Monday, June 28, 2010

Staring into space – creativity at work?

The Rockville 8 is proud to welcome multi-published author Maggie Toussaint as our guest blogger this month. Read on to get an insight into her creative process - and share your own!

By Maggie Toussaint

The other day a friend mentioned she stares into space as she works on inventing her next work of fiction. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with her about how useful that was. Most days I’m on a mission to get so many words written or edited, that the simple joy of drawing words from the ether done onto paper gets lost in the translation. Writing like this, for me at least, becomes the busyness of business.

Additionally, my friend’s comment triggered a memory from my previous career in science, one where a colleague was criticized for not “working” when his peers were visibly at the lab bench busting a gut trying to solve the problem. But, in the end, the “thinking” person saved the day. He came up with the right answer, and he might have missed it if he didn’t respect his process.

Knowing what works for your creative process is invaluable. For instance, if you respond well to competition and deadlines, set up weekly goals and challenges with peers; if you write best in isolation turn off the internet and get going.

In my opinion, staring into space is one of many valid, creative techniques. Let me share another creativity enriching experience with you. Recently, I needed to slow down a scene. As it happened I was a bit under the weather and was too tired to fool with sitting up at the computer. Instead, I hand wrote the scene while resting, knowing I could type it in the document later.

What flowed out my pen and onto paper was moving and poignant in way that doesn’t transfer naturally from my fingertips to cursor. And in doing this, I remembered that all writing is not created equal. Some is richer and deeper. I’d just forgotten where I put the richer and deeper.

So, whether it’s staring into space or taking the time to form each letter of your words, creativity is as unique as each person. It’s as unlimited as your imagination. Best of all, it’s right at your fingertips.

Chime in and share your creative solutions. I’d love to hear from you!

Maggie Toussaint

Coming this October: MUDDY WATERS

… a sleepy southern town … a lost inheritance …
Will Roxie and Sloan find the treasure or will their enemy prevail?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Writer’s Tribute to Dad: The 5 Invaluable Lessons My Dad Taught Me

The father of one of my dearest friends died on June 1, 2010. This tragedy brought back memories of my mom’s death almost twelve years ago, but it also made me realize how fortunate I am to still have my own dad around. As an aspiring author, I continue to look for a home within the ranks of the published, however, the tools my dad gave me over the years have been invaluable to the success I’ve found thus far and, I have no doubt, will serve me well in the future.

Dream the Impossible Dream, Then Do It

My dad taught me more about dreaming than anyone else. He has always encouraged me to talk about my dreams, to reach high, and never compromise. He’s been an advocate who did everything in his power to support my fledgling dreams. If you can imagine it, you can do it is a mantra that still rings in my head from childhood. It’s this mindset that sent me back to graduate school and has encouraged me to work toward a career as a writer.

If You’re Generous, Courage Will Never Fail

My father led by example. When he found himself a nineteen-year-old father back in the late 60s, he stepped up to the plate and embraced the role of father, husband, and provider. He never wavered. He’s always been one to give generously of his time no matter the situation. He helped rescue people during the Johnstown Flood in 1977. He stood beside the hospital bed of my dying mother for almost five months straight when there was nothing else he could do to show his love and support. He’s proven again and again if you give, whether it’s your time, energy, love, or support, your courage will never fail.

He taught me to never back down, no matter what life throws your way. Face life with courage. Give everything you’ve got. Each and every day I face the task set before me. I refuse to back down when life is hard and when things aren’t going my way. Life is unfair. That doesn’t give us an excuse to behave badly.

Does it take bravery to write a novel? You betcha. It’s a scary journey that’s not for the faint of heart. There’s more of me between those pages of fiction than I’d ever like to admit. And it’s even more scary to get those rejection letters as I try to find the perfect agent to represent me, because, somehow, it seems like they’re rejecting me, not my idea, not my writing, not my story. But that’s okay. One day I’ll find the right one. Until then, I continue to give it my all. Live generously. The wellspring of courage hasn't run dry yet.

Show Up Every Day

My dad has always worked harder than anyone I know. Born the second son to an auto mechanic of German descent, my father didn’t go to college until after both my brother and I had gotten our degrees. For all the years I was at home, he worked as a coal miner. He operated a drag line, then other heavy equipment. He had his back broken when an I-beam fell on him. And yet, once he healed, he continued working. He never gave up. He showed up every day.

This strong work ethic is ingrained in my DNA. And I’m forever grateful. Why? Because it allows me to be productive, to produce page after page of writing that will lead to novel after novel. I show up each day. No, I don’t have to do the back-grueling work my dad did all those years ago, however, writing is still hard work. To understand your craft takes time. To write a novel takes dedication and stick-to-it-iveness, and a certain expertise.

Time Is A Precious Commodity

When I was a teenager with a curfew, my dad’s motto was, “If you’re a minute late, you may as well be an hour late.” He didn’t tolerate tardiness. I know, this sounds strict. It was. And it still is by most standards. But what I learned from my father’s rule is that deadlines are meant to be kept and being early is preferable to the alternative. And, in the real world, there are always consequences for being late.

How does this translate to writing? Deadlines are hard. They’re not soft. Editors, agents, and teachers have all imposed deadlines for a reason. Those rules are there to maintain order, to help me, and facilitate less stress for everyone concerned. By respecting those deadlines, I become a better writer and a better publishing partner.

Outlast, Outwork, Outplay

Finally, my father has taught me that perseverance is strength turned inside out. If you’re strong enough to stand, you’re strong enough to outlast, outwork, and outplay the competition. If you can do this, you’ll eventually be rewarded. The validation you need comes first from God then from yourself. Self-respect and self-confidence go a long way in helping you hold your ground.

And if that doesn’t work? Reinvent yourself. Figure out how to make your situation work for you. For the past two years my dad has been unemployed in a bad economy. He hasn’t given up. Life is not playing fair with him now that he’s in his early sixties. Who wants to hire a sixty-two-year-old man when they can hire someone straight out of college? Not many companies. He’s taken the lemons life has given him and he’s trying to make lemonade. Again, he hasn’t given up. He renewed his real estate certification in a brand new state and he’s working hard to drum up business. He’s convinced good things will come his way if he remains steadfast and works hard.

What a great lesson for aspiring writers. Publishing that novel you’ve written could take years. Don’t write it and sit on your laurels. Get started on the next story. And if you haven’t found your niche yet, think about different directions your writing could take. So many novels seem to cross genres today, figure out where you could blur the lines and appeal to a new audience.

My dad is an avid golfer. He can outplay the best. Any writer can take this lesson to heart, too. Knowing when to work and then knowing when to play is an important skill. Recreation and time away from work makes you a better worker, a better writer, and a better person.

So wherever you are today. Thank your dad for the invaluable lessons he taught you over the years. Hug him. Tell him you love him. Give thanks that you are, in part, the person you are today because of his guidance.

Happy Father’s Day!

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I am happy to report that I've been making progress. I passed the whole book out to my wonderful critique group a while ago, and finallyFINALLY finished that round of edits. Which meant---dun-Dun-DUN---that it was time to start the query process.


The query process is like looking for a job. It makes my stomach hurt. It makes me question my abilities and my work and my worth and . . . it's not pretty.

But I am fortunate enough to be a member of WRW, and to be able to attend their fabulous retreat where, in April, I met with 2 great agents who requested partials. One of them (my favorite, naturally!) recently requested the full manuscript. Yay!! I've also got the full out with another agent, who I "met" through an online query contest.

Getting those requests did me a world of good. But they also forced me to think about what I'm going to work on next.

And thinking about what to work on next forces me to think about how I'm going to "find" the time.

At the RWA conference last year, I heard the same thing from several speakers about treating your writing the way you would a job. Giving it the same amount of attention and priority. Would you just skip your job? For days on end? And expect it to still be there when you got back around to it?

I thought I got it then. The need to be more workmanlike about my writing. But I just recently got the other part of that equation . . . that since I already have a full-time day job, when I'm working consistently on my writing I am, essentially, working a 2nd job.

Sounds so simple, doesn't it? And you're probably all smarter than I am and didn't have to "figure" that part out. But I did. And when I did, it was a revelation. When I had two kids in college I, like a lot of people, took on a second job. And I never just skipped it. I would never even have considered just skipping it.

But I also never wondered why I had so little time for myself. Because the answer was obvious. I was working two jobs.

So why, when I am being consistent with my writing, do I still try to keep up with everything else? Still try to keep up with seeing my friends. Still try to keep up with all the television shows I love. Until just recently, the obvious was escaping me.

By devoting myself to my writing, by digging into it the way I really need to, I am taking on a second job. And in order to keep up with that second job, I need to let other things go.

It's all about the choices. And choices, like medicines, all come with side effects. They don't just lower your blood pressure, they also increase your potassium levels, and that puts a strain on your kidneys and . . .

Yeah. Every choice has a shadow.

For example, choosing to lose myself in the Vampire Diaries means I am choosing not to write for an hour. Choosing to meet friend after work for dinner means I am choosing not to write for at least two hours. And, truthfully, I will be tired when I get home from dinner and instead of opening my file, I will turn on the television and lose myself in Justified instead---which means choosing not to write all evening.

Which is not to say that I shouldn't be choosing dinner with friends. Just that I should be making that choice with full knowledge. Fully consciously.

And so, I am choosing not to watch So You Think You Can Dance this season. And I am choosing not to watch Burn Notice, or The Royal Pains, or Nurse Jackie. All of which I really enjoy.

And it hurts. I'm not gonna lie. I mean, I can catch up with most of those on DVD some day, if I really want to watch them. But I won't be able to discuss them with people who are watching them as they air (which is something I genuinely enjoy). And of course, as soon as I decided to cut So You Think You Can Dance from my viewing, my twitterstream was all abuzz with how wonderful it is this season . . .


But would I really choose to keep up with So You Think You Can Dance INSTEAD of writing my book?

No. Not when I put it that way.

So--what do you choose? And what are the side effects? Or am I truly the last writer to get this?

Monday, June 7, 2010

All I needed to know about writing I learned with Mary Kay

I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t jumped off a cliff and signed up to become a Mary Kay Independent Beauty Consultant 8 years ago. Over the course of a five-year period of active participation and training, a whole new world opened up to me and I’m not just talking about what lipstick shade goes best with gray shoes.
You wonder what writing has to do with skin care and color cosmetics? Not much. But here’s a list of the transferable skills I picked up: money management, time management, goal setting, prioritizing, how to make a sale, how to close a sale, positive self-talk, leadership, vision casting. I could go on and on.

Today I wanted to expand on three areas that I think are of particular importance to a healthy and active writing career: setting priorities, setting goals, and making a plan of action.


Mary Kay Ash’s credo for her company was always: God first, Family second and Career third.

1) If you are a God person, then you probably don’t need more of an explanation for why this is the number one priority. For those of us for whom God is not our go-to person, let me submit this: I think of this priority of a proscription to get right with oneself. You know the phrase “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? It’s true. If you are not well, be it mentally, emotionally, spiritually or physically, you’ll have a more difficult time being true to priorities two and three. Think of this of being on good terms with your soul, the spark within you that makes you unique.

2) Family second –Your family, born or made, can help you stand or fall. They act as your barometer, letting you know if you’re doing alright or need to go back to priority one for a realignment. The best of these people create a positive feedback loop so the giving and receiving of love and support becomes amplified. A writer’s life can be a solitary one. It’s important to keep connected.

3) Career third – Third???!! Yup. Third. Not first or second, before you and your loved ones. And not, as the oath for new MK consultants says, “thirty-third, behind the laundry.” So, if writing is your career – or you want it to be your career – you need to treat it as such and bump it up the scale to number three.
Now, this isn’t to say one has no other commitments in life. We all have things pulling at our attention. But when you look through the lens of these priorities, you can cut through the muck a bit more easily. Ask yourself the next time you’re in doubt about where to spend your time: Does this fit in with my priorities? If not, you may need to say NO to whatever is trying to pull you away.


Before Mary Kay, goal setting was a complete mystery to me. Not sure I even knew what a goal truly is. Goals can be defined as: a quantifiable dream with a deadline. To put it in perspective:

Dream: I want get healthier and lose weight.
Goal: I want to lose 20 pounds by the end of the summer.

For a long time my dream was to finish a book. Last year I put that in the form of a goal: I want to finish Honor Bound so I can submit it to the Golden Heart contest.

After ten years of being in Romance Writers of America, I finally made a goal and I hit it.

The one other thing about goals? You need to write them down. There is something about getting them in black and white that makes you more accountable to the whole undertaking. And don’t be afraid to share you goal(s) with others – knowing they’ll be asking about your progress can be an effective motivating tool!


Plan your work and work your plan.

We all can feel overwhelmed at times with the amount of stuff that we need to get done. Where do I stick the JOB, the kids, the significant other, the writing, girls’ night out, the pool date, the quiet time??
Pull out your calendar. I suggest doing this for the next three months so it doesn’t feel like too much, but if you know dates further out that you’ll be busy go ahead on mark them down.

1) Ex out the time you know you are busy (day job, church, after school sports chauffeuring, etc). Ex out the birthdays, family dinners, weddings, vacations.

2) Look at the time left and plan the hours when you will write. Plan it. Put it down on paper (or Outlook, Gmail calendar, etc.).

3) Make sure you have ready access to your calendar. And check it daily. Daily. Dare I say it again? Daily. Because writing is what you’ve determined is one of your top three priorities. It may be that you can’t write every day. That is okay. But you can anticipate your next writing block and be ready to rumble when it come around. Making a time budget, like living within a money budget, can actually be freeing. Because you know where and how you’re spending your time, you’ll be able to take time “off” without feeling guilty.

Do you have any helpful tips about setting priorities and goals? Do you have a nifty way of tracking your time and being accountable? Can you buy into my list of priorities above or do you have a different take on it?