Archives for July 2011

Perseverance 101

Do you find it easy to keep writing day after day, effortlessly summoning enthusiasm? Do you do exactly what you set out to do, never deviating from the marketing plan? Wow, good for you! You can go away from this blog now.

Okay, now that we cleared the room of all those liars, let’s talk about the challenge of sticking with it.

I don’t have the luxury of writing full time. I wish I did, and I greatly admire those of you who do. But I suspect this problem affects full-time writers as well. I have a difficult time coming home from work and writing. It’s easier on the weekend, but not by much. I have more time then, but not necessarily more inclination. I’ve constructed a nice long to-do list of marketing tasks that Outlook reminds me of every day, as well as one that says, “Write 500 words.” On far too many days I click “dismiss” on that one, despite really wanting to finish the work in progress.

Can you tell I’m writing this post for me?

I know I’ve written about this before, but it’s all in the mind. I have to make up my mind that I want to keep writing and do it, without letting the tired parts of me interfere. Paul (the Apostle, not the Beatle) had it right when he wrote, about 2000 years ago, about the dilemma we face: “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). It’s about discipline, and I am so not disciplined unless it’s something I really want to do. So I need to MAKE it something I want to do. Let’s try these steps:

1. Stop thinking of writing as a chore but as a privilege. I get to sit down with my characters in this world I’ve created and tell their story.

2. Instead of having a goal of a set number of words a day, write for a set amount of time a day and do nothing but write the novel during that time.

3. Have a story goal in mind for that 30 minutes of writing, preferably a question. This isn’t the overarching goal for the character, but a simple next step: “Will she find the person she’s looking for in the building?” or “What happens when her father finds out she’s disobeyed him?” Write that goal at the end of the previous section of writing to be ready for the  next day’s session.

4. WRITE SOMETHING. It becomes a habit after, what is it, six weeks of doing something? For me it may be longer.

5. Keep that final word count in mind, but on the first draft, don’t stress over it. If you’re that hung up on it, and you’re writing in MS Word, insert a field ever so often of the number of words produced. That may make you feel better. (Cool idea, Donna! Thank you, Donna.)

I’ll see how this new plan works out for me, and I’ll report in a later post how it’s going.

What about you? How do you keep persevering in your writing, even when you want to quit?

 

5 Ways to–Aw, I Got Nothin’

Yeah, I know, blog posts on marketing tell you to give your post a “how-to” or “x Number of Ways to do something” title. I don’t have any of that kind of advice today. Here’s what I’ve got.

I’ve got a twisty-turny manuscript.

No, I don’t mean the plot has sinuous and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it events. I mean I just can’t get to grips with the dang thing.

Every time I embark on a new novel, I go through this. I read advice on structuring it (my favorite is Jim Butcher’s method). I try, I honestly try, to outline an entire novel before I write it. But somehow that takes the fun out of it for me.

I’ve thought of just plain writing it straight on, no stopping, plow ahead and see what happens, like my good buddy Shaun Allan does. From what he’s told me, his character pretty much takes over and tells the story the way he wants to. I’ve never had that happen. My characters just blink up at me, kind of like my cats, saying, “Well? What next?” or maybe “Where’s my food?”

My method always seems to be to write until I get stuck, mull it over, see where I went wrong, then start over. With Second Death, I did 12 partial drafts with the plot going in one direction. I realized that direction wasn’t working, started over (not completely over, I did copy large sections from the old version) and did another 7 or 10 drafts, I forget. With me, it seems like I have to edit as I go.

As an experiment, I once wrote a serial in my blog, The Investigations of the Hephaestus. I did no plotting beforehand, sort of like doing a round robin story with myself. It came out okay, and I love the characters, but I’m not sure if I could do that with an entire novel.

And now I’ve done it again. My current novel, Noora and the Vessel of the Clouds, is about 10K along and I’ve rethought it twice in as many days. I regrouped, though, and went back to the old ways–pen on paper. Really helps me think when I’m having difficulties. I complained to my gaming-writing buddy Scott Carter that I wasn’t happy with the tone: it felt more like a young adult novel. He said with a shrug, “There’s a good market for young adult novels.”

You know, he’s right. Let’s just see where this book goes. Maybe it will be a YA novel. I do have a series theme for it

So. I’ll keep you posted. What about you? What demons do you wrestle with when you’re writing?

 

Five Challenges Indie Writers Face (and How to Overcome Them)

Independent publishing is not easy. Oh, it may seem that way at first. Kindle and Smashwords make the process quick, but quick and easy aren’t the same. I know I’m appreciative for any advice on self-publishing I find; maybe you’re the same. I offer these challenges and some ways to deal with them.

Challenge 1. The Donna Syndrome (aka IWIAIWIN)

I’m known among my family and friends for developing obsessions about particular consumer goods and wanting instant gratification of said obsessions. I saw a cool netbook last year. No, I couldn’t wait for Christmas. “I want it and I want it now.” I don’t really say those words, although my husband ascribes them to me, but the effect is much the same. Let’s just call it the “Donna Syndrome” for short.

How does the Donna Syndrome affect indie authors? I upload a manuscript to Smashwords. Why is it taking so long? Now I wait for it to go into the Premium Catalog. Why is it taking so long? I WANT IT AND I WANT IT NOW. Smashwords is an amazingly fast system of publishing, given what it does. Think about the number of formats the “Meatgrinder” produces your work in. How much the system has improved just in the past five months I’ve been using them. The responsive customer service. But I see complaints all the time about how slow it is, or indirect complaints about how it “finally” is ready.

How to deal with the Donna Syndrome? Be patient. Spend the time while you’re waiting working on your marketing plan, so that by the time your manuscript is ready for sale, you’ll know exactly what your next steps are.

Challenge 2. Marketing

And speaking of  your marketing plan, do you have one? I read recently the wise observation that the skills required of a marketer are not generally those of a writer. Marketing doesn’t come naturally to most writers. Even traditionally published authors have to market their own works these days. Marketing your book is an overwhelming prospect, and there’s no shortage of advice online.

How to deal with marketing? Create a plan. Make a list of all the “chores” you see in various blogs and e-publications that seem reasonable to you: Blog about your book, blog about a related topic, guest blog, promote another author on your blog (see Challenge 4). Assign a frequency to them, then arrange them into a schedule. That way you stay on track and hold yourself accountable. This idea isn’t original with me. Tony Eldridge wrote about it in an excellent blog post.

Challenge 3. Exclusionary Thinking

E-publishing opened up the world to people who wouldn’t have had the chance in the past. Traditional publishers are casting about, often aimlessly, trying to figure out what the future holds for them. Don’t fall into the trap of exclusionary thinking, though. By that I mean the idea that “E-publishing is only THIS,” or “You can’t do both e-publishing and traditional publishing,” or “Anyone who accepts a traditional contract after e-publishing is selling out.” Thinking this way limits your options, and reduces your mindset to an unhelpful “us versus them” mentality.

How to deal with exclusionary thinking? Remember that each author comes to publishing in her (or his) own way. Your path isn’t the only one. Gather up great ideas from both worlds.

Challenge 4. Isolation

Writing is usually a solitary activity. Even with a co-author, you put your own words down in pixels or ink. The problem with isolation is you miss out on other opinions and perspectives. Relying only on  yourself skews  your perspective as much as challenge 3 does.

How to deal with isolation? Join a group, in person or online. Read blogs about writing. Improve your craft at every opportunity. The Indie Book Collective has some great tutorials on publishing and marketing. Promote other authors on your blog to develop collaborative relationships.

Challenge 5. Good Enough

By “good enough,” I mean the temptation to publish your manuscript whether it’s really ready or not. You fall prey to the Donna Syndrome (see Challenge 1). Publishing is so quick that you may “want it and want it now.” I’ve read many comments lately about e-publishing to effect that “readers don’t care about editing, they just want a good story.” E-publishing suffers criticism because of this attitude. Careful editing and grammatical sentence structure enhance the reading experience.

How to deal with good enough? As I said in Challenge 1, be patient. Edit your manuscript, then have someone else edit it who knows editing. Spend the time and effort to make it the best it can be. I talked about that in another post.

All of these challenges are about your mental state. Improving your craft, approaching it as a professional, seeking the camaraderie and advice of others: these activities don’t just improve you and your writing. They contribute to a strong and vibrant independent writing community.

Please let me hear from you in the comments. What challenges that you face have I left out?

On Forced–I Mean, Disciplined–Writing

People of the planet Earth who know me, and doubtless inhabitants of other planets who tap into our Aethertubes as well, agree that I am not the most disciplined person on said planet. The reason I’m going to a personal trainer to lose weight is because I cannot summon up the required discipline on my own. Neurons within my brain or whatever it is rebels at the thought of forcing myself to keep to a rigid schedule of anything. (Although I am obsessive about getting to work early.) I’m trying, though, to reimprint those neurons, and I’m happy to say I’ve had a modicum of success.

Two reasons for this miracle of modern reprogramming occur to me. One, I’m newly obsessed with writing. Now, I’ve written fiction since I was 10 or 12, but with my discovery of Smashwords, Kindle and e-publishing, I’ve felt a new empowerment, of which I’ve written elsewhere. Two, I very much want my writing to succeed. I don’t particularly want to be famous (okay, maybe a little), but I do want to sell books to more than my friends and family (because, let’s face it, they can only buy so many copies).

Because of this obsession, I’ve constructed a schedule of marketing for my books, and so far I’ve stuck with it fairly well. Outlook mercilessly reminds me of my to-do list items. The schedule includes tasks such as “Comment on 2 blog posts daily” and “Write a blog post on Aether Excursions every Thursday” and “Freshen Amazon Author Central page monthly.” One of the tasks I haven’t been so good at keeping up with is “Write 500 words daily on Noora and the Vessel of the Clouds,” my work-in-progress (WIP). Now, 500 words isn’t much, about half a single-spaced page in Word. I try, but I tend to slack off on that particular item.

But I got an invitation from an author I very much respect, a former Horror Writers Association colleague, Nancy Etchemendy to participate in this year’s Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop Write-a-Thon. How cool is that? (It’s not too late to sponsor me! Here’s the link. Proceeds go to support the famous Clarion Writers Workshop.) The challenge I chose was to write 1000 words per day for a week.

I’m a slow writer. I tend to self-edit as I go, diving off into research tangents. But I figured I could write 1ooo words a day.

Most days have gone pretty well, although it’s hard to find the time. It takes me about an hour to write about a page or a little more. But by tomorrow, I should have about 10,000 words toward my novel. If I keep this rate up, I could have the first draft finished in a couple of months. Amazing, you say? It is when you consider it took me at least 22 drafts to write the 100,000 words that are Second Death. Yes, I’m Donna, and I’m an over-write-a-holic. But I’m working on changing that.

How long does it take for an action to become a habit? Six weeks or so? Maybe I’ll keep this rate up. Oo, maybe I’ll join Camp NaNoWriMo and write the rest of it in a month!

Wow, talk about re-channeling engrams. That might even cause an entire personality change.

Not sure if the universe is ready for that yet…

[What are your experiences with forced stints of writing? Let me know about them in the comments.]