Unplugging and Doing Nothing

Capture_UnplugWe’re solidly into the new year, and I’ve yet to write about resolutions or what I plan to accomplish.

There’s a reason for that, and it’s nothing alarming.

I needed to unplug.

The quote from Annie Lamont really resonated with me. I’d been feeling overwhelmed and unsettled. I won’t bore you with the specifics because we’ve all felt that way for varying reasons. It’s what you do about it, though, that matters.

For me it was truly about unplugging and not doing anything. Another one of my epiphany quotes is from Lillian Hellman, who said,

“You do too much. Go and do nothing for a while. Nothing.”

— Lillian Hellman

I had about a 10-day winter break where I implemented the sage advice contained in both quotes. Much like a bear, I hibernated. I emerged occasionally to visit with friends, see a movie or enjoy a meal. But overall, I was hibernating at home in yoga pants, oversized comfy tops and thick socks. I was seldom on social media. I was slow to respond to emails. I didn’t even make a “To Do” list.

What I did was nap, watch the birds at the feeders, read a zillion (okay, ten) books and recharge.

I emerged from hibernation ready to embrace 2018. I look forward to continuing my blog this year and hearing what you have to say.

Cheers to 2018!



Seeing the Future of Visual Communications

My eyes were wide open following a presentation by Mike McDougall on shaping the future of visual communications.

He shared his thoughts with PRSA Richmond, noting that the mass migration to digital media and the subsequent shift to visually dominant platforms has transformed the communications mix.


Photo from Mike McDougall presentation.

I was overwhelmed by the idea of being able to visually see multiple screens through a contact lens. I confess, the introvert in me wanted to run and hide. But I was intrigued when I discovered I need to consider when my audience is viewing the content I produce and on what type of screen. That knowledge would help me consider the lighting within my videos.

He had us all thinking about visual trends.

For example, we all know that consumption habits are evolving. McDougall noted, “The whole ‘put your phone down’ mentality doesn’t fly.” Because people are consuming information in bits and bytes, he said we need to communicate more frequently. A study showed that by 2015, our attention span had decreased to 8-seconds, which is 1 second shorter than the attention span of a goldfish!

The adage Seeing is believing is true. People tend to believe something they have seen. McDougall shared an example of news outlets reporting canceled flights by British Airways. The airline immediately shared photos on social media of the flight boards showing departure times and people standing in line to board. Those images allowed BA to combat the fake news.

Another trend is the dominance of micro storylines. The right photo, McDougall said, can tell a story in a second. One way to succinctly tell a story is to use infographics. When it comes to video, a Visible Measures report found that 20 percent of viewers stopped watching a video after 10 seconds and 45 percent of the audience is lost after one minute.

As you might suspect, with the focus on visual, it’s all about the eyes, which are becoming input devices. Another consideration is the amount of time spent on devices. McDougall noted that people’s comfort with viewing will change throughout the day. By evening, most people’s eyes are tired.  One suggestion is to use Night Shift, which shifts the temperature of your screen.

7 Directions to Navigate the Travel Writing Path

I’ve been traveling my entire life, but I’ve never thought about travel writing as a career.

Good thing because as veteran travel writer Annette Thompson told an NFPW workshop, “You can’t always pay the mortgage as a travel writer.”

Thompson, who is a past president of the Society of American Travel Writers and a former longtime journalist with Southern Living magazine, has written numerous freelance stories and operates an online magazine called Second Chance Travels.

20160424_154546 (1)Travel writing today is a challenge because of dwindling markets and tighter publication budgets. She noted that she does not accept assignments that only pay her by providing her with exposure – meaning, the magazine publishes her piece with a byline, but she receives no payment.

Many would-be travel writers mistakenly think that writing about a destination makes for a strong travel piece. Thompson explained that good travel writing includes stories about people. For example, don’t say you are writing about Birmingham. Instead, identify an angle about a unique aspect to that place, such as the clay artists who make plates for the city’s restaurants. She also noted that expenses usually are not covered.

To succeed at travel writing, Thompson said writers should do the following:

  1. Network. You need to know other writers and editors, and the people who represent the destinations, she said.
  2. Join a travel association. Membership provides networking, conference and travel opportunities. While SATW is difficult to gain membership to, Thompson recommends North American Travel Journalists Association; International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association; and Travel Blog Exchange.
  3. Know your DMOs and CVBs. A DMO is a destination marketing organization. A CVB is the convention and visitors bureau.
  4. Find a target. “Identify where you want your story to go,” Thompson said. Most publications have stories that are 30 words to 50 words, in addition to longer forms. She encouraged her audience to start with the shorter pieces as a way to get their foot in the door.
  5. Hone your pitch. The blurb that you send to an editor should have a one-sentence opening, a concise nut graph – which is what the piece is about – and a brief mention of your prior experience. She also suggested pitching well in advance, perhaps as much as 18 months before publication.
  6. Have an online presence. Having one-page online devoted to your career provides a place to post your previous stories that have published and will give others confidence in your work.
  7. Have a writing partner. This is someone who can act as your audience and read your material before you pitch it.

What I Learned by Failing at NaNoWriMo

I failed.


I did everything correctly. I publicly announced my intentions. I made a plan. I had accountability partners.

It was all part of my effort to join National Novel Writing Month in which on Nov. 1 participants begin working toward the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 30. I switched it up and said I would focus on a rewrite of a non-fiction book, writing blog posts and writing two essays.

But then I didn’t follow the plan.

I’m not making excuses. I had reasons for not following the plan.

Specifically, a work schedule that included morning meetings, lunch meetings and evening events. No time to fit in writing. Weekends were scheduled. November is always jam packed where I work but I did not consider that when I agreed to participate.

I accepted my limitations and wrote what I could.

The month and my intentions weren’t a complete fail.

I learned a few things.

I learned that I need to be able to write in chunks. I am much more productive taking a half day or an entire day and writing for hours on end rather than writing for a half hour or an hour each day. Fortunately, I have several writing days planned in December. I can’t wait!

Establishing a plan and setting writing goals let me know what I need and want to write. I did complete a few of my writing assignments. Thanks to NaNoWriMo I have a list of the pieces I still need to complete.

I also learned that while I may be competitive in many areas, writing is not one of them. Writing for me is a solitary pursuit done at my pace. It didn’t matter if my accountability partners were happily writing away. That didn’t drive me to carve out writing time. I was thrilled for them, but I wasn’t participating to write more than they wrote.

If you’re looking for me this weekend, I’ll be holed up writing. It’s the perfect weekend where I have a chunk of time, and I know exactly what I need to write.




3 Ps of How Not to Write a Book

Julie Campbell and bookOne of the best talks I have heard about writing a book is actually about what not to do.

My friend Julie Campbell, who wrote, “The Horse in Virginia: An Illustrated History,” has given the talk several times and noted, “It’s a bit of a confessional self-help talk.”

Campbell, who was honored with the Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award for nonfiction, highlights three areas that she did wrong when writing her book. Those areas include: payment, procrastination and publicity.


“You’re not going to get rich writing books,” Campbell notes. She was prepared for that. What she wasn’t prepared for was making negative dollars. Once she factored in her time and expenses, she says, she made no money.

Her first lesson she shared is to negotiate to have expenses covered. Her contract did not include expenses, so Campbell paid for gas, hotels, meals and photocopies incurred as she researched the book and later when she went to book signings.

She encourages other writers to get an agent, even if the book is being published by a university press. “You want to have someone looking out for you.”


Procrastination is always a challenge. One way Campbell avoided working on her book was raking all the leaves in her “very large yard.” She also confessed to arranging her work space several times.

She finally developed some rituals to place her in the writing groove. She learned to break her work into small chunks and focus on one chunk at a time.


Campbell says it’s also important to ask how much publicity the publisher will do and how much you as the author will have to do. She had to do most of her own, although she did suggest to her publisher where to send review copies of the book. She scheduled speaking engagements and created her own press kits by taking pocket folders and inserting her business card and several pages from the book to send to bookstores to make them aware of her book.

One area where she succeeded was with people. “I had the support of so many people to help me along the way.”

5 Tips I Picked up at the JRW Conference

My dear, late friend Emyl Jenkins was known for sprinkling her fairy dust over many writers.

Once again, she did it when I attended the James River Writers Conference. Her delightful husband Bob attended to award the Emyl Jenkins Sexton award, which recognizes individuals who continue her legacy of inspiring a love of writing and writing education in Virginia. He talked about how she spent so much time helping other writers, she sometimes needed to be reminded to follow her own advice: “Put the seat of your pants on the seat of the chair and write.”

That’s what I’ve done for the past two years, and have a first draft of a manuscript of travel essays. I decided to attend the JRW conference to learn more about fine-tuning the book, the publishing process and finding an agent.

I learned how much more I need to do, and what I was doing right. Here are some of the tips:

Attend a conference. This is the obvious one, but I found myself hesitating to register for the JRW conference. It was worth every penny and giving up a weekend of writing.


Great advice on a tote bag. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I worried. Do I belong here? Is my writing good enough? Turns out almost every writer has those thoughts. Mystery writer Maggie King shared a great tip, “At a conference, I pick one person and I talk with them.” She says she usually makes a new friend or discovers a fan. Either way, she said, “You’ve done your good deed for the day.”

Identify beta readers. These are individuals who, early on, read your manuscript and point out plot holes, poor dialogue and inconsistencies among other things. I did that with the travel essays, and I’m now reworking the material.

Write a strong query letter. This is your chance to sell an agent on you and your manuscript. You want the letter to be authentic and polished.

Most writers aren’t going to have the success that David Baldacci did with his first query letter. He shared the story during a luncheon Q&A.

He said he wrote in his letter, “I guarantee if you read the first page, you will read through until the last page.” He figured they’d read the manuscript just to prove him wrong. Fortunately, he was spot on, and he now has 34 novels to his credit.

Agent Cherise Fisher said a query letter reveals the author’s knowledge of herself and that’s important to her. “I am looking for a partner in bringing this book into the world.”

Power of Cmty

Maggie King, Joanna S. Lee, Maya Smart and Angele McQuade talked about the power of community during the James River Writers 2017 conference. Shawna Christos moderated.  (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Join a community of writers. These can be face-to-face or online. Maya Payne Smart says she gets more out of in-person writing communities. “You see (the writers) are real people. There is something to putting a face to the stories you hear,” she said. “It’s important to have people cheering for you.”

Joanna S. Lee said it’s okay to join online and then simply “lurk” until you are ready to contribute.

One benefit of an online community is the flexibility. “Not all of us can be in person within the community whether because of work or obligations,” said Angele McQuade.

Just write. The one piece of advice I heard repeatedly is what Emyl always told me — you need to write. McQuade said, “You need to recognize when you are having too much fun within the writing community and aren’t writing.”




Twist on National Novel Writing Month

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResNext year I may be ready for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This year, I’m focused on a rewrite of a non-fiction book, writing blog posts and writing copy for my website. It’s a lot of writing, and I admit I’ve been procrastinating.

The other week at a conference I attended, Michele Cook challenged members to participate in NaNoWriMo, even if it was to simply write each day of the month, which is exactly what I’m going to do. I’m clearing my calendar as I’m able. Some days I will write during my lunch hour. Other days, I’ll write in the evening. On a few days, I’m going to have to set my alarm clock to rise early and write. I’ve scheduled it all and noted what I plan to write. If I don’t do that, I’ll find a way to avoid writing.

Michele said she threw out the challenge to get some personal accountability. “Having someone else to answer to helps me stay motivated.” With a 7,000-word novel underway, Michele hopes to get a “solid first draft finished or close to it.” She expects she will need to keep writing past the Nov. 30 deadline to reach her 70,000- to 80,000-word goal.

Julie Campbell, who wrote “The Horse in Virginia: An Illustrated History,” isn’t focused on writing a novel. But she is going to use the month to write and polish an essay and then read it at a local event where she lives.

Diane S. Thieke, whom I met at a writer’s conference, is attempting to write a novel. She said, “I’ve attempted to NaNoWriMo five out of the last six years and failed to write my novel each time! Not an auspicious track record. In fact, my lifetime word count is abysmal — just under 6,000 words. But I keep coming back because I find it inspiring, and I’m convinced that one November, I will write 50,000 words. I’m a terribly inconsistent writer, and I’d like to change that. So this year, my goal is simple: to develop the habit of writing for myself every day. Even if I write just 50 words a day in November, I’ll consider it a success.”

I am inspired about NaNoWriMo, which began in 1999. On November 1, participants begin working toward the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Last year more than 384,000 people worked on their novels. Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl are among the NaNoWriMo novels that have been traditionally published, according to the NaNoWriMo website.

Please post in the comment section whether you plan to participate and what your goals are. We can all use the encouragement and cheer for each other.