on connecting than on creating and consuming, so the challenge will be to make sure to include the other two whenever possible and not be exclusively focused on promotion.

The Deming Cycle of Plan, Act, Do, Check

The Deming cycle

In case any of you are wondering, I thought I’d conclude with a few of my favorite questions to ask myself at this time of year:

  1. What were my goals and plans for this past year?
  2. What did I actually accomplish? (Note: I usually can’t say I did all—or even most—of the things from the answer to the first question, but answering this question always makes me feel better, because I realize that even though I didn’t necessarily achieve my initial goals, I did do a lot of good stuff instead!)
  3. What did I learn this year?
  4. What do I most want to learn next year?
  5. How will I go about doing that?
  6. What are my goals and plans for next year?
  7. What one word can I use as my theme for the coming year?

Do any of you do any kind of year-end self-review or forward-looking career planning? What do your processes look like? What tricks have you discovered for balancing life, creativity, and business? Are you aware of any cycles that help you things in balance? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

FYI, the Emus are taking a little holiday hiatus, so this will be the last post of 2013. Season’s greetings to all, and a happy new year! See you in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: EMMANUEL’S DREAM, a picture-book biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House, and MY DOG IS THE BEST, a fiction picture book with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.


Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Book Promotion, Creativity, Promotion, Writing and Life

They call them deadlines because they can kill you, right?

calendar2As I’ve mentioned before, my most recent book sold on proposal, so I’m now staring at a great big fat hairy

Former Emu Peter Salomon is in a similar situation with his second book, GHOSTLY. (You can read the announcement here.) Peter and I have struck up a daily accountability email to report our progress and cheer each other on. I’ll admit I’m a tad jealous, but I love hearing how Peter is making amazing progress and writing up a storm. (By the way, his book sounds seriously, creeptastically awesome, and I can’t wait to read it!)

Quicksand!Unfortunately, the harder I try to work and more I try to focus, the more it feels like I’m moving in slow motion, fighting a desperate (losing) battle against the quicksand that is pulling me down. Life has been unavoidably crazy-making busy lately. My family is being pulled in multiple different directions, while still trying to make time to come back together again whenever possible. I’m definitely not willing to give that up. My health has also been a bit of a challenge lately, which I can’t do anything about at the moment besides wait, hope, try to get enough sleep, and drink a LOT of coffee. And, I’m already thinking about the NEXT book and getting nervous about not having anything new to send out right now. (Note: This seems to be a common Emu affliction…

So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to get this deadline beast under control. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Balance: When I found out about this deadline, I decided I didn’t have time to read until the draft is finished. But the longer I went without reading, the crankier I got, and the less able I was to write. Reading fuels me (duh, right?). So, I’m going back to giving myself time to read every day. I had also decided, at first, that I had to keep writing during lunch and to eat whatever was at hand. Seriously? I’ll be better off in the long run if I eat something healthy–and take time to enjoy it–preferably with a good book! On the other hand, those sudden urges to clean the refrigerator, wash the windows, or organize the garage? It’s probably best to ignore them for the next few months. Having a book contract is a fine excuse for having a messy (or in my case, disastrous) house, right? RIGHT?
  2. Small goals: I keep thinking about how much more research I need to do, how many more interviews I need to set up, and how many more chapters are left to write. It’s a bit daunting. Overwhelming, really. Okay, it’s completely freaking paralyzing at times. I really need to quit thinking about the whole book and only focus on the next small bite. Writing the next little piece sounds so much easier than writing the whole darn thing! Of course I can do that next teeny tiny part. Piece of cake! (Which brings me to…)
  3. Bursts/Rewards: I think often about Melanie’s post on the Run-Rest cycle, which really struck me. Rather than feeling like I should be writing all the time—and then not wanting to write at all (which is what was starting to happen, even though I LOVE this book!), I’m going to try to be more mindful of working times and resting times. After all, I can still be doing something “productive” when I’m resting (like reading emails, catching up on Twitter, or eating chocolate)… hey, look, rewards! Not that I’m easily motivated by cheesy rewards or anything. (Okay, I confess, I’m totally motivated by cheesy rewards.) And when I’m enjoying those rewards, I must remember to…
  4. Focus on the now: I’m going to practice mindfulness and make sure to fully enjoy my family, my health, my little successes, and my rewards as they come. I’m also going to try to stop worrying about what’s next. Those other manuscripts that I’ve been working on will still be there waiting for me when this one is finished. My agent will probably thank me if she doesn’t hear from me for a few months. And if I don’t have something new go out on submission for the next 4 months, it isn’t going to tank my whole career. So, one thing at a time (or at least, I can make working on those other manuscripts one of the rewards for a successful burst, or something to play with when I’m resting.)

That’s my plan so far, but what about you? What tips and tricks have you found for staying motivated and sticking to a deadline without letting it overwhelm you? Please share–I’m going to need all the help I can get!


Filed under Anxiety, Panic, Writing and Life