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Q&A: Anne LeClaire on Silence and Creativity

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Novelist Anne LeClaire has recently penned her first memoir exploring the connections between silence and creativity, Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence.

Anne is the author of eight novels, including Entering Normal, The Lavender Hour, and Leaving Eden. And she leads a number of popular writing retreats and workshops.

Here Anne answers five questions about how practicing the under-appreciated art of silence can help you tune into your creativity.

You’ve spent 16 years observing silent Mondays. Can you speak to the connection between this practice and your creative process?
Early on I discovered that there is a direct correlation between  quiet and creativity. In the space of silence, ideas can surface and connections can be made. All distractions distort and ultimately destroy creativity, noise most of all. And, of course, on the most basis level, silence is enormously restful to both body and mind and that frees up energy to create.

How difficult is it difficult to keep this practice up?
Not as difficult as you might imagine. At first, as with any new discipline, there were challenges but now it seems a normal part of my life. I welcome it.

Are silent days also writing days for you? Is that one of the goals?

I do usually write on whatever project I am working on during silent Mondays but that isn’t one of the goals. The sole goal is to not speak and watch what happens in the silence.

This is your first nonfiction work following numerous novels. How was the process of writing nonfiction different for you than writing fiction?
Well, nonfiction still requires the craft of fiction, i.e., structure, narrative flow, a central theme, care of language, all of which must arise out of the material and not be externally imposed. I guess the biggest difference is that in my novels, I could write to explore a truth without being limited by facts. In memoir, I needed to keep it honest and not massage facts to fit the truth and sometimes the novelist in me really wanted to invent.

What is the No. 1 thing you would recommend to writers who are trying to get more in touch with their creativity?
Obviously I would recommend getting quiet and exploring stillness. I would say if you want to become more in touch with creativity then you must be creative. You must consciously fashion a life in which creativity is central. Visit art museums. Expand horizons. Dream. Imagine. Play. Pretend you are again a child discovering your world. Take risks. And risk again. Dare to fail. Practice your craft. And read, read, read.

-Maria Schneider

Editor Unleashed publishes weekly interviews with authors, agents and editors. Don’t miss a thing: Click here to subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed, or receive it right in your inbox!

Writing Prompt: A Cliche Story

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I thought it would be fun to write a community story built on cliches (so we can get all of the cliches out of our systems and remember what not to do!)

Here’s the first line:

Michael always thought his life was going to be like a bowl full of cherries until that day…

Contribute one or more lines to this story here.

What are your favorite cliches? Post them here in the comments section (it’s good to get them out.)

5 Questions: Andrew F. Gulli, The Strand Mystery Magazine

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Andrew F. Gulli is the managing editor of The Strand Magazine. The Strand is a quarterly journal with a rich history you can read all about here. Here, Andrew answers 5 questions about breaking into this fine journal. Andrew will be visiting the Editor Unleashed forum for a live chat in February (details below).

1. What is The Strand looking for now, and are you open to submissions from unpublished writers?
We are, but it’s very important that we receive submissions from writers who are not trying to reinvent the wheel. Most of the time, I receive the following from new writers:

• Something that is a pastiche of a recognized writer.
• A short story that has nothing but shock value to offer.
• Writers who haven’t read the classics, which I think are the basis to learn how to write well.

2. What is your policy regarding simultaneous submissions?
We are fine with them. (ed. note: YA! )

3. Have you noticed any trends in the mystery genre recently? Any sub-genres on the rise?
The literary mystery and international mysteries gaining respect and popularity. I think some of the writers who have helped spur this on are Alexander McCall Smith, Donna Leon, and Andrea Camilleri. While the last two are probably not sold at Wal-Mart, I think at the end of the day these types of books will grow in popularity.

4. According to your website you also occasionally publish nonfiction. What sort of nonfiction are you looking for?
We’re interested in articles that relate to crime/mystery world. For example, we have published articles about Jack the Ripper, Vidocq the great criminal genius and detective, Inspector Morse.

5. Who are the upcoming writers to watch in the mystery genre?
I think Jason Pinter is a great talent. I also like Tom Robb Smith, the writing duo of Michael Stanley, and Jason Goodwin.

Here are The Strand’s Guidelines if you’re interested in submitting.

Mark your calendars: Andrew F. Gulli will be visiting the Editor Unleashed forum, Wednesday, February 18, 1:00 EST. You can post your questions ahead of time for him here (you have to be a registerd member of the forum to access. Go ahead it’s free).

-Maria Schneider

Before You Self-Publish

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There’s an article in today’s New York Times that should be required reading for all writers: Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

As traditional publishers look to prune their booklists and rely increasingly on blockbuster best sellers, self-publishing companies are ramping up their title counts and making money on books that sell as few as five copies, in part because the author, rather than the publisher, pays for things like cover design and printing costs.

Because self-publishing seems to be on the upswing, I wanted to offer writers a few questions to ask themselves if they’re considering this path. I’ve overseen multiple self-published book competitions and have read, reviewed and judged literally thousands of self-published books. I’m being really honest when I say that many of those books shouldn’t have been published to begin with.

I’m all for having a creative, independent, entrepreneurial spirit. Yes, that may mean going it on your own if the traditional publishing route doesn’t work out. But know what you’re getting into.

Here are five crucial questions to ask yourself before striking out on your own:

Are you a good self-marketer? Do you have a solid elevator pitch? Books are a hard sell and no one is going to do it for you if you self-publish.

• Have you really developed your writing into a polished manuscript? Don’t rely on your friends and relatives to tell you the truth about your manuscript. Join a writer’s group to get some tough love before you even think about self-publishing it.

• Have you tried going the traditional route first by querying agents and small presses?At the very least, you’ll get a sense of whether or not the work is publishable, and maybe you’ll even get lucky and an agent or two will tell you why it’s not working.

• Do you have a blog? If not, why not? To sell a book, you have to develop a readership and you can start doing that right now absolutely free with a blog. In fact, why not start posting short excerpts on your blog just to see what kind of feedback you get?

• Very important: Do you know what you’re signing? Do your research, ask for recommendations and be careful about what rights you’re signing away!

Please post your experiences and opinions on self-publishing here in the comments.

-Maria Schneider

Caution: Watch out for homophones

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I hate to get all persnickety about grammar. I’m certainly not perfect and I try not to expect perfection of others. But I am an editor, after all, so you have to allow me an occasional lapse into persnickety territory.

With all of the online reading I’ve been doing, I’ve noticed a trend toward a specific kind of misspelling. It’s the homophones (words with entirely different meanings that sound alike) that seem to be tripping people up.

I’ve seen errors in the blog posts of some prominent bloggers and writers. Problem is, these words are technically spelled correctly so they don’t show up in spell check, particularly on lame blog spell-check programs. Microsoft Word does a much better job of picking up these errors, so you might want to consider writing your drafts in Word if you’re not already doing so.

A very smart editor I used to work with got peak/peek wrong on almost a weekly basis (e.g. “sneak peak!”). And rein/reign seems to trip up the smartest of writers for some reason.

Here are the homophones I see being misused/abused over and over again:

here/hear
peak/peek
it’s/its
they’re/their
break/brake
rein/reign
too/to/two

You might want to go back and check your draft if you’re using any of these words and make sure you didn’t make an embarrassing gaff (or is that gaffe?!).

Here’s a very thorough list of homophones via All About Spelling.

-Maria Schneider

Twitter tips + 25 good follows for Freelancers

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Freelance writers are an eclectic group including copywriters, magazine and newspaper journalists, online content specialists and more. So to follow up last week’s more bookish list of good Twitter follows here, I offer you this appropriately eclectic list of good follows for the freelance set.

First, if you’re wondering what to tweet about, here are 3 types of tweets that I’ve found work well:
1. Links to interesting blog posts with a brief description. It’s OK to tweet your own blog posts, but be sure to link to other blogs as well.
2. Answer questions, especially those you have some expertise in.
3. Ask questions that are relevant to your niche.

25 good Twitter follows for freelancers:


Freelance Writing and Journalism:
Jenny Cromie: http://twitter.com/JennyCromie
Samir Husni: http://twitter.com/MrMagazine
The Media is Dying: http://twitter.com/themediaisdying
Paul Conley: http://twitter.com/paulconley
Steven Roll: http://twitter.com/b2beditor
Linda Formichelli: http://twitter.com/LFormichelli
Kurt Andersen: http://twitter.com/KBAndersen
Elizabeth Spiers: http://twitter.com/espiers
Virginia Heffernan: http://twitter.com/page88
David Kirkpatrick: http://twitter.com/DavidKirkpatric
Media Bistro: http://twitter.com/mediabistro

Copywriting and Blogging Advice:
Darren Rowse: http://twitter.com/problogger
Mike Stelzner: http://twitter.com/Mike_Stelzner
Brian Clark: http://twitter.com/copyblogger
Jonathan Fields: http://twitter.com/jonathanfields

Marketing and PR:
Valeria Maltoni: http://twitter.com/ConversationAge
Steve Rubel: http://twitter.com/steverubel
Kevin Dugan: http://twitter.com/prblog
Dan Schawbel: http://twitter.com/danschawbel
Penny Sansevieri: http://twitter.com/Bookgal
Amber Naslund: http://twitter.com/AmberCadabra
Jennifer Tribe: http://twitter.com/jennifertribe
Ann Handley: http://twitter.com/MarketingProfs
Publishing Talk: http://twitter.com/publishingtalk
The Cadence Group: http://twitter.com/thecadencegrp

I know there are many more good Twitter follows for freelancers. Please add them here in the comments!
And you can find me at:@mariaschneider.

Twitter Tips for Writers + 25 Good Follows

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Do you tweet? I’ve been on Twitter for a couple of months now and it’s taken me that long to start to figure out how this hot social networking tool can be effective for writers.

When I first joined, I randomly followed anyone who seemed remotely interesting. At first, Twitter feels like being at a cocktail party where you know no one. But if you focus on making the right connections, Twitter can actually be quite useful.

There’s a bunch of publishing types using Twitter and following them is tapping into the zeitgeist—a never-ending stream of conversations, random thoughts and links. It gives you access to lots of smart, interesting, connected people.

But if you’re just getting started on Twitter it can be really intimidating, so I’ve made this list of 25 good follows for writers composed of the twitterati, book bloggers, agents, publishers and writers. This is by no means an exhaustive list of twitterati, but it may be a good start for you. Check out who these folks follow to find many more.

Here’s my list of 25 good Twitter follows for writers:

First, everyone on Twitter follows these two guys and they follow everyone back. They’re kind of like the Grand Poobahs of Twitter.
Guy Kawasaki: http://twitter.com/guykawasaki
Chris Brogan: http://twitter.com/chrisbrogan

Literary Agents
Janet Reid: http://twitter.com/Janet_Reid
Lauren MacLeod: http://twitter.com/BostonBookGirl
Colleen Lindsay: http://twitter.com/ColleenLindsay
Jenny Rappaport: http://twitter.com/jennyrae
Nathan Bransford: http://twitter.com/NathanBransford

Authors and Publishing Industry Bloggers
Paulo Coelho: http://twitter.com/paulocoelho
Kevin Smokler: http://twitter.com/Weegee
BoSacks: http://twitter.com/BoSacks
Maud Newton: http://twitter.com/MaudNewton
Ron Hogan: http://twitter.com/RonHogan
Lit Park: http://twitter.com/LitPark
MJ Rose: http://twitter.com/MJRose
Jason Boog: http://twitter.com/jasonboog
Lee Goldberg: http://twitter.com/LeeGoldberg
Mignon Fogarty: http://twitter.com/GrammarGirl
Sarah Weinman: http://twitter.com/sarahw

Book Publishers & Publicists
Chris Webb, John Wiley & Sons: http://twitter.com/chriswebb
Grand Central Pub: http://twitter.com/GrandCentralPub
Penguin Books: http://twitter.com/PenguinBooks
Bantam Dell: http://twitter.com/bantamdell
Dzanc Books: http://twitter.com/DzancBooks
Graywolf Press: http://twitter.com/GraywolfPress
Softskull Press: http://twitter.com/softskull

My twitter handle is http://twitter.com/mariaschneider if you want to follow me. I’m a moderately prolific tweeter at five or so posts a day.

What’s your twitter handle? Leave it here in the comments and I’ll follow you. And please leave the twitter addresses for more good follows for writers.

-Maria Schneider
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10 Great (Free!) Online Resources for Writers

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These are hard times economically speaking, of course.

But here’s where I think writers finally have the upper-hand: We’re used to being poor! The rest of the world could learn a thing or two from us.

On that note, I’ve compiled a list of 10 great (free!) resources on the Web for writers. It was hard to narrow it down, but here are 10 of my favorites:

The Merriam Webster Dictionary is a must-bookmark for every writer. There’s even a thesaurus and a helpful Spanish-English dictionary.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., a classic guide to writing that every writer should read at least once, is now available free online.

Duotrope’s Digest provides a free, searchable database of market listings for poets and fiction writers.

• Find a Literary Agent via the AAR searchable databse.

The Guide to Literary Agents blog is another good resource for getting the lowdown on agents.

• Free blog software and hosting services are available at WordPress.com. Have I mentioned already how much I love WordPress?

Shaw Guides provides a handy, searchable index to find writers conferences and workshops.

• Go directly to the U.S. Copyright Office for answers to all of your copyright questions and concerns.

Writer Beware is another site every writer should have bookmarked. They fearlessly track the scams in the literary world.

• For a great database of FAQ writers questions—grammar, ethics, rights issues, whatever—go to Brian A. Klems Questions & Quandaries blog. He addresses writers questions weekly so if you can’t find the answers you’re looking for, ask Brian!

Please add your favorite (free!) online resources for writers here in the comments. Or you can discuss on the Editor Unleashed forum.

-Maria Schneider

Allow me to add a bonus online resource:  The all-new Editor Unleashed forum is open to all writers for chatting, resources, and peer critiques. Join this growing community—it’s entirely free. Register between now and November 30 and you’re automatically entered into a drawing to win a free manuscript critique!