SIGNING!!!

In my ongoing quest to become a Real Writer, I have a Real Writer Event coming up! Behold!!!

Sooo... is it kosher to wear overalls to one's own book signing? (Oh yeah, I'm doing a book signing! Off the Beaten Path Bookstore in Lakewood, NY! If you're within a six hour drive, come over!) #amwriting #writersofinstagram #writerinoveralls #indiebooks

Off the Beaten Path Books is an independent bookstore in Lakewood, NY, on the picturesque shores of Chautauqua Lake. This event is happening under the auspices of The Geekiverse, a local website that’s an up-and-coming one-stop-shop for all your geeky needs. I’ve been slowly coming into The Geekiverse’s orbit (more on that in weeks to come), and this will continue that trend.

So! If you want a signed copy of Stardancer, The Wisdomfold Path, or Amongst the Stars, come to Off the Beaten Path Books on Saturday, August 11!

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It’s NaNoWriMo time!

via GIPHY

Yes, that’s right: NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) is just around the corner! It’s that wonderful time of year when thousands of writers around the world spend their Novembers chasing the goal of averaging 1,667 words a day. I will be participating for my FIFTH consecutive year. My record is two-and-two (I made a game effort last year, but I fell short due to our NYC trip at the end of the month, and I have a lot of trouble feeling guilty about that). I wrote this post for Byzantium’s Shores a couple of years back, conveying my advice for achieving NaNoWriMo success, and while certain facts in the post have changed (i.e., what I’m working on this year), the advice has not, so here it is! I’ve edited it a little to reflect where I am this year.

National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo” as it’s usually called, starts on November 1. This will be my fifth time doing it, and I can’t wait! My project this year is a science fiction, space-opera novel I’m not-actually-calling Lightning Bug. My project’s official NaNoWriMo description is as follows:

The all-female ragtag crew of the spaceship-for-hire Orion’s Huntress seems to always find a way to bite off more then they can chew, or get in over their heads, or find themselves up the creek without a paddle…and yet, with pluck and guile and a bit of blaster-fire, they manage to keep flying! In this story, they take on an urgent job and a mysterious passenger with her own agenda….

This is the first novel set in a new series that takes place in the same universe as my Forgotten Stars novels (the third of which to be published this December).

NaNoWriMo isn’t really about finishing. It can be, but my experience is that it’s more about the work. It’s about setting a high goal and working toward it, relentlessly, and with some camaraderie that can’t always be found in real life. Fifty thousand words in one month is absolutely doable, but it’s also not the easiest target to reach if you’re not used to it, and it’s particularly devilish that the challenge comes in a month with only 30 days and one of the major holidays of our year. (Well, for now, anyway, since we seem hell-bent as a culture on making Thanksgiving about as relevant a holiday as Columbus Day, but that’s a rant for another time.) NaNoWriMo is about producing a big chunk of work, regardless of worrying about if it’s good or not. So, in that vein, if you’re considering participating in NaNoWriMo this year, here are my thoughts on how to best approach it for success:

1. Know what you’re going to write.

Have your mind made up so as soon as you sit down at the keyboard on November 1, you can charge out of drydock, thrusters on full. Don’t sit down at the keyboard and then try to decide what story you’re going to tell.

Now, “Know what you’re going to write” has some wiggle-room. I’m the type of writer called a “pantser”, meaning, I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t outline entire novels prior to writing, and if I do any outlining at all, it’s merely a scene or two in advance just so I can work out the timing and sequence of events in my head in the very near term. Other than that, I rarely have any great idea where the story is going.

Perhaps, however, you’re an outliner. You like to have a detailed outline ready to go, or maybe you like to figure out your characters in gory detail prior to writing. Lots of writers spend lots of time doing this kind of prep work — outlines, character sketches, that sort of thing — and if you’re one of them, have as much of that done as possible before November 1. November is not a time for prep work, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo.

2. Choose your style, and the simpler, the better.

Remember, NaNoWriMo is about producing a lot of words in a specific timeframe. Therefore, it’s not really the best time in the world for experimenting with your literary style. If your default style is toward the florid but you’ve had a hankering for writing a crime novel in a kind of Dashiell Hammett style, maybe November isn’t the right time. Likewise, NaNoWriMo really is not the time to write your near-future dystopian tragedy in rhyming Iambic pentameter.

3. Give your internal editor the month off.

Again, you’re looking to cover a lot of ground in November. You can edit later. There just isn’t time for revision, unless you realize that your story has gone well-and-truly off the rails and that you simply must backtrack to Albuquerque so you can take that left turn you missed. If you have to do this, fine, but don’t delete the work you’ve done. Leave it in there. Move it to the end of the file, past a couple of page breaks, but those words are still work you did. When it comes time to verify your wordcount at the end of the month, all Na NoWriMo will do is count your words. Nobody is going to read your work to make sure it’s coherent.

So: if you really have made a story error, by all means, go back and take another stab at it, without deleting what you’ve already produced. Generally, though, NaNoWriMo is not the time to try and make every sentence sing and put every word in its exact place.

4. Know when you are going to write.

This might actually be the most important thing. If you’ve been noodling around with writing for a long time but new to the crunch of NaNoWriMo, you’ll likely be very surprised at the amount of work and time involved in producing 1667 words in one day, much less every day for thirty days. Plan your writing time, right from Day One. It’s important. Know when you are going to write. If you normally get up at 7:00 every morning, maybe get up at 6:15 and write until seven. If there’s usually an hour after dinner when you’re unoccupied, set that aside for writing. On Sundays, maybe join the football game in progress after 2:00 instead of insisting on watching the whole thing. You have to budget your time, because while the NaNoWriMo goal of 50000 words in thirty days is doable, falling behind is also very doable, and getting caught up once you’re behind by even a day or two is a lot less doable. Make every effort to start the month ahead, so that if you need to take a day or two later on to produce less than 1667 words, you can afford it.
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It’s good that this year NaNoWriMo starts on a Saturday (unless, of course, your job doesn’t give you Saturdays off). Getting off to a strong start is essential, and with two weekend days to launch, the schedule is quite conducive to it. Take advantage! Don’t tell yourself that you can make it up with a couple of 5000 word marathon sessions at some point, because quite frankly, you won’t.

What NaNoWriMo really helps is to train the brain — mindhack, if you will — to see writing as a job that can be approached in discrete chunks, as opposed to some mystical process driven by the capricious magic of some Muse. Believe me, there’s enough magic and mystery in writing already, so it can also be seen as a job where a daily word count is similar to a pro painter’s “Get this many square feet of the wall painted today”.

5. Have some music preselected and ready to go.

If you’re the type of writer who likes music as you work, figure out what your music is going to be. Make your playlist. Select some albums. I write to music, and I like to pair my work to my listening. Writing a fantasy swashbuckler? Here are some suggestions! I’ll also be producing a post at some point about music for writing space operas.

And make sure your music is accessible. Figure out what’s available on Google Play or whatever streaming service you use. Figure out what’s available on YouTube. Load some music onto your phone, for if you’re writing someplace without an Internet connection. If you’re old school, make a stack of CDs or vinyl. It’s all part of creating your writing mood, and getting in that mood quickly.

6. Don’t let friends and family guilt you about your focus this month.

Luckily, this has never been a problem for me, but I know it has for others (there’s a long thread about it on one of the NaNoWriMo message boards). If anyone gives you shit about writing, be firm in claiming this time for yourself. If they press, tell them that you have set a personal goal for yourself and you are working toward it. Would they guilt you if the goal you set was, say, running a marathon and you were doing a lot of training? I’m guessing not. Well, it’s the same thing. A personal goal that needs met is still a personal goal, no matter what. And if the other person is mocking of your personal goal? Well…I can’t really offer advice there, except to note that mocking someone’s goals, dreams, and efforts to make those things come true isn’t really something that should be endured from a “loved” one.

7. Interact with other people pursuing the same goal!

NaNoWriMo is a fairly big deal. The website has a lot of separate forums, from genre forums to forums for people of similar age groups to regional forums so you can connect with people in your area. Some areas even have “meet-ups”, where you can actually go and hang out with other writers who are having their own sessions. I’ve never done that (in this area, the meet-ups always seem to be held in the Northtowns, which is a bummer), but I wouldn’t mind someday. Find NaNoWriMo people on whatever social media you use — Twitter and Instagram have a lot of them — and share thoughts and success stories and kudos and cheers and vexing frustrations. Writing can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.

8. Don’t lose the story.

It’s about telling a story, after all. So go ahead and tell it!

(Oh, and my user name is Jaquandor, for those who want to “buddy up” or whatever it is they call it.)

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Plotting? Never! (And other stuff)

Hey there, folks! Time for a few thoughts on…stuff. (Wow, I is articulate.)

:: In the current WIP, I have reached what I think is roughly the halfway point. I hope so, anyway — I would really like to be able to finish this work in October and get right onto the next thing in November for NaNoWriMo.

At the halfway point of the WIP, I am outlining the rest. #amwriting

To that end, I am shifting from my “pantsing” approach to “plotting”. I have noticed, during the last several WIPs, that I’m slowly adopting a hybrid approach to the age-old question of whether I plot things out or write by the seat of my pants. It seems that I start off writing by the seat of my pants, merrily getting my characters into a bit of a pickle, and then I step back and start plotting as I figure out how they get out of said pickle. This seems to be paying the most dividends as I write.

When I get to the plotting stage, this is when I step away from the computer and whip out the pads and pens. Plotting on paper feels good, and the act of writing longhand a bit — even if it’s notes and rough-sketch stuff — lends a different feel to the proceedings. I’m a big fan of changing up the routine a bit, once in a while. It keeps the entire enterprise fresh.

And if anyone’s wondering, there’s a reason the word in caps in my notes above is DEATH. This particular story does not turn out well for most of the participants.

:: I’m starting to get notes back from Beta Readers and proofreaders for FORGOTTEN STARS III, so Huzzah!!! I don’t think I’m going to have the book out as early as I’ve had the last two out, but it will be out by mid-December at the latest. I’d like to be ready by November, but I’m not sure. We’ll see. So much time and so little to do — wait, scratch that. Reverse it.

:: Ksenia Anske on making sentences “turn”:

I was going to write you a whole whiny post on how I can’t sleep, and how writers and sleep are enemies, but my brain decided otherwise. I keep discovering new things every day, it seems, and this particular one helped me today in writing killer sentences. So of course I had to share it with you. Remember the post on having every sentence turn? Well, it’s even deeper than that. Turns out, a sentence can turn three ways, and it’s up to you which way you want to turn it, and according to the way you turn it, you can either rope your reader into suspense or have them relax. This is scary stuff. Scary powerful, I mean. It teaches you how to manipulate your reader, which of course is what we writers do. But I had no idea about this! And now that I know, I can’t write the way I used to anymore. I see it everywhere.

Very much worth reading! I confess that I do not understand all of it.

:: Sara Letorneau on doubt:

No writer (or anyone pursuing their dreams) is immune to the monsters of doubt. At any time during our process, we might lose faith in our story, our characters, even our own abilities. And when we do, the effects can cripple us, sometimes to the point of giving up.

I tend to…well, I can’t ignore doubt, but I note its presence and tell it to sit in the corner while I work. Mainly it’s because I genuinely don’t know how to do anything other than write.

:: Briana Mae Morgan on carving out time to write:

The thing about writing is that it’s almost never convenient. You never have time to write. Even when I worked from home, I found about a thousand other things to do besides writing. You do have to make time to write if you want to get serious about writing. Although the word “make” bothers me, because it’s more about finding the time. In today’s post, I’m sharing how I learned to use pockets of time to meet my daily writing goals.

I note that she references the new mobile version of Scrivener for iPhone and iPad devices. I gotta say…look, I’m a Scrivener fan and I use it faithfully now, but the fact that the Apple users get the really good stuff, despite being outnumbered by both Windows and Android users, kind of irritates me. Scrivener is not a huge project being developed by a company with deep pockets. I get it…but still. I want the good stuff, too!

:: John Scalzi on how we present ourselves in real life versus how we do so online:

Over on Facebook, a person who claims to have met and interacted with me (and he may have! I meet and interact with a lot of people) suggests that he wouldn’t want to associate with me because, among other things, there’s a difference between how I present myself online and how I present myself offline, which this fellow takes to mean that I say things here, that I wouldn’t say there. Which means, apparently, that I’m false/dissembling/a coward and so on.

Interesting. I wrote some months ago about my approach to social media, and I do find that I “present” differently in various spaces, owing more (I think) to the way the different communities function than out of any intent to mask aspects of my character or whatever. I mean, it’s pretty easy to follow some links and see other aspects of my character at play. I swear more on Twitter these days than I used to, and I’m unlikely to geek out in this space about Star Wars or my eternal fascination with bib overalls and/or pie throwing, but hey, that stuff is out there if you look around. Anyway….

:: Finally, I turned 45 the other day! Why not celebrate by buying a book?

If a writer can't push their books on their birthday, why have birthdays! #amwriting #indiebooksbeseen #indiebooks #sciencefiction #spaceopera

See you around the Galaxy!

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Finding time

People often talk about “finding” time to write, as if there’s a few minutes to be found under the couch, or “making” time to write, as if by sheer force of will we can make the next hour contain 69 minutes instead of the usual 60. I don’t much care for either notion. There is no more time for you than there is for me, and unless you’re incredibly fortunate, there are likely roughly as many demands on my time as there are on yours.

So no, you don’t “find” or “make” time to write. All you can do is use the time you’ve already got. I wish I had more time to write, but then, so do all who live to see such times. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us. (Seems I’ve heard someone say something very like that before…hmmmm….)

John Scalzi put it all very bluntly a few years back, and I tend to agree strongly with him here:

So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.

Yes.

But still, lectures like that aren’t always the answer. Specific examples might be helpful, if you’re struggling to somehow pack more writing into your day. All of this involves tradeoffs. It involves concluding that some existing time-sinks in your life need to be adjusted, in terms of their priority, in order to squeeze something else in. In some cases, it might even involve making some painful decisions regarding things that you really like doing, so ultimately it all comes down to the question of just how much you like writing in the first place, and the only person who can answer that is you. These are the things that I did when I decided that it was time to shift from “I wanna write sometime” to “I’m gonna write NOW.” Some of it is about using time for writing; others are about maximizing the quality of my writing time.

1. Get up earlier. Unless you’re a morning person by temperament – and I am not – this one sucks. But I had to do it. I used to get up at 6:00 am to get ready for work (my shift starts at 7:30 most days, and I have a roughly 15-minute commute). I started getting up at 5:30, thus gaining an extra thirty minutes of writing time before work. Does it suck? Yeah, sometimes. I am not, as I note, a morning person. But the time’s gotta come from somewhere, and there are fewer demands on my time early in the day than later, so that’s when I’ve decided that I have to get some of the work done.

2. Write during lunch. In fact, that’s what I’m doing now! As I write this, it’s my lunch period. Now don’t worry, I’m not giving up eating. But what I’ve done is utilize the down time I get at work differently. My job allows me a 15-minute break and a 30-minute lunch period each day. I used to take the break in the morning sometime, and then lunch around 1:00. Now I take the break around noon, during which I eat (because quite frankly, it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to eat), and I take the lunch period around 2:00 or 2:30, during which I exclusively write.

It helps that I have my own small work area with my own door, so I can get privacy, and it also helps that I have never much liked the atmosphere of “break rooms”, no matter what job I had. Am I missing out on some social time with coworkers? Maybe, but I get plenty of that anyway.

3. The crockpot is your friend. It really, truly is. Now, you don’t want to overdo it, but several nights a week it falls to me to cook, and sometimes it’s nice to have a meal option that doesn’t involve losing an hour or two to prepping and working over the stove. You can do wonderful things with a slow cooker, and it can really free up some good writing time. (This is also why God invented rotisserie chickens and frozen pizzas.)

4. Set a daily quota. I have been a firm believer in quotas for years, and I plan to go right on being a fan of quotas. Setting real, measurable goals and breaking them down into meaningful chunks is important to me, and it helps me feel like I’m actually making progress when I have those days when, as Stephen King puts it, I only feel like I’m “shoveling shit from a sitting position”. Make your quota high enough to be a challenge (it shouldn’t be easy), but low enough to be attainable.

This is where you have to know yourself and your level of likely useful productivity. Currently I’m enforcing a quota of 1200 words a day, because that’s what I feel I can reasonably achieve in a day while still leaving room for family, meals, showers, dog walks, reading, and other stuff. If you can write more than that with the time you’ve carved out for yourself, great! If less, then that’s fine, too. If you set a quota and find that you’re hitting it every day with ease, raise it. If you’re never hitting it, then lower it. A quota is a goal you set for yourself, and more than that, it’s a tool to help you be productive. A quota is not a stick to beat yourself with.

5. Know which days are good and which aren’t, and feel free to adjust quotas accordingly. Just because you have quotas doesn’t mean that they have to be the same every day. In my own life, with the routine we currently have, it turns out that Tuesdays are really bad for writing. More specifically, Tuesday nights are never good for writing, so if I want to hit quota on Tuesdays, I have to get out of bed and make it happen early. On the flip side I have Saturdays, which are almost always awesome writing days, so I allow myself a quota of 2000 words on Saturdays. Every day is not created equal!

6. When you hit quota, STOP. This is another thing I believe. There are days when it’s grossly tempting to plow past my quota and keep going until I double it, triple it, whatever it. I don’t think that’s a great idea, because I think it can lead me to raising my expectations for each day out, thus magnifying the shittiness of the shitty days, and it can make it easier to blow off a day when I’ve blasted quota to bits the day before. Along with my strong belief in daily quotas is an equally-strong belief in steady, consistent production. Binge-writing, in my experience, leads to days when I write nothing at all, and those days are poison to my writing-loving heart.

There’s an old adage in storytelling: “Always leave ‘em wanting more.” Well, I think it applies to writers, too: Always leave yourself wanting more!

7. Leave a note for the next session. This is something I started doing after I read Rachel Aron’s book 2k to 10k. It’s not so much “outlining”, but when I end a session “in the groove”, I always have a good idea of what’s to immediately follow. Since sometimes twenty-four hours can pass before the next session, I find it hard to jump back in with the same enthusiasm with which I finished the day before. I do some hemming and hawing as I try to recapture a thought process that ended a day before, and in this way I lose valuable time.

So when a session ends, I try to leave myself a note – two or three sentences is enough – telling me where I’m going next. It makes hitting the ground running the next day a lot easier, and when time is of the essence, hitting the ground running is pretty important.

Let’s see, what else? Some folks swear by apps that disable their Internet access or other such efforts to make their work distraction-free. I do not do this. I can get distracted by the Internet as much as anyone, but I’m pretty good at cranking away without needing distractions when I get myself going, and my whole writing practice is designed to make it as easy as possible to get into that zone. About the only thing I like to do in terms of reducing distractions is using Scrivener’s fullscreen writing environment, and even that sometimes I eschew, since I like to keep two panes open, one with the manuscript and one with my character notes or some other info file.

So that’s how I maximize the time I have in order to get the most work done. How about you all? Let me know your tricks for getting productive!

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Sunshine Blogger Award!!!

Oh wow, it’s actually been an entire month since I posted here last, hasn’t it? That’s terrible. Anyway, I’ll have a proper report up on how June went in terms of writing (short version: mixed bag) early next week, but for now, check this out: A fellow writer, Rebecca Chase, nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award! Huzzah!!

The rules are as follows:

The Sunshine Blogger Award is a “get to know the writer better” type of blogging exercise, with a couple of rules attached:

1. Answer all 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.

2. Nominate eleven bloggers in return and write eleven (possibly fiendish) questions for them to answer.

You know, it’s funny — over on Byzantium’s Shores (my personal blog, for those who only know me through here), I’ve been blogging for so long that I remember when these types of blog-quiz awards were quite common. They’ve really fallen by the wayside with the rise of Facebook and Twitter and the like, but they’re still fun, so I’ll go ahead and answer these, pose my own, and nominate. Here we go!

1. What is your favourite song? Do you have a significant memory attached to a time you listened to it?

Oh heavens, it’s this question. Don’t you just hate when you ask someone this question and they get all dewy-eyed and say something like “Gosh, I just love music so much that I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite song!”

Well, guess what? Gosh, I just love music so much that I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite song! Although…I can pick a favorite song, just so long as we acknowledge that there are hundreds of others. For now, I’ll note the song “Last Dance” by Donna Summer. Here’s what I wrote on my personal blog about that song on the occasion of Donna Summer’s passing.

2. Where do you love to blog/write the most?

Upstairs, in my library, surrounded by my books.

But I do love writing elsewhere. I can write in cafes and in public libraries perfectly well, and I like to do so once a week, if possible, for the change of pace. I also want to try writing in a public park or something like that, but as of this writing my laptop’s battery is too old to live up to a sustained writing session without a cord. Luckily, though, also as of this writing, I’ve ordered a new battery! I don’t want to buy a new computer for at least another year if I can help it.

3. If you could make up a fear of something what would it be of and what would it be called?

Huh. Interesting. How about Pronunciphobia, which is the fear that you badly mangle a word in spoken conversation because you’ve only ever read it and therefore you don’t know how it’s said? Or Scrabble Expectations Syndrome. This is when people assume that you’re a great word-game player because you’re a writer.

And as a pie-in-the-face fan, I admit to barbasolaphobia. This is an unreasoning hatred of shaving cream. That stuff is terrible, folks!

4. Italian or French? (in whatever context you decide)

French! (We’re going with opera here. I love me some French composers. Hector Berlioz is my favorite composer of all time, and he wrote three wonderful operas. Then you have Bizet, composer of Carmen. Not that the Italians are any slouches, though. Verdi and Puccini are enough to ensure the Italian star in the operatic heavens.)

Oh, and salad dressing? Italian all the way. I’ve never been a big fan of French dressing.

5. What do you think killed the dinosaurs? (can be as creative an answer as you like)

Nothing. There never were any dinosaurs. Their bones were artificially created and seeded around the world by the aliens who put us here. Why? Because they’re jerks.

6. What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to research for your writing/blogging?

Huh. I’m not really sure! I recently looked up how boiler explosions happen, because my current WIP features someone who died in one.

7. What can you hear right now? What would you prefer to be listening to?

Right now? Crickets and birds; the wind in the trees; traffic on the big highway that’s a quarter-mile thataway; the clackety-clack of the dog’s feet as he wanders about trying to signal us that he wants to go out for his walk!

8. What do you do when you feel you should be writing but are lacking in inspiration?

I usually grit my teeth and force myself to write. I’m a “Get the job done” kind of person. I don’t have a great deal of use for waiting for The Muse to show up.

9. What is your greatest achievement?

Raising the Daughter; staying married (no, we never came close to breaking, but we did have some pretty serious tests about ten years ago); finishing a book; learning how to use Scrivener (yes, this counts); learning how to format e-books in various formats!

10. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?

As long as I can change the toppings in any way I want? Pizza. Or waffles. Or sandwiches, with as broad a definition as possible! I also can’t rule out nachos or burritos. Damn, this question is hard!

11. Who is your favourite author and why?

My favorite living author is Guy Gavriel Kay, whose historical fantasies are deeply emotional and filled with characters who are incredibly real. My favorite nonliving author is JRR Tolkien, because The Lord of the Rings is quite frankly a miracle of a book.

OK, time to tag a few people! And my eleven questions follow. Wheeeee!

Roger
Calvin
SamuraiFrog
Lynn
Briana
Brianna
Sara
AB Keuser
Rae
Faith

 

Questions:

1. What do you value more in a story: dialog or plot?
2. Describe the home planet of Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Come on, that dude ain’t human.)
3. If you enjoy watching any sports at all, which ones would you at least like to try just once?
4. Describe the most recent book to which you gave (or would have given) five stars.
5. Do you finish bad books? Why or why not?
6. How vexed are you when movies don’t match the books?
7. Describe your perfect hot beverage. In detail. I’m talking roast of bean or variety of leaves, additives like spices or squirts of citrus, vessel from which the drink is sipped, where you are sitting as you sip it, who is next to you, what music is playing.
8. Do you watch cooking shows? If so, describe your favorite.
9. Name a place you’ve visited that you thought you’d hate but you didn’t.
10. You know that hobby you had as a younger person that you miss dearly but you know you’ll never do it again? Describe it!
11. On January 20, 2017, the newly inaugurated President of the United States signs a law requiring all Americans to display a coffee-table book prominently in their home. Which one do you put out?

And thanks again, Rebecca, for the award!

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GUEST POST!!! On the Tracking of Progress, by A.B. Keuser

Hey, folks! It’s me. Below we have a first for this site: a guest post! This entry is by A.B. Keuser, a speculative fiction author who, by her own words, “spends a lot of time making things up and figuring fun ways to kill people.” Here she discusses her methods of tracking her writing progress. Enjoy!!!

——-

I track my writing by day. It’s a practice I took up in 2013 when I decided to write 1,000,000-words in one year, and I’ve kept with it since because it gives me some really great feedback.

Much like Kelly, I keep track of my writing on a spreadsheet. Unlike Kelly, I record my numbers up in a calendar like set-up.

This allows me to pull day counts, week counts, and keep a running total.

Let’s look at March of this year:

This is what my monthly spreadsheet looks like.

The bulk of the sheet is the calendar where I record the actual numbers. I keep 3 lines for each date because I have a main item scheduled and then I’m usually juggling two other back-burner projects that I write on when I’ve met certain goals. This is why I color code them. With one quick glance, I can look at March and tell you what I worked on.

I like to keep track of my weekly w/c and my running total alongside this just to make sure I’m getting on with my bigger goals.

Below the calendar, I keep a running bar graph (At the beginning of the month, I set up the formula to collect the day’s totals and add it to the chart so I don’t have to worry about it later.) This is one of the most visual representations I have of my monthly writing. It’s quick, it’s tidy, and it gets the point across.

Why this works for me

My eyes get bored pretty easily when it comes to numbers. We’ve never really gotten along, so I use this method of spreadsheeting with colors and charts to keep me interested in said numbers.

I’m also a very self-competitive person. This year one of my bigger goals is to beat my totals from 2014 & 2015. It’s going well enough.

But one of the main things it allows me to do is know when I write, and when I should focus on other things and give my brain a break.

Honestly though, the main reason I do this is to hold myself accountable. As Kelly mentioned at the beginning of April, I post my counts every month. I’m not sure anyone really cares to see them outside of myself, but having them out there, in the open really helps me keep from slacking off.

The Big Picture Numbers

ab sheet 2

2013: 1,000,497
Average: 83k words per month.
Best month: February – 133,329 words
Worst month: December – 0 words

In theory, this sounds awesome, right? So much productivity! But I managed that by ignoring all but two editing projects. Which means I’ve still got some back burner projects from that year that are waiting around to be finished.

If you’re just looking to get words down on paper—maybe you need to empty out your brain because it’s gotten too cluttered—the way I approached 2013 is great. You just write. If something isn’t working, you shove it aside and work on something that does flow. You worry about the rest of the writing stuff later.

2014: 438,943
Average: 36,578
Best month: May 62,965
Worst month: December 5,880

This year was all around tamer. I was working on things with the intention of finishing them and getting them right. That meant I couldn’t shove them to the side until my brain sorted through their issues later. I had to get things done, and I had to get them done when I scheduled them.

I learned, from looking through this year’s records, that I can’t rely on myself to do any writing on Thursdays. For whatever reason, they’re my own personal Mondays, and that day just sucks the life out of me, writing wise. Sure I can force it, but the writing is pretty awful in edits, so I usually just don’t schedule myself any req words that day. I use it for admin things now, like finishing up blog posts and doing marketing backlogs, or outlining etc.

2015: 361,949
Average: 30,162
Best month: November – 63,624
Worst month: June – 3,260

Now, those numbers look okay, but when you look at what happened throughout the year as a whole, you get a different picture. 1/3 of the words from last year were written in the last 2 months of the year. This has a very specific reason. While the first 5 months of the year were incredibly consistent, June through October were weak sauce on the writing.

June has its own excuse, my sister got married in our home state so I spent a lot of time traveling and with everything going on, I didn’t get a chance to write outside of 4 days.

July-Oct shows a different sort of recording. It shows how badly medication can affect your writing. Make sure you’re on the right meds, kids!

What this tells me on the whole

When I look at the numbers I have saved in my yearly spreadsheets, I can see patterns, like the fact that Thursdays just do not work for me. Decembers are (usually) pits of non-writing hell. Weekends are lucky to average 1000-words/day, and usually I just shouldn’t expect myself to get there.

—fin—

And there you have it! Great stuff. How do you track your progress, fellow writers?

And check out A.B. Keuser’s books!

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Updates and What Some Other Folk Are Up To

Greetings, programs!

It’s been a while since I updated my progress and/or linked some other stuff around the Writersphere, so…I’m now going to update my progress and link some stuff around the Writersphere. Wow-za!

:: I think I have a title for Lighthouse Boy. I’m not sure yet; I like to live with titles a bit before I decide if they’re right for the books. Kind of like breaking in new shoes, I guess.

As for actually writing the book, I’m closing in on the end. I think I’m two or three chapters away — more likely three, but you never know with these things. I’ve been promising a long book, and this one is certainly that. The manuscript currently stands at just under 200,000 words, and this is only Book One! (Never fear; this is going to be a duology, not an extended series of doorstops. Just two doorstops.)

::  Editing Forgotten Stars III has been a real task. A lot of heavy lifting, with some wholesale rewriting of entire chapters. Part of the problem was that I had to literally insert an entire subplot from the get-go (which has to be there, because it solves a lot of the book’s original problems), and there are other things I did in the first draft that were problematic and had to be either reworked or jettisoned entirely. I’m well behind where I wanted to be on this book by now, but it simply couldn’t be helped.

::  I don’t know what was in my coffee this week, but I found myself entertaining a lot of new story ideas. Weird.

But enough about me! What are other folks up to?

::  Dawn Kurtagich went to Spain.

::  Briana Mae Morgan updated her editing services. Check her out!

::  Amanda Fairchild posted a short story. I wonder what’s in that freezer….

::  Friend and beta-reader Jason Bennion eulogizes Prince. Jason is a terrific writer.

::  How Jen Fulmer got her agent.

That’s about it for now. Cheerio, chaps, and we’ll see you around the Galaxy!

 

 

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March Productivity!

I saw that writer A B Keuser writes a monthly post highlighting the previous month’s productivity, and that struck me as a good idea, so here’s how my month of March went! Some of this has been covered by my update post from the other day, but here are some actual numbers:

Final March tallies: over 27000 new words on LIGHTHOUSE BOY, and I'm up to Act III of FORGOTTEN STARS III. Unfortunately there are some structural issues ahead...the rough draft was pretty bloated. Still, here we go! Big things planned in April and May! T
This spreadsheet is where I track my daily writing output on whatever it is that I’m drafting at the time, and then I leave notes in the next field on editing progress on other projects. So in March I wrote just over 27,000 words in Lighthouse Boy, whilst getting to the start of Act III in editing Forgotten Stars III. I averaged 876 words a day on Lighthouse, which is above my quota of 500 words a day. (I bump that quota up to 1000 words on weekends and when I’m not doing any editing, which moving forward is not likely to be terribly often, as my projects start to pile up.) Since making 500 words while also editing is obviously no problem, I’ll likely bump that up to 750 a day.

Note that when I forget to enter a day’s total, those words get added up anyway the next time I remember to update the spreadsheet, so the average is always accurate. None of those zeroes indicates a day in which I wrote nothing. Aside from wrapping February up with the flu, I haven’t failed to write at all in quite a few months. Yay, me!

On the editing front: Forgotten Stars III has been harder to edit than the previous two, because I’m finding some glaring character issues and some structural problems with the third act that all require some heavy lifting. The bad character stuff (basically, I had a character act very “not himself” in the original draft, trying to create a “Has he switched sides for real?” suspense, but when re-reading the draft, I realized that not only did it not work, it was conceptually awful, so out it came) is gone, but now I’m face-to-face with the troublesome stuff in Act III. I want to have this book to beta readers this month, so I’ve got some real work to do.

Also, I spent the first two months of this year being very sporadic on the blogging front, and I’m trying to get back in the habit of blogging regularly. I want to post something here at least once a week, and I’ve been posting a lot of stuff to Byzantium’s Shores and to Driftwood Upon the Bosporus, so I’m getting better there.

It’s also looking increasingly like I will attempt vlogging soon, so I’ve been writing notes for that and doing some tech testing. And I even wrote a little comedy sketch about the dangers of procrastination for writers that a friend and I will be filming when the weather here in Buffalo Niagara actually improves (we’ll be shooting outside and the sketch involves me getting a pie in the face), so there’s that. Busy month!

Let’s see what April brings!

Good morning, world! It's April Fools Day, so celebrate laughter! #aprilfools #overalls #pieintheface

(I posted that photo in various social media on April Fools Day, and it makes me happy, so it’s here, too.)

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What happens when you’re done?

So what do you do when you finish writing a novel? What happens after you publish it?

I can’t speak for every writer out there, but for me, the answer is clear: I start the next one.

There was a teevee show about ten years ago, called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It was created by Aaron Sorkin, and was his first big project after The West Wing. In all honesty, it wasn’t very good, for a lot of reasons, and it only lasted a single season. But there were some wonderful moments in it, including one that’s my favorite.

If you didn’t see the show, it was about two men, a writer and a director who are creative partners, who are brought in to basically reboot a late-night teevee comedy sketch show (basically a fictional Saturday Night Live) that has gone off the rails and whose former showrunner had to be fired after a spectacular on-air meltdown. As they start work, the writer guy (played by Matthew Perry) sets up shop in the old showrunner’s office, and he discovers a digital clock on the wall that counts down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds to the next episode’s airing. It’s a constant reminder, in big red electronic digits, of the next deadline and the constant pace of time draining away toward that deadline. “Oh man,” Matthew Perry says. “No wonder he went crazy.”

The rest of the episode focuses on the production of that first new episode, with lots of struggles along the way, but in the end, the episode airs successfully despite the production difficulties. In the episode’s final shot, Matthew Perry is in his office, watching the show go on, and he’s smiling with his sense of accomplishment…until he glances at the big red digital clock, which is already ticking down to next week’s show.

That’s a little like how it feels to me when a project gets finished. I’m not really one to take long breaks from writing, so usually when I finish one phase of a novel’s life – first draft, first edits, second edits, proofing, design, publishing – I shift immediately into the next one. As soon as I finish something, I can feel the big red digital clock in my head, already ticking down on the next thing. Now, I don’t have a specific deadline in mind most times, but I do move on, sometimes within minutes.

Writing for me is almost compulsive. When I have a rare day on which I don’t write at all, I feel really weird about it – even during the bout of the flu I had this past February, during which I lost two days and felt well and truly awful about it. I suppose, in this regard, I’m wired like Anthony Trollope, whose writing regimen Stephen King describes thusly (in On Writing):

At the other end of the spectrum, there are writers like Anthony Trollope. He wrote humongous novels (Can You Forgive Her? is a fair enough example; for modern audiences it might be retitled Can You Possibly Finish It?), and he pumped them out with amazing regularity. His day job was as a clerk in the British Postal Department (the red public mailboxes all over Britan were Anthony Trollope’s invention); he wrote for two and a half hours each morning before leaving for work. The schedule was ironclad. If he was in mid-sentence when the two and a half hours expired, he left that sentence unfinished until the next morning. And if he happed to finish one of his six-hundred-page heavyweights with fifteen minutes of the session remaining, he wrote The End, set the manuscript aside, and began work on the next book.

Once in a while I think that maybe I should take a vacation from writing, but…well, how could I? I’ve got stories to tell! Some days I find the work harder than others, and some days I do procrastinate a little (I recently skipped an entire day on editing Forgotten Stars III just to finally catch up on some blog posts, so I could have something to post for once). But I do, pretty much, work each and every day, even if just to get 500 words written. Forward progress is forward progress, after all. And like I said, I’ve got stories to tell.

How about you all? How do you handle the “I’ve just finished” blues?

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How I do Social Media!!

Wrote into the wee hours last night. Momentum is a fickle mistress. #amwriting #writersofinstagram #overalls

If you’re a writer these days, you pretty much have to engage in social media in some way or other, unless you are a sufficiently big name that maybe you don’t have to but it’s fun to do so (see King, Stephen and Rowling, JK). But there are a lot of social media options out there, and each one has its own “lay of the land”, so I figured I’d break down each one that I use a lot and describe how I use them.

An opening proviso: While different aspects of my personality tend to show up on each various platform that I use, that’s more by virtue of the nature of the social media things in themselves than some conscious decision I make. I know folks who are active on a number of platforms who expend serious effort in making sure that never the twain meet; folks who are open about their use of, say, Tumblr while uber-secretive of their Twitter handle. And hey, to each their own, but in all honesty, this degree of self-separation always strikes me as more effort than it’s worth. So if you check out what I do on any particular platform and compare it to what I do on another, and you come away thinking, “Geez, that doesn’t seem like the same guy!”, well, it is. It’s just that various platforms are good for different approaches, and therefore different aspects of my personality.

So. First, and for me foremost, we have blogging. I now have two blogs: this one, and my personal blog at Byzantium’s Shores. Why two? Well, when I launched this site, the blog format seemed to be the easiest way of maintaining a site whose content would change over time; I didn’t just want a page hanging out there for no apparent reason. Hence the blog format here. But I also didn’t want to ditch Byzantium’s Shores, because I’m kind-of invested over there: I’ve been posting on that blog for just about 14 years now! It’s got its own life. So I’ve settled on this as a division of content: this site and its internal blog is for content pertaining to writing in general and my books in particular, and that’s it (I mean, within reason). Everything else I might want to blog about goes to Byzantium’s Shores, so that’s where I’ll geek out about Star Wars and post music videos and photos of the cats and the dog and pie-in-the-face stuff and all that sort of thing.

I love blogging, and maybe two blogs is a bit excessive, but I think I’ve got it broken out by “focus” in a way that works for me. And if you’re worried about politics (of which mine are distinctly left-of-center), I post no political content on this site at all, and only rarely on Byzantium’s Shores. (Full disclosure: I’m a staunch liberal in my politics.)

I do have a Facebook page, which you can certainly ‘like’ and I’ll thank you if you do, but in reality, all I use that for is to post links to stuff here! By making pages into a source of monetary flow, Facebook has made its Pages not very useful at all, unless you literally pay Facebook to show your posts to followers. I have little to no intention of doing that, so Facebook is just kind of “there” for me as a social media thing. (My page is distinct from my personal Facebook account. I’m pretty selective about from whom I accept friend requests there; basically I have to already have some notion of who you are and have already interacted with you in some way.)

Then there’s Twitter. I hated the idea of Twitter for years, but then I came around, and now I think it’s indispensable. I honestly love hanging out on Twitter (probably a little too much), and I love followers and whatnot, so feel free to follow me there! I can get a bit ranty at times, but in general I try to keep my snarky side to a minimum there. Politics? Yes, sometimes, but not all that often – maybe 15 percent of the time, tops. I don’t really enjoy political argument, and I’ll usually only tweet about politics when something in the news really gets my dander up. I retweet more political stuff than I generate myself, and even that I don’t do very often. I like talking about writing on Twitter, and various geeky observations. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on the “conversational” aspect of Twitter, which is mainly because I can really only check Twitter a few times a day, and usually just for a minute or two. It’s only when I’m off-duty and can have a browser running for a while that I can do any real-time conversing. I am starting to explore the world of Twitter chats, though!

In terms of following people on Twitter: I follow folks I find interesting, and I find them by generic use of the medium. I check what people are like if someone I’m already following retweets something I like, or if I see an interesting conversation going on, or that sort of thing. I don’t blanket-follow people, and I don’t use any “follower management” apps of any sort. I do try to follow people back who have already followed me, but I can be kind of slow about getting this done.

I will also mute people who get on my nerves, as opposed to blocking. Like John Scalzi, I enjoy the idea of people who annoy me basically shouting at the wall behind which I am sitting in my room with my earphones on.

Instagram is my “happy” place. I don’t get political there at all, and I tend to get irritated when other people do. I like sharing photos from my daily life, whether I’m trying to take “good” photos or just snapshotting stuff to provide a sort of pictorial commentary on things. I’m generally good-natured on Instagram, which is why my avatar photo there is almost always me with my face covered with pie. For me, photography is an entertaining diversion. I try to take photos that are as interesting as possible, but I’m hardly a trained pro. I take most photos with my phone, although I do have a nicer point-and-shoot camera that I got last fall before our trip to NYC. Who knows? Someday I’ll be able to afford a nice DSLR camera, at which point I could really see photography becoming a big hobby for me!

What’s especially fun is that there are a lot of ways to post word-based content to Instagram, which is also something I do on a fairly regular basis. But even there, the interplay between visual design and the words used is a fun consideration. I find Instagram a lot of fun! (I’d love it if they would enable HTML links in the photo captions, though, just to make IG a little easier to integrate into the rest of my online life.)

Flickr used to be my primary photo-sharing service, and I still use it a lot, but nowadays, it mainly mirrors my Instagram content. This isn’t all I use Flickr for, but as I began adapting to mobile devices several years ago, Instagram took over because Flickr at the time was not nearly as well designed for mobile use. It’s significantly better now, but there’s a sense to which Flickr is a bit late to the party. Still, I like Flickr’s service and have no intention of abandoning it. I do need to spend some time organizing my photos, though…and that sounds like about as much fun as a long drive on I-80 through Nebraska. (This is not a comment on Nebraska. It is, though, a comment on the I-80 corridor through Nebraska.)

I enjoy Tumblr quite a bit, after being rather confused by it at first. Tumblr is built to make it easy to share content, and it’s quite easy to just sit there, hitting the “reblog” button over and over again. It’s also relatively easy to create new stuff, although Tumblr seems to be a much more visually-oriented service than other blogging platforms. Likewise, Tumblr’s mechanisms for interacting with other users is a bit unwieldy at times. Still Tumblr is fun and offers a lot of flexibility for creative use of the service. I do tend to be more political there than in any other social media platform. If I get a rant in my head about some issue or other, Tumblr’s where I go to let it out. Keep that in mind if you really really really want to avoid my politics. Even there, though, I’d say that my political content is no more than about twenty percent of what I normally post, and at times of slow political news, even that ratio drops.

Let’s see…that about covers them all, doesn’t it? I do have accounts on Pinterest and Linked In, but in all honesty I don’t use them very much at all. I’ve actually started using my Pinterest account more, lately, but I’m still not entirely sure I understand it! Meanwhile, LinkedIn is still the odd thing out. Once in a great while, maybe twice a year, I’ll log on to see what’s going on, but that’s about it. I apologize if I seem like I’m ignoring your attempted interaction on LinkedIn for months at a time, but I just don’t understand LinkedIn and I can’t see where I’m missing out much, and I just can’t be on everything at all times. Likewise, I use YouTube a little, but while I’ve occasionally considered ‘vlogging,’ the fact is…I don’t like the way my speaking voice sounds, and I haven’t figured out yet how to do silent vlogging. So for now, my forays into video will be sporadic at best. However, I do hope and expect that as I get better at self-marketing, I may have to do some video stuff and appear on podcasts occasionally (which is totally a troll for invitations, podcasters of the world!), so I’m just gonna have to get over my speaking-voice hangup.

So those are all of my hangouts and how I use them. How do you use yours?

And feel free to connect! Connection is great. I love connections!

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