Thursday, October 27, 2016

Five Myths, and One Important Truth, About NaNoWriMo

It's that glorious time of year again! Trees are turning, and fall is falling! Homecomings are homecoming, and little and big kids alike are putting together their scariest costumes.

How cool is Autumn, right?

More important, though, we're running rapidly up to my favorite month of the year: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo .  I'm going to assume that since you made it here, you already know what the NoWri part is all about, so here are five myths, and one important truth, about what happens in November, based on my own several years of wins now.

1. It's scary

Yeah, this one's probably true if you let it be, but NaNo doesn't have to be scary. What's there to fear? Carpal tunnel takes a while to set in. Overcaffeinating yourself as some folks do has some deleterious impacts, but that's why we also drink water in November.

Failure? Is that what you're scared of? Nah, come on. Nearly everybody I know has failed NaNo at least once. That is, of course, everyone who's even attempted it. Truth is, you can't fail it if you don't try it, so let's all go into the effort secure in the knowledge that even if we fail, we're gonna wear that badge proudly.

Think of it this way: most people fail to write a novel every single day of their lives, and the only big news is that they aren't showing any real progress toward turning that trend around. Us, though? If we fail, we'll at least have written more words than those people, right?

Drop the fear. Punt it all the way into December. You're going to write. You're going to write a lot. What you write is going to suck, because everybody's first draft always sucks. But by then you'll have accomplished something very few people do, and you'll have a draft to revise, as well.

2. It's hard

Yeah, no. I mean, everything's hard. Some days getting out of bed is hard. Drinking enough water is hard for me. But I do it, nearly every day, and you know how I accomplish it? One drink at a time.

Same approach here. I just read someone else post to the Gospel According to Facebook: "It's hard to write 1667 words a day when you work also." I totally disagree. What's hard is to do anything I don't care to do when I work also. It's hard to get laundry done when I work also. It's hard for me to waste time at a bad movie over the weekend when I work also. It's not hard for me to write, though; in fact, it's hard for me to stop writing to go to work. That's partly because I've written a lot, and I've developed a habit and an enjoyment for the magnificent sport of prose-jockeying. My message? You can, too.

Back at West Point I became quite a runner. I'd do 10 or 12 miles a day if I had time. It wasn't hard. What was hard was doing other things when I really wanted to be running. I didn't start like that at first, of course. In the beginning I'd do a mile, maybe two. Then I worked up to longer, and then longer. In each case, though, it was by taking one step, and then another, and then another. Running is like that; a few steps add up to a long distance, which over time becomes an enjoyable and healthy habit.

Treat writing the same way. This is a perfect month to limber up those "muscles," if for no other reason than you get to enjoy the wacky zany activities with everybody else. Hey, you don't have to write 1667 words. Set your goal at 10. Ten words is easy peasy, right? Then do that five times, and then do that 35 times and you've got it.

How long does it take to write 1667 words? If you say a matter of hours, I'll argue that you're overthinking it. I type upwards of 90 words a minute, and I've literally gotten my 2000 words onto the page in less than half an hour before...and not just once, either. If you don't type that fast, that's okay (though hey, this is a perfect month to practice that, too!). How fast do you type? 40? 1667 words should take you 42 minutes to type at that rate. To go more than an hour for 1667 words you have to type slower than 28 words per minute, and I've seen hunt-and-peck two-finger typists go faster than that.

"Oh, but I have to think about them first!" No, you don't. Try it. Try imagining the scene you're going to do -- heck, spend 15 minutes doing that. Then type it. Don't think. Literally, don't edit. If you misspell a word, leave it. You can fix it later. Grammar error? Fix it later. Character says something out of character? Fix it later. You're a writer now. Write. Write, for goodness sake.

Write, for your sake.

Writing's not hard. Learning to let yourself write is hard. 

3. You have to be prepared

We always hit this point in late October when people start chickening out. "I only have two characters and a short situation!" So? Write that, then blow something up, and write more. Most of us started our first attempt with less than that, after all.

Look, if you don't want to write a book, then don't write a book. Find something else to do in November, and I promise I won't judge you for it (much). But if you do want to write a book, there's only one way to start: write the first word. And then, write the next one. And then eight more, and do that five times, and you'll be 50 words into the 1667 goal for the day. And here's the secret for that point: don't stop. Keep going.

It's going to suck. Stop judging. You may be able to fix it next March, and you may not. At least by that point you'll have confidence. At least by that point you'll have experience. But to get there, you have to learn to turn that part of you completely, totally, utterly off, and just write.

Write. Don't prepare. Or do prepare, I don't care; the first draft is still going to suck. But don't let not preparing be the same as not writing. Don't fuss and fumble and fume over anything.

Just...write. 

4. You get something for "winning"

Know what you get for winning? You get to print out your own certificate. Yay, you. And you get a JPG you can use as your Facebook image to show your friends just how crazy you are. Oh, and you get half off of Scrivener, which is my go-to app for writing these days. That saves about twenty bucks, I think. Worth the whole month, it's not.

Nope, sorry. You don't win diddly squat when you win NaNoWriMo.

5. You get nothing for "winning"

"The only source of knowledge is experience." - Albert Einstein
"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." - Oscar Wilde
"Experience is one thing you can't get for nothing." - Oscar Wilde

You know, while you're busy celebrating on December 1 at your Thank Goodness It's Over party, I'm sure you're going to be terribly, horribly depressed over the diddly squat you didn't win when you verified your >50K word count at the NaNo site. Or maybe it'll be the diddly squat you didn't win when November 30th hit you in the face and you only had 23K words.

Not.

You'll have a novel, or at least part of one. And it's nobody else's novel -- it's yours. Yes, it will suck. No, it may not even be fixable. But experience is priceless.And once you build on that experience, as I did, you'll find, as I did, that initial effort is worth punting and doing a deep rewrite on. Or not. But I guarantee you, one way or another, you'll be glad you did it.

And that leads us to the one Important Truth:

It's (totally) worth it.

Hey, nobody ever said writing a novel is easy. Nobody ever said running a marathon is easy, either, and yet I've done it. Once. Just once, because I got what I needed out of that one time and I don't feel the need to do it again. Writing a novel, though, is worth doing again, and again, and again.

First is the experience, which I've already touched on. My first attempted NaNo sucked worse than any prose on the planet has ever sucked before. I'm willing to bet, especially since it can't be called, that Vogon poetry sounds better than my first effort at prose. But it's there, still, and I've wrangled it into a useful plot these ten years later, and sometime in 2017 I hope to craft a viable novel out of it.

My second novel sucked, too, but after 13 revisions and two professional editors it sucked a whole lot less. I'm actually pretty proud of it. The third sucked, too, and after nearly as many revisions and only a single professional editor, I'm afraid it's not ever going to be my best prose. And...you get the drift. Every novel I've written has taught me something about the craft of writing, though, and so I've gotten significantly better each time. Not that the first drafts don't suck, regardless!

Second is the novels themselves. Look, folks, it takes a LOT of effort to produce a readable novel. Frankly, anybody who goes into November thinking, "I'm gonna produce a readable novel in this one month" is fooling themselves. I mean, one or two probably do it, granted, but the vast majority of us mere mortals just plain suck at first drafts. For us, we need to spend months after the initial draft doing revision after revision, painstakingly roping the text into something we and others will enjoy reading. That's the part of novel-writing that people never see. I didn't, back when I was getting angry over my favorite author's not publishing books fast enough.

Editing is hard. Revising is hard. Please know that if you do this NaNo thing you're going to create something that will eat up hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of revision time, if it's even worth that. But one way or another, it's yours, and it's yours forever.

That's why NaNoWriMo is worth it, to me.

- TOSK

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Five Years

It's funny; most of my "author bio" entries out there contradict one another, with one claiming to be in Richmond, Virginia, another in Memphis, Tennessee, and later on Mobile, Alabama. I'm thinking that now that we're in Topeka, Kansas, I'm'a just not gonna put that location piece anywhere -- well, but here in this post -- and avoid possibly jinxing us again. That said, we are now, finally, happily, settled in Topeka, and I'm already working furiously on finishing both Novel Three (don't have a formal title yet) for the Elf Queen series and Bacon. That'll make seven novels, in total, that I have written.

"Have written" is such a different phrase, psychologically, from "am writing," as nearly every writer can probably confirm. When people at my new place of employment find out that I'm an author, their first question is often how many books I "have written."

Five. That's the answer. I "have written" five novels.

Wow, that's impressive, they always say.

It is. Sort of. Impressive, yes. Prolific, no. I look through this blog and realize that I time-stamped my writing career through it.

Five years.

I've been writing for five years. One novel per year isn't all that impressive coming from some of the more prolific novelists. Now, before anyone starts offering soothing noises or placating comments, let me say that I'm not judging myself (or anyone else) over it. First, there are plenty of great novelists who don't put out a novel per year. Second, I admit that I've been through some less than positive circumstances along the way. I've had some more than positive circumstances, too, to be honest, and those have often hampered my writing efforts as much as the others. But, you know, life happens, whether we wish it to or not, and for us writers it all gets stored for later in that great big plot-device warehouse up in Schenectady.

Regardless, it's been one heck of a ride.

I posted over a year ago that I was back on my feet, that the fam was settled down there on the Alabama Gulf Coast, and that I'd be cheerfully starting my blog posting and other stuff up again.

Didn't happen.

I'd like to think now that I'll reverse that. I've got a great job, and a nice place to live, in an absolutely charming little city, now. Maybe it's time to get serious about all this stuff.

Maybe. No promises, though.

Right now, it's time to get serious about this novel I'm revising. And then, who knows?

Y'all have fun!

- TOSK

Monday, October 12, 2015

Gearing back up

Okay, so it's been a while. Yes, I know. I actually had to sign back in to my own blog, if you can believe it. "Haven't seen you in a while -- you sure you're who you say you are?" the computer seemed to be saying.

Sorry.

Anyway, was in a dark place for a while, and was recovering for longer, but none of that matters anymore. I'm back.

Did you know that, according to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) you shouldn't follow the em hyphen, which indicates a major break, with a comma or period when it ends a sentence? I didn't either. Hence all the errors in my previously published books that even a pro editor didn't catch.

It's fixed now. Okay, it's fixed now in Prophecy and in the newest, most awesomest, book Trial of Ice, which was just released this week! Return of the Gods, I'll fix when I get time.

Still, isn't it exciting? I haven't even blogged for months, and yet now I'm cracking that shell back open. Talk about cool -- at least, for me.

Looking forward to it.

So, I've pushed out Book 2 of Elf Queen. Hope you enjoy it. I've also significantly shortened the series in my head, to the point where you should actually see the big bad, bad guy in the next novel. Yay! You also won't see any periods or commas following em dashes, but that's -- well, kind of a grammar nerd sort of yay! 

Meanwhile, I have Life with Bacon, a coming of age story about a farm boy who detests his father's GMO and non-organic practices, story to get out, and at the same time I'm really putting pressure on myself to finish Book 4 of Return of the Gods. Not that there's anything specifically timely about that story, but it's about death and the living's view toward that eventuality, and it's in honor of the real life people who inspired the characters of Phoenix and Birch, who happened to have passed along recently themselves, and so it's kinda important I get that done.

Thus, no NaNoWriMo for me this year, but I have so many other important projects that I don't figure anyone will mind.

Y'all have a great start to October!

- TOSK

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Contest!

Are you up for a contest?

Those of you who've read Prophecy: Elf Queen of Kiirajanna, thank you! I'm glad so many of you have enjoyed it in the year and a quarter since it's been out.

Now, about Book 2....

It's been a whole coming. As I've mentioned before on the blog, I was in a rather dark place emotionally for much of last year, which in turn caused my writing to be pretty dark as well. Thus, once the draft of Book 2 was done and revised, it was -- well, dark. Not at all like the first one. And while darkness is, in fact, coming to Kiirajanna, it's not there yet, nor is Alyssa's tone ever going to go that direction.

So, yeah. Near-total rewrite.

And I'm almost done with the editing phase. Yay!

Here's the thing, then. I need a title.

The book blurb (which still needs some editing, too -- getting to that!):

Join Alyssa as she and her band of companions journey to the northern forests of Kiirajanna to seek the endorsement of the mighty chieftain, Padrig, on behalf of his clan. There she's treated to delights only available in the north: frozen fields of ice, moose head stew, a bear encounter, and the northern lights. She also finds the Cult of the Wyrm, who she'd believed to be defeated and destroyed, flourishing and plotting its next attack against her. Will she and her friends be able to escape the trap tightening around them, or will they discover it too late?

So -- yeah, it's rough, but that's kinda the gist. What do you think? Ideas for a title?

G'head and post your thoughts about the title in the comments. I can't wait to read them! If I use your idea, I'll send you a free copy of the ebook once it comes out.

Thanks!

(PS - as always, if you help me out with the book, you'll also get a mention in the Acknowledgements page)

- TOSK

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Lesson - Genres

Happy June! June 2nd, to be specific. Sometimes I'll type the date into Wikipedia just to see what it comes up with. Happy Decorations Day (honoring veterans) to my Canadian friends! Happy Sack of Rome Day to my -- um -- never mind.

*ahem*

The almighty genre. Find one and stick to it, they say. Write the genre you love to read, they say. Don't spread your efforts, your brand, your time too thin, they say.

They say a lot, whoever they is. But is it useful? In the case of genres, companies stretch their brands all the time, and more or less successfully at that. Take Disney, for example: from movies to amusement parks to cruise ships, with hops in between. Then there's Virgin: music, airlines, banking.

And who doesn't like Trump vodka on Trump airlines? Oh, wait -- those both failed.

Trump isn't alone; according to a Nielsen report I just read, one out of every two attempts to enter a new product genre ends in failure. Yes, some succeed, and grandly (and profitably) at that. Back to writing, Stephen King's a master of the art of brand-stretching. Robert Gailbraith? Not so much.

Recently I've thought of trying my own hand at it. Heck, I figured, I've been more or less successful with fantasy now. Not J.K. Rowling successful, mind you, but not bad either. But, see, there's this romance genre over there that's tantalizing. I mean the genre, not the work. It represents the largest customer base out there.

TV-wise, there's been plenty of action for fantasy, with Game of Thrones and so on. No options envy there, then. Still, I've watched Outlander with my family with interest, in large part because that series successfully bridges fantasy with romance. It's got great characters, and it's a very well executed storyline from a historical perspective.

Just watched the last episode of the first season, though. Nope. Can't do it. I can't write that stuff.

Gonna go back to my gods and elves and dragons and so on. They, at least, play nice with each other. Usually, anyway; when they're not playing nice, they're just killing and maybe eating each other.

No genre-stretching for me....

- TOSK

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Overload

I remember hearing a story about how lion taming worked. That fascinated me, honestly. I mean, the idea of going head-to-head with an animal that's heavier than you, faster than you, stronger than you, and -- um, claw-ier than you -- armed with nothing but a chair seemed like it was doomed to end in tragedy. But no, it works, and according to the story, it works because Mr. Lion gets confused. So the story goes, and as I confirmed over at HowStuffWorks, the beast, the very King of the Jungle, tries to worry about all four legs of the chair at the same time. When he can't, he just decides that maybe there's easier dinners out there. Like, I don't know, Burger King.

While it astonishes me that this technique actually works with mighty predatory cats, I've seen it work on humans often. Hey, it even works on me, and here's how. We recently launched my beloved bride's blog on eating with allergies, Gluten Free with Heide. (somehow I expected the universe to end when I linked to wordpress.com from blogger.com, but it didn't) At the same time, I'm shifting all my works over to Smashwords in order to enjoy the multi-formatting options over there, but to do so requires significant reformatting. I'm still trying to keep up with this blog, and with my own meager marketing efforts. Meanwhile, I'm refining a couple of short stories to try to sell them to SFWA markets. Then there's the pesky little novels that I'm still trying to get refined to the point that y'all will enjoy reading them.

And that's an authorpreneur's life.

Let's see, that's one, two, three -- six chair legs, if I counted correctly. Yep, I'm getting Trained. Only, instead of slinking away to the other side of the circle like Mr. Lion, I open a DOSBox window and play me a round of Empire (an 80's-era strategy game in four colors that takes a good 24 hours to play out on a moderate-sized map). That, and heading over to Facebook, where instead of using my author page to engage readers and potential readers, I sit on my personal page and poke fun at the hundreds dozens of people declaring themselves candidates for the next Presidential election.

...which is all fine, if Facebook were going to pay my rent.

I'm not the only one. As a career college dean I've seen hundreds of students fall into this trap. "Oh my goodness, I have four things to do, so I can't do any of them!" seems silly when said that way, but remember that it works on the King of the Jungle, too.

What do you do about it, then? Well, first, recognize that it's happening. If your keyboard is perfectly clean, yet you're cleaning it again anyway, you might be in this trap. If you're engaged in a discussion on Facebook about gay extraterrestrials landing on the moon, and yet you're neither gay, nor an alien, nor from the moon, then you might be in this trap. And if you're in the trap, make a decision to stop it. Facebook, powerful as it may be, has the same little X button at the top that every other window has. Admit to yourself that nobody really cares if you manage to win an Internet debate, were that even possible, nor does anybody care how clean your keyboard or your desk is, and just -- stop.

Then -- prioritize. What puts you into the trap in the first place is having four (or more) things coming at you with apparently equal force. That's an illusion, though. Some of those are going to be more important than others. Some will take more or less time than others. Pick the most important one. If things are relatively equal in importance, pick the quickest one to get out of the way (hence, in my case, a blog post).

And then? Just do it. Focus on one leg instead of four (or six, or eight) and knock it away. Celebrate -- yay! And then get to another leg, again based on priorities. And while you're getting all accomplish-y and stuff, try to remember how fun it was when you got into it in the first place, okay?

Good luck!

- TOSK

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

From Amazon to Smashwords

I'm excited! 

So excited, in fact, that I'm making my first blog post in over a month.  *ahem*  Sorry.  If I told you about being busy with a new day job, helping my beloved launch her own blog (yay for Gluten Free With Heide) and working around the clock (ish) to get Volume 2 of Elf Queen done and ready for you -- well, that would sound like excuses, and I don't like those.  So I'll just say mea culpa and move on to....

I'm excited!  (you got that, right?)

Why?  Well, I've been holding on to the promotional deals that Amazon has available through their KDP Select program, to the expense of some of my readers.  Specifically, Amazon allows you to use their promotional tools, but you have to, in return, give them exclusive rights to distribute your book.  That means it's all about the Kindle, 'bout the Kindle, no Nook, and -- oh, sorry.

*ahem*

So bad singing aside, the exclusive deal used to be worth it.  The promotional tools used to work well in conjunction with other efforts, and sales were good.  But recently they've changed their algorithms, and added some new stuff, and -- not trying to bash them, but it isn't working for me.  Granted, my own personal promo plan over the past few months has been pretty skimpy as I've settled into new digs.  Still, that notwithstanding, I decided to make a move.

This past weekend I took the three works that are no longer in KDP Select (Cataclysm, Prophecy, and Undercover Truths/Undercover Lies) and uploaded them into Smashwords. 

Yaaaaaaayyyyyy!!!!!

Wait -- what's that mean, you're asking?  Well, Smashwords in turn uploads -- or crossloads -- or downloads -- or, well, whatever silly direction we wish to indicate -- loads the appropriate version to all appropriate venues.  That means those three ebooks will soon be available from B&N online, iTunes, and so on.  That, in turn, means that all you Nookies can read them! (sorry, I probably shouldn't have -- well, heck, it's funny)

It means one other thing, by the way.  Amazon makes money from sales of the book, of course, and so books that are set to permanent free aren't welcome.  Hey, I have an MBA; I can dig that.  But Smashwords does not.  Well, they do make money from sales of books, that is, but they are fine with perma-free. 

What's that mean?  I set Undercover Truths/Undercover Lies to free.  That's not "free till Friday" or "free today only," that's free.  Free as the birds.  Free as the meat in fresh roadkill.

Eww.

But no, seriously, it's free.  Go download here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/539995 .  It's available in whatever format you wish to read it in. 

And then?  Please, go post a review of it somewhere.  That's the most awesome-est-est-est gift you can give me, or any author. 

And, I know what you're thinking: "that might work, but how will we get the God of War to wear a tutu?"  No, sorry, that was a bad flashback.  What you're thinking is: "when will the other two books in the first series be available in all formats as well?"  Answer is, they're still under contract with Amazon.  One comes out this week, and the other in a couple of months.  Sorry for the delay, but I'll get it as soon as I can honestly do it.  In the meanwhile, enjoy a double dose of first volumes!

Thanks, as always, for reading!

- TOSK