Writing Time and an Open Mind

Last week I had the pleasure to teach at the Burlington Writers Workshop, a very cool nonprofit organization in Vermont which helps writers to grow in the craft. My workshop title was, “Writing a Novel in 15 Minutes.” I have an e-guide out by the same title and my hope was to help this small group of writers really recognize what it was that was holding them back from making time to write—a conundrum that so many writers share.

As we went around the table introducing ourselves, it was apparent that, yes, every writer there struggled with finding time to write. One mentioned that she felt she didn’t want to bother unless she had a three-hour window of time. Another man said that when he sat down to write he ended up doing a bit of research … only to realize hours later that he hadn’t actually written anything he’d intended. Someone else said that they didn’t feel like a “real writer.”

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How I use the method

I could relate to all of the above. What helped me the most in finally finishing that very first novel—and then another and another and so on—was this: make writing a habit. Do it every single (work) day without exception. Make the habit so small, so easy-to-manage, that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. In fact, when I tell people that I write novels in 15-minute increments, most are dubious. “You must be a really fast writer!” someone will comment, or “That would never work for me. The good ideas don’t start until I’m at least an hour into my writing session.”

Why 15 minutes?

Is 15 a magic number? I don’t think so. But because it is so innocuous it works for those of us who feel overwhelmed by the mere thought of a three-hour writing session. While I spend the bulk of my workday writing, it’s on a bunch of different projects: some for myself and my “brand,” and some for clients. If someone told me to sit down and write for three hours on my current fiction manuscript, I’d probably cry. Variety is the special sauce of my writing success.

Also, it’s important to remember that while the actual writing time can be short (15 minutes, 10, even five), there is other background work that happens before you write. Washing the dishes, going for a walk, taking a shower: all of these are good “brainless” activities where you can let your mind wander. And a wandering mind, for a writer, is a beautiful thing. Great ideas take time to show up and often go unheard in our overly busy, rush-rush world.

Find your rhythm with habit

So, while I don’t think that you must write for 15 minutes and 15 minutes only most days of the week, it is a great place to start. It’s short enough to not be overwhelming. It’s long enough to propel a story forward. And, if you dedicate yourself to making that writing time part of your normal morning routine—just like taking a shower or flossing your teeth—it’s a great way to boost your day right from the start. There is something so energizing about crossing off a priority first thing. Using a method like habit stacking will help you make the transition seamlessly.

J.P. Choquette writes novels in 15 minutes a day from her home office in Vermont. She’d love to share a free 7 Ways to Find Time to Write guide with you—it’s free when you sign up for her writing newsletter. It comes out twice a month and is packed with information, inspiration and education to empower writers.

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What do YOU Need as a Writer?

Attending writing-related events proves fruitful in more ways than one. In addition to spending time with like-minded, creative people, you also learn more about the struggles and challenges that writers face.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • The un-published author who is feeling frustrated with the agent querying process.
  • A self-published author lamenting the cost of good cover designers/editors/marketing help.
  • The at-home parent/writer squeezing in a little time each day to write.
  • A newly retired poet who finally has time to focus on his work … but never gets around to it.
Don't let lack of time leave you uninspired ... as it does Mr. Magoo.

Don’t let lack of time leave you uninspired … as it does Mr. Magoo.

Writers who subscribe to my newsletter know that the focus this month is on nurturing yourself. Making the time and space needed to really treat yourself well and refill that sometimes drastically overdrawn creative side. Why? Because you deserve it as a human being. And because it will help you get into a good writing place eventually. Perhaps you’ll even feel charged up enough to try a writing-related challenge?

Comments from readers tell me that TIME is a challenge. Whether we’re working full-time jobs and squeezing writing in on the side, or writing full-time but never having enough oomph left for our creative writing work—time is a big issue. Note: I loved Beth’s recent insight into this new media forum. I can see Medium being hugely popular as more and more of us read hurriedly online.

Besides time, what else do you struggle with as a writer? Do you find it hard to come up with ideas, get through the second half of a manuscript or do you get distracted during writing time?

If a genie appeared right now and could grant you two writing wishes—and “become an overnight bestseller” wasn’t one of the choices—what would you choose?

J.P. Choquette lives, works and nurtures herself in Vermont. Want an ongoing dose of writer-ly inspiration and motivation? Sign up for her newsletter

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Sisters in Crime Embraces the New Hampshire Women’s Expo


Here’s a glimpse of the SinC New England team before the crowd flooded the Women’s Expo at the Radisson in Manchester, NH, this morning. We look organized and creative, right? Ready, set, let’s talk to everyone about SinC and the 2015 New England Crime Bake (first weekend of November, 3 days of bliss).

Trust me, after we packed twice as many authors into the booth and then were surrounded by a moving flood of hundreds of women, some with baby strollers, some taking writing classes in their 70s, some in suits, some in fab T-shirts, some with multiple piercings, some carrying roses, some carrying goodie-bags of handouts … it got a lot more interesting!

And adventurous (SincNE’s first time at this expo). And mysterious (how DID we fit that many people into the booth and all keep talking?). And delightful (want to see all the things I brought home as leads for future stories or presentations?).

Pres. Sharon Daynard, this was a GOOD idea!

Oh yes: Here’s the kind of exhibit you’d only see at an expo like this … encouraging the fight against breast cancer, and designed by a local (auto) body shop. Don’t you wish you were there? How about next year? We’ve got to try this one again!Women's-Expo-Mar2015

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Subscribing to a Blog: Deep Conversation on Writing and Mysteries


Beth Kanell here, writing from Vermont, where the snowbanks are shrinking in March sunshine.

Have you discovered the new media forum called Medium? It’s a sort of magazine of essays, with the very valuable addition of posting the estimated reading time next to each title — I love that part, because I can make a quick decision on whether to look at something right away, or hold it for later (like, when I’m waiting for my brain to re-boot after writing a good scene).

Today I found on Medium a conversation on today’s and tomorrow’s blogging, which got me thinking more about the SinCNE blog, especially in this statement by Noah Smith:

Blogging 2.0 will be more focused on longer posts, high-level discussions and specialized expertise, while retaining the focus on distinctive voice and free-wheeling subject matter that made Blogging 1.0 so fun. It’s a great time to have a blog.

In the long run, the rest of the piece — to me, anyway — says that a blog is a conversation, and that’s what makes it different from, say, a book or an essay or even a Tweet or Facebook feed. If a blog post just says “this is what I believe” or “here is what I know,” it’s missing the point. Where’s the invitation to get talking with each other? The awareness of the person reading being also the person who’ll write back?

Here on Pen, Ink, and Crimes, Hank Phillippi Ryan has shown how this works at its best: crafting a conversation with an established writer that’s truly a back-and-forth, and at the same time is an invitation to others to chime in, come close, add your two cents (or more).

That’s why, in my opinion, it’s worth “subscribing” to blogs like this one. The surprise of what’s arriving in your e-mail box with a blog subscription can be as intriguing as a new letter in the regular mailbox … or indeed, a new vision for a plot twist in what I’m writing.

So today, I updated my own blog subscriptions. In addition to this one, I want to be more aware of the conversations at Type M for Murder, and at Jungle Red Writers. I also looked at a list of “great blogs for writers” here, and realized I’m already involved in several of the conversations listed, through which I’ve learned to “listen” to everything Jane Friedman says about writing as a business, so I subscribed to her blog too — but as a weekly digest, which seems time-conserving to me (http://janefriedman.com).

Now, the whole point of pausing in my mystery writing, to write this blog post, is to say: I really am interested in your voice and experience about whether blogging is worthwhile for you, how you schedule writing your own (if you do), and which other blog conversations have become worthwhile for you. In the long run — what keeps you writing, today?

And if blog conversations aren’t in your top three answers to that question … are there other conversations that matter more to you? Your turn … write something back.

[Oh, for that quick update stuff: I spent most of my winter in revision of three books and I’m really, really glad that spring will mean plunging ahead on the two new projects, for which I wrote one chapter each, to promise myself that I’d get back to them. And I’m joining SinCNE President Sharon Daynard at the Women’s Expo in Manchester, NH, tomorrow. If you prefer conversations face to face, come see us there! — BK]

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Overheard at Crime Bake

Our annual Crime Bake conference was just over a week ago, and we’re missing it already. We thought it would be fun to share a few highlights from the conversations, for those of you who missed it. And, so we can relive the experience!

We’re in the Sisters in Crime community because we love crime fiction. And we not only love it, we immerse ourselves in it by reading AND writing about it. So why do we do this? What’s the draw to murder, mystery and mayhem?

This was a topic of discussion at the recent New England Crime Bake during the “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train: Why We Write Crime Fiction” panel. Some of our fellow authors engaged in a lively conversation on the subject. Here’s a snapshot of what we heard:

Hank Phillippi Ryan: “We write and read crime fiction because we require a conclusion, and we rarely get that in real life. We’re looking for the end to that story.

Sheila Connolly: “It’s about righting a wrong.”

Brendan Dubois: “There is chaos every day in the world and crime fiction helps to restore order – not necessarily justice, but some retribution.”

Guest of honor Craig Johnson: “The stakes are high. When you’re dealing with life and death, that doesn’t allow for a slow story.”

Jennifer McMahon: “Justice is a human convention. It’s a gray area, and we have to embrace that we’re not always going to get a resolution tied up in a bow.”

The authors also discussed the virtues of plotting vs. pantsing and how they became interested in the genre. Craig Johnson shared a story about visiting a crime scene with his grandfather, a member of the highway patrol, at a young age, which drew him to mysteries.

Oh, and did you know Hank Phillippi Ryan used to ride her pony to the library to get books as a child? Yes, these are the things we hear at Crime Bake!

In the panel “Ordinary People in Extraordinary Situations,” the conversation turned to which comes first – ideas or characters? Authors including Daniel Palmer, Vicki Doudera, Peter Swanson, Steve Ulfelder and Jan Elizabeth Watson talked about the crazy places from which ideas can come. Some favorite examples: while chopping wood and at real estate courses.

The takeaway? Ideas come from everywhere and at any time, so be open! And, imagining what would most scare you as a reader helps, too.

Did you attend Crime Bake? What stood out for you at your favorite session?

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On Marketing One’s Book: A Dialogue

Ahh, the dreaded “m” word: Marketing. For many authors and other self-employed artists, the word creates a feeling bordering on disgust. It might bring to mind pictures of overweight men in polyester suits, hair slicked back, hand out, shark-smile in place. Or maybe the term reminds us of those terrible telemarketer calls, where–no matter how politely you refuse the service or product–you end up having to hang up on the caller because you can barely get a word in edgewise.


I recently conducted an unofficial author survey (i.e. of my friends who are also authors) to ask what they believe they need as an author, or what help they could have used when first starting out. Most of them replied, “help with marketing” and made mention of the fact that they “greatly disliked,” “didn’t have time for,” or otherwise dreaded marketing their books.

Is that one of the reason that so many authors today still seek traditional publishing packages instead of choosing to self-publish? There could be many other reasons of course, but from what I’ve been hearing/reading, it seems that unless your name begins with S and ends with King, you’re likely going to be doing a lot of book marketing for yourself, traditionally published or not.

While there are loads (and loads and loads) of blog posts, websites and chatter via social networking sites regarding the “how to’s” of marketing one’s book, it still seems to be an area where new and (sometimes) better information continues to flow. Daily. So how does an  author determine what best practices to choose in regards to marketing?

This post isn’t going to offer helpful information or potential solutions. Instead, I’m hoping it will open up a dialogue, a way for all of us to share what’s worked/hasn’t worked in our own marketing efforts. Feel free to offer tips, links to resources or other items of interest in the comments section. And thanks in advance for being part of the conversation.

Author Photo 16Apr13J.P. Choquette writes suspense novels and markets them on a nearly daily basis from her office in northwestern Vermont. In her free time she enjoys making junk art, being outdoors and spending time with family … as well as reading up on the business side of writing. 

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Not Quite Twenty Questions for Marcia Talley

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: How’d you like to live on a fabulous sailboat? Sail around the blue waters of the Caribbean, or wherever, exploring, and going on adventures with your brilliant and fascinating spouse?

And then, in the peace of a port or the solitude of your home in Maryland, surrounded by gardens, write compelling and smart mysteries, arrange SRO signings for your fellow authors, win awards and accolades and be national president of Sisters in Crime? And just be generally—beloved?

Yeah, well, not a dream for Marcia Talley! That’s her life. And she took time from her life of adventure to tackle our Not Quite Twenty Questions!

Title of your autobiography: 
She Takes a Licking, But Keeps on Ticking

It dates me, I know, but the title refers to the Timex watch commercials of the 1950s and 1960s. Timex subjected their watches to various “torture tests” – strapped to Mickey Mantle’s bat, taped to the backs of swimming turtles, attached to the propeller of a running outboard engine – and in spite of it all – as spokesman John Cameron Swayze used to say on TV, “…they keep on ticking.” As a three-time cancer survivor (totally fine now, thank you!) I relate to that Timex watch.

Movie you would see again and again?
Ruthless People, or maybe Overboard.

Both feature tightly-written scripts, not a single superfluous word. And both are absolutely hysterical. In Ruthless People, Danny DeVito has plans to murder his wife, but before that can happen, she is kidnapped. When the ransom call comes, he refuses to pay, of course. It’s a modern take on the O’Henry story, “The Ransom of Red Chief,” and a tour-de-force for Bette Midler as the kidnap victim who eventually teams up with her kidnappers to take revenge on her two-timing spouse. It’s one of those movies we’ve seen so often that we quote from it. “I’ve been kidnapped by K-mart!” or “Not Haiti, you moron, it’s Tahiti!”

Exotic drinks?
Oh, my favorite these days is a mojito! Properly made with all-fresh ingredients, with an umbrella in it, served poolside by Raoul, the pool boy.

(I guess he wasn’t there when I came to visit…) Pizza or chocolate?
Chocolate, definitely. Ever have tangerine ice cream with hot fudge sauce? I rest my case.

Spouse? Children? Special people in your life?
I married my college sweetheart, Barry, who I met while washing dishes at Oberlin College. We will be celebrating a significant anniversary this fall and plan to commemorate the event by taking one of those two-week long Viking River cruises from Budapest to Amsterdam. We have two amazing daughters, Laura (an attorney in Washington, DC) and Sarah, the social media maven for Sisters in Crime. Each daughter is married, Laura to a historian and Sarah to a Navy doctor, and each has three children – two boys and a girl.

I am a cat person, but sadly, Tommy – who was once featured in a Mystery Scene article by Elaine Viets – after a long life as muse, has passed away.

Sailing. And knitting. I am a sucker for yarn on sale. I have more yarn right now than I could knit up in three lifetimes, but when one of those Little Knits emails hits my mailbox, and I see I can buy a bag on sale – a whole bag! – for $19. I’m a goner.

Just a bit, as I’m noted for my brown thumb. Just yesterday, I nearly killed a spotted pink by leaving it out in the sun, but after remedial water therapy, it’s recovering nicely on the kitchen table. This summer I had three huge tomato plants and potted herbs: basil, parsley, sage, and mint. Mint for the aforementioned mojitos.

Oh, no, your garden is gorgeous! Do you watch TV? What?
Oh, yeah. Right now, I’m enjoying Longmire and Game of Thrones. Recently, the first season of True Detective blew me out of the water. And Orphan Black! OMG, what great TV. Otherwise – true confession – I veg out on home makeover shows on HGTV.

Can you sing?
Yes. I used to sing alto in the Oberlin Musical Union, and later in various church choirs. Now I am pretty much limited to congregational singing, but love it, especially when I go to church in England. We Anglicans know hymns!

Best concert you’ve ever seen.
I’m going to go all classical here, because it was such a magical moment. A Baltimore Symphony concert with Paquito d’Rivera on sax, simply accompanied by piano, bass and drum performing Astor Piazzolla’s quartet, “Oblivion.” Silky, sultry, seductive … I was mesmerized. There are versions of this piece on You-Tube, but none so fine as this one, played live, that night.


Photo by Brian Braye

Book you wish you had written.
Can I cheat here and nominate a series? Dorothy Dunnett’s historical series beginning with Game of Kings – six novels following the adventures of Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish mercenary, as he makes royal alliances and fights bad guys all over western Europe during the middle years of the 17th century. I would love to see this series brought to television. Epic costume drama!

Dunnett is one of the world’s greatest storytellers. And her history is so accurate that I stopped looking up the real characters in Wikipedia because I’d – spoiler alert! – find out what actually happened to them. She also penned the House of Niccolo series set one hundred years earlier and a fascinating novel, King Hereafter, about the real MacBeth, as well as seven mystery novels featuring the peripatetic detective, Johnson Johnson and his sailboat, Dolly.

Fear or phobia?
I really hate to fly. Every time I get on a plane, I think light thoughts, willing the plane to stay in the air. Should I ever drop off to sleep … be afraid, be very afraid.

What someone might not know about you.
That I used to be a librarian specializing in computer systems integration.

Do you have a recurring dream?
I’m in a house, and I seem to know it well. It goes on for room after room after room, and I’m usually looking for someone or something, but can’t find him/her/it. Sometimes I’m decorating the house and moving the furniture around. And it has an old-fashioned boathouse on the shore of a deep, cold lake. Have no idea what Freud would make of all that.

I have house dreams, too. Hmmm. How about a secret talent?
I am a darn good archer! Back in the day when colleges had a PE requirement, I took swimming and archery because I’d never been much good at team sports. Picture me, that poor little girl, sulking on the sidelines, the last to be picked for any playground team. I had always been a good swimmer, but being able to hit a target accurately using a bow and arrow really surprised me. I’m also a decent shot on the gun range and once, after a workshop in Las Vegas, ended up (along with fellow author, Donna Andrews) on the cover of the magazine Women and Guns. My husband hung my targets up in the basement as a deterrent to burglars.

MarciaTalley_casualIf you could meet and chat with one person, it would be…
Dead or alive? Elizabeth I – was she really the virgin queen? Inquiring minds want to know. For someone alive today, I’d love to have a lunch date with George Clooney. What? You say I have to be serious? Oh, okay, then, how about Elizabeth Warren? What an intelligent, down-to-earth breath of fresh air in an otherwise moribund Congress. If I lived in Massachusetts, I’d vote for her. Three times.

Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
I am constantly amazed that after fourteen novels, people still want to read about Hannah Ives. She has been with three publishers – Bantam/Dell, Morrow/Avon and now Severn House. But I guess Hannah is like me – she takes a licking but keeps on ticking!

Things you say to yourself when writing:
This is awful, the worst crap ever! No, it’s not. Yes, it is! No, sit back down. You’ve done this before and you can do it again!

What are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
My latest mystery, Tomorrow’s Vengeance, will be out any day now. It’s set in a posh continuing care retirement community modeled on one I visited in Sarasota, Florida. I’m well into writing the next book in the series, Daughter of Ashes, where Hannah and her husband buy a vacation cottage on the Chesapeake Bay and bodies ensue.

Tell us something else about that!
Barry and I recently bought a vacation cottage in the Bahamas. Previously, we’d made a bid on another cottage, but the deal fell through because of some – how do you say? – shenanigans by a rival real estate agent. So, I decided a real estate agent needed to die. Then, at a writing retreat sponsored by Sisters in Crime last spring, author Sarah Shaber shared something shocking that was going on in Franklin County, North Carolina and – tah dah! – I had a plot.

Are you enjoying it? 
Oh, yes. Killing someone off in a novel is ever so therapeutic.

Do you have motto? What is it?
If I could teach my two daughters only one thing, it would be this: “Never define yourself solely in terms of somebody else.” They’re both bright, independent women with strong marriages and great kids, so I guess we did something right.

HANK: So sisters, isn’t she great? But you know that. In honor of Marcia—let’s talk about sailing! Do you love to sail?


MarciaTalley_Tomorrows-VengeanceMarcia Talley is the Agatha and Anthony award-winning author of nine Hannah Ives mysteries, including ALL THINGS UNDYING and WITHOUT A GRAVE . She is editor/author of NAKED CAME THE PHOENIX, a star-studded, tongue-in-cheek collaborative serial novel about murder in a fashionable health spa.

A second collaboration, I’D KILL FOR THAT, is set in an upscale gated community. Her short stories appear in more than a dozen collections including “With Love, Marjorie Ann” and “Safety First”, both Agatha award nominees, and the multi-award-winning “Too Many Cooks”, a humorous retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth from the viewpoint of the three witches from Much Ado About Murder, edited by Anne Perry. A recent story, “Driven to Distraction” won the Agatha Award, was nominated for an Anthony, and selected for reprint in two major collections including “The Deadly Bride and 21 of the World’s Best Crime and Mystery Stories.” Another story, “Can You Hear Me Now,” appeared in Two of the Deadliest: New Tales of Lust, Greed and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery,” edited by Elizabeth George.

Marcia is national President of Sisters in Crime, Inc., serves on the board of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and is a member of the Authors’ Guild. She lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with her husband, Barry. When she is not writing, she spends her time traveling or sailing.



Hank TruthBeTold_coverHank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 32 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of seven mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: three Agathas, the Anthony, Daphne, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.”

Her 2013 novel, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, and is a seven-week Boston Globe bestseller.

Her newest hardcover, TRUTH BE TOLD, is a Library Journal Editor’s Pick and RT Book Reviews Top Pick, with starred reviews from Booklist and from Library Journal, which raves, “Drop everything and binge read!” She’s a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime.

Visit her online at HankPhillippiRyan.com, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.

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