Sunday, October 31, 2010

Crit Dare Day 9 - On a Roll

Momentum is a wonderful thing. It can take a while to build up, but once you really have it, it carries you.

And as I thought, throwing myself into my critique group has given me the momentum I need. Quite a lot of it. I have no idea how many words I wrote today, but it was a couple thousand.

I did do my one critique, and but I didn't get Chapter 12 ready yet. (I've set a deadline for myself of midnight tomorrow.) I've tried to do an assessment of how long it's going to take to do the rest, but I can't tell. Since I am revamping a lot of the middle, I do have a lot of work to do. But it's all fun stuff and should go well.

Tomorrow we go to see a morning matinee of Bela Lugosi's Dracula, and then to dim sum. Then just writing for the rest of the day.

I do hope I can catch up on sleep, though. The problem with momentum is it tends to pick up just as you are trying to go to bed.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Crit Dare Day 8 - Too Busy Writing!

I was too busy writing to remember to post! (Yay!)

I did do my critique for the day, and I submitted Chapter 11 to the group, which should get me moving on making Chapter 12 presentable.

I've had a couple more nice reviews for Have Gun, Will Play this week, and people asking about the sequel. So I guess I'd better get this book done so I can get cracking on Old Paint: Dead Or Alive.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Crit Dare Day 7 - Should You Write Two Books At Once?

Two more chapters critiqued. And more writing on multiple scenes both from the WIP, and a little work on The Serial. Wrote maybe 1500 words.

Which brings me to a question someone asked on Kindleboards this week - should people work on more than one story at a time?

For me the answer is a resounding yes, but it is a sticky topic. If we go back to Heinlein's Rule #2 (You Must Finish What You Start): the number one reason that rule is necessary is because shiny new ideas are more fun than the hard work of finishing an old idea.

After all, odds are that you wrote the easy stuff early on, and by the time you are getting close to the finish, it's all the tricky and hard parts that you have left. (Not shiny at all!) Giving in to the lure of a new idea is the downfall of many a writer.

However, there are a couple of reasons you might want to work on more than one project at a time:

1.) When a shiny new idea comes to you, you don't want to lose it. You want to at least take notes. If you don't, the new idea has a way of taking up a bit of your brain so you won't forget it. Get it out of your head and onto the page. Take the notes, and set them aside so you can get back to the work at hand with a clear conscience.

2.) Many ideas need a lot of "simmering" time. They need development, research, or just plain time to mature. If you get these stories going a few months (or even years) before you actually start working on them, they will be the better for it. But if you only work on one story at a time, you won't be very productive during those months or years. IMHO, you should put the pot on to boil before you're done with the previous story.

3.) The human brain was not intended for long drawn out concentration on a single thing. We all vary here, but we do tend to need breaks. A pause to work on somehting else can be exactly the mental break you need - and it is still productive work time.

The key to working on more than one project at a time, though, is to have one project that is the prime work-in-progress. That has priority. You must always go back to it. Give yourself rules - perhaps to start and end every work session with that story. Or to work on it every day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crit Dare Day 6 - Actual Writing!

After today my schedule just might go back to something approaching normal. We have finally achieved full staffing. All the new student aides are trained. The tutors seem to be working out well. (On going home crisis is continuing for the foreseeable future, though.)

I am ahead on posting critiques, so today I just read a couple of new chapters. Two very different books.

I also did some good new writing. The new material from Chapter 12 gave me a chance to write a much better follow up at the end. I think, though, that I need to identify and play up the best red herring from the Chapter 11-12 sequence, and use it to make a trail to the conclusion too.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Crit Dare Day 5 - Stuck Inside of Row K With The Can't See Blues Again

I did three crits today to finish up what I have of this book. She keeps telling me that there are only 30 some pages left, but I haven't seen them yet. As we are now at the suspenseful denouement, I am waiting rather anxiously.

I didn't write any more today, nor did I write a splendid blog post for here. I had a couple of topics in mind, partly inspired by the fact that we were going to see Dylan tonight - but the concert turned out to be a disaster, as everyone in the first few rows decided to stand throughout the entire concert (and this was not a stadium or hall - this was a small old-fashioned theater) entirely blocking the view of the row of handicappers and companions behind them - and a good portion of the audience behind them.

The management got tons of complaints from all over throughout the entire concert, but they didn't care. They wouldn't even approach audience members to ask. Dylan's roadies were hostile to the handicapper issue, too, and appeared to block the ushers from doing anything anyway. (However, they had no problem ordering the ushers to go into the same part of the crowd to enforce the no-camera rules.) Even when audience members tried to get the others to sit down, the guys in front were rude enough to tell handicappers to their face that they weren't going to sit down period.

So instead of being a great concert it turned out like being stuck at a really bad party - you know, a bunch of obnoxious people crowded shoulder to shoulder in the dark while the excellent sound system plays loudly enough so nobody can talk. (Except everyone is shouting and trying to be heard by the ushers and roadies all through the thing.)

Not happy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Guest Post - What Makes a Character a Hero?

I'd like to welcome Chris Kelly, blogger at Dun Scaith, who is currently on a blog tour for his new book, Matilda Raleigh: Invictus. He's currently hosting a series of guest posts on his own blog, while he's out visiting this month.

The subject of this post is heroes - which is an important one not only to the more heroic steampunk genre, but also to mystery, I think. You could say that mystery began with the intellectual hero of Victorian fiction - often a person not only of greater skills, but of stronger character than those around him.

What Makes a Character a Hero?

People quite often call protagonists heroes, and yet it is often not true. Whilst a hero can be a protagonist, a protagonist doesn’t have to be a hero. This gets muddied further when anti-hero’s are included. A protagonist can be a hero, anti-hero, or just a protagonist.

A protagonist is someone who moves the action forward, and an antagonist is someone who holds the action back. In a lot of fantasies it quite often seems to start out with the mentor as the protagonist and the hero as the antagonist.

An example of when a main character is neither hero nor anti-hero would be Adrian Mole. Adrian Mole is the protagonist of Sue Townsend’s Diaries of Adrian Mole series. If you’ve ever read the series, you will know what I mean. If you haven’t, they’re very good.

The difference between an anti-hero and a hero is, at best, a motivational one. Issues of attitude can also be included. Heroes are motivated out of an altruistic desire to help others – as in Spider-man’s “With great power comes great responsibility.” Anti-heroes have a more personally validated motivation – keeping with the comic theme, the Punisher seeks vengeance for the murder of his family. On an attitude note, heroes tend to be happier, more well-adjusted people than anti-heroes.

Interestingly, anti-heroes often end the story happier, as if the events of the story were a form of therapy. Heroes often become darker as the story progresses, quite often needing therapy by the conclusion of the climax. They almost seem to meet in the middle.

But what makes a hero stays the same no matter what the characters motivation, and has no bearing on their attitude. It doesn’t matter if they are reluctant, or eager. It doesn’t matter if they are jealous, angry, and bitter, or so happy they seem to have smile-scars.

A hero makes the hard choices.

That’s it. That’s all they have to do to be a hero. In real life or fiction. Not a lot, and yet not easy. In fact, the difficulty in making the hard choices is what makes a hero so rare. Think you could do it?

A fire-man enters a burning building. He goes so far. From training and experience, he sees the danger. He has a minute until the entire building collapses. It will take him fifty seconds to get out from here. He has barely enough time to save himself. Up ahead, somewhere, a child cries...

There’s a reason not everyone is a hero. Most people just can’t make those choices.

In my novel, Matilda Raleigh: Invictus, Matilda, an old-style hero (hero through motivation and attitude) is forced to make a choice between the deaths of 1500 innocents or letting the villain win, which would lead to the deaths of countless more. She can’t just invent a third option, she has to choose one; either way it’s a hard choice, and I think that’s what being a hero truly comes down to. What do you think?

Chris Kelly is the author of the steampunk/ sword and sorcery extravaganza Matilda Raleigh: Invictus. Whilst not a hero, he understands them, and writes them convincingly: to sample or buy his novel, click on this link: Invictus.

If you read this blog, and find it useful or entertaining, buy a book once in a while, or make a donation. 

Here's a link to a list of my books.  And ... hey, look at that!  There's a donation link right below this sentence. (Donations via Paypal)

Crit Dare Day 4 - Progress!

Critique does do good things to clear the head sometimes. One of my critique group commented on an odd reaction of Gwen - wondering if it meant something I didn't intend it to mean - not overtly anyway. However, she had spotted some subtext, and discussing that put me in the right frame of mind to finally approach the most important scene in Chapter 12.

I need a title for that chapter, though. I've got a few in mind, but I haven't found the perfect one. I am using chapter titles in this book the way I used them in Have Gun, Will Play - as teasers. Which means, if possible, they have to suggest the feel and direction of the chapter, without actually being a plot spoiler. Since we can only post one chapter at a time in this group, I like to end each submission with a "next up" and the title of the next chapter.

So anyway, I got a couple more critiques done, but since today was long and mildly grueling at work, I didn't get as much done as I'd like. (No new work on The Serial.) But I am content.

In the next hour or so, I shall post Tuesday's guest post from Chris Kelly of Dun Scaith - all about how a protagonist is not necessarily a hero.

Crit Dare Day 3 - Small Progress on All Fronts

I posted two more critiques tonight. I want to get ahead because I have three evenings of work in a row this week. (Well, one isn't work - Dylan is coming to town, and we've got tickets.)

I also continued to make progress on the WIP (on the difficult Chapter 12, no less) and to play more with "The Untitled Story I Call The Serial." Everything seems to catch fire as the weekend comes to an end - isn't that the way it goes?

In the meantime: Chris Kelly of the Dun Scaith blog will be doing a guest post on Tuesday on the nature of heroes "in the old sense of the word" he says. He's currently promoting his steampunk novel Matilda Raleigh: Invictus. (I'm interested in this one because it pushes the envelope of the steampunk era to 1912, the edge of my own favorite times - the silent movie era.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Crit Dare Day 2 - Juggling

Too much going on for things to have gone as well as I'd hoped, but I actually got a lot done.

First, I decided to let my brain run free for a bit to get the kinks out. I worked a bit on the ideas and outline for the future novel series I call "The Serial" because it's inspired by silent era serial adventure. (For new readers, here is a post about it's first bit of character generation, and here is on on the unorthodox world-building I'd like to do with it.) The story is still evolving, and I will probably have a lot to say about that process later on.

Then I wrote and posted three critiques, and then went ahead and read through Chapter 9 and posted that for critique. I'd forgotten how much fun Chapter 9 was. It's where Karla meets Gwen. I hope that Gwen is not too annoying. We'll see what the crit group says....

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Critique Dare - 9 Chapters Read

The challenge until November 30 (or as I call it "NaNoWrongMo") is to critique a chapter a day. My critique group's rule is that you post a chapter for every three you read. If this doesn't get the darned book done, I don't know what will.

I will stop here to define what I consider "finished" for a first draft.

I tend to jump around when I write, developing the story in pieces and rewriting as I go. By the time the book is whole, most of it has been revised several times. Since I've already written the last chapter, how I do I know whether it's done or not?

My own rule is that the first draft is done when it is actually readable without inserted explanations. There may be rough patches and sketchy scenes, but it all makes sense. There comes a point when it's maybe three quarters done that the beginning is all filled in, and I may let my crit group see those early chapters before it's done, but otherwise I don't usually let people see it until the whole story is there.

What this means is that the story doesn't usually need much if any structural work by the time anyone sees it. The "re-vision" stage is usually done - but that's okay because I find that critique at that level just tends to interfere with the process. Structural critique is better to help you with the next story. If you get it too soon on this story you could end up in a muddle as you try to encompass outside and inside forces. Nail your own concept down to the best of your ability. If you are already in a muddle, talk it out with somebody. Save the critique for later.

The advantage of using critique late in the process is that people can better see what you're going for, and help you edit and polish your way into that direction. If your beginning didn't set it up right, then they can see that later on - but if they try to critique your beginning before they see where you're going, they may not even know it's not working.

So anyway....

Tonight I read nine chapters of a single book - which is rising to an exciting climax. This story is really hitting its stride, with lots of fun twists, and I'm glad I saved those nine chapters in a row, because the truth is, it would be hard to see the pacing if I had read them one at a time, separated by a week or two.

I did not write the critique for tonight because I read the extra chapters instead. I'll probably post more than two tomorrow.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Que Sera Sera (Or Don't Chase Markets)

I went to see The Man Who Knew Too Much (1955 version) in a real theater today. I really wanted to have my current work-in-progress (The Man Who DID Too Much) done by this time, I meant to have it done in March, actually.

But I got derailed.

What happened this spring was this: I set aside Man Who to chase the market.

Chasing the market is always a sucker's game, but it's partly built into the mindset for traditional publishing, because the process takes so much time. There's so much downtime, and all you can do is strategize on how to use it well. Make sure that you're ready with the right thing if the editor expresses an interest! Make sure you're ready if they don't!

But indie publishing isn't like that. It's fast and direct and organic. You actually have to build your own stalling mechanisms into it just to make sure you give the story proper time to mellow.

So when I started my ebook publishing experiment this spring, it made complete sense at the time (using my traditional publishing mindset) to pull out the drafts and outlines of the sequels to those older stories, and polish or finish them up right now. I knew that Man Who would require a lot of drawer time for the rewrite, plus I figured I shouldn't put yet another series out before I had any sequels ready, right?

Take advantage of my marketing momentum. Follow up! You must finish what you start!

But that killed me. I had writing momentum on Man Who. All those other books have been sitting in a drawer for so long, I had no momentum at all on them. The stories were cold, and required just as much dreamtime to get up to speed as a new story might. More, because I had to recover thoughts and threads I had long ago forgotten.

And I finally realized that I was doing to Man Who exactly what I'd done to those stories. I was setting it aside while it was hot, and chasing something else that was cold, and spinning my wheels excessively in the process.

So like the doctor in the joke says: "If it hurts when you do that, stop doing that!"

From now on I need to take advantage of writing momentum when I have it, and allow the time to build it when I don't. (And let the marketing momentum take care of itself.)

I have two weeks - and if life doesn't interfere, two long weekends - before NaNoWriMo starts. I don't expect to have a solid draft of The Man Who Did Too Much. I have been debating putting together at least a full but sketchy draft so that I could feel I've accomplished something by the end of the month. Then I could set it aside and do NaNoWrongMo* with some sense of satisfaction.

But I've changed my mind. "NEVER GIVE IN!" says Uncle Winston - and I will begin the second year of my ongoing novel dare of a blog by not giving in.

I think I'll make NaNo into a critique challenge instead. Because, see, every time I critique three chapters for my group, I can post a chapter. But to post a chapter, I need to have it done and polished too. So it starts here, and starts now. I critique a chapter every night - October 22 through November 30 - and that should give me sufficient focus and motivation to keep her going.

And then in December, maybe I'll do the article writing I was planning to do for NaNo.

*NaNoWrongMo is what I call it when you don't actually set the goals you're supposed to set for NaNoWriMo. Their rules are just not conducive to good productivity, so I never actually sign up, but like all writers, I love the concept.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Heinlein's Rule Number 5 - You Must Keep It On The Market Until Sold

And on the one year anniversary of this blog, we finish up the series on Heinlein's Rules of Writing.

"You must keep it on the market until sold."

This one seems to apply only to writers going for traditional publication, but I think it applies equally to self-published and indie writers.

Sure indies don't have that single magic moment where you can say "I sold a story." Sales happen over time: a trickle, and then less, and then a little more, and then a little less.... Are you ever going to get anywhere? How do you know when to give up?

I'll let Winston Churchill say it:

"Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

You can define "sold" any way you want - but you must keep it on the market until you have achieved it.

And one last caveat: Seth Godin put it well when he said, "Persistence isn't doing the same thing over and over - that's just annoying. Persistence is having the same goal over and over."

Never give in, but do learn from your efforts! (And now, of course, get back to Rule 1 - Write!)

And this brings to a conclusion the first year of this blog. Tomorrow we look forward into the next phase of this ongoing dare, explore what is undone, and set some new goals.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Heinlein's Rule Number 4 - You Must Put It On The Market

(This is a series on Heinlein's Rules of Writing - Start with the introduction here.)

One of my favorite movies about writing isn't actually about writing. It's a strange Australian comedy about ballroom dancing, called Strictly Ballroom. It's about a brilliant young dancer who wants to dance his own steps - steps which are not "strictly" ballroom steps - and the forces of conformity (in the form of the Australian Dancing Federation) which are desperate to stop him.

Daring as the hero might seem, the real lesson of this story is carried by the heroine. She's a shy, awkward beginner who dares to approach a Pan-Pacific Open Champion and ask to dance with him. She's one the who teaches him her Spanish Gypsy motto: "A life lived in fear is only half a life." Everyone else in the story lives in fear of failure - even the hero at one point. But she is not afraid to fail. She's willing to fail over and over again.

And that is the lesson of the story. It isn't about daring to dance your own steps, it's about dancing your own steps in competition. It's about risking failure.

I mentioned that writing dream stories in your journal isn't enough if you want to be a storyteller. So, if being a writer (and not just a dreamer) is your nature, then you need to get the darn stuff out there to readers.

You've got to get published.

You have to risk failure.

Don't be shy. Don't be a coward. Don't leave it in a drawer. Get out there and dance your steps in competition! (That links to the end scene of Strictly Ballroom, so if you don't want spoilers, go out and rent it.)

Next time - You must keep it on the market until sold!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Heinlein's Rule Number 3 - You Must Refrain From Rewriting Except to Editorial Order

(NOTE: The Insane Marathon that is my "real" life has continued to have an impact. After a big family crisis today, I have no mindspace for anything - not writing, not editing, maybe drooling. I had this post written already, so I simply refrained from rewriting it. Seems appropriate somehow.... Oh, and you can find the beginning of the series on Heinlein's Rules of Writing here.)

Yes, Heinlein's third rule tells you not to rewrite.

This rule really bothers most writers - and it especially bothers editors and writing teachers. I hear a lot of people to go elaborate lengths to explain how he didn't really mean it, or he was talking about some other thing. I can't say that I myself completely agree with it, but....

I think he meant exactly what he said.

So (at the risk of turning this into another apology for this rule) let's take a look at the context in which he said it:

Heinlein wrote during the pulp era. It was a time when there was a lot of fiction being published, and the range of quality was very wide. Very wide. An awful lot of writers learned by simple trial and error - by writing all night every night for penny a word. And an awful lot of writing was simply awful, too. Even the stuff that got published.

(Which sounds a little like today, actually, with this new wave of indie publishing. Learning on the job, as it were.)

The difference is that today we have writing schools and classes and clubs and all sorts of ways to learn your craft. But the great ones - Heinlein, Westlake, Stout, Asimov, Ellison, Dahl and many others - learned by writing. A lot. Endlessly. Writing terribly and wonderfully and crazily and rationally.

They figured out pretty quickly that rewriting was a waste of time, unless it really was requested by an editor with money in hand. If a story didn't sell, pay attention to why (if a reason is given) and write something NEW to suit the editor's needs. Learn from your mistakes not by fussing over an imperfect story, but rather by writing something else even better.

And these guys learned to write brilliantly, so don't tell me this isn't a good way to learn your craft. For one thing, if you keep working on old stories, you will be stuck with a few immature ideas. If you have to keep coming up with new ideas all the time - rather than rewrite the old - you force yourself to become original and fresh.

Writing forward is a part of writing more. It's one of the best things you can do for yourself.

That said, I think in the modern publishing climate, you can't afford to learn on the job the way the pulp writers did. Even with pulp fiction, there were still rejection slips. They had editors. With self-publishing, you need to be the editor. Be the person who slows you down and makes sure the work is good. Rewriting is not going to kill you.

But I think we still have a lesson to learn from this. We need to write forward, keep going, get better at not just writing, but also at finishing. And when we rewrite, we need to have a purpose. We need to give ourselves those "editorial orders," and then carry them out.

But if there isn't a specific purpose, we need to keep going, push that envelope and become more brilliant and less perfectly ordinary.

Set to writing with more knowledge and skills in the first place, and you won't need to do as much rewriting anyway. But just be prepared that it will take a lot of writing to get those skills - so maybe do some rewriting in the meantime. But not too much.

Next we deal with Rule Four - You must put it on the market!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Heinlein's Rule Number 2 - You Must Finish What You Start

This is a series on Heinlein's rules of writing (Intro here, Rule 1 here).

Finishing is a skill.

Seriously. Most writers don't seem to realize that you actually have to practice finishing a story before you get good at it.

I used to tell student writers that they had to finish ten stories before they were ready to start submitting. There would always be one student who would say "Well, one novel is more than enough to equal ten short stories, right? So I don't have to write ten...."

I would break it to them as gently as I could: it isn't the word count that gives you the experience. It's the completion. Anybody can blather out decent random scenes. It takes skill to pull them together into a cohesive whole. So if you don't want to write short stories or novellas, you will need to finish lots of novels to gain the same experience.

Furthermore, as writers we find it easy to scatter our attention. Shiny new ideas are much more fun than old ones. And yes, sometimes we need to jump around to set our creativity loose, but it doesn't count until you've turned it into a story. And it's not a story until you've finished it.

Otherwise you're just daydreaming with notes, as mentioned in yesterday's post.

So if you look at your body of work, and it's shorter than your list of things you haven't finished... get cracking.

If your list is long, you may have trouble making up your mind about which idea to tackle. So here are some tips toward finishing some stories on your to do list:

1.) Let your creative self dither a bit, and then pick one at random. Draw lots. Use a computerized random choice generator. Flip a coin. Let your cat choose. But pick ONE.

2.) If the idea of finishing a story overwhelms you - if it's something that you're blocked on and you get performance anxiety - set a timer for a moderate period of time. Maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. Concentrate on that story completely for just that amount of time, and see what you can get done.

3.) If you MUST dither among several projects, set a timer for each project, and you must think only of the story at hand for that period. Come on, it's a short session. You can behave for that long. Do this a lot and you'll get stuff done.

4.) Give yourself a break with a brainstorming session. If a story is utterly blocked, then go to a coffee house or MacDonald's or the park - some place airy and relaxed - and sit with a notepad and write down all the questions you need to answer to move forward with the story. And then start listing possible answers.

5.) If nothing else, write some freaking haiku! Write a dozen of them. Remind yourself of the good feeling you get from having accomplished something, and train your brain to focus.

Tomorrow we take on Heinlein's most controversial rules: to refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Heinlein's Rule Number 1 - You Must Write

This rule (which seems like a no-brainer) has two meanings:

It's a directive, but it's also a definition. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly.... writers gotta write. If you want to know if you're a "real writer" just try to quit. You may find it's like smoking. You can quit just fine. Heck, you can do it over and over and over again. But you always end up coming back to it.

But if that's true, if all writers have an inner drive that forces them to write, why do we need Heinlein to tell us "You must write?"

Because self-distraction is a necessary part of writing. We work with the whole brain, not just the conscious part. Sometimes our unconscious (or pre-conscious or creative right brain) wants the conscious (or rational or left brain) to go away and leave it alone. Which is where all the cat vacuuming comes from.

We fiddle with things. We stare into space. We sharpen pencils. We check our email and stats and maybe fiddle with wording on a query letter or book blurb.

And all of these things are amazingly satisfying. For instance, staring off into space - usually we're playing the story in our heads when we do this. Which, as far as the brain is concerned, is satisfying and sufficient. The creative brain doesn't care if you write it down. That's why, if you are going through a rough patch in your real life that prevents you from writing, you can preserve your sanity by just pouring out strange dream stories into a journal.

But that's not being a writer - that's being a dreamer. A writer is also a communicator. We are story tellers. We get satisfaction too out of craft and performance. And that's where we get ourselves into a little bit of trouble. Because both of these - mastering your craft and performing - involve feedback from the outside world.

Feedback is a great motivator. Applause, sales, praise. That can get you writing more. But unfortunately it can also get you writing less. Checking your stats, your comments, your emails. Writing blurbs, schmoozing the internet, looking for new markets or reviewers. That stuff gets you some desired feedback right away. Writing alone in your room doesn't.

So it is entirely possible to fully satisfy yourself without writing at all. Satisfy your inner drive by writing endless notes about your next novel, and your need for feedback by marketing the heck out of your last one.

You can't let yourself be lured into that trap: YOU MUST WRITE.

Even if you are one of those writers who don't have an inner drive (I hear they do exist), you still can't market your way to success without sufficient product.

Marketing itself has changed tremendously these days. People can have anything they want. They don't buy based on advertising tricks any more. Marketing can give you a shot at their attention, but that's it. With so many things competing for attention, they know their mindspace - even a tiny sliver of it - is valuable. They aren't going to squander it. So you have to be worth that sliver of golden attention.

Therefore whatever you do, it must be very good, or at least very interesting. And both of those take practice, so....


You also need volume and range. Whether your customers are editors in the traditional publishing marketplace, or ordinary readers, you chances of earning their interest grows when you have more to offer.

So not only must you write: YOU MUST WRITE MORE.

Sine qua non. "Without this, nothing."

That's what the act of writing is. If you're a writer, you must keep reminding yourself that writing is the thing. Without the writing, nothing else matters.

Which leads us to the next rule: finish what you start.
(See the intro to this series here.)

Now, I must get back to writing more....

Robert Heinlein and Getting Back To Basics

People are arguing over price and marketing and strategies again over on the Kindleboards and other areas where writers congregate. Well, okay, writers never stop arguing about such things. Especially when sales are a little slow, as they are right now.

Even in good times, writers are always a little desperate. You don't get feedback when you work alone in your attic or basement, so the temptation to stir the pot and make something happen can be hard to resist. "Nobody likes me! (pause to listen) Can you hear me? (pause again) Fa lalalala! (echos) Seriously, you do like me, don't you? Is anybody there?" (No, really, seriously, is anybody there? Is this thing on? Did you get bored and click away to another blog? I can't tell from here....)

Indie writers don't even get rejection slips.

But I think, in the end, it's all just another form of cat vacuuming. (No, not cats vacuuming - though that's a good distraction too. I mean it's just like saying, "I can't sit down to work just yet, I have to vacuum the cat." It's a stalling strategy.) The internet gives us just enough feedback to make it feel useful to keep checking for new comments or look at your latest stats. After all, it's marketing and branding and platform building. We have to do that.

It's really easy to lose track of your priorities. So here is a reminder of what a writer's priorities should be. Robert Heinlein was a wise writer and knew what was what, and up from down, and here from there in terms of being a writer. He had five rules. Sometimes we get so wound up about things, we forget about them.

Heinlein's Rules of Writing

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you start.
3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
4. You must put it on the market.
5. You must keep it on the market until sold.

They feel a little old-fashioned to some people now. A lot of people don't like Rule 3, and Rules 3-5 don't seem to apply to indie publishing at all.

But I think they are important. So important, that I'm going to do a series this week - each night talking a little about one of the rules.

In the meantime... I must write.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Oct Dare Day 14 - Finally Chapter 12

I finally realized that the reason Chapter 12 was hard is because I accomplished much of what I wanted to do there in some earlier chapter. I needed to simplify, move on to something else. I can go back and rework the earlier bits to do a stronger job, and then maybe follow up after.

So even as tired as I am, I got a thousand words or so to pull most of Chapter 12 together - which involves the watching of Casablanca, and some snooping. I also got an excess character off screen, and I'm thinking of axing another altogether. She does play a part, but she isn't pulling her weight in terms of color or drama or humor or anything except convenience. At the very least she could fork over some information or throw out suspicions. (Hmmm, maybe she could fill in information about the character who exited?)

In the meantime, I am collecting ideas for blog posts and articles to write during NaNoWriMo, and I am up to 71 ideas. I also have a half dozen short fiction ideas - mostly flash stories - to write during the time. Because writing articles and flash stories (at least in rough draft form) take less energy once you have your ideas lined up, I'm going to set ambitius goals for NaNo. I'll post about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More Artwork - And Pinnochio as Women's Fiction?

Okay, I finished the 12 hour nightmare day. I also learned that I don't have to be in all day tomorrow - just a couple of hours. Whoo hoooo! (Unfortunately, I also have to be there on friday.) Sleeping situation is still shaky, but not as bad....

So today I just finished up a new cover for The Wife Of Freedom. I went for a simpler design, and in the end, I think it works. I originally thought I'd use a period cameo for inspiration, but it came out looking more like a statue... and with the application of a color filter, a bronze relief, or a gold coin.

Which really suits the theme of the story. Mary is a person who struggles to break out from being a symbol. She's like a statue who breaks loose to become a real woman. (And not like Galatea - who only became real because someone loved her. She is real inside, and she has to fall from grace and then fight her way to being real. She's like... Pinnochio! (This amused me as I realized that the story of Pinnochio actually fits an awful lot of "Women's Fiction" out there.)

So here are the two designs I have in use right now - the bronze one at Amazon for Kindle, the one on a black background at Smashwords (and eventually elsewhere). I think I may go through one more version before I put out a paper version of this. Perhaps with a motif representing a Liberty coin.

If you have a preference among the two, let me know!

I also did a much better version of my The Man Who Did Too Much cover - but I'll post that later, when it's closer to publication time.

See you tomorrow with some real writing progress, right?

Artwork Instead

The good thing about Indie Publishing is that if you are all non-verbal, you can do artwork instead of writing, and have it count toward progress.

Tomorrow is going to be a really long, really exhausting day, and I just needed to rest the verbal part of my brain. So I did some artwork. Some of it is far from being ready to show, but I also did a concept cover for The Man Who Did Too Much, that I think I like.

I haven't played at all with the colors. (For one thing, I don't know if I will pick a color scheme that will allow me to colorize the flamingo, or if I'll leave it gray, or if I'll turn it into a black silhouette too.)

Tomorrow the nightmare intensifies, but maybe on Thursday I'll get things sorted out.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Shovels and Pens, and Implements of Destruction

I'm going to try some different sleeping arrangements tonight. I figure I'll either get some sleep or get some writing done. We'll see. (It partly depends on the perversity of my junior cat....)

This will require shutting down the computer for the night and writing on a notepad, though. Which is why I'm posting before my writing session, rather than after.

Speaking of notepads....

One way to break out of a rut is to change your writing implements. Try a new routine. Swap from keyboard to pen to pencil, or from steno pad to a spiffy new schoolbook. Or even use different software on your computer. I find that I do rough work more quickly and better when I write in a plain text document. It's like the electronic equivalent of scribbling on a napkin. (Except you can back it up. And copy and paste.)

Damon Knight told me about a writer (I think it was himself, but it was a long time ago he told me this) who used to write rough drafts on blue paper. That way he couldn't be expected to be perfect because it couldn't possibly be a final draft.

My favorite implements, outside of my computer, are a mechanical pencil and a steno pad. The pad is small enough to carry around, but big enough to really write on. The pencil always has a nice sharp tip, and is erasable.

The sharp tip, though, is the most important thing. I often start my warm up with what I call "freewriting" - that is just blathering out anything continuously on paper and then throwing the paper away. So I won't waste paper, I've learned to write in very very very tiny print - something like five lines to a rule on ordinary notebook paper. Maybe two point type? I can do this with a fine point mechanical pencil. It also helps that it doesn't have to be legible, since I'm throwing it away.

Think about your writing routines, locations and implements next time you need to break out. You might find just the thing you need.

Migraines and Crises and Bears, Oh My!

I've got a migraine. I also may have that cold virus I've been fighting for a while. AND I have been dealing with an ongoing family crisis for the past four days or so, which is a 24-hour a day issue that has disrupted my already short sleep. It also overlapped with day job problems (which will start up again tomorrow). I'm not sure I have managed yet to have an unfettered day off this semester.

This is part and parcel of what it is to be a writer. All of you out there who are considering NaNoWriMo, be aware that this will happen to you during the month. You have to learn to deal with it.

Sometimes that means giving in to it. (You have to learn not to do this too often. ) Sometimes you have to erect a physical barrier to it. (I escape to Taco Bell to write when too much is going on at home.) Sometimes you just have to find some smaller or different goals to keep yourself working in the bad times. (Today, I wrote blurbs and considered some art concepts.)

I'm not holding out much hope for getting done on time, and that depresses me, but you just keep soldiering on.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Oct Dare Day 9 - How Do You Measure Rewrite Progress?

I haven't been posting word counts on this part of the Dare, because I'm at a point where it's impossible to count words. I'm knitting together new bits with old bits and inserting a sentence here and a paragraph there (while removing other small bits). Rewriting whole sections from scratch.

But word counts are really important in a Novel Dare, because they hold you accountable. You can't fudge them easily. They also are an excellent nudge to get a little more progress out of you. If your goal is 1000 words, and you're at 946 words, you have incentive to not rest there just because the scene or chapter is done. "Oh well," you say. "I guess I can put in the first sentence of the next chapter."

And when you do that, you are likely to go on for more than 54 words. You may do a whole new page.

(And when you're being driven by word counts, a really cool blog tool to use is the NaNoWriMo Word Meter - a bit of code you can paste into your blog that shows a progress bar.)

But when you're doing something other than raw rough draft writing... how the heck to you measure your progress? So far I haven't come up with a solution.

I've tried "time spent" but I forget to keep track of my start time. I've tried going by number of chapters or even pages revised, but some chapters need no work and others are a bear.

So far all I can do is set a deadline, and to report progress here to keep me as honest as possible. The daily progress reports force me to keep at a steady pace and never give in to the temptation to take a day off, or two, or three.... The deadline helps me by looming. I see it and I go "Yikes! I only have that many days? Okay, I don't need sleep!"

Will Ths Marathon Ever End?

I haven't had more than a few hours sleep in days. I think I've had one week with a normal schedule all semester. It now looks like it will be November before I get a normal schedule. This is ridiculous.

But... I did get some delirious writing done, and I think the new material about the waitress really works. I had forgotten about her and she makes a good minor character to sort a few things out. I am so sleepy I am seeing double, though, and I have no reason to believe tomorrow is going to be any better than today....

So I'll just say Goodnight Gracie!

Friday, October 8, 2010

What Do Your Characters Call Themselves?

Have you ever stopped to think about the connotations of how characters refer to each other? What do they say in third person and what to they say directly? How do they refer to themselves? How do they think of themselves?

Dr. John Watson. Watson. Dr. Watson. John.

Each name has connotations. "Dr. John Watson" is his title, and what he might be introduced by, but nobody is going to call him by that name. The only time you use such a full name is when you're trying to get attention - like a mom who is angry, or when calling across the street and trying to be heard. Holmes calls him just "Watson" which has a collegial implication, close and formal at the same time (more about that in a minute). "Dr. Watson" is formal, and what cops and tradesman and clients call him. "John" is what his wife calls him.

Sometimes it's obvious. When I wrote Wife of Freedom, I didn't have much trouble with Mary, the protagonist. She's a casual woman, and while strangers might call her "Mrs. Alwyn," she thinks of herself as "Mary" and so does everyone who knows her. Her husband was similar. Being more outgoing, and he's a minor celebrity, so he gets called "Jackie" even by strangers.

But I came across a problem with Mary's lover. Though he has no title, he is a nobleman, and an officer. He has identities up the wazoo. Among his equals, he's called by his last name, under formal conditions he gets the honorific "Honorable" added to his whole name, and those in the army refer to him by rank. Mary thinks of him as "Henry." But how does he think of himself? He seemed to have a varying self-image - thinking of himself by last name in situations where his social rank mattered, and by his first name with Mary.

He was trouble to write, I can tell you. But th does reflect his character. His self-esteem is a little shaky. In the end I wanted to be consistent and so I went with "Henry" in his point of view. For one thing, even if he thought of himself by rank and family name, he's a bit of a little boy inside, so first name seemed appropriate.

I'm having a problem with a secondary character in the work-in-progress. John Houk is a local contractor who succeeds by being an overall nice guy - he's friendly to everyone, goes out of his way to give people temporary work, even if it means doing it under the table. But he's not close friends with any of the point of view characters, so they tend to think of him as "Houk." But his personality is such that I can't imagine anyone calling him anything but "John" when speaking to him.

This has led to the strange experience of writing a scene where Rosie interrogates Houk, and refers to him in dialog as John, but in thoughts as Houk. With results like this:
"John, did you see the shooter?" Rosie asked Houk.
Okay the sentences are not that awkward, and I think they work, but I guess we'll see when the alpha readers get to it.

In the meantime, today was a bearish day. Instead of a day off, and going to see Sunset Blvd., I was at work wrestling malfunctioning printers. And then everything else just continued to malfunction for a while. So I decided I had to have something succulent for dinner. Nothing is more succulent than homemade baked hot wings. (Store bought - even from the best restaurants - tend to be dry.)

(I'll be happy to post my recipe, if anyone asks.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oct Dare Day 6 - It's Coming Together

The threads are pulling together. I got a lot done.

I was surprised, though, to realize that I needed an additional scene with Rosie and a witness in the hospital. I think I had been avoiding that. Witnesses can be so inconvenient, but this witness has good reason to not remember some details I don't want him to (such as who shot him in the back). AND he is also the exact person who can fill in certain bits of information, and send Rosie to talk to the exact right person to tell him the information he needs to know. (Duh!)

Plus the suspense is ramping up at this point, making it fun to write.

I'm still not far with Chapter 12, and all I can think is that I need to pull the end together and then work on that middle bit.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcome New Readers - a few favorite posts

I seem to have a lot of new traffic coming in today. (I put up some ads and have some guest posts and such out there.)

Since I am currently pressing hard to finish this novel (which I want to finish by October 20), all of my posts will be progress updates. I thought I should give you something to read in the meantime. The following are some posts that are either my favorites or were popular with readers.

My journey into Indie Publishing:
In March, I decided to experiment in self-publishing for Kindle, just a little experiment for fun. By June the situation in publishing had changed enough that I decided to forego the idea of traditional publishing altogether. Here are some posts that show my changing attitudes:

Madness and Self-Publication
Why Not Traditional Publishing
Is Traditional Publishing Worth It?
Why Did I Self-Publish? (A later analysis)

On Writing Technique:
I also like to write rambling series on technique, like this one where I experimented with analyzing an out-of-context clip on YouTube. (I promised to finish it with some additional analysis when I saw the whole video and read the book. I have seen the video and read the book.. but I didn't get around to it. I will after I finish writing this book, I promise.)

Analyzing Writing Techniques - Lollipops and Context
A close up on Character Technique
Context and Speculation
With Courage You Don't Need A Reputation

A few early posts of interest:
Novel Writing, The Fun Bits: Thoughts on exploratory writing.
Dancing Your Own Steps - In Competition
Explosions and "The Casablanca Test"
Writing separate drafts for different characters (i.e. "character passes")

I'll be back tonight with an update!

Panel Discussion up at Two Ends of the Pen

I'm on this week's panel at Two Ends of the Pen. The question this time is what you should do if your character wants to take you where you don't want to go.

I read the question a little differently, I think. When you say "a place you don't want to go" I assume an emotional place, not just a hijacking of the plotline. (Although they are related.) Sometimes a character has a darker past or a more difficult time with life than is right for the story. How do you handle that?

I may talk more about that in conjunction with the W.I.P. with tonight's post.

Bad Bad Me

Sigh, I got distracted by covers today. One of my artists produced a cover that won't do for the book (though it is wonderful and I think I'll have to write a book to suit the cover). And I needed to fiddle with some Photoshop tools, so I sat down and started fiddling with a new cover concept for Wife of Freedom. I like where it is going very much, but it's going to take a bunch more work.

And the next thing you know it was too late to get any writing done.

It is always a question, when it gets late at night, whether you should keep going or get a good night's sleep. I often keep going at night because I'm a night person. But I am tired, and I don't have to go in to work until late tomorrow, so I could get a really good morning session in.

Although I'll probably scribble some notes and fragmentary dialog tonight yet.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Oct Dare Day 4 - Dreaming About Mr. Belvedere

I got a lot done tonight on the revising of the middle bit. Over a thousand words done. Unfortunately, a lot more to go. Dang this creativity.

In today's new material, Karla has a rather stressful evening (again) but calms her self and falls asleep to dream of Mr. Belvedere, wearing a monocle and having a swordfight with Orson Welles. She wakes up with a new perspective on the case.

Too tired to blog about anything else.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oct Dare Day 3 - Floofy Books and Floofy Scenes

Okay maybe the scenes aren't exactly "floofy" but they're all loose and in the process of being rearranged.

Today I wrote a good solid 1000 words like I was supposed to. But even better, I looked again at the long sequence in the middle where the main plot takes a break. I felt that it was going for too long in one secondary direction - following the characters but not the mystery for three whole chapters. Now I have strong threads of the main story to weave through it and it all works better. But it requires a lot of rearranging. Whole conversations are being moved around, like when you rearrange your books.

Part of the reason this took so long is because I wrote a subplot as a whole arc. It all just fit together continuously. Like a little short story. Rough drafts are often like that. Especially in a character-based series. It was so neatly self-contained, however, that it was hard to wedge anything else in there. So finally I pulled it apart enough to see how it works with the rest.

The scenes are now all lying loosely spread out on the table. (Well not literally. The cats would disarrange them further. But on the computer and in my head, they're spread out and ready for work.)

And I did indeed revisit the floofy books scene. And I got to add a straight woman when a deputy asks Karla why she thinks that the badguys might be after a book, and she says "Because my books are all floofy and it reminds George of an eggroll." The deputy may be wondering if they're both drunk.

Tomorrow I hope to rework a dramatic moment that originally happened in the middle of this sequence, but it will be much better (and open up the story to much more fun) at the end.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Oct Dare Day 2 - Building Up The Subplots

I have said many times that a good red herring can't be just a false trail. It must not only must go someplace interesting, it has to lead to quality information. It has to fill out the picture in which the story takes place.

That fact just smacked me in the face once more, as I struggled to get a little more information into one scene, and I realized I need a red herring to flesh the dang thing out properly. So I sat down and started brainstorming, and I came up with several tonight, and tied them together, and to the main story. And I think it will only add a scene here or there - but in places where the story felt thin anyway. I don't have to cast any new characters or create new geography. I just have to make more use of what I've got. (This will also flesh out the field of suspects.)

Which means, of course, that I have once again moved the goal posts in terms of how much I need to do to get this thing finished. I'm still determined to do it by October 20. But some of the stuff that was a pain to write should be more pleasant now. That should help.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October - Avoiding the Final Run

I did do work today. Lots of work. Only a little of it directly on the book.

I also did a lot of idea brainstorming. I came up with about 25 ideas for articles and blog posts. And a few ideas for flash fiction stories - one of which I really like although it will need a little more brainstorming. (It's a twist story but at that length, it will have to be very clever.)

And I also decided to sign up for an advertising service called Project Wonderful. I think it was originally designed for web comics to advertise on each others sites, but it's expanding. I don't know yet if it would be more successful than Google's Adwords for writers and books publishers, but it offers more control and a really nice interface and way of doing business for anyone who can create their own banner ads. (Google Adwords is awful for advertising books, btw.)

I'll talk more about advertising later, but for now I had an unexpected benefit: Since Project Wonderful works with display ads, I had to create artwork to fit the space. I just adapted the cover, but I had to come up with good text to fit into the design... and I think I came up with a better tag line for the book.

I put it in my sig at Kindleboards, and I immediately got personal messages complimenting me on the banner, so even if all I got was a more effective ad for elsewhere, I think this experiment is going to be worth it.

In the meantime, yes I did work on the book. I'm still messing with that final chapter, but I think I'll move back to the earlier ones again tomorrow. I've only got 19 days left until my deadline.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Amazon Allowing Some Free Indie eBooks?

A number of authors have discovered that Amazon has lowered the price of certain books to FREE today. These are books they have offered on Smashwords.

I was under the impression that Amazon didn't allow you to offer a book for free at all - that your price could not be lower at Smashwords than at Amazon. Apparently this is not so for books that aren't in the 70 percent royalty option.

This is something I've wanted to do for my collection Waiter, There's A Clue In My Soup! It's a sampler of five of my previously published short mystery stories (plus a couple of chapters from Have Gun Will Play).

So announcing that I now have the book free at Smashwords. Unfortunately, I have no control over what Amazon does, so the price in the Kindle store is still, for now, 99 cents.

The eBook Experiement

Twas a lovely day in Michigan. Fall is just about the only time you see such beautiful skies. It's my favorite time of year. I kept the cold that I may or may not have at bay with some really good authenic Sichuan food, which cost me just about half of my eBook profits for the month.

Which leads me to my update on my eBook Experiment.

Up until now I've been screwing around. I admit it. Yes I've put in a lot of time, but mainly for fun and to avoid writing. My first couple of ebooks were off-genre works that I consider my own personal brand of pulp fiction. I haven't spent money on it, not even on the covers. Although I have started putting out my more commercial work I've still kept the efforts pretty low key. And the results are also low key. I've been selling about 50 books a month.

My promotional efforts have been largely a matter of schmoozing on forums, and posting book descriptions on designated promotional threads. And even that is probably as much for my blog as my books.

That's about to change, although not in a big way. Not yet.

I have decided that when the work-in-progress is ready, I'm going to do a book launch. This will probably happen in March, although I won't know for sure until I see how the revisions go. (As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I am discovering layers that add so much to the story that I have to slow down and work on them. And I'll have to raise the level of some other things to keep the tone consistent. But it will be worth it.)

In preparation for this, I will do some practice runs for my current books, especially Have Gun, Will Play. I plan on offering a paper version. I bought some advertizing for later this fall. I'll be doing some guest posting and participating in more online panels and interviews.

I will also make use of NaNoWriMo. I plan to set the WIP aside in November, so I intend to write lots of blog posts and short fiction during that month. The goal is to have a large well of quality material for a blog tour during the launch, as well as material to make sure I can keep this blog interesting when I'm busy.

The thing that excites me at the moment though, is short fiction. Writing short fiction is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer. It's a chance to expand your skills, try new things. It also is the one form of advertising that pays you. And if you put it out there on the market, so that editors see and approve (or not), it keeps you honest.

I'll talk more about each of these strategies later. For now I'll just mention the blog Two Ends Of The Pen, where Deb Martin will be holding a series of author panels, in which six writers will answer a single question. Her first panel is up today, on whether plot or characters come first in the planning of a story. I didn't participate in that one, but I will be in a few of the upcoming panels.

I know a lot of writers read this blog, and Deb has said I can invite more in to participate. You can find more information on the Panel Thread on Kindleboards. You don't have to be a member to read or participate in the panel (although you do have to sign up for a free membership to post on the thread).