What NOT to Do When Starting a New Writing Project (Plus Prompt)

It can seem spectacularly impossible hard to insulate yourself in your writing bomb shelter when working on a new project, but for the sake of your mental health and the well-being of your work, might that be a solid path to follow? Publishing insider Patricia Holt shares her thoughts in the Top 20 Tips From WD in 2009 series:

No. 4: Dodge the News
The most demoralizing thing to do when you’re starting a book project is to keep abreast of book industry news. Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, Shelf Awareness, Publishers Lunch, mediabistro.com and others don’t report on routine publishing matters. What makes news for them are big advances, breakthrough campaigns and startling author bios—all of which are irrelevant and distracting (and, in some awful way, diminishing) to you now. So the first thing to do is get away from the madness that publishing has become.
Patricia Holt, from the July/August 2009 Publishing 101 issue (click here to check it out).

Of course, we at WD mag are guilty of reporting on publishing homeruns, too—and Patricia’s advice is something we try to bear in mind when fleshing out how we frame different topics in each issue (and penning our own work).

To kick off Thanksgiving week, a special thanks to WD superstar Brian A. Klems for updating the blog—with, appropriately, a Thanksgiving prompt—when I was out of town last week. (And I’m not sure if meat is your bag, but I’m getting pumped about some holiday eating and writing as the bird approaches…)

Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings (a comment from the last month will be picked at random Wednesday!).

Your boat rocks back and forth, and you peer over the edge, catching a glimpse of something you thought was gone forever.





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0 thoughts on “What NOT to Do When Starting a New Writing Project (Plus Prompt)

  1. Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanaovs

    Your boat rocks back and forth, and you peer over the edge, catching a glimpse of something you thought was gone forever.

    The boat rocked back and forth, and I peered over the edge, catching a glimpse of something I thought was gone forever in Pleasant Bay. The 20 foot Great White Shark glided past my 10 foot Boston Whaler. I sank onto the floor, and squinted into the setting sun, searching for the TV crews that had been perched high on the sand dunes. The lifeguard station was empty. Everyone was gone. The news crews would not have their story as it headed for the shoreline.
    The fisherman had not cried “wolf.”
    Cape Coders flocked to the spot of the “Jaws” sighting and for two days kept vigilance until dusk. News crews in white vans scanned the opening to the ocean with binoculars while helicopters patrolled the bay. Where were they now? Had they grown impatient for a glimpse of the legend?
    My beating heart caused ripples in the puddle of sea water, a result of a faulty bilge pump. Could that shark sense my heat through the resonating water? I’d heard about Great White attacks. They stick their heads out of the water and ogle fishermen before capsizing the boat with a flick of their tail or a bite through the hull. Maybe it wanted to be sure the meal was worth the work. Would I be worth the work?
    Someone on the beach must have seen that fin. My ears strained to hear the alarm. Instead, I heard laughter, talk from a Boat’s loud speaker, and splashing. The tourists and locals must have taken the absence of the news crews and lifeguards as a sign that the scare was over.
    A Seal Watcher boat trolled past me in search of the elusive whiskered face. I lifted my head, mustered all the intestinal fortitude I could, and croaked, “Shark!” just as the passengers in the overloaded boat yelled, “There’s one!” Cameras clicked as people leaned over the side for their picture of a lifetime.
    “Yes, there’s a really big one a few feet off the stern,” The intercom boomed. “I guess everyone here heard about the Jaws scare we’ve had these past days,” he continued with a hint of glee in his voice. “Well, since the sand bar was broken by the nor’easter last month, the seaward homes are not the only things in danger of being swallowed up.” The children laughed at the guide’s wit. “That cute little fellow right there is Jaws favorite food and…”
    If water were glass, you could have heard a shattering crash as a seal flew into the air and was snapped in half by the shark that disappeared into the bloody water. The sound of the huge after-splash filled with seal entrails diminished the screams of terror.
    It wasn’t the news crew that got the coveted shot. The picture of the severed seal in the jaws of the breaching Great White was sent to Boston News via cell phone, by 12 year old Johnny who might be thankful he lives in Idaho.

    Author Bio: Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos http://www.survivingcancerland.com Twitter@ PshchicHealing is an agented author (Scovil, Galen & Ghosh) of SURVIVING CANCERLAND: the Psychic Aspects of Healing. Kathy writes for a number of ezines and blog sites that can be viewed on her web page and by Googling her at Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanaovs

  2. Tricia Simpson

    "Lilly, do you feel that?"

    "Franny, I may be getting old; my hearing’s going, my hip gives out, and I’m going blind, but when the boat I’m in is rocking like it’s about to tip, I can feel it." Lilly grabbed the side of the rowboat, letting go only long enough to wipe the sweat from her wrinkled brow.

    Franny crossed herself. "What do we do if we tip? Neither of us can swim."

    "I don’t know what you’re going to do, but since this wasn’t my idea, if I fall in I plan to use you as my life preserver." The boat continued to rock.

    Franny waved her hand to shush Lilly. She didn’t know why she’d brought Lilly out here in the first place. It was supposed to be a peaceful picnic on the water. But all Lilly had done was whine about the heat, the bugs, the lunch, and now that life preserver comment was too much. Franny needed it quiet so she could think. Carefully she peered over the edge of the the rowboat and gasped. She had only caught a glimpse of something she’d thought was gone forever. She had to look again to make sure. It was her husband. Last year they’d come out on the lake for a picnic. Difference was he accidentally fell in after eating a sleeping pill sandwich. The weights were still around his ankles and wrists. How had he risen from the grave? Bits of flesh and clothes were clinging to the bones. His face was intact except for the empty eye sockets staring up at her.

    "What’s going on? What do you see?" Lilly shifted her weight, trying to look over the edge. The champagne was going to her head, making her sleepy.

    "Don’t move! You’re going to tip us over. It’s just an old log." Franny pushed the oar into her husband’s chest, trying to push him back underwater. It didn’t work; he was stuck to the underside of the boat. Franny was glad to see Lilly’s eyes starting to droop. "Here, have another glass. It will help calm your nerves." It was the right thing to say. Lilly eagerly held out her glass, and Franny filled it clear to the top.

    At last Lilly was asleep. Franny called to her and pushed her with the paddle. Lilly answered with a snort. Now Franny could get to work. She leaned over, freeing the first weight from her husband’s wrist. Maybe if she got them off, they would think it was an accidental drowning. She turned the body, reached the next weight. Two tugs. It was almost off when the boat shifted and Franny fell into the lake. Her watch tangled in the chains. She and her husband sank to the bottom of the lake.

    Hours later Lilly woke. "Sorry, I must’ve…" Franny wasn’t in the boat. "Just like the selfish woman, she went swimming and took the oars with her." Lilly refilled her champagne glass.

  3. Martha W

    Zac- nice, nice, nice! Love this tip and will probably employ it today, er, maybe tomorrow? Yeah, tomorrow! No. Today. Right after I read the stuff on WD. *grin*

    Mark – once again, awesome job. And I owe ya lunch. Again.


    The boat rocked back and forth, and I peered over the edge, catching a glimpse of something I thought was gone forever. Small and silver, it winked up at me. Like it knew I would be there, just to see it shine under those few inches of water.

    My eyes teared up thinking about that day so long ago when even these few inches were like the Mariana Trench. To a six-year old, a foot of liquid is a lot. My brother was never known for his compassion where his younger sibling was concerned, still isn’t for that fact. But that day, he reached a new low.

    I was playing with my favorite coin, a 1974 Eisenhower Silver Dollar, out on the dock. I probably shouldn’t have been. I mean, my grandad had given it to me when I was born – six long years I kept that Eisenhower safe. Mike came strolling up, asked what I was doing. Squinting up into the sun to see him, I said I wasn’t doing anything. Just chilling. He laughed and asked why I took that stupid coin everywhere. I just shrugged.

    Apparently that was the wrong approach.

    He snarled at me to quit ignoring him and snatched the coin out of my fingers. We wrestled there on the old wood planks for a few before he gave that silver gem a fling out over the water. I stopped moving, watching the flashing arc as it sailed away from me. The second it touched the water, without thinking, I turned and punched him in the face.

    For the first time ever, we were grounded at the cabin. Mike and I don’t talk about it. It’s like the plague between us. But now, looking down at my piece of treasure, the years and hurt fall away as I reach carefully over the side. Stretching, my fingers close around the beautiful coin.

    I pulled it out and let it glint in the sun. My son was immediately drawn to it, wanting it for his own. Of course, I told him he’d have to wait until he got to shore. We needed to show Uncle Mike.

    As we rowed the last couple of feet into the dock, Mike met us there, squatted back on his heels. "What’d ya find out there, Doug?"

    I held it up, tears filling my eyes again. His own eyes grew round and he held out a hand to help me onto the warm, smooth boards we’d used to replace the old ones last summer. Just when I thought he’d let me go, he pulled me straight into a big bear hug. Soon I realized he was trembling. When I leaned back to see his face, he had tears too.

    The apology I had wanted most I no longer needed. I smiled at him, clapped him on the back, "Let’s go, Mike. Time for a beer."

  4. Mark James

    Zac: This is my favorite WD tip so far. It’s bad when you’re in the middle of a project and you read something like: "Publishing is Dead". Kind of takes the wind out of my sails. It’s funny. Never occurred to me to just STOP reading trade news ’til my project’s done. Thanks for the tip.

    My boat rocks back and forth, goes up and down on the waves. It’s a little boat. Or maybe it’s a big ocean. I been out here too long to know.

    I’m sorry.

    Whatever I did to piss off God, I’m real sorry, but a man has to make a living don’t he? It’s not my fault I’m only good at the one thing, is it?

    Three cigarettes, four matches, one GPS dud, zero luck; dead man’s inventory, I call it.

    When you’re on the run, nobody’s your friend; believe it. I called up everyone I know. You think any of them helped?

    Then Frank called me. There I was in that back alley, sleeping with winos and rats, and my freaking cell phone went off.

    The winos looked at me like I’d learned to sing soprano. The rats were real close, waiting for me to stop breathing; they ran.

    Frank told me about a job. Said if I pulled it off, he’d get me out, send me some place where I wasn’t gonna be found.

    The job was this old guy. I don’t know who he was, or what he did to Frank. I didn’t care. To me, he looked like my passport out.

    At the end, he did this funny thing, a weird sign with his fingers; made my skin crawl.

    When I finished the job, I called the number Frank gave me. Guy on the other end said to meet him on the pier at midnight.

    I got there, and he told me how it was gonna happen.

    A lifeboat wasn’t my idea of a getaway car, but hey, beggars ain’t choosers, right?

    He gave me this fancy GPS thing, no bigger than my cell phone and told me, “Wait ‘til you don’t hear my ship, then press the button.”

    The button was real easy to find. It’s only got one.

    When the yacht was so far out we couldn’t see land, they lowered us over the side, me and some other guy to row the boat.

    He rowed us out a ways, then jumped in the water, swam back to the yacht.

    I was tired. I lay down, waiting for the yacht’s engine noise to fade away.

    Next thing I knew, sun was shining in my face. I sat up fast. And where was I? Damn if I know; middle of the ocean some place.

    I pressed the button on the GPS thing. Didn’t light up like when they showed me on the yacht. I tried it again.


    When the screaming started, I think it was going on three days out here. Didn’t know it was me at first. I heard a whole of lot screaming in my time; could have been any one of them.

    I been looking over the edge, hoping I don’t see shark fins. Then today, I looked over the edge, caught a glimpse of something I thought was gone forever.

    It was the old man, except he had a face. He didn’t have a face last time I saw him. I blew it all to pieces. But he’s got one now. He’s been down there all day, laughing.

    I got one match left. After I smoke my last cigarette, I’m gonna dive in after him, see if I can’t get it right this time.

  5. Nathan Honoré

    And the people all said “Sit down,” cause this boat is rocking, baby. Even to the eye of a child, you can tell I am not a seasoned sailor. I stumble…and bumble, and nearly plummet into the ridiculously calm water and BAM. I see it. My wolverine action figure from when I was eight lays waiting. That was one of the biggest mistakes of my young life. The item of my once ultimate fixation had retractable claws…RETRACTABLE!!! This was back in the day, before action figures could move every joint imaginable.

    I remember that day so clearly. Playing in the waters of Lake Michigan, I was tossing my beloved figure as high as it could go, catching it just as it would fall to the water. But one toss didn’t go according to plan. Uncontrollable giggling caused me to falter. However, all hope was not lost. Concentrating to the fullest of my eight year old abilities, I located Weapon X with my feet. Being of the husky build, I was far from spry. All attempts failed miserably. I even tried hopping towards the shore with my prized possession betwixt my feet. And of course, I failed miserably.

    Time ran out and I was forced to go home. My parents noticed I wasn’t playing with my week-old favorite toy. Not wanting to disappoint, after I fought so hard for them to buy me my toy, I lied. I described to them exactly what I did, except that I didn’t do it, Carlo did. Long story short, his family ended up moving to Thailand and nobody knows the truth.

    Oh Wolverine action figure, we hardly knew ye.

  6. Icy Sedgwick

    Oh no, is that what I think it is? It can’t be, but it is. Right there below the boat. A dark red 1972 Dodge Charger. Rust spots the hood like automotive acne. I briefly catch sight of the Barbie doll head hung from the rear view mirror. The blonde hair floats in dark green water, caught in listless currents. A white hand still grips the steering wheel, swollen flesh pocked with fish bites. The rope binding the arms to the seat is almost rotted away.

    A motorboat blasts by, shattering the tranquility of the lake. The wake rocks my boat, sending splashes of cold water over my legs. The force of the wake stirs the Charger. The rope gives way and a body slumps forwards. Bill’s bloated face gazes up at me, his eyes open and accusing. The skin around his mouth hangs in strips, his jaw contorted in a grin. I scream while Bill laughs.

    You can never keep a bad man down.


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