The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers

The best books start here.

Category: Inspiration

7-habits-of-highly-effective-people-habit-oneSeptember—ah, September! The hot haze of summer has blown away, and along with it our laid-back summer ways. The publishing industry, which has been snoozing away these last few weeks, is back from its vacation, and editors are at their desks and ever-anxious to discover that One. Perfect. Novel.

There’s something so energizing about back to school time. It always makes me think of getting organized, setting new goals, and accomplishing them. And is there a better time than back-to-school to refresh your commitment to your craft, your creativity, and your goals as a writer? I think not.

With that in mind, I’ve cobbled together a list of advice about the act of writing. You’ve heard some of it before, no doubt, but if you try doing just one of the things on this list,  … [more]

Well, Labor Day is past and so we here at the Crow hope you all are settling down to some serious work. We certainly are.

mametAmong the many helps we’ve found during our off time is this memo from the mighty David Mamet—the profane, too-often-too-thinky, shamelessly wordy (and so close to my heart) playwright, director, and essayist. His sage advice keeps us focused, our eyes on the prize and our noses to the grindstone and our shoulders to every cliché within shouting distance.

On the off chance his admonitions might help you, you can find them here. This is a note he sent to the writers of the now-defunct television show The Unit, which, despite its unfortunate name, has at least given us this kick in the ass.

Okay, summer’s over! Now put … [more]

marginaliaThere are two sorts of people in the world: Those who write in and mark up books; and those who view those of us who do write in books as sacrilegious pigs.

Okay, okay—maybe there are a few other sorts of people. (I’ve never been a fan of that whole “There are two kinds of people” routine, except where it is inarguable: women/men; living/dead; rational people/fans of Glenn Beck.)

Myself, I’ve gone from treating every book as a sancrosanct object (as a boy) to routinely scribbling in books (as an adult). Some I so love that I want to puzzle out how they work, and I buy multiple copies and mark them up (Moore, Munro, Cheever, Konigsburg, others). Some books I find so maddening that I have to immediately vent my hooting disdain (among them … [more]

twentyI was fortunate enough last summer to speak with Bruce Coville at an SCBWI event in Orlando. (He’s an amazing speaker—truly amazing—and if you catch word that he is speaking somewhere, by all means go and see him.) Bruce mentioned something he called “The Rule of Twenty.” He doesn’t recall where he picked it up—a business article? a self-help book? a primer on original thinking?—but wherever it came from, I have since relied on it and relied on it often.

What is it? Put most simply, it is this: It is only when one reaches the twentieth or so idea that one starts entering the realm of the truly original idea.

The first five or ten? Those are the obvious ones that the brain goes to along its well-traveled paths. Most people’s heads … [more]

tbd10If you’re a young adult writer, reader, librarian, or merely a fan of books, you should be paying attention to the folks at Readergirlz, Guys Lit Wire, and YALSA. For Operation Teen Book Drop, these three great organizations are working to get 10,000 new books for teens into the hands of kids who may not otherwise have a chance to read them. In previous years they’ve donated to books to hospitalized teens; this year, the 10,000 books will going straight to Native American teens living in tribal lands. … [more]

Yes, yes, BIG DEAL, you say. (Really, you should be nicer.)

But we are simple folk and made proud by all sorts of little things, and we’re proud that we’ve (mostly) kept up with this here group endeavor.

And so my long explanation of what subsidiary rights are and why authors should hold on to them will have to wait. (Sorry, Steve.) Instead, a wee celebratory tune from Frank Turner, the greatest musician you do not know. This song, “Photosynthesis,” is from his achingly awesome record Love, Ire & Song. I love this guy so much. Just saw him perform last week in a record store here in New York. He was tremendous.

As is this song. Here he and these kids are speaking for all of us in children’s books. But especially … [more]

shovelWriters generally hate being asked where they get their ideas. Neil Gaiman tackled the issue on his website (my favorite reply he used to give to the question is “From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis”). In On Writing Stephen King quipped that he got his ideas from “a small, bloodthirsty elf who lives in a hole under my desk.” Of course, if you can’t afford trips to Bognor Regis and you feel the imprisonment of elves, however thirsty for blood they are,  to be inhumane, you’re likely forced to come up with more creative ways to speed the muse.

King (after the elf admission) recommended asking “what if” questions for inspiration. Other authors scour the news for ideas, and look for simple stories they can then adapt and personalize. Some writers look to … [more]

jdsalingerAs news of J.D. Salinger’s death spread across the internet today, I couldn’t help but feel deeply saddened. Yes, he hasn’t published new work in 45 years. Yes, his reclusive ways may have overshadowed his literary talent. But goddam could the man write.

Say what you want of him: Many call him overrated or think his books are too dated to hold up to today’s standards, and accounts of Salinger the man paint him as everything from ornery to completely nuts, but there’s no arguing his brief time spent in the limelight of American publishing had a great impact on books and writers for years. Some even claim that The Catcher in the Rye paved the way for what would become Young Adult literature. I think that’s probably stretching it a bit, but there’s no … [more]


In 1974, one of the great editors in the history of children’s books, Susan Hirschman, launched Greenwillow Books. She had left Macmillan (a long-ago and vastly different company from the one that exists now) for reasons of principle, and was asked by William H. Morrow (a long-ago and vastly different company from the one that exists now) to create a new children’s line.


The name of the imprint came from a picture book by Elizabeth Coatsworth (called Under the Green Willow); the logo was inspired by the book and created by art director Ava Weiss; and the inaugural list, in 1975, included many of the giant talents Hirschman had published elsewhere—Ezra Jack Keats, Anita Lobel, Tana Hoban, and others—making Greenwillow’s debut one of the richest and most fully-formed the industry has seen before or … [more]

freedom128No, I’m not talking about the indentured servitude contract Chris Richman and I agreed to when we booked passage here from the Old Country. We’re still in thrall to our master and doing dishes to earn our room and board. Rather, I’m talking about a little piece of shareware called Freedom. It forcibly stops users from accessing the internet. (That little clock to the right is its desktop icon.)

FreedomscreenIf you’re anything like me, then you find it hard to stop yourself from checking things throughout the day. Your four email accounts, your Twitter feed, internet messenger windows, that time-suck called Facebook, Goodreads, this blog, and a bazillion other inveigling things worm their way into your serene office and distract you from the Work That Must Be Done. Some of you have self control and … [more]