Tag Archives: BACCA Literary

When Do You Write?

Waiting... Thinking.... Am I inspired yet? Photo credit: Pixabay PPPSDavid

Waiting… Thinking…. Am I inspired yet? Photo credit: Pixabay PPPSDavid

I work with writers, and I also write creatively myself. So the questions come up frequently:

  • When do you write?
  • What circumstances need to be in place?
  • Do you make yourself write even when you don’t feel like it?
  • How do you set aside time to write?

You know those questions.

Then the other day, one of the writers in my writer group, BACCA, asked us these questions:

  • Do you have a regular writing schedule?
  • A writing ritual or rituals?
  • Conditions that you know help or hinder your writing?

On that very day, I had blown off a writing deadline of my own. The day before, I discovered that an author client had made an unannounced change in plan, leaving the entire book production team delayed by a week or more. So perhaps the pump was already primed. Anyway, at that moment, I realized what I wanted to write about for my blog. I’ll speak for myself, not my clients, friends, colleagues, or famous writers in history.


I believe that I can write something more or less okay, most of the time. Even when the stars aren’t aligned, I can probably crank out some sentences. I also believe that, for those sentences to have a chance at singing — and I love sentences that sing — they’ll need more love, later. For me, writing is an iterative process. So is editing. People who can slam out an adroitly worded, deftly built essay in one burst — well, I don’t know anyone who can, so maybe I needn’t complete that thought. Students of literary history can share stories about the derring-do of famous writers in years past who knocked out perfect work with one quill pen tied behind their back.

Motivation is for amateurs.

–Chuck Close, quoted in Seth Godin’s What to Do When It’s Your Turn (2015).

Like the painter Chuck Close, quoted above, I don’t wait for inspiration. That’s a passive stance that doesn’t serve me. Inspiration is wonderful, of course. I take advantage of it at every opportunity. That’s why we have things like notebooks, Evernote, and smartphones that record our voices. Dropping off to sleep recently, I received some amazing lines, and ideas, for my writing. Half-awake, I knew enough to scrawl them onto the paper I keep at the bedside, for later transcription. Those notes informed my latest draft of a fiction piece I’m nursing along.

Although I’m not one of the butt-in-chair-at-five-in-the-morning types, I believe in writing something, anything, in order to have a draft. The draft is my friend. Once I have a draft, I have possibilities.

Is it better yet? Can I hear it sing? Photo credit: StockSnap

I can mark it up, massage it, stare at it, laugh ruefully at it, stomp away from it, reconsider it, ridicule it, sigh at it, cross it out, write in “stet” next to the cross-out, walk away and prepare a beverage / snack / meal / dessert, return and reconsider it (again), remember an important errand that must be run at once, and eventually, I can make it better. It may take a few more iterations, some more streamlined than that last one, and I’ll probably wind up with a piece of work that’s at least presentable.

I exaggerate for effect. Mostly.

Important, not Urgent

For me the biggest hurdle to clear involves setting aside time for writing, when other demands on my time feel compelling. Years ago, a friend told me he was striving to honor those to-do items that were important, not urgent. Ever since, that has been a goal of mine as well. I have yet to meet it on a regular basis. It’s too easy to respond to the urgencies of everyday work and life. Someone needs attention, a project has a deadline, a team effort may not happen if you don’t step up, the phone keeps ringing…. I imagine being sufficiently evolved as a creative, centered person to honor, without a struggle, the important and not urgent items.

Until that time, I’ll muddle through. I’ll rely on drafts, and the bits of time I carve out for the iterative process.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA Literary. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and manuscript development services to authors. Anne’s nonfiction book, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. Her new companion publication, FLOAT Cards for Writers, launches on Saturday, 18 November at the Charlottesville Book Fair in downtown Charlottesville. #becomingunstuck 


Virginia Festival of the Book 2014

March came around again this year, and with it, the annual Virginia Festival of the Book – celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014.

Banner from the Virginia Festival of the Book's websiteI knew I wanted to attend “Pub Day” – Saturday’s all-day event featuring authors, agents, publishers, and other experts. Last year, the writer group I belong to presented a panel for Pub Day. This year, I looked forward to a lower-pressure kind of day, even if I would miss an invitation to the Saturday-evening cocktails for presenters.

Part of the fun was running into friends and acquaintances at odd moments. At lunchtime, I wandered down Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall to Timberlake’s old-fashioned lunch counter, in search of a hot dog for a friend who couldn’t get away from her post, as an exhibitor in the Omni Hotel’s lobby. On my way back, I chatted with a colleague about how to host a BookFest panel of authors that really works. I thought to myself that could be fun to do one day. Another writer-group compatriot rode up, locked her bicycle to the rack, and walked with me back into the hotel, ready for some afternoon sessions.

Then there was the inadvertent eavesdropping. As I sat outside – in the oh-so-welcome sunshine! – for a few minutes to eat a sandwich, I realized the people clustered nearby were kibitzing about BookFest panels I had been to, or knew about. I remembered why these gatherings remind me of high school.

photo of Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman, web editor of VQR and co-founder, Scratch Magazine

This year’s highlight event for me was at 10am on Pub Day, featuring Charlottesville’s own Jane Friedman on the topic of The Digital Publishing Landscape. I liked it for a few reasons. My husband joined me for this session. These days, he mostly stays away from all things literary, although (or because) he once lived the life in NYC. It was a pleasure to share the experience with him. Also, I was relieved that, because of my own adventures in publishing and author services over the past several years, I could follow what Friedman was saying. She said it well, in a relaxed, good-humored, confident manner, and with excellent slides to add visual impact.

A cautionary example of perils of unprotected literary works in the public domain, like Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books was the image of a digital bundle of three books from the series, its cover featuring a blonde (not copper-haired, not even green-haired) come-hither older teenager posed in a plaid farm shirt. Next to a bale of hay. I mean, really? On behalf of Lucy Maud, a distant relative of my grandfather, I was outraged.

ridiculous Anne of Green Gables cover

Ceci n’est pas Anne Shirley

Among the many topics Friedman covered in the allotted hour, she spoke empathetically to authors’ struggles with marketing their work. She recommended adopting what she calls “Lifecycle Marketing” for your publications, recognizing that books can sell long after they are launched, through an author’s ongoing direct engagement with readers and fans. One of her slides included a graphic in the familiar Keep Calm typeface and layout, exhorting authors in search of their market to “Keep Calm and Write More.” Translation: It often makes more economic sense to focus on writing more books to sell to your existing audience, rather than to expend your energies trying to expand your base. You’re probably a better writer than marketer, anyway.

I queued up after Friedman’s talk, for the chance to thank her and say hello. From time to time we’ve made contact on Twitter and Facebook, but I had never met her. It was a goofy thrill, when I extended my hand and introduced myself, to hear her say she recognized me from social media. What a lovely way for Pub Day to begin!

Bookfest Panel

So, my writing group, BACCA Literary, got together this past weekend to do our panel at Virginia Festival of the Book about Creating a Great Writing Group.

Claire Cameron, Carolyn O'Neal, A M Carley, Bethany Joy Carlson

Claire Cameron, Carolyn O’Neal, A M Carley, Bethany Joy Carlson at Creating a Great Writing Group 23 March 2013

We had a good time, told stories, and got several knowing laughs. Also, I felt that people attending got information, along with encouragement.

During the session and in the chats with audience members afterwards, I sensed some people connecting with things we said – about establishing and protecting trust in the group, about establishing habits of regular meetings and regular work deadlines, about honoring the distinctions between friends and writers.

I am a big believer in the power of a good writing group to educate the writer – it has made me a better writer, as well as a better editor and communicator about writing.

I was reminded again how many interesting stories there are in this world. We carry them around and sometimes we choose to tell them to more people. Fiction or nonfiction, it’s all storytelling to one degree or another. Writing groups can form the bridge outward from the isolation of writing into connection, first with the handful of writers in your group, and gradually out toward strangers, including potential agents, editors and publishers, and the general reading public.

Thanks, BACCA, and thanks Virginia Festival of the Book, and thanks WriterHouse (co-sponsor of our session). None of this would have happened without you.

Now back to writing!

Virginia Festival of the Book

Panel Discussion about Creating a Great Writing Group

Happy Spring! No matter how springlike it looks like, out the window where you are. Here in Charlottesville Virginia, daffodils are up, and some are in bloom. You can see them because the snow from the day before melted yesterday….

If you, or someone you know, might
a) be in Charlottesville this Saturday 23 March at 10am and
b) want to learn about writing groups and what they can do for your craft as a writer,
I’m gonna remind you:

vertical-bacca-vabook-wh-600hClaire Cameron, PhD, Bethany Joy Carlson, Carolyn O’Neal and me (AM Carley), the four writers in BACCA Literary, my writing group, are excited to be holding a panel discussion this Saturday morning. It is free of charge, like almost all the events at this wonderful four-day festival.

Our session, Creating a Great Writing Group, is part of Publication Day at the annual Virginia Festival of the Book in downtown Charlottesville. We’re in the Preston Room at the Omni. It’s a lovely windowed room, located inside the Pointe restaurant. (When it’s not hosting VaBook events, it’s the hotel’s private dining room.)

We start promptly at 10am this Saturday, 23 March 2013.

We’re going to get you thinking about your past experiences when you gave and got feedback on your writing. The four of us will chat about what we have learned to do in our monthly meetings, to keep the constructive feedback flowing. Because each of us has benefited hugely from our years together, we want to share our enthusiasm and provide practical advice to people who want their own Great Writing Group. As far as we can tell, this is the first time in its nineteen years that the Festival of the Book has hosted an event about the actual writing process – before the book is done! So we’re additionally psyched that they picked us to talk about this stuff.

If you can’t attend, but are curious about what a writing group can do for you, take a look at our website: www.baccaliterary.com  (Heck, take a look, anyway!) You can read about each of us, and what we write about. And we put up a number of resources there to help you think about how to pick members for a new writing group, manage the group you may already have, and structure the critiques that you prepare for your fellow writers.

Shoutout to WriterHouse, co-sponsor of our event. We all hold it dear, because the four of us met there, in a fiction class!

Oh, and if you tweet, our hashtag for the event is #BACCALiterary. The hashtag for the entire Festival is #VaBook. Much obliged if you give us a mention!

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you at the Omni Charlottesville on Saturday morning inside the Pointe restaurant. 10am!

All best