Keeping Art and Writing Fresh

Linda Townsdin

Linda Townsdin

Writing and making art have always played important roles in my creative life. Most recently, I’ve been concentrating on my mystery series—creating images with words instead of paint.

My dear friend, Julie Williams, a wonderful artist and writer, recently sent me a gift of watercolor art materials and told me about a technique she thought I’d enjoy. She was right. I always love trying something new.

Not long ago, encaustic painting captured my imagination and I created the piece above. For those unfamiliar with encaustic art, the medium is hot (or cold) wax and pigments. I did this piece using hot wax on glass.

For me, the back and forth between visual art and writing has been a way to refresh my spirit, and it always enhances my work. I know many writers who read this blog are also musicians, artists, photographers, etc. I’d love to hear how combining your creative activities keeps you inspired.

Measure the Magic

Lately I’ve been trying to fit my life into a list, and the measure of my success is directly related to how many items I’ve checked off at the end of the day. The list, by the way, never grows smaller because for every item I cross off, several more are waiting to be added. Don’t get me wrong, being productive is satisfying in a “job-well-done-good-going” sort of way. But something’s been missing.

You need a little magic

Last July I posted a blog, Motivation and Magic, about my morning ritual of reading through my inspiration notebook. Unfortunately, it’s been months since I opened that notebook. Publishing my first book caused me to morph from laid back to list lady. Now I juggle multiple to do lists—writing, promotion, social media, marketing, force-feeding myself new information, and keeping up with my email and FB friends.

Today I’m measuring the magic instead of the productivity, and so far it’s been, well, magical.

In my gym workout this morning, we’d completed fifty sweaty minutes of exercises when the coach sent us to the parking lot to do front lunges and mummy kicks. We were dragging, but two of the women faced each other and clapped hands after each lunge, making it a partner workout. We all laughed and picked up the pace. I looked at the blue sky, and back at the women of all ages and sizes enjoying the moment. As we headed out to jobs, kids, or other plans for the day, no one grumbled about getting another workout under our belts; we commented on the fresh air, the great day. We were all feeling the magic.

Wait, there’s more magic to come

My routine after the gym is to sit at my laptop and work on my book until noon, but today I set up my ironing board near the back sliding door, lit a pineapple and sage candle and ironed as a cool breeze moved across my arms. By the time I finished, I’d mentally written a chapter that had eluded me for days.

For the rest of the week I’m going to lose the lists, “measure the magic” and see how that plays out. Do you measure your days? What’s your process?

I recommend reading Brain Pickings The Art of Looking: How to Live with Presence, Break the Tyranny of Productivity, and Learn to See Our Everyday Wonderland by Maria Popova

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New Q & A on Kev’s Blog

Kevin Cooper at Kev’s Blog made my day last week by posting a Q & A with me about my book and how I came to write it. His questions made me think, and I appreciated the opportunity. The best part is connecting with new people who have lots of different interests and backgrounds—the reason I started blogging two years ago.

You’ll find interesting reading on Kev’s blog: music, book reviews, Q & A with new writers, and much more. I hope you’ll check out my Q & A and take a look at Kev’s blog!

Here are a few examples of the questions and answers:

Kevin: How long have you been writing for?
You could say I’ve been writing my entire adult life including working on my own personal projects and during my career as a writer, editor and communications specialist for corporate and non-profit organizations. Most recently, I was senior writer and editor for a criminal justice organization, and that background has been helpful in plotting my Spirit Lake mysteries. And now that my children and grown and I’m not commuting to a job every day, I’m finally living my dream of writing fiction full time.

Kevin: Why do you write?
I write for a lot of reasons. I’ve kept a journal for twenty years because that’s what balances and focuses me. Writing short poetic fiction with a small weekly group helps me tap into a deeper level of creativity. I read all kinds of books, but the mystery genre is satisfying to write. The stakes are high, it’s fun to figure out the clues and hide them from readers, and justice is always served in the end.

Kevin: So is mystery your main genre?
It’s hard to categorize, but Traditional Mystery comes closest. My mysteries have an edge, but lots of heart, and they’re also about family and community, which isn’t always pretty. I’ve chosen a small town setting because it’s a microcosm, but the same shameful secrets and selfless actions happen among humans everywhere. So even though my mysteries are about the horrible things people can do to each other, they’re also about the everyday heroes who tip the balance and enhance our lives. People who pay attention to us, who see us and our flaws and love us anyway.

Kevin: Who would you say are your favorite/most influential authors and why?
There are too many to name, so I’ll narrow it down to my favorite mystery authors who write about the parts of the country similar to mine—Minnesota, Michigan, Canada. Here are four: Steve Hamilton, John Sandford, William Kent Krueger and Louise Penny.

Okay, I’ll name a few others I love: Annie Proulx, Louise Erdrich, Kate Atkinson, Ian McEwen, Richard Russo, Michael Chabon, Elisabeth Strout, Jim Lynch, Larry McMurtry, Anita Shreve, Sherman Alexie, Wally Lamb.

Kevin: What is your latest (published) book called and what is it about?
Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery, is the first in the series with Britt Johansson, a former Pulitzer prize-winning LA Times photographer whose reckless behavior nearly ended her career. She gets a chance to redeem herself when she’s working in Northern Minnesota and stumbles across an international crime ring that ultimately pits her and her brother against a psychopathic killer.

Her hometown of Spirit Lake is a perfect location for all kinds of dirty deeds: easy entry points along the vast wilderness of the US/Canadian border, an Indian reservation that’s off limits to most law enforcement, and a dangerously mistaken perception that nothing happens in small towns.

Kevin: Sounds very interesting. Who or what influenced you to write it?
My story ideas are based on a social issue that haunts me, and then I have a cast of characters that change and grow through the series, depending on what they’re dealing with.
I believe average women and men perform heroic acts every day, although maybe not always chasing down bad guys and saving people’s lives as they do in my mysteries. My female protagonist, photojournalist Britt Johansson, like many journalists, will stop at nothing to get the story, or in her case, the photo. She’s a crusader who champions the vulnerable of the world and wants to bring their stories to light.

Kevin: Is your book part of a series?
Focused on Murder is the first in the Spirit Lake Mystery series, and I’m close to finishing the second. After that, I’ll publish a Prequel that reveals the story of what initially brought Britt back to Spirit Lake—a murder, of course, but whose?

Kevin: Could you give us a little spoiler?
This is from my work in progress—a cryptic comment from Edgar, the Ojibwe Elder who often guides Britt, even though his obscure hints drive her crazy:

The creases in Edgar’s face folded in on themselves. “I’m troubled. The anger seems new, and yet old.”
His claw-like hand clamped over my wrist. “Be extra careful. Evil is seeking you from more than one direction.”

Kevin: Do you have any advice for other writers?
I had a completed draft of Focused and asked an editor to review the structure. People who read a lot of mysteries are sophisticated when it comes to the puzzle; not enough information, or revelations that come at the wrong time frustrate them. It does me too, but it’s much different writing one than reading one. The editor said I’d written the first half as a mystery, and the second half as a thriller and I needed to make up my mind what I was writing. I hadn’t seen that flaw until she pointed it out, and I agreed. I chose mystery and ended up rewriting much of the second half of the book.
My advice is not to worry about those kinds of things early on. Just write. Because the work I did wasn’t wasted, it helped to hone my story, develop my characters more deeply, and rewriting brought in some interesting new characters who wouldn’t have been there without the extra work.

Milestones and Reader Support

Last week I was pleased to announce another milestone reached—Focused on Murder is now available on iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo, as well as Amazon!

Moving past those milestones in the publishing process is rewarding, but reader reviews and support are what really thrill me. It’s easy to bury myself in writing the second book in the Spirit Lake Mystery series, especially because readers have been asking for it, but your positive comments have helped me leave my “introvert cocoon” and put myself out there to let more people know about Focused.

Here are a few examples of reader comments I’ve found so gratifying because they’re about Britt, who’s been so much fun to create:

“…The character of Britt is not your usual mystery heroine. A prize-winning photo journalist living in a small town In Minnesota, she is tough, flawed, and loving. The story brought me places I rarely enter – in books or life.” –KM

“…Britt is a wonderfully complex character and so well written you feel like you are inside her mind thinking as her: working through problems, finding solutions, and living her life. –AC

“…Following the curious, risk-taking, experienced photographer Britt into such a series of forbiddens kept me saying “One more page, one more…” The descriptives colored each scene so vividly that each adventure was amazingly brought to life.” –CZ

“…A main character I want to get to know more deeply, secondary characters that help create a place that I want to keep coming back to, and a setting so beautifully developed I want to hang out there.” –JW

As an author, there’s no higher praise than knowing people are enjoying my work. Thank you! I appreciate your reviews!

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The Slow Movement in Social Media, or How to Avoid Getting Overwhelmed

I’ve invited Corinne Litchfield to be my guest blogger today to share some of her tips on navigating the constantly changing landscape of social media. Corinne has helped me create a Facebook author page and my blog book page. She’s organized and linked my social media platforms, and is a valuable part of the community of people I rely on to help me communicate with all of you. – LT

The flow of creativity seems to move very fast sometimes. As a writer, I have moments when the ideas for stories, poems and essays rush through my head, each demanding to be written down. When I switch gears into social media management, however, I realize it’s important to slow down: I need to ensure my copy is clear, concise and timely, and that I’m choosing the right methods to share that content. You could say I’ve become a proponent of a slow movement for social media.

It may sound crazy for a social media manager to say “slow down,” considering how rapidly news cycles are updated and how timeliness in tweeting or posting on Facebook can make or break a book’s popularity among readers. But more and more I’m seeing clients who want to jump into everything all at once: website, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, you name it. That’s the point when I tell them that it’s okay to move slowly and carefully, to deliberate on each element of their overall strategy before moving to the next item on their list. Otherwise they walk away with bits and pieces of information, not understanding how each piece of their platform works together to build their brand identity.

So if you’re supposed to move slowly with social media, what should you do first? How do you prioritize everything? I recently spoke at Napa Valley Writers Club about website development and social media, and established what will become my new mantra with my clients:

Start with two.

That means select two social media accounts you want to start with – whether it’s Facebook and Goodreads, or Twitter and Google+, or some other combination. Get really comfortable using the two accounts you select: learn how to post content, from text only to text+image to text+video; learn how to share content from other sources, such as a news site or blog; and build up your following and/or fans. Once you’ve mastered those two accounts, consider setting up another social media account to promote your writing. But don’t push yourself. Keep in mind that in between all those blog posts, tweets and Facebook Page updates, you need to write your next book, short story collection or poetry chapbook.

How much is too much?

In terms of time, about 15-20 minutes a day perusing social media for business purposes – meaning you’re reading (and sharing) content that’s relevant to your genre or niche – should be sufficient. If you find you’re dawdling over whether or not to share content, save the link and read it again later.

As for how frequently to post on social media, it depends. Tweets have a shelf life of approximately 18 minutes. Facebook posts last nearly twice as long, clocking in at 30 minutes. This doesn’t mean you should post or tweet more often, however – it means that you should use tools provided by Facebook and Twitter to see how your more popular posts/tweets perform, and use those as a guide for when – and what – to post. (Click on the images to view a larger version.)

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In the Email notifications section on your Twitter account, check the box next to “Updates about the performance of my Tweets” to get regular emails on how your tweets are doing.

Facebook, social media, social media management, reach, engagement, posts, Facebook posts

On your Facebook Author Page, click View Insights and scroll down to see the reach and engagement of your posts.

Using these tools, plus taking advantage of a dashboard service such as Buffer or HootSuite, can help you slow down and make the most of social media without feeling overwhelmed by it all.

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Find out more about Corinne and her work in social media at her website