Tag Archives: the process

Many Projects vs One Project

For years, I’ve had multiple projects going on at once. When I’m working, I usually have a main project, a secondary project, and occasional short stories and poetry. Recently, I’ve been having trouble with my memory. On top of the “brain fog” already associated with the disease, I’ve attributed the short-term memory problems to my medication. Though the rheumatologist says no, the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center says it hasn’t been studied enough but there is a good bit of anecdotal evidence. Still, probably going to talk it over with my regular doctor next time I see her. And I was just bumped up to the max dose too. I’m finding that, with my new limits, I’m having to restructure my process. One project at a time.

It’s frustrating to me as I’m really accustomed to being able to flip back and forth at will except in November where I’m more interested in hammering out a solid zero draft in 30 days than I am in getting anything else done. I don’t feel like I’m getting as much done and I already feel like there’s no way to be able to tell all the stories in my head in this lifetime and new stories keep showing up in there! My actual productive word count is still down from my normal count, or what was my normal. But I’m definitely getting closer. Honestly, I’m just glad I can type right again! It’s still a little bit slower but it is what it is.

Yesterday I did a read through of the zero draft of Hunter’s Hell and the first portion of the first draft where I stopped everything to get Christmas in Bear Ridge written. I like where it’s at and I don’t think it’ll take me too terribly long to finish it. Maybe I’ll even get it done by November and get myself a new zero draft of something altogether different. I’ll just have to stay working one at a time for a while. Part of me is a little sad because I have so many shiny new ideas waiting but maybe, doing this, I’ll find I get more done. Here’s hoping anyway.

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Writer Wednesday – Value

I don’t understand why but people seem to think a writer’s time is worth nothing. No one would walk into a department store and think they can walk out with a silk shirt for nothing but they see no problem at all ripping an ebook from whatever site has put them up and never once think about the writer they’re hurting. And they are absolutely hurting the writer, and not just that writer either. There are plenty of free books out there. They might not always be consistently good quality but they are absolutely available via authors, publishers, and booksellers. Most authors have giveaways and contests if you really can’t see your way to buying a book. Libraries have untold numbers of books available to borrow any time! There are perfectly legitimate ways to read for free!

Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25. Using my own books and process as an example, let’s say I put 600 hours minimum writing and editing a single book (and I think that’s probably low), I don’t make minimum wage on a book until I reach 2175 books sold. Not a liveable wage, minimum wage. I’ve got two kids and college is on the horizon, looming large. Every single sale matters. Honestly, thank goodness my husband has a real job or I couldn’t afford to be doing this in the first place.

But some people don’t think a book is worth $5 (only a fraction of which actually goes to the writer). They don’t think a book is worth a dime. They don’t care about the ramifications of their actions, only that they get what they want when they want and offer it up to the next guy because why should anyone pay for the media they consume.

It breaks my heart to know that people who matter to me think so little of the work I do. It breaks my heart more that the people who matter most to me won’t even speak up when other people are talking about book piracy. The big names, maybe a missed sale or two doesn’t matter so much to them but if you’ll pirate the big names, you’ll pirate the not so big names, and you’ll definitely pirate the authors that no one has ever heard of.

My time matters. It’s worth something. Your time matters. It’s also worth something. Why should I, or any writer, be expected to put hundreds of hours into something only to give it away or at least not complain when other people steal it. It’s upsetting and, quite frankly, insulting. If you don’t want to buy a book – don’t buy it. Go to the library, wait for the promotional freebie, but quit stealing.

Authors who read this – if you’ve got experience on this, please share your story. Maybe if people come to realize that these names they see are actually people, maybe then they’ll stop. I know, probably not, but a girl can hope.

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Writer Wednesday – Goldilocks Zone

In science, it’s that perfect place in space between the star and the planet to best offer a chance at life. For my purposes, it’s that perfect balance between descriptive and bogged down. This is one of those moments where it’s good to remember that you will never make every reader happy. I used to have one writer/critique partner who was never happy with my descriptions, she always wanted more whereas I would get slogged down in her descriptions and had to fight the urge to skim them. It is very much a personal preference in both reading and writing. And it is an element that goes a long way to define a writer’s style.

Pick up a couple of your favorite books and find the first description of their main characters. Compare them. Find a book you didn’t care for and do the same. I’d lay odds that there is a lot of similarities in how the authors of your favorite books describe things and a world of difference between them and the other book. Some people really need to be told every tiny detail and some writers need to tell it that way. For me, if it isn’t integral to the plot, I don’t think I need to take the detail down to a certain level. Does the reader really need to know what pattern of china it is? It probably doesn’t matter to the story if the china is Noritake or Wedgwood and, to be perfectly honest, a lot of people don’t know the difference anyway. I am a sparse writer in the description category but when I do describe something in detail, there’s a reason for it beyond the fact that it’s pretty, either to the plot or the character.

Just because I don’t like the every stitch and brick style of description doesn’t mean that other people don’t. I tend to skim when it gets to be too much for me. My inner movie likes to be able to infer some details anyway. I am a minimalist anyway but I also tend to write stores that move at a pretty fast clip where laying down a few paragraphs of description would feel like throwing down spikes to the pacing. Sure, when I read I’ll sometimes find a writer who I want to grow up to be more like and I’ll take note of what they did that I like so much. Not everything fits me and my own style but styles mature over time and with experience. The book I wrote in high school would be a very different thing if I tried writing it again now (I have no intention of doing that, the plot is full of logical problems).

There are people who will say that you have to make sure every scene touches all the senses. I don’t disagree but I don’t think you need to set the table so obviously. Touch on all the senses, sure, but maybe you don’t need to describe each dish on the table when only two or three of them matter to the story. For me, I strive to find the middle ground between what I want to read and what that old critique partner of mine wanted me to write. I figure my Goldilocks zone is somewhere between those places. Where does yours sit? If you take the time to figure that out, you’ll be a better writer for it.

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Writer Wednesday: Talent or Skill

I vote both!

Writing is an art, a skill, a vocation, and, if you’re super lucky, a career. It helps to have some talent but you can get by without it. I can think of several big names that rely on their learned skills and their marketing far more than talent. You can get by with just talent or just skill but you must have one of those things (though I’ve seen some “best-sellers” that would completely refute that). Talent is a thing you either have or you don’t but it’s also very subjective. I might think an author has very little talent and that same writer could be your favorite. Skill is a little less subjective but, fortunately, skill can be learned. You will never please all the people, no writer is universally liked, but if you put the work in and hone your craft, nothing is impossible.

I am a huge proponent of the idea that a good writer is a voracious reader and I think you shouldn’t just read in your preferred genre. In fact, I think you can learn a little more about your own style and preferences if you read way outside your own box. Read all the things and don’t forget about poetry and essays. Even reading terrible books can teach you a lot about what you don’t want to do. I’m also a supporter of listening. Listening to people talk to each other, their rhythms and patterns, slang, dialects, it all can help with writing and not just dialogue.

There are a lot of helpful resources out there for honing that skill. I use Grammarly mostly to help me not murder commas. I do use the free version rather than the professional version mostly because I think between Grammarly and regular spellcheck in Word, I’ve got most of the bases covered but you might like to look into more than that. If you have specific grammar questions, the Purdue OWL may be just the thing for you and there is a lot more than grammar help there. If you’re writing historical, my favorite resource will probably seem a little strange but I personally think that checking to see if your language is accurate is important and for that there’s Etymonline.

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Writing Wednesday – Public Speaking

It’s one of those things I really am not comfortable doing but speaking is a part of writing. It mostly comes after the publication part unless you’re an active poet. It’s an important part of getting to know your base and connect with them. My dad was awesome at it but it did not pass down to me. I speak, even to a small group, and I can start off strong but by the end, I’m a shaky, trembling mess of a woman who really would rather sink into the floor than do it again. I’ve always been that way. But, there was a time when I did it anyway and I’m doing my best now to do it anyway again.

1997 reading at Borders. I’m the one in black as usual.

When I was young and brash, I was a part of a reading at a very lovely Borders in Pennsylvania as part of a group of writers who’d been published in a small local magazine. That was the last time I’ve ever participated in an in-person reading. I’d done a few poetry nights at coffee shops during that same year prior to that reading. About ten years ago, I did a phone interview on a radio show and read from a novella and absolutely had a little panic attack (and you can hear it as it builds to boot). I haven’t sought out more opportunities since then, though I did a recording of a short story of mine that found it’s way to a radio show/podcast and that’s fine, no nerves, no twitching (and it’s still available too).

Yesterday, I went to that local writer’s group I wrote about a few weeks ago. I took my oldest kid with me for moral support (poor kid always gets dragged into stuff so I don’t have to do it on my own) but I went. I’m happy to report that, so far, this is not one of the judgy, preachy, picky groups but one where I think I can do some good while I grow and stretch as a writer too. From the people I met, it seems like it might be a really good fit, where I can help and be helped and learn things I didn’t realize I needed to know. You can’t beat that. One of the things this group does is a monthly assignment – a prompt type thing. I did mine and it ended up being more of a poem than a story but I read it. Before I was done, I was shaking and my voice was trying to swallow itself but I read all of the 178 words. And I’m planning on doing it again. And again. And yet again.

I don’t know that’s I’ll ever be as comfortable as my current favorites to watch (there is some language warning in the links if you’re at work or sensitive): Neil Hilborn  or Rachel Wiley, but I’d like to be comfortable enough to share that part of me, that poetry that lives inside me but struggles to get out.

I am not good at peopling but practice makes, not perfect yet, but better. With each craft fair, each face to face, I get a little less me and a little more that person I’d like to be. I write because I love it because it is who and what I am but I also write to publish and part of that is marketing. When you take a story to market, you’re not just selling that story, you’re selling yourself. You can’t really build your base if you aren’t participating in interactions, real world or online, both matter. I’ve been working hard at doing better with that. If you get a chance, go to your local writer’s group, find a slam (and if you do, tell me how!), join Toastmasters – practice the public face of the craft. Go somewhere no one knows you and if it all goes wrong, try again later.

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Writing Wednesday – Rules

As a kid, rules were stupid. As a parent, rules are necessary. As a writer, it’s both. Knowing when they’re malleable and when they aren’t is the tricky part. Some rules will vary by publisher or style guide and that is completely unavoidable (though it would be really great if we could come to an actual standard). Some rules are grammar rules or structure rules and those are harder to ignore and get away with ignoring but not actually impossible.

During the initial writing, the zero draft stage, I pay zero attention to the rules. Any rules. I don’t care where commas go or what my margins are or which way we’re typing numbers, I just want the story, start to finish. It doesn’t have to follow a rule of logic or even a linear timeline, it just has to get out. I’m big on fixing when it’s finished which really means that you’re not likely to ever see a proper serial-type story from me.

Of all the rules of writing I’ve ever read, only one is, to me, non-negotiable. If you want to be a writer, you should first be a reader. Consume as much as possible, as varied as possible. Read works from other times, other cultures, other genres than your preferred.

Some rules are case by case basis at best. Maybe working in silence is great for you but it would drive me absolutely mad. Maybe outlining is the “approved” method but that, too, would drive me bats. There are several like this that aren’t really rules but foundation issues. Some people need to write within a set of physical parameters or have a set routine they follow to get from point a to point b, it doesn’t always work for everyone and that’s not terrible.

The rest of the rules are pretty malleable, provided you understand why they’re there. Some rules say limit your adjectives. Some say to never use absolute words like never or always. It’s good to keep in mind these rules so the story doesn’t get bogged down but I couldn’t get through a story without breaking them. I do agree with the 3 exclamation points per 100k words though (even if I’m fairly certain I’ve ignored that one too).

I have my own personal rules but that’s come after reading a hundred rules lists by a hundred different writers (and no two are alike) and spending the last 20 years or so figuring out what works for me and what bad habits I’ve developed. I have to watch the number of times I use the word “just” in a story. I have to watch for passive voice. I do tend to get a little adjective heavy and I hate the word “said.” I honestly have to force myself to use “said” and shake up my general speaking pattern so it’s not all homogenous and formulaic. I love balance and aesthetic and mood but I know I have to watch how much of that goes into a story. And I have to watch my sentence fragments. I love a good punchy fragment a little too much. I also tend towards unnecessary words and try to, in the last edits before submission, cut my word count by 10% to tighten up the story.

It takes time to find your rules, to know what you do too much, what you need to shake up to make the work exciting not just for you but for your readers. I’ve never met a writer who knows their weaknesses right from the beginning (I certainly didn’t!) but maybe it happens. Knowing your weaknesses and habits leads to better crafting, better, more thoughtful word choices and sentence structures. All of that leads to a better reading experience too.

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Writing Wednesday – Impostor Syndrome

I know it’s sort of a strange topic for a writing Wednesday post but I think it’s something that goes hand in hand with the process, especially when you’ve just hit send on that submission or are waiting for your first reviews to come in.

Impostor Syndrome is a common thing among creative people. At least it is among the people I know.  It’s more than just doubts, not some false humbleness, and really annoying. Writing is really the only thing I’ve ever felt like I was good at but I’ve never really been all that confident that I’m good enough at it. Sure, I may have four books published, many short stories published, and even more poems published, but still, I don’t quite feel good enough and I’ve heard a number of my very talented, super creative friends lamenting about the same thing.

When I was young and dumb, I had the opposite problem – all the confidence, some of the talent, and mountains of skill to learn yet. Somedays I wish I could go back to that though – that confidence was heady and wonderful and I miss it. Now, I see it in my kids and enjoy their exuberance about whatever it is they’re throwing themselves into.

I’m sure there are links to my anxiety and my depression that make my Impostor Syndrome manifest is different ways but I don’t think they’re requirements for it. I do think the anxiety amplifies it some.

Realistically, I know I’m fairly good at what I do. I’ve only ever had one not so nice review and the others have all been really glowing – not counting my dad’s review because he was biased. Though I did have someone explain to me that they just flat couldn’t follow the mythology of my stories or didn’t care for the genres, I don’t actually count those comments against my abilities. I’ve had people message me on facebook with lovely comments. Though, that is a little weird (and awesome) the first time a stranger messages you to say something nice. None of that gets taken into account inside my head though, I guess. In my head, I’m still worried that someone is going to peek behind the curtain and find me as lacking as Dorothy found the Wizard.

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Writing Wedesday – Recharging

Sometimes you come to a point where writing becomes more job than passion. I love my stories but I love them more when I’m enthralled with the process. For me, taking some time to recharge makes all the difference. I’ll set aside the writing and not worry about it and spend some time reading books, making other kinds of art, and just trying to gather all that wonderful energy up again. Sometimes I’ll pick up a fluff book, a bit of fun brain floss. Not today though – today I’m reading a really fun book that I’ll review in a day or two when I’m finished. If it stays the way the first quarter has been, it might be my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. Sometimes I’ll pick up a paintbrush or a bit of fabric (I have three projects like that that I’m preparing for in pieces). Sometimes I just want to binge watch something scary or fantastic.

Writing is my favorite thing but sometimes, my work is better if I take a few days to do something else. I’m having a bit of a recharge right now but I don’t expect it’ll last super long, maybe not even all of today. I won’t know until I’ve read a bit more and caught up on Killing Eve (super good so far btw) and watched a bit more Blue Exorcist so my friend and I can write up a proper review. I need to make myself a better schedule so I can get to all the things I want to do as well as all the things I need to do. Maybe get a timer for my router or block certain websites for certain hours of the day – it’s so easy to fall down that particular time suck (but somehow I don’t count internet surfing as recharging, it’s less brain floss and more like brain junk food).

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Writing Wednesday – Making Stuff Up

Part of being a writer is making stuff up. A bigger part of being a successful writer is making up believable stuff. I’ve been making up stories forever. There are times when I’m not exactly sure if a story in my head started in my head or is something I remember from the endless books I read as a kid. Once, I made up a word, a concept, in a story and three years later when I picked up that particular story again, I forgot I made it up and started researching to make sure I got the correct terminology. Which of course I did not because I did, in fact, make it up. It irritated me for weeks, trying to find this little bit of information that honestly doesn’t exist (yet – I have high hopes for this book so you might get to see it for yourselves someday).

Just this week, I did it again. I am working on this Christmas book and, given that I am me, there is a lot of mythology that rears up and says hello. There are a lot of really great Christmas, Solstice, Yule, and otherwise Winter myths to play with and I was getting ready to thread one into the story but I wanted to verify it. Guess what? the fairy tale I wanted to use? Totally made up by me a few years ago when I was going to do a very particular present for the kids in my family. I didn’t do that particular present so it got shuffled away into the starts and fizzles file on my computer. With a different story, I’d just go ahead and use it but I am trying to keep this one to real myths and stories. Not everyone is going to recognize them but they’re all from somewhere real and not just my brain.

I’m actually really upset about that particular winter fox myth but I’m absolutely going to use it in another story someday. I think a telling of it as a short story. If I remember to do it. I have an awful lot of projects going right now but I just keep getting fun ideas dagnabit.

A good writer can make up words, things, ideas, and have their readers absolutely believe in them.

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Sometimes Writing is like Needlepoint

Or maybe building with Lego. One dropped stitch, one missed brick, and the whole thing doesn’t quite work. It might be close, it might be passable, but once you’ve seen the error, it’s all you can see. There are a lot of good threads in my Bear Ridge story but I seem to have dropped a stitch somewhere. It’s not so bad that I have to start from scratch, just that I have to change direction, just a little bit, which requires that I go back to the beginning. I just happen to have some of the needles already threaded this time.

For the time being, the story does now have a proper working title, Christmas in Bear Ridge. But I know me and the odds are good that there will end up being a different title before the end of things. But for now, Stack to my Bory. My computer has yet to figure out how to type while I’m dreaming so, by hand it must be done!

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