Sunday Smatterings

Sunday Smatterings 5.6.18

Welcome to a beautiful May Sunday, gentle readers.

Grab a hot cup of tea, and kick up your feet. Let's read some good stuff together.


Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

Advice to Writers: You've Got to Work It Over. Excellent advice from my writing hero Ernest Hemingway.

Go Medieval and Attach a Book to Your Belt. Just go read it. You'll understand...

26 Crime Writing Poets. Oh hell yeah! Did you know poetry was my first love?

Want to earn more as a book author? A male name will help. This story is starting to get old...

Do librarians read all day? Do writers write all day? 🤔

25 Foreign Words and Their Hilarious Meanings. I particularly enjoy #8...

How Fairy Tales Help Us Continue to Think Smarter and Harder. “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  –Albert Einstein

On Analog Social Media. "The resulting analog social media tended to prove significantly more satisfying and rewarding than the addictive experiences offered through screens by the algorithmic attention economy.


And closer to home:

You need to listen to this Harlequin Audiobook Sampler. If you love audiobooks, then this will be your jam. Featuring wonderfully told tales written by Mary Kubica, Christina Dodd, Hannah Mary McKinnon, Amy Lloyd, and me! 


That's it from me! Y'all have a great week, buy some $8 grocery store flowers and put them in a Mason jar, and we'll talk again soon.

xo,
J.T.

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Sunday Smatterings

Sunday Smatterings 1.7.18

Hey, chickens! How you doing today? Thawing out, I hope? No more bomb cyclones raging in our backyards?

If you're a U.S. chicken, I don't need to tell you that it has been so cold lately. My fingers stay frozen if they aren't wrapped around a tea mug. The kitties can't go on the porch. Thankfully Nashville wasn't swept up in the bombogenesis, but my deepest sympathies to you if you were. Yeesh. Old Man Winter is sure a grumpy fellow sometimes.

This week I put in lots of edits and new words for TEAR ME APART. I'm at a point where I'm honing the story, upping the tension, making things tighter, discovering more dark and twisty corridors inside of my characters. This is the good stuff of storytelling, when I can start pulling all the threads together. It makes this writer very, very happy.

Anyway. Without further ado, I give you links.


Here's what happened on the Internets this week:
 

The simple structure to attaining your goals. Essential January reading, especially for those who want to keep their resolutions.
 

Jocko Willink on the power of discipline. We all know I'm a fan of Cal Newport's work, and I read his blog religiously. This article featuring former-Navy-Seal-turned-leadership-consultant Willink ran in December, but I thought it would be a perfect read as we ring in the new year. We're all looking for more freedom in our lives, and Willink uses a surprising tool to find his: discipline. 


How to use money to buy back your time. Creatives, take heed. Your time is so valuable. Where can YOU turn over your work to someone and buy back some creative time?
 

I WAS ANASTASIA by Ariel Lawhon - a Winter 2018 Okra Pick. I had the pleasure of reading this beauty early. Fans of historical fiction: y'all need to run to your bookstore in March when this hits shelves. Such a great story!


Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan on How They Found the Voice of "Lady Bird." 2018 is going to be a powerful year for women in entertainment, both in front of and behind the camera. Long overdue!


Triple-Acting Diabetes Drug Reverses Memory Loss in Alzheimer's Disease Mouse Models. This is huge, y'all! An accidental find, and a promising start.


How Americans of both political parties can come together to support the Iranian people. When I joined Twitter, we turned our avatars green in support of the Iranian people. It’s time for another bold statement. #freedom


And closer to home:


My 2017 Annual Review. 2017 was one of my most exciting, crazy, thought-provoking, and frustrating years ever. At the beginning of the year, I predicted I'd more create consistency and contentment through staying home more. How well did I do? You be the judge.


Sunday Reads: YEAR ONE by Nora Roberts. This apocalyptic read is quite a departure from Nora's usual fare...


Also, an important thing I must tell you before I go:

 

Saturday nights tights. #myhusbandisagenius #crazycatlady

A post shared by J.T. Ellison 📚🤓 (@thrillerchick) on

 

They make sexy tights with kittens on them. You're welcome.


That's it from me! Y'all stay warm, make a snow angel or two, and we'll talk again soon.

xo,
J.T.

On Blogging, and Blogs I Love

On Blogging, and Blogs I Love

I love to blog. I love the examination of thoughts and words. I do it for myself in many ways, knowing that the days I’m struggling with writing, that if I at least put a blog in place, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something. My longstanding rule—When you can’t write, write about writing. It helps.

I started blogging many, many years ago, and have been relatively consistent with it. I used to blog every Friday at Murderati, then bi-monthly, then when it shut down, I kept it up on my website, albeit to a smaller audience. 

And then the socials happened, and blogging supposedly went the way of the dodo, or so we were meant to believe. Some of us kept at it—and many, many bloggers saw their audiences grow and bloom. Mine hasn’t really changed upwards or downwards, though I have seen that the more I blog, the more people who read them. 

But, oddly, the blog commenting seems to have migrated to Facebook, where I am very active on my business page. It’s no real skin off my nose, though it means I need to pay attention to make sure everyone is getting what they need. And then we started scheduling, so there’d be regular programming, which becomes it’s own issue. We’ve settled into a Sunday blog, and a Thursday blog. I vacillate on whether to do more, or less. 

Truth be told, I miss my daily snippet blogs, and might bring them back, if there’s interest…

Why do I bring all this up? My bestie, Laura Benedict, has starting blogging daily. It wasn’t something she necessarily set out to do, but when she realized the rhythm was pleasing, and helping with the work, she kept it up. 

This makes me happy on so many levels. Laura’s a true essayist. I’ve spent years saying how I wished she blogged more, because her words are just so calming and comforting. I always feel good when I finish reading, even if its a difficult topic.

Laura’s blog—Notes From The Handbasket—is everything you want from a writer’s blog. Funny, charming, engaging, vulnerable—she has a wonderful, unique voice and a wry sense of humor that takes the ordinary around her and makes it extraordinary. I highly recommend you give it a read. 

For me, there’s something very special about hearing about a writer’s day. The little accomplishments that, when taken en total, become a book, a series, a career. The blogs I gravitate to are ones of nurturing and education, that examine the world in a pleasing manner, and offer bits of enlightenment to the reader. Laura’s qualifies, on all accounts.

Here are some other blogs I love:

  1. Dani Shapiro
  2. Kristine Rusch
  3. Modern Mrs. Darcy
  4. I Heart Words
  5. Quo Vadis
  6. The Well-Appointed Desk
  7. Tools and Toys
  8. Cal Newport

What are your favorite blogs?

 

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?

12.20.16 - Getting the Most Out Of Your Creativity and Social Media

I wrote a very earnest piece back in 2009 about social media and its negative affect on creativity

It wasn’t a new concept, but I caught a lot of flack for it, especially because I was so obviously breaking all my own suggestions. Which is totally fine. Since then, the concept of minimalism has launched many a career, and I too have found ways to step back from social media, making it work for me, instead of the other way around.

Seven years later, I want to revisit this idea, and talk about how I’ve finally found a good work/life balance with my social media responsibilities.

One thing that hasn’t changed in the intervening years: with all the pressures authors have on them nowadays, writing can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. THIS is what I mean when I say social media kills the creative spirit. Thing is, it absolutely doesn’t have to.

Social media is a lot like life. You get out what you put in. Social media is no longer something we’re encouraged to do, it’s a given requirement of a publishing career. Finding readers now is all about discoverability, which means having some sort of online presence. A website at a minimum, preferably accompanied by a well-loved Facebook fan page and an active, exciting Twitter account. Now Instagram is a huge part of things, too, and blogging is making a comeback (YAY!). Newsletters are the new black, and that’s good for those of us who’ve had one for a while. 

Honestly, as much as we’re encouraged to exploit Facebook and Twitter, I think the two most important components of your social media strategy should be the newsletter and the blog.

Why?

You own it. You control it. No one can take it away from you. You get to interact directly with your readers and friends without the majorly frustrating concerns we all have about actual reach on the socials. Facebook only shows your posts to a fraction of the people who’ve signed up to receive information from you (bad move, Facebook. Perfect way to lose all your customers). Twitter is such an immediate medium that your tweet only exists for a few seconds before your readers have moved on to the next. Instagram is pretty, plain and simple, but it too rewards bigger accounts with better penetration.

For years, the conversation I’ve been having most often is: How do we get around this? How do we actually reach the people who want to be reached without annoying the crap out of everyone else?

Note what I’ve just said.

The conversation I have most often is about how to reach readers in a more efficient, successful manner. 

See something wrong?

What I should be focused on, exclusively, is writing.  

I’ve always known this. I’ve always struggled with it. Writing is lonely work, and an engaged social media platform makes it more fun. But in the long run, when I keel over at my desk, no one’s going to say, “Wow, she had an amazing Facebook page.” Nor do I want them to.

What I want them to say is she was a woman of letters, had a long, storied career, and wrote a ton of great novels. That she was loved by her friends and family. That she was kind. 

You know what I mean?

Rebecca Kaufman’s recent piece in Publisher’s Weekly really hit home for me.  This chick is seriously smart, and I hope more people listen to her story. Were I a young, just-breaking-in author, I would push back, and hard, on the idea that I MUST have an extensive social media platform. We don’t have a ton of empirical evidence that proves that social media actually sells books. It does raise awareness and name ID, which trickles down to sales, but word-of-mouth is still the #1 way people find new books.

I think it’s much more important for new writers to immerse themselves deeply into their work. The challenge of going from writing for yourself to writing to deadline is big enough without the added pressure of being responsible for growing your own readership.

Push back. Say no. Ask for help. Protect your writing time at all cost.

You can have just as much of an impact on growing a readership by writing great books as curating awesome cat videos. If you do get involved with social media, one bit of advice — be genuine, and keep it about books. Most readers are keenly interested in hearing about your work in progress and the inherent foibles of a writing life. It’s fascinating to everyone, actually — me included. The blogs and pages I come back to again and again are those that examine the writing life, writing challenges, successes and failures. Even online diaries of word counts and daily work are interesting. It shows dedication, commitment, and that’s always attractive. Ask questions, and be interested in the answers you receive.

For those of us more established, I feel like we’ve all settled into a solid groove with our platforms. I know I have. A large part of that is the Amazing Amy, who will celebrate her 2nd anniversary as my business manager in January. A few years ago, looking down the barrel of a plethora of ideas and not enough time to accomplish them, I wisely recognized I needed help. I started with automation, making my blog feed directly to my accounts. Then I moved on to hiring people on a project-by-project basis, then a monthly basis, and finally, brought Amy on as a dedicated part-timer. Last year, I hired her as my full-time assistant. 

Part of this dearth of time and too much work is my own fault. No, I don’t need to do all the things I do. I do them because I love them, and I get bored with just one thing, so I have an indie press and a wine blog in addition to this blog and my novels. It’s fun, and I enjoy it tremendously. Besides, one never knows where the industry will be in a decade, so it’s always good to know how to handle things yourself if needed. I could cut back on social media and disappear into my cave and ignore everyone — and trust me, there are moments when that urge is huge, but it’s not the smart thing to do. Instead, I look for ways to streamline, but still augment, the brand. Hence: Amy.

Now, Amy handles a lot more than social media, but with her at the helm, the brand looks MUCH prettier, and runs MUCH smoother. I can interact with my readers without having to spend the time on the back-end posting and perfecting and designing—something that I actually enjoy, but takes a great deal of time. 

Perfect example: yesterday I changed my personal privacy settings on Facebook. This morning, I received an email from Amy telling me I had severed all links to my apps by doing so, and she’d already reconnected everything, something that would have taken a solid hour out of my work day. That hour was instead spent writing 1000 words on a new book. The cost benefit is readily apparent.

I’ve written before on the importance of getting help. Amy has changed how I do business, allowing me to focus on writing and interacting, the two things that will bring in more readers. You really can’t hang a price tag on that.

But the lure of the internet is still strong. This isn’t just about social media anymore. It’s about the fragmentation of the writer’s mind. 

I’ve made no bones about how much I loved Cal Newport’s book DEEP WORK. Happily, I’ve been putting parts of his thesis into practice for many years, using a great program named Freedom to shut off my Internet while I work. I used to feel ridiculous that I needed an app to help me focus; now it’s something I take pride in, that I realize how fragmented I get when my Internet is on. I haven’t given up social media—as a business, I need it— but with Amy’s help, I feel I’ve conquered Facebook and Twitter. I am comfortable stopping in, talking to people, and leaving again, and don’t suffer any ennui or FOMO. 

Now, the rabbit hole of research and learning and interesting things on the web is still an issue for me. Then add in what I call "First Adopter Syndrome" (both a blessing and a curse in my life), AKA the tendency I have to reinvent my wheel when a new app comes along that looks like it might be a better mousetrap for my work. 

2016 was the year I settled into my apps and stopped this nonsense. Now, if I see something that might improve a portion of my workflow, I send it to Amy to check out. If she thinks it will add to our system, in it goes. I’ll say this, in two years, I can only think of two apps that have been adopted, and they were specifically designed to address workflow. Irony. 

This week, Cal Newport began exploring what I bet will become his next book, the concept of Digital Minimalism

I fully, happily endorse this. Less technology, not more. Fewer apps, not more.

Repeat after me: Not more, not more, not more.

One of the things I do regularly is examine my apps. Am I using it? Is it enhancing my workflow? If I was lost on a desert island, would I have to have it? This mindset keeps my iPhone and iPad screens down to two, my folders easy to navigate, and my laptop relatively nimble. I’m getting a new laptop for Christmas, which means downloading the apps I need to work. It’s the equivalent of moving house for me, a chance to tidy and discard, to make everything shiny again. (I’m one of those weird people who likes moving. Don’t hold it against me.) 

Things have changed since 2009. A lot. Authors are expected to engage so much more. And our readers are fantastically tuned in—reading more, engaging with us, making it all worthwhile. You don’t have to live on social media, but you don’t have to abdicate from it either. A balance can be found. Find the network that gives you joy, and focus all your efforts there. If you hate it all, hire someone to maintain your presence for you.

No matter what, write. Write every day. Write hard, write well. That is your legacy. That is what will give you satisfaction at the end of the day. Feel free to step away from the pressure of growing your readership and do it the old fashioned way—by writing spectacular books. That truly is the best way to a reader’s heart, not a great meme or pithy tweet. 

Tell me what you think. Readers, should we authors spend more time on social media, or less? Authors, do you find your own work suffering when you’re online too much? Do you have any solutions to share that work for you?