Thursday, February 28, 2008

Motivation, Where Are You???

So there's been some discussion on a writers' board I frequent about motivation and how to stay interested and energized day in and day out with your writing. I thought this was a fantastic discussion for the blog because I feel like I'm smacked with ennui several times a year, and I know that I'm not alone in this.

For me, the best way to deal with the blahs is to branch out into something new. In this sense, writing is no different than any other job - everyone needs to change things up every now and then. That's honestly why I started writing fiction: I just got tired of the constant deadlines of the magazine work and writing piece after piece on subjects that I already knew about. What I loved most about magazine writing when I first started out was that I was learning so damn much. I mean, if you write about a variety of subjects and interview enough experts, you're bound to soak up reams of info yourself...but after a while, especially to maximize your time to money ratio, you tend to cover similar subjects over and over...and well, that's just not the best way to feed your brain, though it does help feed your bank account.

So, I started writing fiction in my off-hours. Turned out that initially, I wasn't so great at it. But it didn't matter! It energized me, made me fall back in love with writing, and that energy carried over to my magazine assignments, which I returned to with a renewed vigor.

But now, having just been given the official sign off on Time of My Life (my editor deemed it, "perfect!"), I'm faced with diving back into the grind, and lemme tell you, it's not coming easily. I have enough time to now tackle more work but I'm dragging my feet because I'm waiting for something to jump out and inspire me. Maybe it's my next book? I dunno: I'm brainstorming ideas, but I've found that brainstorming doesn't work best for me - I just need to be struck like lightening with an idea and characters,'s not filling too much of my time. I'm staying busy with celebrity stuff and various mag work here and there...but still, I'm weighted down with that weird feeling of being both antsy and bored.

Normally, I'd take a day or two off and kick around to renew my enthusiasm - and in many cases, I think this is exactly what works - play hooky, do something you love, take a walk - and you'll return to your computer raring to go. But in my case, I'm not sure. Honestly, I think that maybe on solution is to return to work full-blast: I find that when I'm working on a ton of stuff, I have less time to think about being bored, and thus, voila, I am less bored and more stimulated by what I'm doing. don't know. I'm guessing that I haven't fully laid my characters from Time of My Life to rest, and once I've fully gestated that book, I'll be fired up to move on to something bigger and better. (Which, in the meantime, means I have a lot of time for twiddling my thumbs.)

So what do you guys do when either daily or more long-term blahs hit?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


So...if you didn't feel like shelling out for the 24 bucks for the hardcover version of The Department, now's your chance to pre-order the paperback, which will be out in late April.

Snap it up from Amazon now! Come's only $11! (And yes, there's a cover change which I will discuss on the blog in the future, so no, you're not looking at the wrong book.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Which Comes First: The Agent or The Article?

Question of the day: when I pitch a query to a magazine, is it helpful to have my agent do it for me? I.e., is it more likely to get accepted if it comes from her?

My immediate gut answer to this is a resounding "no." I've written probably somewhere in the hundreds of articles and never once has my agent pitched one for me. The reasons for this are several: 1) most magazine articles pay, at most, several thousand dollars (the bigger magazines usually pay about $2 a word, and few places assign more than 2000 words these days, and rarely do you even get 2000 words), so really, it's not worth your agent's time to nab a couple hundred dollars from these pieces. 2) There is absolutely no reason for your agent to be your go-between. Editors aren't interested in dealing with a middleman: they want to deal directly with a polished, professional, fun, breezy writer - adding your agent into the mix just complicates things. 3) As I alluded to in #2, agents are unnecessary in this process: what lands you an assignment is coming up with a unique, kick-ass idea, crafting that into a wonderful query, then emailing it to the appropriate editor. An agent can't help you do any of the above better than you can on your own.

That said, I *do* think an agent (and/or your publicist) can help open doors when it comes to the biggies: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, even something like Modern Love in the NY Times (though I know people who have been published in that column by simply emailing in their essay, and I also know others who succeeded with the help of their publicist). Unlike the service magazines like SELF or GLAMOUR or whatnot, these magazines are harder to break into than the toughest NYC private school (which these days, can be harder to get into than Harvard...seriously), and having an agent demonstrates (fairly or not) that you're already a cut above some other writers. (And I don't mean to imply that service magazines aren't hard to break into. They are. I tried for years to crack GLAMOUR and did a joy dance when I finally did. I only mean that there's a leap, in terms of exclusivity, from these huge national magazines to the even more upper-tier, more literary mags.)

So, for the most part, my long answer to your short question is that no, you don't need your agent to land you a gig. Save that 15% for a celebratory gift when your query gets accepted.

What say you, readers? Ever used an agent to land you an article?

Monday, February 25, 2008


Admin note: I have just a few more questions to burn through and answer on here, so now is a good time to send any questions my way. I'm looking for new things to blog about these days, so don't be shy!

So I'm watching the world's most boring red carpet and Oscar ceremony (though Jon Stewart is actually cracking me up, so at least there's that), and am pretty brain-dead from the weekend, so I'm not sure that I have anything insightful to post.

But I will say that several book adaptations are up for Oscars, and this sparked a discussion tonight with my husband, who couldn't believe that when a movie's film rights get picked up, that's it's not an automatic cool million dollar pay-off. He said something along the lines of, "But without the writers, there would be no movie!"

To which, I'm like, "Duh. Sweetie, welcome to the writer's strike of '07...go walk the picket line!"

Anyhoo, as I mentioned to him, the real bonus of getting your book turned into film is the fact that you'll reap royalties up the booty. Sure, that initial payoff is fabulous, (I think on average, these pick-ups are probably in the six figures - correct me if I'm wrong - but it's usually just a one-time pay out), but the royalties and sales of the book go on forever. And that, at least metaphorically, is priceless. (Even though it's anything but.)

Okay, sorry for the mindless post. I'm back to watching the awards to see who assess who's the worst-dressed, and this year, for the first time in so long, there are a lot to choose from.