1.22.17 - Sunday Smatterings

Sunday Smatterings 1.22.17

Hello, chickens! How are y'all doing? Did the sun peek through winter skies in your neck of the woods? It finally did here on Friday, and it was glorious. I'd forgotten how much I'd missed it.

It was another big writing week at Chez Ellison. I must say, it's nice to be home for large swaths of time. When my routine settles into consistency, I can settle down, too, get into work or play much easier than when I'm running to and fro every couple of weeks. Work on the new standalone is humming along. Oh, and I got to gather with a few of my writers friends, too, laughing over queso and swapping stories at lunch. Don't forget to make time with your people, the ones who get you, who make you heart happy. A happy heart is a thankful one, a kinder one, a focused one. 


Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

When we bade farewell to Downton Abbey last yearMasterpiece on PBS had big shoes to fill. Downton's regal replacement, VICTORIA, premiered in the US last weekend, and I have to say, Masterpiece might have a winner. A few weeks ago I saw a screener (because of my sweet PBS hookup), and I really enjoyed it!

Judging by the wait times on your library's hold list, you can probably pinpoint which books are the most popular in your hometown. But do you wonder if the same book is flying off the shelves in Dallas, or Atlanta, or San Francisco? Wonder no more, fellow reader: these were the most popular library books around the country in 2016.

If you're looking to get a jump on your spring cleaning, maybe clearing the extra stuff that finds its way into your house, read this article from Being Minimalist: 8 Simple Strategies for When You're Struggling to Declutter. Even if you're not Marie Kondo, you can handle this.

I am the reigning Queen of the Notebook Nerds, and I can prove it: this week, Quo Vadis Planners & Notebooks invited me to talk about how I organize my life and work. I laid out all of my Type-A for y'all. Don't say I didn't warn you.

And Closer to Home:

Heads up: if you're looking forward to the next Nicholas Drummond book, mark your calendar for THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE's release on March 14! If you'd like a copy signed by Catherine and yours truly, you can pre-order one from Barnes & Noble.

This week on the Tao, I talked about what I'm into this month (spoiler alert: delicious tea and cookies ahead), and I pondered the merits of being a prolific or consistent writer.

That's it from me! Enjoy this week, take a friend to lunch or coffee, hug your kitties, and we'll talk again soon.


1.19.17 - What I'm Into (January 2017)

Here's a quick roundup of the stuff that's turning my crank this month!

The Genius Deck

I haven’t been stuck, per se (ahem, she says, she who doesn’t believe in writer’s block), but I have been fighting with this new manuscript, and when I came across The Genius Deck, I fell, hard. The idea of lateral thinking to boost creativity isn’t new, but when you’re fighting something that shouldn’t be hard, it’s revelatory. I played around with it a bit this afternoon and ended up with 500 new words on the book. So it does work. 


My new MacBook Pro’s keyboard

I was gifted a new laptop for Christmas, and I have to say, the new MacBook keyboards are pretty freaking cool. The keys are bigger, and placed closer together. When I move back to my Air for a few things, I feel like my fingers are spread out all over the place. A huge improvement in my eyes. Plus — OMG, retina screen! And Emoji touchbar! It’s not really useful yet, but it is fun to play with. I can see how it will eventually be a very powerful tool.

Alyssa’s Healthy Oatmeal Bites

My husband and I are dropping soy from our diet entirely, which means a whole new set of hidden ingredients to be on the lookout for. Soy lethicin, the sludge leftover from soy production, is in EVERYTHING… So when I came across these healthy oatmeal cookie bites from Alyssa’s, I jumped for joy. There is simply nothing bad for you in them, and they are delicious. I love it when something addictive is good for you. 

Moroccan Mint tea

I’ve always been a fan of spearmint, and this Moroccan Mint is my favorite. Great to have an an afternoon pick me up, or for an upset stomach, it’s rich and flavorful, and have the best scent! Makes brilliant iced tea, too.


ReadKit - AKA Instapaper and Feedly in one place

When I was setting up the new MacBook, I had to decide what apps I wanted to download. I had heard the battery life wasn’t very good. Though I’ll tell you, I’ve been working nonstop since 11 A.M. today and I’m at 47% with 3+ hours remaining, so not too bad… that should be a full 10 hours, which is what they say, plus my wi-fi’s been on the whole time. It’s varied quite a bit since I got it, the battery really does depend on the actions, so I’m looking forward to the update with the promised fixes.

Anywho, I had to think through what I wanted to port over. ReadKit is a big part of my workflow. I use Instapaper for articles to read later, and Feedly for my RSS feeds, and I send research articles to Evernote from both places, as well as to Buffer, when I want to share with y’all. ReadKit lets me put both Instapaper and Feedly in a single interface, which is beautiful and easy to navigate. It’s only for the Mac—I still use the individual apps when I’m reading on my iPad—but I’ve been using it for years and love it. Highly recommended.

What are you into this month?

1.17.17 - Prolific or Consistent?

1.17.17 - Prolific or Consistent?

*Warning: JT’s version of math ahead.

The other day, someone told me how prolific I was.

I countered that I am not prolific, I am consistent, and there’s a huge difference. 

I know in many ways, I could be called prolific. I’ve managed to average two full-length novels a year (and by full-length, I’m talking 100,000 words plus) since I began writing over a decade ago, and I’m writing #19 as we speak. I recognize some people don’t do that many books over the course of a career, so by it’s very nature, that number automatically equates to being prolific.

But I’d argue I’m not at all prolific. I have friends who started out the same time as I did who are 10, even 20 books ahead of me. Hell, Dean Wesley Smith wrote a million words of fiction last year, compared to my 217,000. A million words. That, my friends, is prolific.

What I am comfortable with is a label of consistent. Over the course of the past several years, I’ve been tracking my numbers. Here’s a quick and dirty snapshot.

You can easily see why I’ve got 18 books under my belt— over the course of eight years, I averaged 628 fiction words a day. That’s approximately 229,220 words a year: about two novels and a couple of shorts.

Some years were better than others, clearly. When I started tracking in 2009, I was aghast at how little fiction I wrote, and swore to make up for it. Bu contrast, in 2014 I almost hit the 300,000 mark, and I ran myself ragged doing it. 

But I still don’t feel I’ve hit my potential as far as consistent daily word counts. I do shoot for 1000 words a day, five days a week. If I were to hit that goal consistently, I’d be able to churn out nearly three books a year with ease.

Of course, that’s not how life, and art, work. Everything can be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet, yes. But does that capture what’s really happening? I think we’d all love to be machines who could crank out the same stuff day after day, but life gets in the way. 

Loved ones pass away. Children need tending. Pets need cuddles. Day jobs are priorities for many of us. It’s the rare few who can transcend the mundane daily issues to truly become prolific, writing huge amounts of QUALITY words. 

Oh, I’d love to be among them, trust me. But I think I’ll probably stick with being consistent instead.

Just a thought for today. I’d love to hear what prolific authors you like to read. And how prolific is too prolific?


1.15.17 - Sunday Smatterings

1.15.17 - Sunday Smatterings

Hello, my loves. How's your Sunday? Watching football, reading books, getting good R&R? It was a good week at Chez Ellison, a quiet, with really productive writing sessions. This week is a bit busier and capped off by the Midsouth EMMY Awards this Saturday. Cross your fingers for A WORD ON WORDS, we're nominated for Best Interstitial! #keepreading


Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

Well, y'all, it's January. It's a wee bit dark, and when it's not pitch black, it's a wee bit gray and wet. You may be getting cabin fever or, worse, feeling sad from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). So why does Denmark, which endures a harsh winter every year, rank as one of the happiest countries in the world? The answer may lie in a little concept called hygge (pronounced "hoo-gah"), AKA developing a life of coziness.

There's a concept in the literary zeitgeist gaining popularity, and it's exceptionally worrisome: that writers should not write about what we don't know firsthand. This is a something I'll be exploring on the blog later this month, but to whet your appetite, I give you author Lionel Shriver, who doesn't care if you hate her sombrero.

Did your life seem bit more productive when you were in school? Do you miss that? (if you didn't enjoy school, ignore these two sentences) Chances are, you may be missing the structural goal setting that came with a syllabus. From the Productivityist, here's the easy way to plan out your year.

And speaking of productivity: if you have a big project you want to get done, jumpstart your progress by blocking off time to work on it during Monday morning. You may be surprised at how much easier it is to complete that project when you get momentum going early in the week.

It's no secret that I adore Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series—which is why I relished this in-depth chat with Diana hosted by Harper's Bazaar. It's a long video, but you need to fast-forward to 27:04 to watch the way she composes a sentence. It is mind-blowing, and she is a master. (Also, she just turned sixty five. Sixty. Five. She is radiant.) Plus, the end had me in tears. 

You may hear us writers talk frequently about "voice." But what exactly is a writer's voice, and how do they differentiate one from another? This post from fellow author Shane Hall is chock full of helpful information for writers or the curious reader.

Who doesn't love a good Myers-Briggs personality quiz? This one will tell you what kind of reader you are. I'm an INTJ, and my reader description was scarily accurate.

And closer to home:

This is what happens when you're a writer with bored cats. Trust me, it ain't pretty.

I revere silence. Not just because I'm an introvert—it's vital to my being, to my work. This is why.

Hey, Nicholas Drummond fans, listen up: Barnes & Noble has signed copies of the 4th Brit in the FBI book, THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE, available for pre-order! They're signed by both Catherine and yours truly. Just sayin'. 

That's it from me, y'all! Find a good book, get your hygge on, and we'll talk again soon.


1.12.17 - Silence!

1.12.17 - Silence!

I came across this article from The Economist on Twitter the other day, and was compelled to click because I’d just had a conversation with my husband about my need for large swaths of silent time. 

I’ve long owned my natural introversion, but I think there’s something more fundamental at play. Perhaps it’s from growing up in a forest, perhaps it is the introvert in me (with more than likely a touch of Aspergers to boot…) but I really like silence. I like the quiet that comes from spending the day alone. I like the evenings we spend reading instead of watching television. They rejuvenate my spirit, and bolster my concentration levels.

Who knows why and whence it came, but the fact is, when there’s too much sustained noise around me, I get very frachetty. I can’t concentrate. My thoughts fracture. I find even the simplest tasks hard. I get snappish and annoyed easily, and of course, the work suffers. 

I loved the piece in The Economist because it felt like permission to be true to myself.

Do I want to hike to the top of a mountain and become a monk? Well, only sometimes. 😉 I dream of doing a silent retreat, but I would want to have my husband there to talk to at night. Does that defeat the purpose? I can’t imagine going more than a few hours without hearing his voice, and he mine. True love? Codependence? Who cares, it’s a fact. So the all-silent thing isn’t for me, I guess. I did get a kick out of the fact that the author of the piece thought a week-long silent retreat was going to be the best thing ever, and instead bailed and left after a day. 

Silence is not for everyone. 

I don’t see the boredom in silence. I see it as a state of being. A calm lake on a cloudless day. A snow-capped mountain set against a sapphire sky. A perfectly attuned book photograph on Instagram. Something that makes you pause in your day and say, “Wow, that is beautiful. I need to stop here and admire it for a moment.”

Your shoulders relax, you breathe a little deeper, your mood is bolstered. 

That’s what silence does for me.

I’ve always admired writers who can go to coffeeshops and work. I have a fun group of writers here who do just that, and I join them on occasion. They rack up word counts while I get business done. Emails, blogs, things I can do with half an ear cocked elsewhere. There are just so many people to look at, characters all. I find myself daydreaming about who they are, what there lives are like, what they do for a living, who loves them, who they love, why they’re in the coffeeshop at that particular moment… which is a great creative exercise, but it also means zero word counts, which defeats the purpose.  

Lately, especially, the computer itself is also an agent of noise, even when it’s not playing anything through the speakers. The screen clamors for attention, a siren’s call. The consumption of this particular kind of noise is devilish to me—a bargain that must be made. I need the research. I like the friendships. I adore the education.

But at the same time, this is why I’ve been working so hard to turn off my devices, to spend time in REAL silence, meditation and yoga, a general tuning in to the universe. It’s hard to tether a lifeline, but I’m finding it more and more rewarding to have these few hours of true silence in my life. 

This is probably why Cal Newport’s DEEP WORK feels so right to me, why I like to turn on Freedom and work. The quiet is permeable, an entity unto itself. It grows around me, a favorite blanket, allowing me to relax and create. To simply be. 

Something I don’t know that we do enough of. 

Are you the strong silent type?