Sunday, March 29, 2015

My first Pitch-O-Rama!

pitch-o-ramaThis weekend I took another step in my development as a writer—I participated in my first Pitch-O-Rama: two hour-long sessions of speed-dating for agents and writers.

And I was terrified.

I’ve learned how to write query letters, various lengths of synopses, and even 140-character twitter pitches. But to sit down in front of an agent with only a few minutes to convince them to take a look at my manuscript? I had no idea where to begin.

Luckily for me, the day started out with a mentoring session; I was in Betsy Graziani Fasbinder’s group, and she was amazing. She had each author in her group give their pitch, and then gave them pointers on how to efficiently and effectively communicate what was important about their particular project. She has a gift for quickly evaluating and re-tuning that makes you feel supported and empowered in a few minutes; I left our session feeling far more confident that I would be able to maximize the day's opportunities.

She also gave us some excellent general advice:

    My terror before the mentoring...
  • Take a moment to connect with the agent, even if just to ask how they are today. Don’t instantly jump into the pitch.

  • If the agent seems to desperately need a moment to drink some water, catch their breath, etc., give it to them. Basic human decency is highly underrated, and highly appreciated. 

  • Don’t read from notes, or memorize a spiel. Nobody likes that monotone and lack of connection that comes from reading/memorizing, and agents hate this. Know what you want to communicate, but have an authentic conversation. 

  • Don’t give a plot synopsis. Communicate the essence of your project—genre, audience, core idea, why you're the right person to write it, and why it will sell.

  • You’re looking for a match, not a sale. This was a huge revelation for me. You have a specific product to sell. They have a specific market they’re trying to buy for. The question is, is there a fit between you? It’s not personal if there isn’t, and it’s not about saying what they want to hear. You want to find the agent that can represent your book well, not trick an agent into looking at something that isn’t right for them.

  • Open your body up and breathe.  Betsy explained that when you’re tense and sitting with your arms all crossed or pulled into yourself, you constrict your chest and breathe less easily, and all this makes it more likely you’ll get those shaky hands and knees. That makes you feel even more nervous, and makes you look nervous, too.

Not only did I find these events intimidating before today, I wasn’t sure how useful they were, regardless. I’m a complete convert. The truth is, agents know very quickly if they want your project or not, and this is a great way to sort through potential agents to find one who will actually be interested in your query. It’s also a great way for authors to get a feel for who the agent is as an individual; hours of research on the web can’t tell you if there is something about the person you will/won’t connect with—maybe you’ve heard an agent can be brusque and off-putting, but when you speak to her in person, you realize she just likes to cut to the chase. And for me, the event helped me hone my ability to think and talk about my project in ways that will transfer to other situations.

If you’ve never gone to one of these events, I encourage you to do so. And to help you with your first time, here’s some specific advice based on my experience:

    They're just people like anyone else...
  • Research the agents before you go. Determine which agents are the best potential matches for your project, and rank order them. Learn about who they are, not just what their wish-list is. At my event, if there were more than 10 people in line, I knew I wouldn’t get to see that agent, and I only had seconds to pick the next line before it filled up. Thank goodness I knew exactly who I wanted to see, and why.

  • If there are opportunities to work with mentors, take them. Even if you think you’re pitch-perfect. A lot of what I thought would have been right turned out to be wrong--like giving any plot synopsis.

  • If all the agents you want are booked for that session, talk to someone else, anyway. I spotted an agent who didn’t have anyone in her line, and asked if I could practice my pitch on her and see if she possibly knew anyone that might be interested in it. She was welcoming and helpful.

  • Put your focus on honing your ability to pitch and navigate the event, not on how many agents request a query; you’re learning an important skill. Soak up everything you can, including any feedback about your project, your pitch, or the market. Ask questions about the current market if you have a chance. This way you’ll walk away with value even if you get no invitations to query; and, ironically, when you take the pressure off of yourself you'll perform better anyway. 

  • Talk to other authors in line while you wait. Practice your pitch, and let them practice theirs. Listen. You never know when the person in line with you knows someone or something that can help you, or when you’ll know someone or something that can help someone else. An author in line behind me had a problem I knew the answer to, and it felt good to help someone else. 

So how did my day go? I learned a lot, and feel more confident in my ability to pitch my work. I also feel like I have another skill in my author tool-kit now. 

Oh, and got three invitations to query. Guess what I've been working on today? :)

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My short essay, Impossibly Tiny, has been published!


Just a short note today because I'm excited to announce that my short essay (just under 800 words) has been published! It's called Impossibly Tiny, and it's the true story of a sick kitten I found and raced to save; he taught me an important life lesson I really needed at that point in my life.

If you'd like to read it, you can find it by clicking here, published in Elephant Journal. And here's a teaser shot of the kitten:

Little Neo about a week and a half after I found him. :)

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Adventures in Beta Reading

No author can write in a complete vacuum; we have to know how our writing is received by readers. What’s clear to you may be confusing to your readers; what seems subtle to you may be incredibly obvious to someone else. If you want to be a successful writer, you’re gonna need feedback. And since most beta-reading is done in manuscript swaps, you’re gonna have to give it, too.

I’ve gone through several rounds now both getting feedback from beta readers on my first novel, and acting as a beta reader for other writers. I’ve emerged older and (hopefully) wiser, thanks to quite a few mistakes. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

If you’re asking people to beta read for you:

(1) Don’t send out incomplete or unfinished work. This sounds contradictory—obviously the work isn’t ‘finished’ if you’re looking for feedback. What I mean is, if you know that you need to go back and tighten the writing up or fill in some of the dialog, don’t ask people to read the work yet. Fix all that stuff, and then send it out. Also, don’t send out a few chapters while you finish the rest. In order to get a true reaction, your reader needs to be able to read the entire thing in a way that flows naturally for them.

(2) Pick readers that are appropriate for your manuscript. Make sure your readers like your genre and are in your target demographic. If you have a 20-year-old male read a book intended for 40-year-old women, his feedback will not be helpful, and vice versa. If you’ve written a mystery and your reader hates mysteries, you're probably not going to get what you need.

(3) Pick readers that have the right skill-set. I’ve found that the best beta readers, by far, are other writers. People who are prolific readers can also be good. But friends who don't read much are probably not the best bet, even if they do want to do you a favor. Another ‘skill’ you need is the ability to be honest, so be careful when asking friends. If both of you are comfortable with the possibility of a negative reaction to your book, great. But if your friend is worried about how their honesty will impact your friendship, then they won’t be giving you real feedback anyway--so what’s the point?

(4) Give your readers a time-frame. Ask them if they can get back to you by a certain date; if they can't, thank them, but find someone else. Once you're underway, send your readers a reminder about a week before your due date—time flies, and they may have forgotten. If you haven’t received feedback by the due date, send a gentle e-mail asking about the status; if you still don't hear back or they don't follow through after another week, find another reader. Don't make the mistake of thinking, "oh, I'll give them just one more week/month...", without asking someone else in the meantime. If the original reader does get back to you, great! But if they don't, you'll be out of luck if you haven't asked anyone else.

(5) Specify what you want from your readers. If you are looking for feedback on what works and what doesn’t, but don’t yet need feedback on typos/grammar, make that clear to your readers. Otherwise you may get back a line-edited manuscript that gives no insight into whether or not you’ve told your story effectively.

(6) Use at least three beta readers. A widely bandied-about principle regarding feedback is the ‘rule of two’: if two people agree that something needs to change, you should consider changing it. So two should be enough, right? Wrong. If you only have two readers, you risk ending up in a situation where the two readers disagree on some, if not all, of their feedback (yes, this has happened to me!). And then all you can do is stare at the feedback and wonder whose you should take, until your head explodes. And brains are really hard to get out of the carpet. With three readers, you have a built in tie-breaker. And if you can get more than three—awesome!

(7) Remember you don’t have to take any suggestion you don’t agree with. Just make sure you aren’t rejecting it out of stubbornness, fear, or hurt. Consider it with an open mind, maybe even do some re-writing with the suggestion in mind, and if you just believe the suggestion doesn’t work, go with your gut. It’s your piece/book, and you’re the one that has to proudly hand it to agents/publishers.

(8) Don’t take the feedback personally. People aren’t spending hours of their time just to hate on you. Seriously now. And if they are, they have waaay worse problems than you do. Always assume the reader is trying to help you, because they really are.

(9) Thank your readers in a genuine way. I’ve had people not respond when I sent my feedback, and I’ve had very passive-aggressive responses that thanked me but let me know they were upset  about what I'd said. On the other hand, I’ve had lots of people thank me in a way that let me know they really appreciated my time and my insight. Since I don’t have time to beta read for everyone who asks me—guess who I’ll be willing to read for again?

If you’re beta reading for someone: 

(1) Remember that this is extremely important to the author. Not important like ‘Hey, can you stop on your way and pick up some ice?’ but important like ‘This is my livelihood and may make the difference in my ability to pay rent.’. If you say you’re going to get back to them in a month and it takes you six months, that’s a five month delay to their potential paycheck. You might be thinking ‘Hey! I’m doing them a favor!’ You are ONLY IF you take it seriously and do it in a timely fashion; otherwise, you’re doing damage. This isn’t checking a book out of the library and forgetting to read it before it’s due. Imagine how you’d feel if your paycheck was sent to a friend, and for months they kept forgetting to bring it to you. Not cool, right? Neither is making your author wait months for your feedback when they’re trying to write and publish a book.

(2) Be honest with yourself and them. If you are worried that you can’t be honest with them, or you know there’s no way you can get it done in the time frame they’re requesting, don’t agree to read for them. If you truly believe you can and then something changes, tell them as soon as you can so they're able to get someone else to do it. Keep that paycheck metaphor in mind.

(3) If you’re not sure what your writer wants from you, ask them. Maybe they weren’t very clear to start with, or maybe you’d had one too many margaritas when you were talking about it with them. Either way, ask what they need from you, don’t guess.

(4) Respect your author’s writing process. If they tell you they aren’t ready to edit for typos and grammar yet, don’t send them back a manuscript edited for typos and grammar. Your author may have to completely rewrite scenes and even delete entire scenes; they will be putting new things in and taking old things out. No matter what, by the time they do what needs to be done, your line-editing (typo/grammar feedback) is obsolete. But during a final round of feedback, catching typos and grammar errors may be crucial. Just don’t waste your time and theirs doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.

(5) Respect your author’s feedback process. Imagine this: you just sat in a big pile of something really gross and didn’t realize it. You’d want someone to tell you so you can fix it, but that doesn’t mean it's the most pleasant moment in your day, right? You’d probably have an ‘oh crap!’ moment, run to fix it, and then be very, very grateful. Along the same lines, writers want to know what isn’t working, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to instantly yell “Woo-hoo! I’ve never been so happy in my life, this feels so good!’ when they find out what it is. It’s a serious moment, and they may need a little time and space to read, think, and process. Trust that they know how to do this in a way that works for them. If they ask for your feedback in writing, don’t insist on giving it face-to-face over coffee, and if they want it face-to-face, don’t insist on giving it over text message. Some authors want a written record of your feedback so they can go back and consult it repeatedly as they work. Some authors want the vocal and visual cues from your face when you tell them what you think. Unless it’s extremely inconvenient for you, honor their wishes.

(6) Re-read your comments before sending. Remember things come off harsher in writing, and remember that you can be honest without being harsh or cruel. And always-always-always remember that your author wants to know what worked as well as what didn't. Find something nice to say, and make sure that even the negative is couched in terms of 'this can be improved' rather than 'this sucks'.

(7) Don’t be offended if your writer doesn’t make the changes you suggest. This doesn’t mean they aren’t grateful, they are. But there are many reasons why they might choose to go a different direction. Maybe you felt something was too obvious, but all their other readers were stymied. Maybe a scene was too gory for you, and made you want to vomit—but that’s exactly the reaction they were going for. Maybe you’re just far more insightful and awesome than the average reader. Your author is trying to make decisions that work, based on a variety of opinions, including yours.

Above all, whether you're the reader or the writer, remember that you've been given a compliment, and you are valued. Someone is trusting you with their blood, sweat and tears, or someone is giving up their precious time to help you. Keep that close to your heart no matter which role you're playing. :)

Happy writing!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The power of the free-write

The first time a teacher asked me to free-write, my reaction was fairly typical—you want me to what? Why? 

It’s very counterintuitive. Sit and write, even though you don’t know what to sit and write? Even if you’re just writing ‘I don’t know what to write’? No matter what, keep going? What good can that possibly be?

Ah, young Padawan. I had so much to learn.

Since those days, I’ve learned the power of the free-write, and it’s now one of my most valued tools—it’s my life-line, in fact. And I believe it answers at least two of the big questions that all writers get repeatedly pelted with.

“Don’t you ever get writer’s block?”

I no longer believe in writer’s block, and free-writing is one of two reasons why (the other is NaNoWriMo and how it gave me permission to turn off my internal editor). When I find myself sitting staring at a screen, I instantly start to free-write. It usually goes something like this: 

“Argh, why can’t I think of anything to write here? I can see the scene in my mind with all the trees and the water in the background, but for some reason I just can’t figure out what the two characters are gonna do here while they have their conversation. It feels stupid to have them just stroll by the riverside, but maybe I could have them find a tiny path or something…”

…And next thing I know I’m writing about a path that has an interesting hut at the end, and I’m off and running. Sometimes it happens almost immediately, sometimes not, but I’ve never had a free-write take more than four or five minutes to bring up an idea I can latch on to. It doesn’t have to be a perfect idea—I can adapt it later, but usually I don’t have to. Either way, it gets the writing flowing, and I have a productive session. The key is DO NOT STOP, keep writing until you get something you like. In the two years since I started doing this, I have never had it fail. 

“Where do you get your ideas from?”

Generally speaking, I’ve found the whole plot-bunny thing to be true: once I have one or two, they multiply, and mostly I just have to jot them down before I forget them. But there are still times when I have no ideas, or none that are appropriate for what I need to work on that day. 

For example, I just started a writing challenge for March (#MarWritingChallenge), and need to write 500 words each day for each day in March. But, I am at a revision-heavy place right now, so hadn’t put a whole lot of thought into what I’d write during the challenge. After knocking out the flash fiction ideas I had sitting around, I thought I’d start writing my fourth book, which I’m hoping will be a sequel to the last book I wrote. Only problem: I didn’t have a central murder plot.

So I sat down and and started a free-write; when I do this sort of free-write, I also make generous use of the ‘What-if-Yes!-And’ technique. (I don’t know who originated this because I’ve seen it in several places and couldn’t find the answer when I searched for it; if you know, please tell me so I can credit.) How it works is, ask yourself ‘What if’ questions, and always answer with ‘Yes! And…’, no matter how ridiculous the questions or the answers seem in the moment. So it might go like this:

“What if Semarra got hit in the head with a fish? Yes! And she turns around to see who threw it at her, and it turns out to be this guy she went to high school with. And what if she’d had a crush on that guy in high school? Yes! And it turns out he had a crush on her, too. And what if he’s in Cypress Grove to try to find his biological parents because he just found out he’s adopted? Yes! And they live there but then when he goes to meet his mother, he finds out she died that morning, from what looks like food poisioning? Yes! But of course it isn’t really food poisoning, and…”

(I literally just wrote that right now, trying to come up with an example for this blog post, and I love the idea it generated--I’m going to tuck it away for future use!)

Again, it doesn’t always happen so quickly, but I’ve never had it take very long. When I did my free-write the other night, I came up with a plot I love and a basic skeleton for how to turn it into a book--in fourteen minutes. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a LOT of work to be done even just sorting out the basic plot, but I now have a good, solid idea I didn’t have before. All because of a free-write.

And in the example above, I came up with a new idea I like—someone searching for their biological parent discovers the parent was recently murdered—a mere three sentences after starting out with a completely ridiculous starting premise of getting hit in the head with a fish. Why did I start with the fish? No idea, other than fish was the last meal I cooked, so I had fish on the brain. Imagine how much better your free-write will turn out when it starts off with a decent, if hazy, first question?

So what happens if you start writing and you follow your path and it leads to a dead end? No dead ends. Keep writing that next sentence, even if you think it’s complete nonsense. 

And what if you come up with a better idea while you’re answering one of your questions? Hey, let’s not get crazy now. Go with the better idea, of course. That’s what this whole thing is about—to allow your brain to come up with a good idea. Grab it, run with it—write it. 

So why does it work?

When you sit staring at the screen, your brain is, essentially, freezing up. Or worse, you’re putting all your energy into telling yourself you suck. That just activates the self-loathing part of the brain, and who needs more of that?  But when you start to write, no matter what you’re writing, each word activates related words and concepts in your brain. These then activate others, and start to play around with other words and concepts and anything else you’ve been thinking about recently, making this awesome word/concept/idea stew. So the more you write the more things you can think of to write, which activates more thoughts, which then activates a bunch more. It’s sort of like when you’re browsing in a library or bookstore; your eyes flit over different books until one captures your attention, and you pick it up and page through it. Something in it reminds you of a book you saw online the other day, so you go look for that. Next to it is another book that looks really cool, so you pick up that one, and so on—only during a free-write, the ‘books’ you’re picking up and considering are ‘words’ and ‘concepts’, which trigger ‘ideas’. The first ones may not be very helpful, but before too long, you’ll find something you want to check out.

So the next time you find yourself with a precious half-hour to write and your brain seizes up, don’t shake your fist at the universe in frustration. Start writing about how you want to shake your fist at the universe in frustration…and before you know it, something good will be popping out in those words of yours. 

Happy Writing!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review: Rayne Hall's Twitter for Writers

Submitted for your consideration: Twitter for Writers, by Rayne Hall.

I remember back when I first heard about response was something along the lines of 'Psh, nobody wants to hear about my life. Oh look, I just had a tuna-fish sandwich!'. I just couldn't imagine what I'd have to say in 140 characters that anyone would care to hear, and that cave-era perspective stayed with me for far too long.

Then, everywhere I turned, people were telling me that as I writer, I really should be active on Twitter. I still didn't really understand why, but started to tweet more. One afternoon I tweeted about a flash fiction piece I published, and put the hashtag #flashfiction on the tweet--and within a few hours, several flash fiction publications had followed me. That was an epiphany moment for me--hashtags aren't just fun things you add to a tweet, they have a useful purpose. And when used intelligently, twitter can help you connect with people who share your interests, people you probably would't know exist otherwise.

All well and good, but I still didn't really know what I was doing. Thankfully, I found two things that have helped me almost overnight--a writer friend who gave me a ton of tips (sorry, she's not for sale), and a book I found: Twitter for Writers, by Rayne Hall

Where did I find it? Why, on Twitter, of course. I was playing around with hashtags, just seeing what I could find, and I saw a tweet about it. At that time it was on sale for 99 cents, so I figured I couldn't go wrong.

The book has 36 short chapters that take you through creating your account to more advanced topics like lists, managing your account, apps, multiple accounts, and staying safe. Within each of these chapters, she gives information for beginners, a 'what not to do' section, advanced strategies, and a section on mistakes she's made and how you can learn from them. If you're a beginner, you can stick to the easy strategies, and come back to the rest when you're ready.

You may be thinking "Really? Come on, how complicated can this be?". I hear you, because that's what I thought, too. But you see, I didn't know how much I didn't know. For example, it never occurred to me that people scan feeds looking for certain avatars, so if you're the sort of person (like me) who likes to change your avatar picture often, you're just confusing your followers. Change your cover picture as often as you like, but keep that avatar picture consistent.

I also never liked Twitter because my feed was a huge mess--I could never figure out how people managed to sort through all those tweets! That's because nobody who knows better actually uses their feed as-is; they always use some method of filtering to get at what they want. Either via lists, hashtags, apps, or other methods, they pull out what they need at any given moment and ignore the rest. Huge epiphany--and now I'm able to interact with the people I want to interact with.

Admittedly, I was completely twitter challenged--I didn't even know you could create lists, or turn off people's retweets. I didn't realize there were whole events that used hashtags, and that you could use filters to make them easy to participate in. I didn't know you could attach pictures. And I certainly had no clue how to get followers that would actually be interested in what I had to say, and that I could build professional relationships with.

Twitter for Writers walked me through all of this, and tons more. Hall's writing is clear, accessible, easy to follow. I love that she's willing to admit the mistakes she made so you don't make the same ones. And for me, this book was worth the price just for the useful hashtags she shares.

Most of all, I appreciated Hall's emphasis on building genuine relationships. This doesn't mean having long, in-depth conversations with every one of your followers everyday--but it means you share genuine interests and will find one another's tweets potentially interesting. Reaching out to other authors, to readers, to other professionals in the industry not just to say 'look at me!', but to engage, share information, learn from one another. This is the approach that will build you a successful and useful network, and she stresses that throughout.

I was lucky enough to stumble on this when it was on sale for $0.99. The non-sale price is $9.99; I think it's worth every penny of that, and would have been delighted with it at full price. [PS: I just checked, and it's on sale again for $0.99! Strike while the iron's hot!!]

If you're a writer and you're baffled by Twitter or are looking to use it more efficiently, this book is for you. It has something to offer all but the most savvy users, and probably even a tip or two for them! In a time when social media is growing in importance everyday, Twitter for Writers is a wonderful addition to your writer's tool-kit.

Happy writing,

Thursday, March 5, 2015

February writing goals: Did I meet them?


Setting goals for myself only works if I do the whole evaluate-recalibrate it's time for some accountability!

Here are the goals I stated for the end of February:

By the end of February I will:
1) Have a query letter ready to go out to agents.
2) Send that query letter to at least five agents I have researched.*
3) Have finished the narrative summary revision pass of MMORPG.
4) Finish submitting 'Left Overs' (flash fiction piece).

Did I meet them?

Narrative summary revision pass of MMORPG?

Submission of my flash fiction piece? 
Check. In fact, it's been submitted twice, rejected, revised, retitled, and resubmitted.

Have a query letter ready to go out to agents?
Check. In fact, I prepared it, sent it, and then completely revised it. I have this strange thing wrong with my brain where no matter how much I edit something and recheck it, read it aloud, send it to friends/colleagues to evaluate, once I send it out to the actual intended target, suddenly I see a million flaws in it. So, it has been revised and is now new-and-improved for future submissions.

Send that query letter to five researched agents?
Um...Okay, so see, what had happened was? This turned out to be a little more complex than I had thought. Some agents want more than just an initial query letter, some want a synopsis or other materials, which I knew. But in my initial research pass, I didn't see many who wanted anything other than a one-page query; so I figured they ask for those other materials if they're interested in your query, and I'd write it as I was waiting to hear back. But, of course, the next set of agents that I identified as a good fit for Hazel-Green want more materials with the initial query, so I need to write that synopsis before I can move forward.

Plus, I just got some feedback from one of my beta-readers that makes me want to do some double-checking and possibly another revision pass; of course I need to do that before I send out any more query letters, because the last thing I want is to lose an interested agent because my materials aren't in top shape.

So, I'm revising this goal in light of these issues. By the end of March I will have a synopsis and a firm understanding of what needs to be done to Hazel-Green; I will also work on revising that and be done by the end of March, unless it turns out to be something more untenable than it seems at first glance.

Live and learn, right? One of the reasons I decided to write about my goals on the blog is so that I can share with other writers the bumps I hit along the road, and the things I learn, so hopefully this will help others become a little savvier about preparing for the submission process!

Happy writing!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Need a writers' support system? There's a social media community for that!

I may have mentioned that I'm the sort of person who can write in my little cave without emerging to see the sun for days on end. This is true for many writers, I think. We can be solitary creatures, and writing tends to be a solitary activity.

That's all well and good, until we need some support. Someone to hold us accountable for our stated goals. Someone to pat our shoulder when we get that story rejected--for the twentieth time. Someone to remind us that the best way out of any snafu we encounter as a writer is to keep writing. Someone to show us a video of babies dancing to bring the good feels back when all we can think about is how our writing is complete crap.

Our non-writing friends are great, but they often don't  understand what it is we do (or why the heck we do it), and not all of us are blessed with a bevy of writing friends. That's when it's nice to have a virtual writing community to support us.

As I've been working to learn more about social media for the purposes of my 'platform', I've discovered fun new ways to surround myself with others who are as obsessed with writing as I am. There are tons and tons, within genres, across genres, for different purposes. Here are a few of my current favorites:

1) #WriteClub: I'm not sure who originated the hashtag, but every Friday, the lovely people at @FriNightWrites on twitter put on a series of writing sprints under that hashtag. This technically only happens for a few hours in a given time-zone, but different people oversee the sprints in different time zones from all around the world, so the hashtag ends up being active all through the day. When the admin calls time, everyone reports how many words they were able to write during the sprint, and there's even one dedicated admin who has been tracking those numbers since the inception of the project, and reports how many cumulative words have been written. @TheSprintShack also runs sprints under this hashtag throughout the week, and people use it to connect through the week as well. This is a great way to get yourself motivated and get some words on that page!

2) #WritingChallenge: This is a group of writers who encourage each other to write 500 words per day for a month. There is at least one Facebook group associated with it, and you can always use the general hashtag (#WritingChallenge), but the actual hashtag changes each month (e.g., #MarWritingChallenge). Even if you're not a twitter person, you can check out the Facebook group for support that way.

3) Pinterest writing boards: This one is probably obvious but I have to mention it because I love visiting boards where people store writing advice and inspirational quotes. And the great thing about boards like this is there will inevitably be a quote that says something along the lines of 'Shouldn't you be writing right now? Go write!' Sort of like a built-in timer that reminds me I've spent enough time on Pinterest for now.

4) #AmWriting/#AmRevising: Search these hashtags for an instant community of folks who are pouring their blood, sweat and tears into their current work in progress (#WIP, btw). You'll find encouragement, solidarity, great quotes, and witty banter.

5) #PitchMadness, Pitchapalooza, #PitchWars: Each of these is an event that gives you an opportunity to have your work seen by an agent. Pitch Madness happens in February; writers submit a 35-word pitch for their novel, and agents fight over the best ones for a chance to read more from the author. Pitchapalooza is going on right now, and it's a NaNoWriMo-based event that can help you get some important feedback on your pitch. Pitch Wars happens in August, and mentors fight over which authors they get to mentor, to help you put together the best set of materials you can produce. In each case, a writing community springs up around the event to help one another produce the best work they can.

This is just the surface of the cool stuff you can find to help keep you writing out there on social media--there are thousands. Start following those hashtags and see where they lead you. Follow a few of the accounts, and twitter will suggest more--one is bound to suit your needs. And you can take advantage of it all from your couch, in your jammies.

You'll see me hanging out in these communities as @mishka824 on Twitter, Mishka824m on Pinterest (where I have my own writing board, of course!), and Michelle Chouinard on Google+.

Do you have any favorites virtual writing communties or secrets? Please share them with me!

Happy writing,