Tag Archives: indie publishing

#amwriting: sit down and write

This last weekend, I attended the 2017 PNWA Conference. I had the chance to connect with friends whom I rarely get to see in person elsewhere, and met many, many new friends.

I immersed myself into four days of seminars on writing craft, with the intention of kickstarting the rough draft of the one manuscript which has stalled for the last two months.

Let’s be clear—I always have three or four projects in various stages of completion, so I always have one novel in the first, rough draft. Usually, I have no difficulty getting my idea onto the paper but, as I have mentioned before, life sometimes throws us curve balls. When that happens, I have no trouble writing blog posts or making revisions on finished manuscripts as requested by my intrepid beta readers and editor. But it is then that completing whatever story is in the rough draft form becomes a struggle for me.

So, let’s talk about getting past that mysterious thing some people call writer’s block, the horrible nightmare that is only a temporary lull in the creative process. This is when you hear those voices mocking you, “you claim to be a writer but you haven’t written a new word in days.” (Or weeks, or months.)

First, you must understand that this is not a permanent, career killing disability. It is a fleeting, dry period where the project you want to work on is not moving forward. But other writing can and should happen!

My recommendation is to sit down and write your way through it—don’t abuse yourself over whatever project you have that is stalled. Clear your mind of those little mental voices of doom and guilt because they are the carrion birds whose songs of despair lure you along the path to failure.

Focus on writing something completely unrelated instead.

In a seminar I attended this last weekend, taught by the award-winning sci fi/fantasy author and current SFWA president, Cat Rambo, she admitted that rather than beat herself up for a momentary lapse of creativity, she works her way through the rough patches with timed stream-of-consciousness writing sessions. She does this every day and shoots for 2000 new words a day, whether they are good words or not.

The way I interpreted her comments, she does this in the NaNoWriMo style, where you set a timer and write whatever nonsense comes into your head for a certain length of time and do not stop writing for any reason whatsoever until the timer goes off.

Cat’s advice? If all you can do when you sit down for that timed writing session is to write “I can’t think of anything” repeatedly, just write that. She said (and she is right) that after a few minutes of that sort of boredom, your creative mind will rebel, your subconscious mind will take over and push you in new directions. When I do this, I usually end up with some of my best ideas embedded in those long strings of rambling words.

Those nuggets of good writing and ideas are straw I can spin into gold.

My personal advice is to not set absurdly unrealistic goals for your work. Target goals are good, but in my opinion, setting too a high wordcount for new words on your rough draft each day is a good way to set yourself up to fail, as you can’t sustain it. I find that when I am involved in NaNoWriMo, which is a different kind of writing, I can put down 2000 to 4000 words each morning–but that kind of output is not sustainable over more than just the month of November. My usual output is 1000 to 2000 new words per writing session.

Consider setting your minimum goal of writing for at least one fifteen-minute increment per day, working straight with no stopping.  Repeat the fifteen-minute sessions as many times as you like each day, if you are really fired and inspired to write.

I am a fulltime author, but even when I was holding down three part-time jobs, I still managed to write every evening. When my children were still at home, I wrote when they were doing homework, or I wrote after they went to bed. I made my time to write by choosing to only watch the TV shows that meant the most to me and ditching the rest. That meant that most evenings I had at least one hour (but sometimes two or three) of good writing time after dinner was done and the kitchen was clean.

I understand if you are emotionally invested in some TV shows, but you must choose to make time to write—choose your entertainment wisely and don’t waste what could be writing time on shows you don’t absolutely love.

So, what about multiple projects? I find that having multiple projects in the works is good for me, as switching from one to another allows me to rest my writing mind. I am fortunate, in that writing is my full-time career.  Because it is my job, I always have three or four projects going, so I do have a certain, inviolable time of the day that I will work no matter what. On Sundays, I write all the blog posts I might need for that week, both for this blog and for several other websites where I have a regular column.

I need to keep regular office hours to be productive, so the morning hours of 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. are divided like this:

6:00 to 8:00, I work on adding new words to the current rough draft.

8:00 to 9:00, if I don’t have a writing group to attend, I handle my social media stuff—a nasty but necessary task that is part of the job if you don’t have a personal PR person but hope to connect with both readers and other writers.

I don’t have a PR person.

9:00-10:00, (again if I don’t have a writing group) I take a break from writing and make a stab at cleaning my house.

10:00 – 12:00 I do revisions on other projects as my editors ask for them or I edit for clients.

I always take a break at noon and either take a walk or sit on my back porch and just watch the world go by.

In the afternoon, I make maps or do other support work that may be required for one or another of my projects, depending which is firing my mind most intensely, or if I have a client’s manuscript to edit I will go back to that.

I’m no different than any other writer—I do have times when the well of creativity runs dry. But I have the support of other authors, and I have the mental tools I need to pull me out of those rocky spots. I hope this post offers you some idea of how to jumpstart your creativity, and remember–I am always here to talk you off the ledge.

5 Comments

Filed under writing

#amwriting: it’s #magic

Once magic enters your story, you must do some foot work, or your premise won’t be believable. It’s critical that you have finite rules for limiting how magic works. If your magic rules are too elastic, or you imbue too many amazing abilities into your main character, you will make them too good to be true. Readers won’t be able to relate to their story.

When I sit down to write a fantasy story, there will be magic, and I will have planned carefully for it. I have three worlds with three radically different systems of magic.

  1. In my serial, Bleakbourne on Heath, sorcerers use incantations sung to certain melodies.
  2. In Huw the Bard people can purchase magic (majik) amulets and potions.
  3. In the Tower of Bones series, magic and religion are intertwined. Aeos, the goddess, has decreed that all children who begin to show healing-empathy, or the ability to use the magic of the elements must be brought to the Temple and trained, for the protection of society in general. There are rules, certain things which can and can’t be done. As in real life, there are certain exceptions, but they too have limitations. No one is all-powerful.

Each time you make parameters and frameworks for your magic you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world. Remember, conflict drives the plot.

First, you must consider who has magic? What kind of magic–healing or offensive or both? What are the rules for using that magic and why do those rules exist? Magic is an intriguing tool in fantasy, but it should only be used if certain conditions have been met:

  • if the number of people who can use it is limited
  • if the ways in which it can be used are limited
  • if not every mage can use every kind of magic
  • if there are strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind magic can do and the conditions under which it will work.
  • if there are some conditions under which the magic will not work
  • if the learning curve is steep and sometimes lethal

What challenges does your character have to overcome when learning to wield magic?

  • Is he unable to fully use his own abilities?
  • If that is so, why is he hampered in that way?
  • How does that inability affect his companions and how do they feel about it?
  • Are they hampered in anyway themselves?
  • What has to happen before your hero can fully realize his abilities?

Even if this aspect does not come into the story, for your own information, you should decide who is in charge of teaching the magic, how that wisdom is dispensed, and who will be allowed to gain that knowledge.

  • is the prospective mage born with the ability to use magic or
  • is it spell-based and any reasonably intelligent person can learn it if they can find a teacher?

Magic and the ability to wield it usually denotes power. That means the enemy must be their equal or perhaps their better. So, if they are not from the same school, you now have two systems to design. You must create the ‘rules of magic.’  Take the time to write them out.

In creating both social and magic systems, you are creating a hidden framework that will support and advance your plot. Within your magic system, there can be an occasional exception to a rule, but there must be a good reason for it, and it must be clear to the reader why that exception is acceptable.

Another important point to take note of is this: the only time the reader needs to know these systems exist is when they affect the characters and their actions. Dole this information out in conversations or in other subtle ways and it will become a natural part of the environment rather than an info dump.

It is a fact that sometimes books that were outlined to a certain storyline sometimes go off in their own directions, and the story is better for it. I haven’t experienced the sudden influx of magic into the story as that plot twist is always planned for, but I have had other random events throw a curveball at me.


Attributions:

Portions of this post have previously appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy and also in my column on writing craft for the Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA).

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

#amwriting: the first draft

Children are often full of fibs and fabulous tales. They crack me up with how obvious they are about it. But little white lies happen in adult life, too.  They are usually a gut-reaction, a sometimes irrational reflex that we justify with the comforting thought that “it doesn’t really matter, and this way we’ll avoid an argument.”

We’ve all done it at one time or another, and in much the same way as our toilet habits are, it’s not a subject we like to discuss in polite company.

But it makes an interesting plot development. In real life, white lies can escalate into big, complicated messes that can end marriages.  Love and white-lies are like the two sides of the family I grew up in – they don’t really mix well. In a good marriage, there are no white lies.  White lies happen when you don’t trust the other person to accept what you have either done or plan to do.

Trust is the key word here.

In the Tower of Bones series, I have one character whose life is one long string of white lies, and that made for the most pivotal plot development in the story. It was difficult to write his tale, and yet his penchant for avoiding the truth was the snowflake that caused the landslide, and it drove the plot. The repercussions of his white-lies in book two form the tension for the next books in that series.

In my opinion, the best stories take elements of life and that are sometime uncomfortable and give them that little twist, sending the protagonist down a path where the reader would never dare to go. We just have to do it in such a way that it feels organic and not forced.

In my current work, I am writing the first draft, trying to find out who these characters are. What are their personal strengths? What are their weaknesses? I will have to exploit their weaknesses to the max, but ultimately their strengths must win out.

Trust and the bonds of brotherhood are the core of this new series. Each book will feature a different protagonist, and the final book brings them all together in the finale.

When I first conceived my new series, the Aeoven Cycle, I had a vague idea of who these characters were. The main protagonist is a legendary hero, appearing in the time of Tower of Bones in children’s books as a superhero type of character. He is the Superman character, a mythical hero who always saved the day.

In Edwin’s time, history remembers Aelfrid as a hero, a mighty mage gifted with the ability to make his sword appear as if it were made of fire. His legacy was the Temple of Aeos and the College of Warcraft and Magic. He was that man, but who was he really?

As I get deeper into this first draft, I am discovering my protagonist, and finding out what his flaws and blind spots are. His real life had little to do with the amazing legends that grew up featuring him as a great hero, but he was heroic in the ways that matter. He is loyal, which is his great weakness, and which ultimately will force him down a path he doesn’t want to travel.

At this point my first draft sits on my desk, filled with repetitiousness and flat prose.  No matter how I grasp for words, a sword remains a sword, remains a sword… since to refer to it as a blade or weapon would require stretching my vocabulary and I’m struggling enough with trying to figure out the how and why of things.

It is, I keep reminding myself, only the first draft. Once I have the entire story down it will be come a four book cycle, with all the threads of the first three books coming together in the final book.

The important thing here is to get Alf’s story onto the paper. Once I have done that, I can tweak the prose and cut the fluff. It will take three drafts, and possibly two years, but I will eventually make this into something I would like to read, and hopefully, a story others will enjoy too.

2 Comments

Filed under writing

#amwriting: Update, and the Room of Shame

I work in a room officially designated as the Room of Shame. It is not a room of shame in a dark, Fifty Shades of Gray way.  No. That would be interesting, which this particular Room of Shame is not.

This room is a boring office that could be owned by hoarders. I’ve mentioned before that it’s haunted by the Ghost of my Feline (Past): Yum Yum (the demon-possessed cat). My little companion died died in 2009, and I’ve never had the heart to replace her. Despite my oft-repeated intention to clean this toxic waste dump out, her ghost still manifests in the fur that still lurks behind the sagging bookshelves and boxes of papers dating back to the Bronze Age. Plastic bins filled with my books, ready to take to a show or signing, are stacked atop dusty crates still bearing her furry imprint. The disgraceful carpet is proof that to clean the floor, one must be able to find it.

Somehow, despite the embarrassing chaos, I do manage to crank out the work.

Last month I finished the second draft of Billy Ninefingers. He has been through the beta reading process and is currently fermenting in a dark place while I wind up some other projects. I received excellent feedback and have a firm idea as to how I will structure the final draft.

I am making headway on the first draft of Eternity’s Gate, a new novel in the Tower of Bones series. This is the ‘how it began’ story, and it features Aelfrid Firesword, Edwin’s many time’s great-grandfather, and the unintentional founder of the College of Warcraft and Magic. Even though it is set in an established world (Neveyah), planning this novel presented an unusual problem in that the magic system had to be redesigned as much of what is canon in the later books doesn’t exist during the time this story is set. New maps have been drawn. Alf is a Barbarian, so I have learned a great deal about his culture in the process of creating this early, far wilder version of world of Neveyah.

Knight’s Redemption, a novella featuring Julian Lackland, Golden Beau Baker, and Huw the Bard, is in the final stage of the revision process.

As always, I am working on flash-fiction and poems as the mood strikes, some weeks more than others. Flash-fiction usually happens when I’m at a stopping point on my other projects and my mind just wants to roam free. This is always a good time to think about possible blog posts.

And finally, I’m in the process of rewriting a short story for an editor who likes the overall premise, the protagonist, and the way the story ends, but wants me to make some fundamental changes to the way I am telling the tale. In my opinion, any interest from an editor should be celebrated, and their requests and suggestions should be given my full, immediate attention, so that will be an ongoing project over the next few weeks.

Not being rejected out-of-hand is good, in my opinion. I see this type of interaction as an encouraging thing. The door is open to an opportunity I might not have again, so I try to make whatever changes they request. The trick is to make the changes with your own flair so that you don’t lose what they liked about the piece in the first place. Either way, whether they ultimately reject it or not, I will gain something out of this.

Also, I have been cooking. I’ve found some more wonderful food ideas to take along when I am on the road. Traveling as a vegan can be quite dicey, unless you carry your own food. Once I leave the Northwest, restaurants don’t offer vegan options. Rather than go hungry, I make my meals ahead. I’m always looking for tasty treats that travel well, and are satisfying.

Today is a good day to write. I intend to make the most of it, working on whichever project is inspiring me. Having more than one project going at a time allows me to stay productive because when I can’t think what to do next in one manuscript, I’ll know exactly what I need to do in another.

6 Comments

Filed under Publishing, writer, writing

#amwriting: What Editors Want

My Writing LifeToday we are discussing a particular kind of editor: the submissions editor. When I first began this journey, I didn’t understand how specifically you have to tailor your submissions when it comes to literary magazines, contests, and anthologies. Each publication has a specific market of readers, and their editors look for new works their target market will buy.

In the publishing world, there are several different kinds of editors:  line editors, structural editors, submissions editors, and so on. Each does a specific job within the industry. When you look at the annual salaries, you can see that none of these jobs pay well, so it’s clear that, while they like to eat and pay the mortgage as much as any other person, editors in all areas of publishing work in the industry because they love a good story.

I’m just going to lay it out there for you: it’s not worth a publisher’s time to teach you how to be a writer. You have to learn that on your own.

So, if they aren’t going to edit your work, what does the editor for that publisher do?

According to Lynne Barrett in her article for The Review Review: A magazine editor is a person who enjoys bringing new writing to the world in a publication that will be seen, read, appreciated, and talked about.

Editors for contests and large publishers of books do the same—they find and bring work they enjoyed to the public. If your work has made it into that first part of their process, they may ask you for revisions to enable the book to sell better, but they won’t offer you technical advice.

This is because they shouldn’t have to. You must have the technical skill down before you submit your work to an agent or submissions editor. But if the gatekeeper wants perfect work, how do you get your work inside the gate?

You must do the work of submitting a clean manuscript that is marketable to the readers of the publication you are courting.

I know! If we have to do all the work why bother? For the indie author, magazines, contests, and anthologies are the most logical places for getting their names out to the reading world.

Large publications have wide readerships. The more people who read and enjoy a short piece by you, the more potential readers you have for your novels. These people likely read novels and guess what? If you have done your work as an indie publisher well, your novels are available as both paper and ebooks through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other digital booksellers.

When you have a great story that you believe in, you must find the venue that might be interested in your sort of work. This means you must buy magazines, read them, and write to those standards. For those of us who are not able to buy magazines, you can go to websites like Literary Hub, and read excellent pieces culled from various literary magazines for free.This will give you an idea of what you want to achieve and where you want to submit your work.

Go to the publisher’s website and find out what their submission guidelines are and FOLLOW THEM. (Yes, they apply to EVERYONE, no matter how famous, even you.) If you skip this step, you can wait up to a year to hear that your manuscript has been rejected, and they most likely won’t tell you why.

Formatting your manuscript is crucial. If you are unsure how that works, see my blogpost of July 24, 2015,  How to Format Your Manuscript for Submission.

Lascaux 2015For an excellent article that explains the expectations magazine publishers AND authors have and our symbiotic relationship, I suggest you read What Editors Want; A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines by Lynne Barrett. This article touches on every aspect of the relationship between authors and submissions editors for ALL sorts of magazines, anthologies, and publishers in general:

  • The Editor’s Job
  • Your Job
  • Submission
  • How to Receive a Rejection
  • How To Respond To A Minimally Encouraging Rejection
  • How To Respond To A Longer, More Personal Rejection
  • Acceptance: Dos and Don’ts
  • How To Greet The Issue Your Work Is In

As I’ve said before, I have enough rejections to wallpaper my house, but I have also had a few short pieces accepted.  Not everyone will love your work–you don’t love everything you read either.

You have to keep trying, keep improving as an author, and keep believing in yourself and in your work. Most importantly, you must never give up.

25 Comments

Filed under writing

#amwriting: thoughts on the industry

IBM_SelectricThe ease with which anyone possessing the ability to access a computer and use the internet can publish their work independently has sparked a revolution in the publishing industry. Unfortunately, revolutions are NOT easy nor are they bloodless and pain-free.

For every book I feel good about recommending, I see on average 6 that are just plain awful. I’m not only talking Indies here–some are books that should never have made it past the gateway editor of a large publishing house, much less an agent.

It’s true that some indie books are so abysmally edited it is apparent the author is the only person who has ever seen the manuscript.

Others are moderately edited but not by a professional, or someone who knows how to write. This is a flaw that can drive away of all but the most determined readers, people who would ignore most typos and slight inconsistencies for a really good tale. For these books, the unbiased eye of the editor could have made a great novel out of a promising tale.

The core of this problem lies in the incredible number of people who are writing but have no concept of what it takes to write a good novel. Once they have rewritten the rough draft to their satisfaction, they believe they are done.

Then, they publish it.

Sadly, this sometimes happens with traditionally published books as well. I see this as evidence that editing and proofreading by the large houses for many successful traditionally published authors is sometimes overlooked in the rush to cash in on a commercial success. These publishers set impossible deadlines and race to launch what they hope will be a follow-up best seller, but because they were rushed, these books sometimes fail to live up to the hype.

The Novel Meme LIRFAnd while this means that they publish crap too, the stink washes off the traditional houses but clings to the Indie industry as a whole.

This brings me to my point: The big 5 traditional publishers pretend everything they publish is sheer magic, while loudly pointing out the faults inherent in self-publishing. And, while it makes me laugh that they decry us as worthless but leap to publish us the minute we show any sign of real success, there are hard truths here we indies who are committed to the craft of writing must face.

First off, I feel strongly that we shouldn’t rush to churn out more than one or two books a year. Romance novels can be a different kind of animal, but unless you are producing pulp fiction, the same applies. (Click here to read an article by romance novelist Merry Farmer on this subject.)

Traditional publishers fail us (as readers) by pushing successful authors to spew several books a year, beating dead horses and creating long-winded series that lose the way after the third book. We Indies have the luxury to take our time to craft a good book, as we don’t have externally imposed deadlines.

Some of the worst books I’ve read were written by traditionally published authors who also wrote books I loved. But their best (in my opinion) books were written in the early days when they weren’t book-producing machines.

Some general things for any author to do when they are first starting out:

  1. Learn the mechanics of how to write in your native language. Grammar and Punctuation are essential, even in modern literature.
  2. Join a writing group and meet other authors, either in your local area or on-line. This will help you with steps 3 and 4. Enter writing contests and participate in the boards and threads. Ignore the trolls; they pop-up everywhere (usually with badly written ego-stroking crap to their publishing credit.)
  3. Develop a thick hide, and find an unbiased eye among your trusted acquaintances to read your work as you are writing it, so you can make changes more effectively and not be overwhelmed at the prospect of rewriting an entire manuscript from scratch.
  4. Lose your ego. Your ego gets in the way of your writing.  Are you writing for yourself or for others to read and enjoy your work?
  5. Find a good, professional editor. There are hidden aspects to every great book, and they are all centered around knowledge of the craft. An external eye is essential to the production of a good book. Check their references, and when you do engage their services, do not take their observations personally. This editor must be someone you can work closely with, who makes suggestions and lets you make the changes on your masterpiece yourself. They must understand it is your work and you have the right to disagree with any suggested changes. If you have this symbiotic relationship, you will turn out a good final product.
  6. Don’t give up your day job. Even authors receiving hefty advances have to struggle to make ends meet. (Read Thu-Huong Ha’s article, A New Book Shows the Financial Cost of Leading a Creative Life.)

EDWAERT_COLLIER_VANITAS_STILL_LIFEIt’s far more affordable now for a dedicated reader to buy enough books to keep themselves happy, but making your way as a reader through the many offerings in our eBookstores is a perilous journey, and you can’t always trust the quality by reading the publisher’s label. You just have to realize that whether a novel is traditionally published or Indie, some books are frogs, and some are princes.

You may have to read a few books you wish you hadn’t on your way to finding the book that sweeps you away. For me, that’s just part of the journey.


Sources and Attributions:

How Many Books Should You Write Per Year, by Merry Farmer, Nov 13, 2013

A New Book Shows the Financial Cost of Leading a Creative Life,  by Thu-Huong Ha, Jan 11, 2017, Flipboard

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis (Self-photographed) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Still Life, By Evert Collier (1642-1708) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

8 Comments

Filed under Publishing, writing

#amwriting: connecting with readers

magicWriters are offered many Facebook groups, some strictly private, professional, and writing-craft oriented. These tend to be good educational groups, and I have enjoyed them.

We can also gain membership in public groups which were created for indies to make their books available to the public. These groups are easily searchable on Facebook.

These public groups, especially those with large numbers of members (over 10,000), are good sites to drop in once every week or so and share a link to whatever book you might have free or on sale for .99 at Amazon or to promote your new release.

These sites cater to readers and posts show up in the general feed, somewhat randomly. I have found that these public groups do actually do help authors gain sales—not a lot, but a few.

Many of these groups cater to readers of romance books, but there are a few that are for any kind of book that is written. One of the best Facebook groups for Indies to post free and .99 cent Kindle books is Amazon Book Clubs. They have over 35,000 followers, and most of those followers are readers looking for a good, affordable Kindle book.

However, one must use common sense, and so I suggest you only post your books once a week at most. People get tired of seeing the same authors spamming these sites over and over.

I am a member of several groups where the same three or four authors invariably post the same books every single day. Not only that, they post all their books one link at a time.  After a month or two of this, they will complain they aren’t getting any sales no matter how hard they try. Then they drop out of sight.

What these well-intentioned authors don’t understand is that making any kind of public Facebook forum work for you is like making Twitter work. You must be patient and careful not to spam your intended market, as that will drive away potential readers. In these book forums, you want to present yourself in a competent, professional manner.

Your icon or avatar is the image of you the world sees, so choose a picture that looks professional. Your book cover will work, but I suggest using a real photo of you if you have one you like.

When it comes to both your professional Facebook page and Twitter, it works best when you share content that is original and pertains to your life as a writer. People aren’t too interested in whether or not you got the dishes done, but they do care about what books you just read, or how your own writing is going. Tweet your blog, and retweet other tweets you enjoyed. If you have a hobby, such as watching IndyCar Races or you play golf, tweet about those things too. I tend to tweet about food because I’m vegan and I love finding new recipes. You want your followers to get to know you, as well as your books.

Follow people you find interesting, follow the real people back (there will be spam-bots following you, so watch out for those and don’t follow them) and don’t spam the universe with constant “Buy my Book” tweets. Be consistent, but creative.Old books Remember, nothing ever happens as fast as you want it to. Building a fan base takes time, years, actually. It doesn’t happen over night, although rewards will occur in small leaps and bounds. Those little surges of sales are what keeps us going, the lure that keeps us plodding forward.

For an excellent blog post with links to a lot more information than I have to offer in regard to places to connect with readers, check out  How to Promote Your Fantasy Novel on Facebook, Twitter, Wattpad, YouTube, and more by Chris Well.

 

20 Comments

Filed under writing

#amwriting: Thoughts on #NaNoWriMo2016

winners-certificateIt is the final day of NaNoWriMo for 2016. I wrote 96,603 words: ten short stories and fifteen chapters on my next novel set in the world of Neveyah. I had my winners certificate by the 23rd, but I write everyday and update my wordcount. More than sixty of the 265 participants in my region will also get their winner’s certificates, which is a very good year. Some years only thirty participants in our region make it to the finish line. On average, 7 out of ten entrants will fall by the way in any given year, because 50,000 words is a difficult goal to achieve in only 30 days, if you are not completely fired up by your novel.

Those who fall by the way are authors who discover that having an idea that would be a good book and writing that book are two radically different things. They are daunted by the amount of work that is involved.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have them validated through the national website you ‘win.’ But it is not a contest in any other way as there are no huge prizes or great amounts of acclaim for those winners, only a PDF winners certificate that you can fill out and print to hang on your wall.

It is simply a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel.

Now lets face it–a novel that is only 50,000 words long is not a very long novel. That falls more into the line of a long novella and is only half a novel, in my opinion. But a dedicated author can get the basic structure and story-line of a novel down in those thirty days simply by sitting down for an hour or two each day and writing a minimum of 1667 words per day.

That is not too hard. In this age of word processors, most authors can double or triple that.

As always, there is a downside to this free-for-all style of writing. Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you have the ability to write a novel that others want to read.

Over the next few months many cheap or free eBooks will emerge testifying to this fundamental truth.

The good thing is, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy the act of writing. They will find that for them this month of madness was not about getting a certain number of words written by a certain date, although that goal was important. For a very few, participating in NaNoWriMo has fired them with the knowledge that they are authors. For them it was about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for all their lives.

These are the people who will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing. They may go back to school and get their MFA.

These authors will take the time and make the effort to learn writing conventions (practices). They will attend seminars, they will develop the skills needed to take a story and make it a novel with a proper beginning, a great middle and an incredible end.

They will properly polish and edit their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it.

These are books I will want to read.

It’s not easy. Sometimes what we hear back from our readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear. The smart authors haul themselves to a corner, lick their wounds, and rewrite it so it’s more readable. They will be successful, for a variety of reasons, all of them revolving around dedication and perseverance.

But when we write something that a reader loves–that is a feeling that can’t be described.

Authors must keep their day jobs, because success as an author these days can’t be measured in cash. It can only be measured in what satisfaction you as an author get out of your work. Traditionally published authors see a smaller percentage of their royalties than indies, but if they are among the lucky few, they can sell more books.

2016-placeholder-book-cover-smallThe fact your book has been picked up by a traditional publisher does not guarantee they will put a lot of effort into pushing a first novel by an unknown author. You will have to do all the social media footwork yourself. You may even have to arrange your own book signing events, just as if you were an indie.

Going indie or aiming for a traditional contract—it’s a conundrum many new authors will be considering in the new year.

However, if you don’t write that book, you aren’t an author, and you won’t have to worry about it. The concept of NaNoWriMo will jump-start many discussions about this very issue.

Today marks the end of NaNoWriMo 2016.  For many, it will be a mad scramble between now and midnight to get their 50,000 words and earn that certificate.

Some of us have completed our first draft, and some of us still have a ways to go. But we are all walking a path that is more rewarding than any high-paying job I’ve ever had.

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner_congrats

7 Comments

Filed under writing

#amwriting: trust your readers

Stardust, Neil GaimanSome hard-core fantasy qualifies as literary fiction because of the way in which the story is delivered. Because of the style in which they’re written, these books appeal to a broader fan base than work pigeonholed into either the “genre fantasy category” or the “literary fiction category.”

Neil Gaiman’s Stardust qualifies as a novel that is a “literary fantasy.” This is because it is a fairy tale told with beautiful prose in an unhurried fashion.

Among the burgeoning population of authors who are just learning the craft, opinions regarding style and voice run high and loud.

According to those critique groups armed with a little dangerous knowledge, in the very first sentence of chapter one, Gaiman commits the most heinous crime an author can: he tells the story with leisurely, poetic prose.

Quote: There once was a young man who wished to gain his heart’s desire. 

OMG!  He did he really write “There once was” in a genre fantasy novel?  Passive Voice! Passive Voice!

Well, guess what? Neil Gaiman knows what he is doing when he sits down to tell a story, and his rabid fans and best-selling novels are a testament to that.

Those megalomaniacal gurus armed with tattered copies of Strunk and White, limited talent of their own, and who believe themselves the fount of writerly knowledge really lose their minds over what he does after that first sentence:

  1. He sets the scene: In a style reminiscent of traditional fairy-tales, he explains how our hero, Tristam, lives in the village of Wall. It’s a tiny town about a night’s drive from London. A giant wall stands next to the town, giving the place its name.
  2. He goes on to explain that there’s only one spot to pass through this huge grey rock wall, and it’s always guarded by two villagers at a time, and they are vigilant at their task.
  3. Gaiman comments that this guarding of the gap is peculiar because all one can see through the break in the wall is meadows and trees. It looks as if nothing frightening or strange could be happening there, and yet no one is allowed to go through the break in the wall.
  4. Only then does he bring us to the point: Once every nine years, always on May Day, a unique, traveling fair comes to the meadow. That is the only day the guards ever take a break from their posts on the gap in the wall.

I can hear the group’s de facto emperor pontificating now. What was Gaiman thinking, starting a fantasy novel with a TELLING, PASSIVE sentence followed by an info dump? Why, everyone knows real authors only use active prose and never, ever, offer information up front.

To that breathless expert, I say “not true, my less-than-widely-read friend.” Lean prose can be leisurely and poetic, and still pack a punch. That is what true writing is all about, conveying a story in a style that is crafted and has a voice that is uniquely that of the author.

In Stardust, each character is given a certain amount of importance, and even minor players are clearly drawn. The circumstances and events gradually pick up speed, and in the end, the reader is left pondering what might have happened after the final words on the last page.

stardust_promo_posterIf you saw the movie that is loosely based on the book, you might be surprised at how different the book is from the movie. There are no cross-dressing sky pirates in the book, although Robert De Niro was awesome in that role in the movie. The movie is excellent but bears little resemblance to the book, and, like The Hobbit movie, should be looked at as a different entity entirely.

Neil Gaiman trusts his readers. That is something we all need to do. Sometimes a story needs to emerge slowly and be told with beautiful, immersive prose, and we need to trust that our readers will enjoy it if we craft it well.

There is room in the bookstore for books with a less urgent story to tell as well as those that ambush the reader and beat them bloody with non-stop action.

When we write, we are writing because we have a story to tell. (Yes, I said tell.) To that end, every word must count, every idea must be conveyed with meaningful words, and sometimes you can just have a little fun with it.

In the opening lines of Gaiman’s Stardust, nothing unimportant is mentioned although the prose meanders in a literary way. Yes, he takes the long way, but the attitudes, mores, and personalities of Tristam’s village are conveyed with humor, and the journey is the best part of this fairy tale. He never devolves into florid, overblown purple prose, yet it has a poetic feel.

True authors are driven to learn the craft of writing, and it is a quest that can take a lifetime. It is a journey that involves more than just reading “How to Write This or That Aspect of a Novel” manuals. Those are important, but they only offer up a part of the picture.

You must read widely, and outside your favorite genre. When you come across authors whose work shocks, rocks, and shakes you, study how they crafted the sentences that moved you.

Let their works show you how to use words to form the moods and emotions that drive the plot.

Learn from the masters how to show the true character of a protagonist, or the smell of an alley by the wharves, painting pictures with words.

Read widely, and then apply what you’ve learned to your own work.

6 Comments

Filed under Fantasy, Literature, writing

#amwriting: consider the short story

via buzzfeed

For the author struggling to get their name out there, one of the best ways is writing and submitting short stories to magazines, contests, and anthologies. You might earn a little cash, and you have the added thrill that someone liked your work enough to publish it.

But how does one go about writing a short story? First, you need a theme, an idea or message that flows through a story from beginning to end. The theme is what readers think the work is about, but it is also what the work itself says about the central subject.

In a given work the theme might never be mentioned outright, but the characters’ actions are motivated by it, and the plot revolves around it. (In case you need it, here is a list of 101 common themes in books.)

The structure of the short story is the same as for a novel: it consists of the Story Arc, which is the term that describes plot structure, or the sequence of events that occur within a story.

Plot Structure is the way the story is arranged:

*the setup

*the obstacle

*the turning point

*the resolution/outcome

THE SETUP: You must have a good hook. In some cases, the first line is the clincher, but especially in a short story, by the end of the first page you must have your reader hooked and ready to be enthralled.

One of the best first lines ever: George Eliott’s Middlemarch starts, “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” That line makes you want to know Miss Brooke. And the reader wonders who the observer is who chronicles this. It is a novel, but if it had been a short story, it would still have hooked the reader.

Good first lines make the reader beg to know what will happen next.  We have to think about that first line, those first paragraphs, and how to land our reader.

After the hook, you must immediately get down to business, as you have no words to waste. Consider these things when writing the opening paragraphs:

  1. The opening lines set the tone for the story.
  2. The opening lines introduce the dramatic question that is the core of the story.
  3. The opening lines introduce the sense of place, the setting of the story.

Sometimes you have a short story you can’t seem to get off the ground. Something stalls it. It could be that you are trying to place too much background in at the beginning. Ask yourself where the story truly begins and start there.

Consider the length of the story you intend to write. Most literary magazines want stories of 1000 to 4000 words in length, but many will say no more than 2000 words. That places a real constraint on you as the storyteller because, to sell your work to that magazine, you must fit your story into a very small box. Every word in a 2000-word story is critical and has a specific task — that of advancing the plot. To that end, in a story of only 2,000 words:

  • No subplots are introduced
  • Minimal background is introduced
  • The number of characters must be limited to 2 or 3 at most

How do you fit a story into 2000 words? Make the Story Arc your friend.

Divide your story into four acts and assign a word limit to each of those acts: in a 2000 word story, each act would be 500 words long.

short story arc

Writing short fiction forces the author to become more economical and yet poetic in how they lay down their prose.

  • Each word must set the scene and convey the atmosphere, and every conversation must impart both information and give the reader a sense of who these characters are.
  • Every sentence must propel the story to the conclusion.
  • By the end of the first ¼ of the manuscript, the reader should have an idea of who the character is, what their moral compass is, what the character wants, and what they are willing to do to acquire it.

Be economical with your words: If you are writing a less formal story, make liberal use of contractions in the narrative as well as in the dialogue: hasn’t, he’d, wasn’t, didn’t, couldn’t, etc. A contraction is a “Two-fer” word – you get two words for the price of one.

Ditch the “crutch” words. You will lower your word-count when you look at each instance and see if you can get rid of these words. Removing them tightens your prose and makes room for important words that will convey the story more effectively.

“Crutch” words are overused words that fall out of our heads along with the good stuff as we are sailing along:

  • so
  • very
  • that
  • just
  • literally
  • there was
  • to be

We all use them too liberally in the rough draft. When we are doing revisions, we look at each instance of those words and decide if the sentence is stronger without it. Nine out of ten times, it is.

As I have said before, writing short stories gets you writing more:

  • more often,
  • more widely on a broad range of topics, and
  • more creatively using a variety of styles.

Using and building on the skills gained in writing short stories can only grow you as an author. Your prose will become stronger and tighter, and you will have a better grip on story construction.

9 Comments

Filed under Publishing, writing