You don’t have to be in shape to conquer a blank page, but it helps

November 20, 2016

Many of you are in the home stretch of #NaNoWriMo2016 and deserve praise and admiration for all your hard work.

Regardless of what time of year is your best time to churn out a first draft, the same habits will serve you well.

For me, credit goes to my training as a journalist. As Ed Greenwood says, it’s an excellent grounding that teaches you to crank out decent copy fast.

But I have to give the greatest credit to lifestyle — eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting proper sleep.

Yeah, I can hear the eyes rolling.

But it’s true. Four years ago, I was 30 pounds overweight, on entry level blood pressure medications and plagued by chronic sleep problems.

That made every day at the desk a battle. I’d fight through the afternoon brain fog and a dragging weariness that made it hard enough to finish my client work, never mind be consistently productive on my fiction projects.

And as a self-employed freelancer, I didn’t have the option of slacking off on the company clock. I only get paid when a specific job is done for a specific client. As a colleague of mine once said, “You eat what you kill.” If you are not hunting (getting the job done) you are not eating (paying the bills).

But all that changed when I started with a personal training gym where the team coached me on how I should eat and kept me accountable to a regular routine of fitness.

Within five months, I had lost 30 pounds and no longer needed those blood pressure meds. Even my chronically high blood cholesterol came down by itself. I started to sleep better.

I’ve never looked back.

It’s made all the difference to give me the clarity, drive and focus to juggle family, work and fiction writing. The time I take to workout allows me to make much more effective use of the time I dedicate for everything else.

And best of all, my writing chops have proven to be a useful currency. I know I need that push that comes of working with a personal trainer, but that kind of service doesn’t come cheap. So I struck a deal with the gym owner – I write blog content in exchange for my membership. If you are a good writer, never underestimate how you can lever this skill.

Next time, I’ll give some more tips about how to stay productive with your writing time and overcome a blank page.

The roots of obsession and my Work in Progress

July 30, 2012

 By Leo Valiquette

For some time now I’ve been dropping hints on the Twittersphere about my efforts as a fiction writer. On this blog I’ve been decidedly more forthright. Nonetheless, I’ve been reluctant to spill the beans about just what my Work in Progress is all about.

It’s a bit ironic considering I get paid to help others tell their stories and actively push those stories to the media. I find it much easier to be a cheerleader for others before myself. But, no more. Here at last is my first blatantly self-promotional and self-indulgent blog post as a fiction writer.

A long time ago …

I suppose it all began when I was seven years old and my mother joined a book-of-the-month club with one of those deals where you get four free books for signing up. She chose E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little, along with the novelization of a new movie that had just hit theatres – Star Wars. Yes, it’s true. At the age of seven, I was reading Star Wars. Well, to be honest, it was like wading through a snow bank on the ice planet Hoth that’s neck deep, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

In Grade 3, my teacher read the class The Hobbit, and I borrowed it for the summer when she wasn’t able to finish it by the end of the school year. I think it was the map in The Hobbit, as well as illustrated histories of ancient civilizations in my school library, that compelled me to create my own story settings. A few years later, I was using my allowance to buy a genre magazine, I think it was Famous Monsters of Filmland, which would serialize old flicks like The Blob and Rodan into written works of pulp fiction. Since I was never able to buy all the issues for the full story, I started writing my own endings.

In high school drama class, our teacher expected us to develop projects for the annual Renaissance Fair. Students could do anything from covers of Bill Cosby stand-up routines to dance, theatre and the fine arts. I decided to showcase my first stab at a fantasy novel, complete with maps and character illustrations that I had coerced a talented classmate into doing for me (wish I could find those).

By college, I had played with various ideas and redeveloped that first novel through several iterations. (I’ve since lost the most recent version of it, as well as the only draft of the sequel, but that’s a painful story for another post.)

The idea for a short story that grew into the epic fantasy currently titled Knight of Aegias first came to me in 1999. I have this problem writing short fiction—it always ends up bursting at the seams. I just can’t create a plotline without wanting to spend more time with the idea and the characters than the length constraints of a typical short story allow.

Birth of a monster

It wasn’t until July 2004 that I deemed the first draft done—a bloated and wordy beast that clocked in at 193,000 words. I actually queried a couple of agents about that thing. Hopefully they’ve long forgotten.

Then came ownership of a house in need of a little TLC, the responsibilities of being a newspaper editor and a little monkey named William. The manuscript was left to collect dust. I tried my hand at short fiction again, because it was, well, short, and did garner some encouraging feedback on the rejection slips.

A couple of years ago I finally resumed work on that 193,000-word monster with the aid of an axe named Delete and the indulgence of my long-suffering partner in all things, Natalie. I also hit my first literary conferences where I could engage with other writers, as well as agents and publishers. Today Knight of Aegias is a much leaner and meaner 123,000-word manuscript that I have begun shopping around to various agents with the aid of Publishers Marketplace.

The logline

So just what is my Work in Progress all about?  Knight of Aegias is the story of Ryn, a former soldier who broke faith with the church he served after his oaths to obey his superiors led him to betray his conscience and stain his hands with innocent blood. He finds a chance at redemption in the destiny of the woman he loves, but it comes at a price. Sometime soon I’ll share my agent pitch and the first chapter.

Is there a moral to be found in my journey as a fiction writer? If anything, I suppose it’s the tired old cliché that a writer writes, always. But it’s a cliché because it’s true. No matter where I’ve been, no matter what I’ve been doing, I’ve always been lured by the call of a blank page. Along the way there have been long periods of time in which the demands of life and making a living have taken precedence. But the desire to explore a world of my own making, the restless discontent that drives my compulsion to do better, the need to just tell a story—these things have always been there and always will be.

I have no idea if I will ever make a reasonable living from making stuff up, but that’s not really the point.


What an entrepreneur can learn from a literary conference

April 20, 2012

By Leo Valiquette

(Reader’s Note: Post first published on Francis Moran and Associates)

Back in March I blogged about the striking similarities between an entrepreneur who is trying to bring technology to market and a writer who is attempting to publish a novel. I referenced the fact that I would soon be attending a literary conference, Ad Astra, as part of my business development and self-improvement efforts.

Ad Astra was in fact this past weekend and it is timely to write about the lessons learned from that experience in light of Alex’s post yesterday about the value of face-to-face contact in the age of social media.

Writers, like engineers, programmers and other creative types, often toil away in seclusion. We think we are staying in touch with the world, and the industries or markets in which we hope to sell our products, by using those ubiquitous social media tools. We can follow and contribute to Twitter streams, discussion threads, post comments on walls and read curated newsfeeds. But this is still akin to drifting over the landscape in a hot air balloon and shouting down at the masses below “how’s it going?” when what you really need to do is drop anchor and go see for yourself.

Attending local networking and industry events can only take you so far. It is the nature of such events to be limited to the local community, to the peers, support and resources with which you are already familiar. But if your intent is to bring your product to markets outside of your own backyard, this is likely not exposing you to the full range of resources and insight you need to do so successfully.

Which brings us back to Ad Astra, or, more appropriately, industry conferences in general, which provide that valuable opportunity to get face time with influencers, investors and potential partners from a variety of geographies and backgrounds.

This was my third time at a literary conference and it became quite evident that there is an incremental and cumulative benefit from the effort. In many instances, I was engaging with specific authors and publishers for the third time. I am becoming a familiar face. In a few short hours, I strengthened relationships in a way that I never could, and haven’t, by relying on social media alone. Authors, publishers and agents, like seasoned entrepreneurs, successful executives and big name investors, all have their followings as well as their inner circle entourages. In both instances, sitting back and letting your fingers do all the talking through social media is likely to leave you lost among the great unwashed masses.

If you want to be more than follower #1,358 in someone’s Twitter stream, you need to put yourself in front of them. But with any effort to build a professional relationship through networking, you have to be respectful of their time. You also need to treat the other individual as a person and chat them up a bit – have your elevator pitch ready, but don’t breathlessly blurt it out as soon as you make eye contact.

And while a strong pitch is key (and a subject for another time) don’t worry if it isn’t poem perfect and you trip over your tongue. It’s better for your passion to shine through than to come across like a slick used car salesman.

Have realistic expectations about who you should talk to and how the six degrees of separation can come into play. This is an opportunity to expand your peer group as well as forge relationships with individuals who can open other doors for you. Don’t forget that, while you are looking for people who can provide some measure of value, you should also be looking for ways that you can reciprocate.

Most importantly, if you are serious about your business and getting that ____________ to market, this is a commitment of time, effort and money that you must be willing to make. It may not be feasible to head to a conference once a month, but, regardless of your market segment, there are no doubt a couple of events a year that can give you bang for your buck. You just have to do your research ahead of time to know whose path you would like to cross.

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