Thursday, April 21, 2011

Do You Use Lists?

April is traditionally the busiest month of the year for me. My Writer's Market and Poet's Market books are deep in their production schedules, my Poetic Asides blog runs the popular April PAD Challenge, and I'm usually busy with other fun projects. Last year, I admit that I became overwhelmed.

I felt like everything was coming at me from all directions, and I didn't know how to address one issue without completely failing at everything else. In fact, I felt about as hopeless as I've ever felt. And that's when I decided to create a daily task list.

This year, I've had more on my plate than ever before, and I actually feel in control (at least most of the time) of my destiny. I still have Writer's Market and Poet's Market; I attended the Blue Ridge Writers Conference and Austin International Poetry Festival; I released a self-published collection of poems that are nearly sold out; I've led 2 Tiger Cub den meetings; and oh yeah, there's still that April PAD Challenge over on Poetic Asides. Plus, I have lots of other daily emergencies to attend to, but like I said, I've been able to avoid feeling too overwhelmed through my use of a daily task list.

How My Task List Works
My task list is very simple. I use a composition book, so that I can have all my tasks centralized. In a 100-page composition book, I'll label 91 pages (or 13 weeks) with the day of the week and the date. The reason I include both day of the week and date is that I don't want to schedule weekday tasks on the weekend or vice versa. I leave 9 empty pages in the back--just in case I need them to make other notes or charts during that 13-week period. I've included a picture to illustrate my process.

As luck would have it, I am about to finish one Tasks book and start another.

On each day, I only list a manageable number of tasks. Let me repeat that: I only list a manageable number of tasks. I don't list out everything I could possibly get done, because minor emergencies and requests seem to arrive daily. I have to leave time to get those accomplished too.

This forces me to prioritize and break big tasks into smaller pieces that I can accomplish on each day. If I don't get everything finished on a certain day, then I have to move that task on to another day--and depending upon how involved that task is, it may force me to move other tasks around as well. The main thing I try to avoid is having a Mega-List that is completely impossible to achieve, because that sends me back to where I was in April 2010.

Do You Use Lists?
Sometimes a list can reassure; other times, it can intimidate. Either way, lists do give writers something to cross out, which is essential to keeping focus in trying times. My question to readers is this: Do you use lists? If so, how (and when) do you use them?


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Inspired to create your own lo-tech task lists?
Buy a bundle of composition books. They're definitely handy for task lists, but I also like them for composing poetry and outlining my fiction and nonfiction.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Recipe: Beef Stew

It's been a while since I've shared a recipe on here, but today I'm making one of my favorite "easy" dishes. It's a crock pot recipe that I'm able to get started during my lunch break and let cook the rest of the afternoon until dinner time. That's perfect for me today, because I've been busy doing editorial work and trying to pack for my trip up to Ohio tres early tomorrow morning.
Here's my beef stew recipe:


Olive oil (for browning meat)
Beef for stew (usually comes in 1 lb. packages)
Garlic Powder
1/2 cup Flour
Large Onion (I prefer sweet onions)
Baby Carrots
15 oz. can of Tomato Sauce (fill empty can with water too)
1/2 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Basil
Bag of Potatoes

  1. Flour beef in a bowl.
  2. Season floured beef with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  3. Coat pan with olive oil and brown the outside of the beef. Don't cook all the way through, it'll be finished off in the crock pot.
  4. Dump browned beef, tomato sauce, can of water, baby carrots, oregano and basil in crock pot.
  5. Either chop or peel apart (my preference) onion and add into the mix.
  6. Clean and chop up a few celery stalks and add into mix.
  7. Turn crock pot on high and turn down later. The longer it cooks the more everything blends.
  8. About 2 hours before dinner, slice up some potatoes into bite-size pieces and add them into the mix. You can do this step at the beginning if needed, but potatoes don't take as long to soften.
Like I said, I can usually fix this up during my lunch break and still have lunch. Then, the smells drift throughout the apartment all day while I'm focused on other things--like editing and doing battle with databases!

This recipe is really easy, and it tastes great for the original meal. If you're lucky enough to have leftovers, I actually love this even more when it's re-heated the next day or two (not that we usually have any left two days later).


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


In case, you're interested in fixing something else, I also have recipes for:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

When Should Writers Worry About Copyright?

Writers are the type of people who are often asking questions and considering possibilities. This can be a great thing, because writers will often think of things that no one else has considered. This can also be a bad thing, because writers (myself included) will worry over things that are not that important. One of the more common worry points for unknown writers is copyright.

No one wants to steal your work (when no one knows who you are)
When I attend writing events, big and small, I am often asked about when and how to register copyright. Writers are afraid that there are people out there poised in the shadows, ready to steal their manuscripts and make millions off them. However, that's not something that typically happens. After more than a decade of working in the publishing industry, I can tell you that I don't have a first person story of someone trying to steal another person's work that needed to be solved through court.

I'm not saying that a story (or two) doesn't exist, but I've come into contact with a lot of writers over the years. The only thefts I've heard of that can be verified are of super famous writers, like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. Then, there are a few "friend of a friend of a friend" stories that sound more like urban legends than actual factual stories.

As an editor, I will put a mental red flag on manuscripts (or worse, pitches) that include a copyright symbol or mention, because I feel like that writer either doesn't trust me or isn't used to working in the publishing/media business. I'm usually a little overstretched, so I admit that I'm looking for writers who write well AND who seem like they'll be easy to work with. It's a small thing, but it can be important when I have more than enough great pitches from which to choose.

So, when should a writer be worried about copyright?
The more popular writers become the more they need to worry about theft, because someone may try to profit off their popularity by selling discounted, pirated versions of their books. Of course, these thieves are not worried about whether work is protected by copyright; they'll pirate the books anyway. However, having work registered with the United States Copyright Office (if living in the United States) affords writers a little more legal muscle in fighting those legal battles.

Many writers don't have to worry about registering the copyright, because the publishers will handle it. The publication rights sold should be defined in the contract. For a good article on copyright, check out "Copyright Law 101," by Amy Cook. Another great resource is to go directly to the United States Copyright Office's website. It provides information on copyright law and how to go about registering your manuscript.

By the way, a few things that cannot be copyrighted include ideas, titles, names, short phrases, and facts. Patents or trademarks may be available, but copyright is intended more for completed manuscripts, including articles, poems, books, and more. So if you're worried about someone stealing your idea for a book, there's nothing that copyright can do for you. Write the book, and you can protect yourself.

The bottom line: Don't stress over copyright before publication. It's more important to know which rights to retain early on (between the writer and the publisher) than to worry about manuscript bandits looking to hijack a manuscript by an unknown writer.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Want to learn more about the business of writing? Here are some great resources:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Speaking Tips for Writers

Earlier this month, I spoke at two very different events: Blue Ridge Writers' Conference (Blue Ridge, GA); and Austin International Poetry Festival (Austin, TX). Both were a blast, but I was able to take notes on what I like in speakers and what I'm not so keen on hearing. Of course, I'm always taking notes to try and improve my own speaking, but I'd like to share my observations with other writers who may have to speak, whether they're giving a PowerPoint presentation or reading a poem.
  1. Make your introduction brief. Like less than 30 seconds. If someone introduces you, skip the introduction completely, because you were just introduced. There's nothing that stalls a presentation or performance more than a two or three minute monologue before getting into the "meat" of things.
  2. Use the podium. If there is a podium or table, use it to hold your materials. Sometimes we shake when we read (even if we're not nervous, though especially if we are), and we shake more if we become conscious of our own shaking.
  3. Use the microphone. If there's a mic, use it. Sure your voice might carry without one, or you may have to fiddle with it a moment to adjust for your height, but people in the back can hear better when your voice is amplified. Trust me on this.
  4. Encourage audience interaction. When performing poetry, this means you can allow an audience to clap if they choose to clap. When giving a presentation, let the audience know whether it's appropriate to ask questions as you present or if you'll have a Q&A after the presentation is complete. Then, make sure there is a Q&A.
  5. Act confident. You might be terrified, but try not to let it show on the outside. To accomplish this, stand tall. Speak with conviction. Make eye contact. Most importantly, don't apologize. While you may know when you're making mistakes in front of an audience, many of them are probably unaware.
  6. Be organzied. If you're giving a presentation, have talking points ready to go before the presentation. If you're reading poems (or from a fiction/nonfiction book), have your selections planned out before you hit the stage. Organization goes a long way in how the audience perceives you and how you perceive yourself.
  7. Slow down. This is an important tip, because many people automatically start talking fast, especially if they know they're on the clock. I try to remember to breathe and pause in appropriate places. Nothing awkward, just long enough to allow my audience to digest what I just said.
  8. Make personal, add humor. Sometimes your jokes will not be personal. Sometimes your personal stories will not be humorous. Sometimes the stars will align and both will coincide, and that's when you'll engage your audience the most. While I advise humor and personal anecdotes, make sure they have context in your presentation.
  9. Stop before you're asked to leave. There's something to the thought of leaving the audience wanting more. Know your time. Wear a watch. And end a little early (like a minute or two). If the audience feels like the presentation or performance went by fast, they'll attribute it to your great speaking skills.
  10. Provide next steps and/or a conclusion. Depending on why you're speaking, you should have some kind of suggestion for your audience. Maybe it's to buy your chapbook or applaud the hosts. Maybe it's to put some of your advice into action immediately. If you're presenting a topic, it's a good idea to sum up all the main points before sending your audience back out into the world.
One bonus tip: Provide handouts. Whether you're reading poetry or leading a workshop on business management, handouts are a great way to let your audience have something tangible to take away with them. Your handouts should be helpful and relevant. They should also include your name and contact information, including your website or blog url. (Yes, it's a sneaky good marketing tool.)

Just remember, speaking is an activity. Most activities are hard to master unless you practice. So get out there and speak and realize that you're going to make mistakes early on. That's part of the learning process. Just dust yourself off and get out there again.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


If you're searching for someone to speak at your event or to your group, send me an e-mail at with the subject line "Speaking Opportunity" to get the ball rolling. I cover a wide range of topics and would love the opportunity to connect with your group or event.


Want even more advice from the experts? Check out these titles on public speaking:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Austin International Poetry Festival: My Experience

Wow! I just made it through my first ever Austin International Poetry Festival, and it was great! I guess that's all you need to know, right? Post over for people who like brevity; for everyone else, I'll go ahead and touch on some of the high points. I was pretty much in the poetry zone when I was awake between Thursday morning and Sunday afternoon--and even had a few poetry-related dreams during the festival.

But this trip started early on Wednesday morning, because I made the decision to drive to and from the event--partly because of the expense of air travel and partly to have freedom to get where I needed without hitching a ride. For those who are unaware, Duluth, Georgia, is approximately 950 miles from Austin, Texas, which means that I would've been listening to the Proclaimers if the trip had been another 50 miles.

I don't want to spend too much time on the actual driving part of the trip, but it was my first time driving through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. I traveled down to I-10 and followed that along the gulf coast. Top impressions:
  • The Interstate system is truly impressive. Much of Lousiana (and parts of Mississippi and Alabama too) consisted of an Interstate supported on bridges above swampland. It's one thing to throw some asphalt on the earth or even a mountain, but it's something else to have miles and miles (and miles) of Interstate laid out on supports that had to be planted into the swamps.
  • Lousiana has a gambling problem. There are radio commercials that offer help for those with gambling problems, and I think every gas station has a casino.
  • Texas is big. I knew this from looking on a map, but I didn't realize it until I actually crossed the border and saw the first mile marker, which read 880. Also, especially in Houston, this state has some seriously tall Interstate exchange bridges.
I should also mention that I made my trip without knowing where I was going to be staying until I was about an hour outside of Austin. Talk about taking a leap of faith. My host, Patricia Fiske, was really nice when I arrived and introduced me to my roommates, Paul Richmond (from Greenfield, MA) and Bob "Mud" McMahon (from Brisbane, Australia, and one of the International Features). We stayed in a condo next door to Patricia.

Paul and Bob were great roommates for a couple reasons. First, they were nice and very human. Second, they'd been to previous AIPFs, so they knew how the festival tended to operate. So I got to know my new roommates and then crashed.

Woke up and followed Paul and Bob to the Ruta Maya, which acted as HQ for the event. This venue hosted some open mics, poetry workshops, and the big adult poetry slam on Saturday evening. It's a coffee shop, but one with a good-sized stage and sound system. Before officially registering, though after already meeting a few new poets, I read a couple poems for the open mic--both from my new chapbook, ENTER. Then, I got something to eat with my host Patricia and one of the International Features, Neil Meili (from Alberta, Canada).

Roommate Paul Richmond reading in first open mic at Ruta Maya.

After lunch, I made my way over to Dailey Middle School, where I was given the opportunity to lead a poetry workshop for a small group of 6th graders that meet twice a week to write poetry. I wanted to try something a little challenging of which they could be proud, so I got them to write a sestina using my nifty little sestina worksheet. In around an hour, all but one were able to not only complete a sestina but to also read it for the rest of the group. They were probably glad to have me gone, but I know at least a few more young poets who will be able to say they tackled one of the trickiest forms around.

Made it back to the Ruta Maya in time to have some Chinese food as part of the AIPF Registrant Buffet (with music provided by vocal artist Erin Ivey). While hidden in a corner, I met Del Cain, who revealed he was responsible for my invitation to the event. I would run into Del a few more times throughout the event, and I can't say thank you enough to him for asking me over.

After the buffet, everyone met up at Huston-Tillotson University to read their poems from the event's anthology that's titled di-verse-city. Hosted by the very funny Barbara Youngblood Carr, who was also the editor of the anthology, this event was a true marathon of poetry. The anthology featured 130 total poems (including 21 by the featured poets). And at least 70% of them were read. Then, there were masochists like myself who stuck around for an hour-long open mic. Of course, my excuse was that I was in good company, sitting next to Thom the Future, who's one of the main lynchpins of the Austin poetry scene.

My first reading the next day was at Kick Butt Coffee (near the airport). It was hosted by Thom the Future, and it was attended by many great poets, including Kelly Ann Ellis, who participates in the April PAD Challenges on my Poetic Asides blog--as do her students, who had Kelly ask me to autograph their poems. What a way to make my day right out of the gate!

Then, I drove into downtown Austin and attended a reading hosted by Del Cain at The Hideout, which featured some more great poets. In particular, I really enjoyed the poetry by Robert Wynne and John Milkereit. Both are very funny poets.

I walked around Austin a little before returning to The Hideout to read some of my own poetry at a city reading hosted by Ken Jones, who is a UT (hook 'em horns) grad/political poet/real cool guy. As with many of the other readings, I read some, other poets read some, and then, we did a round robin of poetry until our two-hour slot expired.

My final destination for the day was a 7-9 p.m. reading at Westminster Manor, a retirement center. We read in their chapel, and this was a nice change of pace reading. The audience was very supportive and interested in each of us, and they even had a poetry group within the community.

Woke up and hit the Austin History Center with Paul Richmond for an early morning reading hosted by India Rassner-Donovan. This reading introduced me several new poets, including a few who mixed Spanish with English. I was also introduced to Mary Margaret Carlisle, who is the project director for Sol Magazine Projects.

After this reading, I made my way over to Huston-Tillotson University to give a workshop on Finding Readers for Your Poetry. It's actually the first workshop I've ever led in the foyer of a building, but it was fun, and I hope it was helpful. I touched on many topics that I cover on this blog and answered specific questions from each person. There were actually a couple Poetic Asides blog readers here too.

Then, I gave myself a little break and wandered downtown Austin before checking out some of the Adult Poetry Slam at the Ruta Maya. I love watching slam, though I just can't see myself ever performing it. It's an important and vital part of poetry that I truly admire.

Around 7:30 p.m., we began the National & International Featured Poets Reading at the Baha'i Faith Center. There was a guy with a video camera up front, so I'm not sure if video of the readings will be made available later or not. There were many great performances, and I have to admit that it was my first time reading poetry in front of audience I could not see (the stage was lit and the audience was not)--and it did unnerve me a little. I only received praise after the event, but I felt kind of like a stripper up there with a faceless audience watching me undress myself (in words). I did get comfortable after a couple poems, so I think it was a great learning experience. This event lasted until a little after 11.

Afterward, I gave a lift to two other featured poets, Ogaga Ifowodo (Oleh, Delta State, Nigeria) and Tantra-zawadi (New York City), and since we were all hungry, we found a restaurant minutes before midnight that closed at midnight. After eating, we wandered a few buildings over to Strange Brew Coffee, where Thom the Future and Ken Jones were hosting an all-night open mic (round robin, one poem at a time style). Ogaga and I only lasted until 3 or so, and I drove him to his host's home before heading to my own bed. There were other poets who lasted all night.

This is me after a late night of poetry in Austin.

Had breakfast with Patricia Fiske and Paul Richmond at one of the poetry venues, Maria's Taco Express, before heading over to my final event of AIPF, 2011 Featured Poet Symposium, which was hosted by Dr. Kirpal Singh. I wish I could remember all the people on the panel, but it included a great mix of voices and perspectives.

During the panel, we discussed such big topics as the importance of poetry and the relation of poetry to world peace, as well as the effect of technology on poetry. In fact, that panel may have even given me an idea for a regular feature on my Poetic Asides blog.

Directly after the panel, I said some good-byes, jumped in my Kia Spectra, and hit the road for Duluth, Georgia. I guess I left around 3:30 Central Time. My navigation system took me mostly on I-20 to get home, so I traveled most of the night on mostly empty Interstate through mostly rural areas. I made it home around 9 a.m. Eastern Time, posted this poem and prompt on my Poetic Asides blog, did a little work, and then took a 3-hour nap before getting ready for my weekly Monday night Cub Scout den meeting.

Just like that, I left a world of non-stop poetry to rejoin a world of editorial deadlines, first grade Tiger Cubs, and a beautiful wife, who I wished could've experienced Austin with me. I had so much fun that I'm sure we'll get out there again, and next year is AIPF's 20th anniversary!


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


By the way, my limited edtion chapbook of poetry, ENTER, was officially released earlier this month. Many of the poems I read at AIPF were from this collection. Those poems were well-received there, and I've already received some good reviews from readers of the collection, including this from Andrew Kreider in an e-mail message titled Loving Enter: "Thanks for sending me a copy of ENTER. I read it in one sitting, and immediately went back to start again. Then gave it to my wife, who did the same thing. So many poems in the collection became worms in my brain. Courageous and challenging. With lots of space for the reader to enter the worlds you describe. I love the unassuming cover and simple layout - the whole piece is kind of subversive, which is very cool. Thanks for bringing these words to life, and for sharing them with the rest of us."

Isn't that like the coolest comment you could receive for a first collection? I think it's pretty awesome.

If you're interested in reserving a copy of ENTER before they sell out (there are only a handful left), then send me an e-mail at with the subject line: Interested in Your Chapbook

(For those who contacted me while I was in Austin last week, I'll contact you with details tonight. I just wanted to get this summary posted while it was still fresh in my brain.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Time to ENTER the Self-Publishing Arena

My collection ENTER was due to have it's official release on April 1, but the first copies won't be shipping until Thursday morning (and from Austin, TX). I suppose a week late is not the end of the world, though it would've been nice to have copies in readers' hands already.

My first ever chapbook, ENTER.

On April 1, I read a few poems from the collection during the reception for the Blue Ridge Writers Conference. As a National Featured Poet, I'll be reading some more from the collection at the Austin International Poetry Festival, which is where I'll be driving all day tomorrow.

Reese said he likes the cover the best, but I hope most people enjoy the poems more. I think the collection offers a good mix of poems--most of which have found publication in print and online publications.

The collection itself is offered as a limited first edition printing of 101 copies of which a little more than 60 are already claimed. The cost is $10 and includes shipping. Plus, I'm signing all copies I send out. If you're interested in purchasing a copy yourself, send me an e-mail at with the subject line: Interested in Your Chapbook

Copies of ENTER that are ready to send.

To tell you the truth, this whole chapbook experience feels a little like my writing and publishing is coming full circle. When I was first interested in writing in high school, I self-published a little literary fanzine called Faulty Mindbomb that consisted of poems (by myself and other students), music reviews (from the all ages shows in Dayton and Cincinnati), comics, and other weird stuff. There's something that's just inherently fun about making little booklets to share with others. Hopefully, my readers will agree.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Interested in self-publishing for yourself? Then, check out these resources:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blue Ridge Writers Conference: My Experience

Tammy, Will, and I traveled to Blue Ridge, Georgia, this weekend for the 2011 Blue Ridge Writers' Conference, and it was a blast. As a speaker who's been to many events, this one quickly became a favorite. I enjoyed both the content and the context of the conference.

The Content
The meat of the content was delivered on Saturday beginning with a keynote address by literary agent Sally McMillan. She shared her take on changes happening in the book publishing industry right now and hit on most of the key points from the past 10 years to developments as recently as a week ago.

While Hope Clark led a well-received session titled "Where the Money is: Funding Streams for Writers," I attended Scott Owens session titled "The Greatest Writing Prompt Ever." Owens shared his tips for Perpetual Writing Prompts (PWPs), and I won't give away all his tips, but I really liked his idea to create a Family Tree and Association Tree for mining ideas for poems and stories.

Then, McMillan led a session on "The Care and Feeding of a Literary Agent," while I presented my own tips on how to "Target the Best Markets for Your Work." Going up against a literary agent, I expected to have a small crowd, but I nearly ran out of handouts. I covered ways to find markets and how to contact those that you find. Plus, I always try to reserve a little time at the end for writers to ask questions specific to their projects.

After lunch, Owens led a session titled "Exploring the World of Online Journals," while I attended Hope Clark's "Grants - the Free Money Everyone Wants." This topic is Clark's specialty, and if you haven't yet, I would suggest subscribing to her newsletter at Personally, I learned more about grants than I expected, which is saying a lot about the quality of her information.

Local novelist Jennifer Jabaley presented her session titled "Real People - Know Your Novel's Characters" as I made my final presentation "Establish a Social Media Platform to Launch Your Career." I provided tips on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but of course, I gave a little more too--and answered attendee questions.

The Context
This is where the Blue Ridge Writers' Conference really stands out for me. I mean, you expect to receive great information from presenters when you attend a conference, right? What really makes a difference for me is how well the conference manages the important "other stuff."

For instance, this conference had a book fair/reception on Friday evening with food, drinks, live music and readings (both poetry and fiction) by the speakers. It really encouraged interaction between the speakers and the attendees, which is one of the big benefits of a conference.

Also encouraging interaction and a relaxed atmosphere were 15-minute breaks between sessions and a lunch break that lasted 90 minutes. Since Blue Ridge is such a walkable town and the weather cooperated, it made for a very enjoyable break that opened up many side conversations.

If you have a chance next year, I encourage you to make it out to this conference.


If you're an organizer searching for speakers for your event, please contact me at As a Senior Content Editor in the Writer's Digest Writing Community, I'm able to speak on myriad topics related to the business and craft sides of writing. And if I'm not the best person to handle a topic, I probably know someone who is.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


For lists of writing conferences, check out these resources: