To highlight some great moments and voices during Black History Month, we’re teaming up with StoryCorps. If you’re not already familiar, StoryCorps is a wonderful organization focused on capturing the wisdom of humanity through interviews and stories in order to create a more just and compassionate world. Learn more about their mission, history, and impact here. Wendell Scott was the first African American inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Throughout the 1960s, he poured his heart, soul, and all of his earnings into maintaining his own race car. His son, Frank, remembers what it took for his father to cross the finish line at racetracks throughout the South. Inspired to learn more? We’ve got themed lists to help you find your next read – from fresh new authors, to canonical greats. StoryCorps to find more oral history and amazing storytelling.
Here’s the thing about writing, or more specifically, about being paid to write: it’s a job. Of course, you could describe it in more romantic terms: it could be calling, or a vocation. Or perhaps your mind has a more prosaic bent; perhaps for you it’s an itch that needs to be scratched. There are reams and reams of twitter conversations on the topic of why writers choose to write; if you go looking for those I’m certain you’ll find one that matches how you feel. But if you’re actually getting paid to put your stories down on paper, then whatever else you might call it, one thing is certain: it’s a job. I admit that I may have a more businesslike approach to writing than most given that I also work part-time in fund management, but I truly don’t see why the principles that are relevant within a mainstream workplace wouldn’t apply also to writing. So on the principal that you have to fake it before you make it, here are my top three pieces of somewhat businesslike advice for the writer who wants their writing to be more than just a hobby.
- You have to go to work.
- Create a polished product
- Know your market
It is with sadness that we share that prolific military fiction author William E. Butterworth III, known the world over as W.E.B. Griffin, died on Tuesday, February 12. He was 89. William E. Butterworth III was the #1 bestselling author of over 250 books, the majority of them published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, with over 50 million copies in print in more than ten languages, including Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, and Hungarian. As W.E.B. Griffin, he was the author of 61 epic novels in seven series: The Corps, Brotherhood of War, Badge of Honor, Men at War, Honor Bound, Presidential Agent, and Clandestine Operations. Known for his historical accuracy, richly drawn characters, thrilling adventure, crackling wit, and astute aptitude for the heart and mind of a military hero, Griffin delighted readers for decades with his electrifying novels about the military, police, spies, and counterspies. Under other pseudonyms, he wrote over 100 other books, both for adults and children, including twelve of the thirteen M*A*S*H novels. He has been praised as “a writer of true virtuosity and talent” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram), “a truly impressive storyteller” (Midwest Book Review), and “unrivaled” in the realm of military fiction (Ralph Peters, author of Cain at Gettysburg and Lines of Fire). “If God is truly in the details, then Griffin must be the pop of police procedurals,” wrote Publishers Weekly. As The Philadelphia Inquirer put it simply, “Griffin has the knack.” His passion for writing about the military and other branches of law enforcement carried him through his distinguished career. “Nothing honors me more than a serviceman, veteran, or cop telling me he enjoys reading my books,” he said. W.E.B. Griffin grew up in the suburbs of New York City and Philadelphia. He began an illustrious military career in 1946, when he enlisted in the United States Army. After basic training, he received counterintelligence training at Fort Holabird, Maryland. He was assigned to the Army of Occupation in Germany and ultimately to the staff of then-Major General I.D. White, Commander of the U.S. Constabulary. In 1951, Griffin was recalled to active duty for the Korean War, interrupting his education at the Philipps University of Marburg an der Lahn, Germany. Among his many awards for service, Griffin was the recipient of the 1991 Brigadier General Robert L. Dening Memorial Distinguished Service Award of the U.S. Marine Corps and the 1999 Veterans of Foreign Wars News Media Award, which was presented at the 100th National Convention in Kansas City. He has been vested into the Order of St. George of the U.S. Armor Association and the Order of St. Andrew of the U.S. Army Aviation Association. A longtime resident of both Alabama’s Gulf Coast and Buenos Aires, Argentina, Griffin is survived by his four children, including son Bill Butterworth IV, his co-writer on 21 novels.
“How did you finish it?” I’m asked some version of that question a lot, with “it” referring to my debut novel, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls. The question about the finish is not a request for a spoiler that would reveal the book’s ending, but rather, it’s an inquiry about how one simply goes about getting the thing done. Every writer has his or her own process, so you’ll find that advice on this question is equally varied, but there is at least one universal writing truth: It’s not easy. For me, scheduling makes it less hard. I know, the topic of time management is not particularly sexy. A lot of us would much rather discuss craft, creativity, or the things that inspire us. But you won’t get far with those things if you don’t master the more laborious, workaday side of writing. It’s true, it takes a certain compulsive drive to be a writer, but a lot of us still fall victim to procrastination or outright avoidance, particularly when the writing feels like a Sisyphean struggle — and in my experience, it feels like that a great deal of the time. It may be helpful to know that giving in to that urge to do anything other than writing in those moments is not entirely because of a lack of discipline. You may be able to put the blame on your brain. The New York Times recently reported on a study that found our brains can trick us into feeling an urgency to do less important, more immediately rewarding tasks like, perhaps, cleaning up that backlog of emails rather than taking on more difficult projects in which the finish is a long way off, as is the case with that novel that’s been languishing on your desk or knocking around in your head — hence the need for scheduling. There is the element of ritual in a good schedule, which can be a comfort. Showing up at an appointed time to a familiar place and performing your task — there’s equilibrium in it. But don’t think your schedule has to be perfect or meet some writerly ideal. It just needs to be habitual and workable for you. If a two-hour block after putting the kids to bed is all you have, then go with it. Early mornings before rushing off to your day job? Set the alarm accordingly. Many of us are quite adaptable when we need to be. In my case, I prefer working early mornings, but I usually only have time in the late afternoons and on weekends, so that is when I write. I also prefer quiet but, having worked in busy newsrooms for my entire professional life, I can handle a bit of noise. So, find the time and — crucially — keep it for yourself and your writing projects alone. You are more apt to do this if you think of writing as what it is: work. And whether your workplace is at an office desk, the kitchen table, or a counter in a coffeehouse, showing up there without fail or distractions must be a priority. That may mean skipping that impromptu party, missing that movie with your friends, leaving that email backlog to another day. Writing is part of your routine. Your daily ritual. Treat it that way. And even on those days when you can’t get motivated (which will be more days than you might imagine), clock in. Keep writing, even when what you put on the page proves unusable or even shockingly inadequate (which will also happen more often than you might imagine). With every sentence, you’re finding your way. You’re working on craft. And even when you can’t come up with anything at all, stay with it. As you sit drumming your fingers on your forehead or staring off into the middle distance, puzzling over how to fill that blank page, you’re plumbing the depths of creativity. You’ll figure out what comes next. And if you don’t figure it out during that workday, then maybe you will on the next one. Or the next. And here, I should probably make a note of this important fact: Inspiration works on its own schedule. So keep yours. I promise, the two of you will meet up in due time. Check out Anissa’s book here:
To highlight some great moments and voices during Black History Month, we’re teaming up with StoryCorps. If you’re not already familiar, StoryCorps is a wonderful organization focused on capturing the wisdom of humanity through interviews and stories in order to create a more just and compassionate world. Learn more about their mission, history, and impact here. Carl McNair tells the story of his brother Ronald, an African American kid in the 1950s who set his sights on the stars. Inspired to learn more? We’ve got themed lists to help you find your next read – from fresh new authors, to canonical greats. StoryCorps to find more oral history and amazing storytelling.
In-flight magazines are my weakness. It doesn’t matter how many books I’ve brought with me to read or how much work I have to do, on a plane I always end up reading the in-flight magazine, at least for the first leg of the journey. A few years ago, the article that caught my interest was one about making your own luck. I’m of Irish heritage so luck is a big deal for me. I pick up pennies, toss salt over my shoulder, have a horseshoe hanging in my house somewhere — you get the picture — so I was intrigued. The long and short of the article was that the people who are statistically luckier than the rest are the ones who are paying attention to the world around them. Hmm. Fast forward a few months, I arrived in New York City to meet with my editor. I was there on other business but wanted to pop in and see where the magic behind the books happens. The visit was…peculiar. Offices were half packed, people were clearly moving around, and there was a sense of unease in the air the likes of which I had lived through once before during the recession as a librarian in Phoenix. In this case, my publisher had recently merged with another. It was clear that big changes were happening. Normally, I would have been reassured by an “everything’s fine” and a smile, but this time I knew better because I was paying attention. When the opportunity presented itself, I asked my editor directly what else she thought I might write besides traditional mysteries, since I now feared they were going to go the way of the Dodo. She observed that if I took all of the dead bodies out of my mysteries what I really had going on was romantic comedy and that she would be delighted if I would give that a go. So I did. Well, after thirty mysteries in five different series, I had a rhythm going with the whole dead body, red herrings, multiple suspects, and you turn yourself around sort of writing hokey pokey. A straight romantic comedy with no dead body? Huh. Come to find out those dead bodies really move a plot along. I frequently hear people say that writing romance is easy. Yeah, no. I’m a child of the 80’s, one of the original latch key kids, who was raised on after school specials and sitcoms. I am incapable of having a problem that lasts longer than twenty-two and a half minutes because I run out of coping skills at the commercial break. Trying to write a one-hundred-thousand-word novel with legit conflicts between the hero and heroine that do not involve finding a dead body at any point? Oh, man, I had to dig deep. I had to raise my game. This was really hard! Thankfully, the one mainstay I have is humor. Whether in life or in fiction, if I am not laughing I am tapping out — probably all of those sitcoms are to blame. Either way, I write the punch lines to the laugh track in my head, and I know it’s going well when I snort-laugh while writing. I’ve finished three romantic comedies now, and some commonalities have come to light in the fictional worlds, both mystery and romance, that I create. The characters are quirky, the settings cozy, the humor is on point, and the relationships are heartwarming, whether my characters are solving a crime or falling in love. When I stepped back and could see my voice working in both genres, it made me realize I could write successfully in any genre that caught my interest. Look out science fiction/ fantasy, here I come! I’ll be doing a lot of flying in the next year and, believe me, I’m going to be reading the in-flight magazine and paying attention. Check out Jenn’s books here:
To highlight some great moments and voices during Black History Month, we’re teaming up with StoryCorps. If you’re not already familiar, StoryCorps is a wonderful organization focused on capturing the wisdom of humanity through interviews and stories in order to create a more just and compassionate world. Learn more about their mission, history, and impact here. In this video, Theresa Burroughs recalls her persistence to claim her right to vote during the Jim Crow era in the rural South. Inspired to learn more? We’ve got themed lists to help you find your next read – from fresh new authors, to canonical greats. StoryCorps to find more oral history and amazing storytelling.
Who better to give book recommendations than the bookish experts? Penguin Random House employees are sharing their favorite reads every month. Browse below! This month, we’re featuring Alex Hill, Corporate Communications Assistant. When she’s not stuck on the Subway, Alex can be found in the East Village where, regardless of the season, she’ll be drinking iced coffee and discussing her two greatest loves: books and Broadway. Check out the books she recommends:
Founded in 1974, the NBCC now comprises more than 1,000 working critics and book-review editors throughout the country, who annually vote and bestow its awards in six categories, honoring the best books published in the past year in the United States. Fiction:
- THE LARGESSE OF THE SEA MAIDEN by Denis Johnson
- THE LINE BECOMES A RIVER by Francisco Cantú
- DIRECTORATE S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Steve Coll
- THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
- GOD SAVE TEXAS by Lawrence Wright
- EDUCATED by Tara Westover
- FEEL FREE by Zadie Smith
- AMERICAN SONNETS FOR MY PAST AND FUTURE ASSASSIN by Terrance Hayes