10 Things I’ve Done That You Probably Haven’t

John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal did this on their sites so I thought I would do the same.  Some of you may have done some of these but most of you probably haven’t:

1. Broken the Sound Barrier
2. Wrote a poem for my wife
3. Commanded a flying squadron in a deployed zone
4. Won a poker tournament
5. Piloted a jet more than 6 miles above the Earth
6. Killed a deer with my car (Not on purpose)
7. Attended an Art Auction and bought paintings
8. Sold something on eBay
9. Qualified as a marksman with an M-9 Pistol
10. Created jewelry for my wife


I wanted to add wrote a Novel, but it’s not done yet.  Let’s hear some of yours!

Writing Guilt

      I started down this writing road about 3 years ago, or was it 4?  Slowly but surely I’ve learned the tools of the trade.  I’ve also slowly become more immersed in the act of writing.  I have a day job still and will for at least 9 more years, but I’m preparing myself for writing success and a career after my current career.  I write more and more in my spare time.  When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing or blogging about it.  I recently saw a quote:

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” – Gloria Steinem

I find that to be very true.  Then there’s this one:

“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.” ~ Lawrence Kasdan

      LOL, it’s so true.  I used to like to watch a few TV shows or catch up on DVDs of movies that I missed at the theater.  Now I just write in my free time and if I’m watching one of those TV shows or a DVD I feel guilty, that I really should be writing instead.   Anyone else have this issue?


Clear Ether!

Just finished an Incredible book! Shades of Milk and Honey

     I heard Mary Robinette Kowal on one of my favorite podcasts several months ago and was taken with her remarkable views on writing.  Her take was so much different than those that I had been hearing that it stuck with me and I put her upcoming novel on my wish list as a curiosity to see how her approach translated to reality.


     I was in the middle of a long series by CJ Cherryh and wanted to finish what I had started, but went ahead and ordered the book when it came out and told my wife that I thought it might appeal to her, as it was a period setting.  My wife and Mary Kowal are both fans of Jane Austin, who was the inspiration for the book, Shades of Milk and Honey.  She adored the book and it is one of the best books she has read this year according to her.



     I started the book this morning and finished it just now and I have to say that it was fantastic!  I am not a fast reader but I read the book from cover to cover, with a few breaks to eat and do a little work, in under twelve hours.  That is a rarity for me, but the book has such wonderful appeal, from setting to mythos to character that one can’t help be drawn in.  I like a happy ending too and this one finished in a grand fashion, leaving me wanting more.  I was very taken with her writing style and with a setting that makes me wish that manners were not a thing of the past.  Although there are many things about the early nineteenth century that I would not enjoy, I definitely think our society could use a good dose of propriety and civility.


Mary also takes little jab at herself with one of my favorite quotes:

“One must not put trust in novelists, Beth; they create worlds fit to their own needs and drive their characters mad in doing it.”



I know she has a second book coming out in 2012 to follow this one, Glamour in Glass, but it will be a long wait indeed. If you like period pieces and magic, this one will definitely satisfy!  Well done Mary Robinette Kowal!

Rules for Writing for the Novice Novelist

A friend of mine asked me if I could pass along some of what I have learned over the past couple of years about trying to write a book.  I’ve tried to distill that info here.   I am focused on novel writing, so all of these ideas may not apply to poetry writing or something other than Novels or Novellas.  Please feel free to add in some comments that will help refine this.  This is all from the perspective of a novice unpublished writer, but I have done my homework, and learned a few things along the way.
  • Choose your voice for the story and be consistent.   I think most authors will tell you to avoid present tense, so past tense is the most common method.   Third person narrative is the most common, but books are also written in first person, Twilight by Stepanie Meyers is a good example, and second person, Halting State by Charles Stross is a good example of this form, but is fairly rare.  There also variations on how to use the third person in the form of omniscient, objective(primarily used for news reporting) and limited, which can lend itself to a narrator that is unreliable.  Unreliable just means you only see what the character sees and feel what the character feels, whether it’s a true representation of reality or not.  Third person works very well if you are changing the narrator.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrative_mode
  • There is no right or wrong way to write a book.  The end goal is to have a finished story that makes sense and the reader is able to follow and enjoy.  There lots of ways to skin the cat.  The two most prominent that I know are outlining and discovery.
    • Outlining is just what it implies; you make an outline then flesh it in and keep adding layers and detail to your outline in the form of story.
    • Discovery writing is where you have a kernel of an idea and just start and let the story go where it wants.  I prefer a combination of the two, with a basic outline then start writing and adjust my outline as the story progresses.  Another common way for discovery writing is to get to where you are about what you think is 2/3 done then outline the ending to help you close the loop on your story.
  • When you are writing your first draft don’t stop to edit unless there is something in the flow of the story that needs fixed in order to move forward.  Stopping and restarting will have you writing the first three chapters of the book over and over and never getting any farther.  Just keep moving ahead and don’t look back.  The revision process will take care of all that other stiff.
  • A lot of people get hung up on world building.  They really like this part, and I can see the fun and the draw of that, but at some point you need to get a plot idea and some characters and start writing an actual story.
  • The beginning of the book should grab the reader.  This is not universal, I know a lot of established authors don’t really follow this advice, but they already have a following.  To hook new readers you need to start out with an interesting passage.  Try starting in the middle of a scene when the action is tense.  The idea is to get in as late as you can and out as early as you can.  Most publishers and agents are going to ask for the first three chapters or X number of pages, but they want to see the beginning.  Most writers I’ve talked to recommend skipping the prelude idea, just start your novel there if it’s that interesting.  It is situation dependant. 
  • Show, don’t tell.  This means let the action play out, don’t just describe it in summary form.  Action sequences should be shown, and using shorter sentences moves the action along for a faster pace during these sequences.  There are parts of the story you can skim over with broad brush to avoid boring the reader, but too much of this makes the story feel empty.
  • Info dumps should be kept to a minimum or broken up into smaller bits and brought out in the right spots, preferably by one of your characters.  If the info isn’t germane to THIS story it doesn’t need to be included.
  • Every chapter should have a purpose and move the story forward.
  • Know the rules of grammar.  You can say anything but punctuate it properly.  This may not sound important but it is a huge red flag to people that might buy your work that you don’t know your craft.  I wish now that I’d paid a lot more attention in all those English classes.
  • Write as often as you can.  It’s best if you can develop a habit of writing.  If you can manage to get a regular time and place to write that’s ideal.  The whole trick is to write, as often as you can, then write some more.  Did I say that enough?
  • Read your book out loud to make sure it flows.  Get a partner for this part if you can.
    • Dialogue should be dynamic and not stilted, but written dialogue is not like real talking.  Leave out the uhs, the choppy unfinished sentences and stuttering unless you are trying to set a tone or particular character trait.
  • Too much technical jargon or unusual language is going to lose your reader, or slow down the pace of the story.  Just pepper it in to give the feel and style you are trying to portray.  Ease the reader into it and you can use it a little more later on perhaps, once they get accustomed to what you’re doing.
  • My personal pet peeve is overdoing the descriptives.  Most of us are not Nora Roberts.  Let’s not fool ourselves or overcompensate by describing every detail of something that really has no bearing on the story.
  • Sometimes your characters are going to take you places you hadn’t planned on.  This, to me, is one of the great joys of writing, but sometimes they will take you down a dead end or completely off course.  Then you will have to decide if the new direction is a better story or if it really is just going to derail the entire plot.  Save all this stuff though.  Don’t throw away any good prose.  I keep a boneyard for all my ideas that you can salvage from later.
  • Avoid passive voice, using “be” verbs will usually sound weak and can be avoided by using action verbs where possible.  
  • Avoid editing and writing at the same time.  You write with the right side of your brain and edit with the left side.  Your creativity flows from the right side, so try to avoid mixing in left side stuff when you are in the creative mode.  You do use both sides at the same time or you wouldn’t be able to write, but if you avoid going back and changing a lot of stuff constantly while you are in creative mode you will likely have more success moving the story forward.
  • People ask all the time where you get your ideas from, but honestly once you actually start this writing thing as a regular part of your life the ideas just flow. 
    • Keep a notebook with you as much as possible and write down ideas as they come to you. 
    • Reading a lot helps, with style and tempo and form.  Read as much as you can.  But I know a lot of authors avoid stuff that is too close to what they are presently working on to avoid too much influence on their story.
    • Dreams are often a good source of ideas.
    •  I read lots of magazine articles on the subjects I’m interested in writing about.  For me Scientific American is a great source of ideas.
    • The web is a great source for ideas as well.  I stay up on news events in my area of interest also.
    • I barrowed an idea from Brandon Sanderson for keeping track of story ideas.  I do a Book Guide, it is broken down into four sections: Character, Setting, Plot and Boneyard.  Just flesh out the information for each section as you develop more of the ideas.  I find this helps immensely with continuity.
  • I love listening to writing podcasts also, my favorite is Writing Excuses http://www.writingexcuses.com/ these guys are successful writers and have a plethora of good advice for aspiring writers.
  • Here is an interesting fact: 250 words is approximately one page for determining your novel length.  It takes about 15 minutes to half an hour to do that each day.  If you do that for a year you will have a novel length book.  Obviously if you can write for an hour or two each day you can pump one out a lot faster.
  • If you are going to submit your writing to someone, whether agent or editor, follow the guidelines they lay down.    There are people that get picked up that don’t follow the rules but they are the exception, not the norm.
  • Have faith in yourself and be prepared for rejection, it’s likely going to happen, a lot. 
  • Once you finish the manuscript, hand it off to a first reader, more than one if you can.  The purpose of the first reader is to see if you actually told the story you intended.  Sometimes phrasing doesn’t work or misleads the reader and your first reader can find these problems.  Use people that will give you real feedback, not your mom, who loves you and won’t tell you the hard truth.  Listen to the critiques and make changes if you think their critique is valid.  Don’t argue with them, and believe me, there is going to be a strong compulsion to convince them you are right.  When you are getting the same critique from multiple people its not them, it’s you.
  • Don’t overedit.  Error checking is great and continuity checking is good, but your editor voice doesn’t have the same view of your work and if you do too much editing you may lose the magic that made your story work.  I read a lot that the first draft is often crap and you need to edit brilliantly, but the creative part of your story is going to come out on the first pass more than likely, so keep this in mind.  Three passes is probably enough to get the big stuff: errors, continuity and first reader comments that show stuff that might require some tweaking is probably all you need.  Your mileage may vary here, but the idea is to let go at some point and start mailing out your story.
  • Agent or not.  There is a lot of discussion on this issue right now.  It will really depend on how much of the business side of things you want to take on.  If you don’t want to mess with any of it then an agent is probably the way to go.  If you can take the time to understand the business and work your own contracts then you probably don’t need an agent.  You can always use an independent editor and an attorney that specializes in book contracts to help you out here.  For more on this subject I would read through Dean Wesley Smith’s website on debunking the publishing industry myths:  http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=860
  • Once you are ready to submit your novel get it in the mail and START ON THE NEXT BOOK.
  • If you don’t have any luck getting a big time publisher to buy your book you can always self-publish and there are lots of ways these days to do this.  This tidbit is something I found in the comments section of one of Dean Wesley Smith’s blogs:


Put your novel up on Smashwords, which gets you to Sony, Nook, iBook, and other places. Cost: Free
Put your novel through CreateSpace in trade paperback form in POD. That gets it to Amazon. Cost: Free (or $39.00 if you want better distribution into all stores.)
Put your novel through LighteningSource in trade paperback form in POD. That gets it to Ingram. Cost: around $100.00
 
From what I gather that will pretty much get your book to every English speaking market on the globe.
 
Good luck on your writing!

The Publishing Landscape Has Changed

The publishing landscape has changed dramatically in the last two years and continues to change.  Distribution was always tough for a small publishing house and forget it if you were trying to self-publish.  But that’s all changed now.  Dean Wesley Smith has a section on his website devoted to debunking the myths of writing and publishing a book.  Here is one gem I found in the comments section below his post about self-publishing:


Put your novel up on Kindle. Cost: Free
Put your novel up on Smashwords, which gets you to Sony, Nook, iBook, and other places. Cost: Free
Put your novel through CreateSpace in trade paperback form in POD. That gets it to Amazon. Cost: Free (or $39.00 if you want better distribution into all stores.)
Put your novel through LighteningSource in trade paperback form in POD. That gets it to Ingram. Cost: around $100.00
No reason for a self-published author these days to pretend to be a traditional publisher and go into the produce model. And besides, why do it until you’ve tried to sell it to a traditional fiction publisher first?

 –Dean Wesley Smith


Here is a link to his website, it’s chock full of great information and advice for someone trying to break in to the writing business:
http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=860


I highly recommend it!


All this reading I’ve been doing has convinced me all the more that I just need to spend more time writing and worry about the other stuff after I finish the manuscripts.  I’m back at it….

More on the future of publishing

          Just after I finished my last post Jane Fancher posted that she had run into Patty Briggs this weekend and mentioned that she was releasing a new book and posted a link to it.  In that post Mike Briggs, Patty’s husband who runs her website, linked to another post by Kristine Kathryn Roush about the very subject I had posted on earlier.  Her blog is usually focused on the business end.  She knows the publishing industry from the inside and from the writer’s perspective and she is in the middle of a series of articles trying to define where the industry is heading and what it means to writers.  I am linking all the posts below that she has already published as of today.  They are lengthy and very well researched and very informative.

Here is just one snippet from her outstanding blog:


     “Enter electronic publishing—which is, as the bloggers say, a game-changer.  But it’s not a game-changer the way that the bloggers believe it is.  Electronic publishing will enable Big Publishing to change its business model.  In other words, electronic publishing won’t cause the demise of Big Publishing.  Electronic publishing will save it.”

The future of book publishing

     I don’t know where everyone gets the idea that the costs of publishing eBooks are zero.   I see that comment all the time.


     If you want someone to edit the book or prepare it for the zillion formats that eReaders use it comes with a price tag.  That stuff doesn’t happen all by itself.  If you expect the author to do that stuff you are going to see a lot fewer books coming out or coming out in limited formats.  The biggest complaint most people have about eBooks is the poor quality of editing, so if you think you are going to selfpublish without the proper number of rounds of the editing process you are setting yourself up for failure.



     Selfpublishing is growing dramatically and so is the eBook market.  It’s leading to a problem of differentiating the good from the bad.  Some new filtering mechanism is likely going to develop to separate the chaff from the wheat, but I haven’t seen it yet.  There is still a lot of crap making it out into the online market.  There are a lot of well-known authors making an effort to take control of their publishing but it does take a toll.


     I think marketing is a huge issue, maybe the biggest.  If you can’t reach your audience you aren’t going to sell any books.  Having an actual marketing plan and following through on it will likely be the difference of success or failure of your book, and that holds true for eBooks and traditional paper books.  Large publishing houses can market your book in a way that you will likely never be able to manage unless your name starts with J.K.




     Publishers have their place in the scheme and I don’t think most authors want to do those things that publishers can bring to the table.  It takes away time from writing and a lot of it requires a skill set they may not have.  It’s all a matter of finding the right pricing structure that will make the publisher a viable entity and still provide the author with the appropriate level of compensation for their efforts.  Some of the publishers are figuring it out and moving in the right direction now.  Time will tell if the big publishing houses will figure it out.

Rearranging day

     I renamed the book and rearranged the format of the Blog today.  I’ve been waffling on the title for awhile and finally made the plunge.


     I really should be writing instead of goofing around with this blog, but I am easily distracted.  I’m happy to be back to writing the first book, I missed the characters and they are anxious to get going with the story.  I really need to buckle down and just write.  I was doing a little editing today and was happy with a lot of what I had written.  It’s always nice to go back and say,”Wow, did I write that?  It’s not bad.”  It’s a hellava lot better than, “I really suck, I should just quit writing.”  I know there are weak areas, but I hope to clean those up on the edits. 



     I’ve been doing a lot of reading about editing lately.  There is a lot of advice out there, and I think you can probably find someone that will tell you what you want to hear, follow the rules – never follow the rules, write the way you speak – people don’t speak they way it will work in book format, edit as you write – don’t edit till you finish.  It really boils down to what is going to help your story not suck and following your heart.  If you are cut out to do this and make money at it, I think you will either have it or don’t (You still need to learn a lot more or just write for yourself).  I haven’t figured out which one I am yet, I have to actually finish a manuscript first.  I am not stopping now till I finish and hopefully I can do it by the end of January. 


     Then the wonderful task of editing and editing again and again, then having someone else edit it.  I actually can’t wait to get to that part.

Habit not so much formed

Well, its now the 4th of December and I haven’t been writing for the last 4 days.  I’m disappointed, but it’s been a busy week this week.  Hoping to get some writing in tomorrow on Vim Dicare.


I’ve been getting into twitter a lot more since NaNoWriMo started.  I am following enough interesting people that its worth it to stop in and see what’s going on.  Just updated my background with some original artwork that I made with Photoshop.  I love me some Photoshop.

NaNoWriMo 2010 is in the can

     It’s over at midnight tonight, but I hit the 50k mark last night around 11:30 pm.  Big win for me!  My first attempt and it was not horribly hard, although there were times I wasn’t sure I would make it.  The entire trick is to be consistent.  I have no idea how people write 15 to 20 thousand words in one day.  My best day was about 3500.  I had several days over 3k and several under 1k. But I only skipped 4 days I think in the entire month.


     I want to congratulate everyone that gave it a shot!  At least you wrote something.  Starting is more than half the battle with writing, IMHO.



     I know at least one person that had 203k.  That’s just amazing!  And in less than 30 days.  I know a couple of people in my region wrote two 50k stories in 30 days, again amazing!  I think some people are writing without punctuation or worrying at all about grammar.  I can’t write like that, at least I haven’t been able to write like that and I’m not sure I want to, but I was finding that I could write more and more near the end. 


     I stopped last night once I was comfortably over 50K, but I think I am probably only about 2/3 done with the story.  I’m really hopeful that this created a good habit pattern.  I’m only 70k words into Vim Dicare and I really want to finish that book next.  I will say it’s hard to step away from Revelation Void now, it was just getting to the good part.


     All in all, it was a good experience that I would recommend to anyone.  It was never too burdensome, on a few days that I was wiped out I just didn’t write, and was able to make up for it on other days when I had energy and the muse was awake.  I did have a good plan for the Thanksgiving holiday, but if I were traveling it would have turned out a lot differently.  My plan for next year is to get a really good start and try to stay ahead of the line all the way.  I know my wife wasn’t pleased with me all the time, but overall she was supportive.  She joked that they need a support group for NaNoWriMo widows and widowers. 


     I’ll post a few more pieces of Revelation Void, but please keep in mind that it was pulled directly out of my rear most of the time.  Stream of consciousness almost, but it is not edited.  I fear that I may have written the most boring SF adventure story of all time, but editing will help pick up the pace.  I just went into detail on some things that would likely bore some readers, but that was where my head was when I was just trying to get some words down.