Chaos, panic, other people, and getting it done!

At the time I’m writing this I have (at least) four big projects going, including: getting the finish work done on a book, getting a new chainmail project set out, putting together a story for a national completion, and gearing up for writing the third novel in a trilogy. I also have my wife at home recuperating from surgery, a Cub Scout den meeting tonight, dinner to make, shopping to do, and worky icky manager stuff demanding my attention. It isn’t always easy being a writer!

There are times when being a writer is really great; there are times you get into a flow and get some good work done.

There are also times when you’re a couple lines into your flow and someone comes and bangs on the door…

There are times that you want to work, but there are just a few too many things pulling you “out of your zone”.

We want things to go perfectly when we write, but let’s face it. Perfection is an ideal thing not a real thing. Fortunately there are things that we can do to help ourselves be better and more successful even when the wife/husband/child/pet is sick, the phone is ringing off the hook, random people are at the door, and your social media is infested with trolls.

Learn about yourself and your work style and then put that learning into action…

We’ve talked about this one before. You will be well served to learn about how you work as a writer: do you prefer to write in the morning or the afternoon? Do you like the stimulation of a busy place? Do you like to listen to music as you write? Do you need a lonely quiet place? Does a lovely beverage help? If so, which one?

When you learn these things the next step is to start putting them in place in your schedule.

If you write best in the morning, make it so that you can write in the morning. This may mean coordinating your schedule with other people and things. If you have a “day job” this means the “day job” gets relegated to afternoons or evenings. If you have to take the young’uns to school, you may want to figure out a car pool so you have more morning time to work.

If you like music, figure out what works for what you’re writing and build a sound track.

If the phone is what’s getting to you, you don’t have to answer. (Actually when I’m in my office my phone is usually on the other side of the house (which is why I never seem to answer phone calls before about two in the afternoon…)).

When you learn about your writing habits and what works for you, and then put that learning into action, you are actively reducing the distractions and other problems that can get in your way.

Plan and communicate with those family members…

This is a hard one. Your spouse/bf/gf/whatever always needs attention. So do your children. And of course the dog, cat, hamster, raccoon, or purple spotted land squid is going to do it’s best to stick its nose in as well. (And we haven’t even gotten to the mail man, the door to door salesman and the old friend from high school yet…).

One of the best things here is an office with a door (or perhaps even an office outside the house). This is actually one of the reasons I favor writing in restaurants for some projects (the caffeine refills also really help!).

I like my office time.  But I also know that you can’t just wall yourself off. Family members get hurt feelers, and the cat… Well he/she/it can get just plain vindictive. You need to communicate and do a little teaching. Help those family member and others understand that you are working and as much as you love them there are things you need to get done.

It’s complicated. You can have some real struggles with this one (enough to get their own post at minimum…). But you do have to set some boundaries and find some balance.

Don’t stop, redirect…

Even though it makes things harder sometimes, there is a reason I’ve always got more than one iron in the fire.  There is also a reason I try to plan ahead and know what needs to be done on which projects and when.

Having multiple projects, and plans for those projects, allows me to redirect when I’m really struggling to get work done. If the baby’s crying for attention, the ferret wants to nap on your keyboard, and your mother in law reeeaaly wants you on that conference call about the family reunion it’s probably not a great time to be working on new writing. But, it’s a funny thing…

Babies like a soothing tone of voice no matter what the words are. What about reading your work aloud while you’re holding the baby? That’s more the review/editing side of things, but it can help you think about what to write next.

If the ferret’s on the keyboard, maybe it’s telling you to get off the computer for a few minutes. Pick up the weaslekin and head for another room. You might not be writing at that moment, but you can still be figuring out how to pitch your story to an agent or editor. You can also be pondering that one detail on page 47 that just kind of feels wrong.

As for the mother in law… It’s a conference call. Unless there’s a camera on she’s not going to notice if you put the call on speaker and clean up your desk (you know you need to… And dust those shelves while you’re at it…).

The point is,  even if you’re stuck beating your head against the wall with one part of the process there is still probably something worthwhile you can be doing, something that will be moving your writing forward. It’s generally a better idea, and a better feeling, to be getting something done than to be banging your head against a wall and getting pissed off about it.

If you can’t seem to get rolling on what you’re trying to do. Find some other productive part of the process to work on and let your subconscious work on the hard stuff. It works amazingly well (definitely better than stopping completely or having a hissy fit…)

You have to make choices…

Let me bottom line it for you dear reader…

As much as I love writing these posts, if my wife is in pain and needs my help I’m going to be over there helping her and not in here writing this post. That’s a choice I’ve made.

As much as I want my story in that contest, I’m still making sure the light bill gets paid.

On the other hand…

As much as some people tell me I can’t do this I’m still getting the book done, I am still going to write. (Actually, those people are fun sometimes! Like when they tell you you’ll never be able to do this and then you pull out a royalty check… (And it doesn’t even have to be a big one…))

You have to make choices about what’s really important to you. It is the important things that will get done.

It helps to figure out why the stuff is important. I do the worky icky manager stuff because getting it done supports the writing stuff that I want to do. Another guy I know once spent two hours getting the lint out of the track for his closet door because he really didn’t want to face cleaning  the bathroom (the avoidance was important to him).

Sooner or later we have to make decisions about our writing. We have to decide what we really want and how to go about getting it. We have to decide how we work best and to organize our lives so it can happen. We have to decide what is really important and seek after those things.

When we genuinely make these decisions we can move on to figuring out how to make them happen. When we are honest with ourselves we can find ways to put down or deal with the distractions, and some of them may even go away on their own once the decision is made.

We do have to keep our decisions and reasons out in front of us (it helps us to stay on target). But we start by making the decisions and then succeed by following through.

Remember style points are only added after successful completion of the project! There will always be things we could have done to make it better.

If we continue in writing there will always be things to learn from and do better (or change completely!) next time.

But nothing succeeds like success. You have to finish a project for it to be done, and that means finding your way past the obstacles and distractions.

Speaking of getting it done…

I think we’ve finished the post dear reader…

So what say we all go out and get some other stuff done, and I’ll see you next post!

Team Oxford Comma?

I know… It would sound weird to my younger self too, but the deeper I go into writing and editing I’m gaining an appreciation for the Oxford comma.

Once, as a youngster, I learned that that comma before an ‘and’ in lists really wasn’t necessary. It was optional and something the old guys did, so I didn’t use it. That approach works just fine if you only worry about eggs, bread and milk…

But, what if you get into lists that are longer? What if you want to put things that are actually interesting into your list?

If you want to talk about red flowers, jewels that shine like the moon, the smell of mature pecan trees, and the fine sand of a South Georgia beach, then that Oxford comma actually becomes more appropriate and important.

The Oxford comma, along with commas that went to less prestigious universities (and yes even that one that just got its GED…), are used to help parse sentences and add clarity. They help break things up in such a way that you can figure out what the %^&^&%^&%#$#@$#@%$#@$@$!!!! the author is saying. No, you probably don’t need it in simple sentences and lists with single word items, but if you want to add clauses to a sentence, or use conjunctions, or use parentheticals without the parentheses, then you probably want to ‘open up a pack of comas’.

The point of the thing is clarity in your writing, and big complicated sentences call for commas. And, that means big complicated lists need that Oxford comma. It really does make things clearer; except when it doesn’t…

Sometimes, when you’re making those big complicated lists, you want to create a list of things that already have commas in them. That is when you dig out another old and misunderstood friend of mine, the semicolon.

If you are making a list of items like: military uniforms, in a range of colors and camouflage patterns; fireworks, including bottle rockets and smoke bombs; lunch bags, preferably with cartoon characters printed on them; and all the other things you need for the new school year, you really need something to help break up and simplify that list. This time even the Oxford comma can’t save you (it is well educated, but it’s not a miracle worker…). This time you need to add another punctuation mark to help organize your list.

I know. I know. There are things a lot more fun than punctuation out there, and punctuation has all these fiddly little rules… But, when you’re a writer the point is to write in ways that help your reader get the point; to write in ways that help him or her to understand what the #%#%$#^#$^#^#!!! you’re saying.

And dear reader, that’s why we do it. That is why we spend so much time sweating the details of punctuation in our writing.

And that’s why I’m finding myself on team Oxford comma. Just like any of us, I would really like to be understood.

Thanks for reading today. Keep those sentences straight. And, I’ll see you next post!

Lessons learned from editing and commentary

Yep, I’ve been quiet on the blog for a little longer that I intended, but things have been busy…

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been working hard on helping a client get his doctoral dissertation into shape for his defense and for eventual publication. It’s been hard enough going that I even slowed down on some of my other writing and editing projects to give that one more attention.

I’ve also recently reconnected with the cartoon series Galaxy Rangers, something that I loved when it originally aired, but hadn’t seen for a while.

I have learned something about my own writing, and the writing of others, in both of these processes.

One of the reasons that we as writers should share with others, and one of the reasons we should actively partake in the genres we work in, is that we learn things as we are seeing and reading the work of others. In working on my client’s stuff I recognized that he occasionally has the same issues I do with making nonfiction stuff too wordy and ‘hemming and hawing’ at parts he’s uncomfortable with. Recognizing these behaviors in his writing makes me more conscious and aware of the same problems in my own work. Helping him figure out his issues helps me work on my own.

The same thing happened with Galaxy Rangers… I realized one of the flaws in my old favorite series was that they kind of rushed things and expanded the universe, and the cast, too quickly. It’s ok to have ideas for a vast universe, but if you’re spitting them out there before you can finish figuring them out that can lead to problems. And, even if you have them completely figured out you might want to pace things so that your reader/viewer has time to learn and get invested.

Now, that’s not to say that you need to move at a snail’s pace! In both cases it is about reader expectations. Whether you are doing fiction or non-fiction you need to work on pacing that works for your reader and you want to develop a voice that is confident where your reader wants/needs confidence, and is speculative when the time is right for speculation.

I can do these things dear reader. You can do these things dear reader! One of the best tools we have to develop these talents and figure out how to meet the challenges in our own writing is to help other people edit there stuff, and to analyze the work that other writers and directors have done and learn from their achievements and mistakes.

Writing isn’t usually done in a vacuum. Successful writing isn’t generally just done for the author her/himself. Because our writing is intended to reach and communicate with other people it helps us to look at the writing and communicating others do. It helps if we really analyze that writing and communication and learn what it has to teach us.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Get out there and read, write, learn, and live… And I’ll see you next post!

New projects

I’ve said we’re going to do and talk about some new stuff here and we talked about one last week. This week we’ve got another one that I hadn’t quite expected to be announcing.

Within the last week or so we have taken on a couple of new editing projects. On my side of the office I am helping a man true up, polish up and clarify his doctoral dissertation. On the other side of the office Dr. Kidder (my wife not my dad…) is working with a woman who wants to publish some quilting patterns.

Um Farangian you nut… I think you have that backwards…

Nope, I don’t… the guy with ‘just’ a masters is working on the dissertation because that project is more my skill set as a writer/editor for the word stuff. The craft project is getting the Dr. Kidder treatment because that one needs more of an instructional design touch.

The funny part is FMP is helping on the editing for these projects but we’re not the ones publishing them.

So why are we doing it?

Well dear reader, it’s because we like to encourage good ideas and truth no matter what the source. Sometimes it is more important to help good ideas to get out there; to help propagate knowledge; than it is to be the one inventing or discovering that knowledge. My wife and I get to do a lot of the inventing and discovering part and this is a chance to help others do the same. That’s part of what we’re about here.

The schedule is pretty full for the moment dear reader, but if you have something you want help with send me an email and if we can’t help out we might just know someone who can!

That’s it for this one dear reader.

Keep learning.

Keep writing.

And, I’ll see you next week.

Understand your purpose…

One of the big things that we are often told as writers is “know your audience” and it’s true when you’re writing you need to know who you’re speaking to. Another thing we need to think about is why we’re writing. For that matter it’s a good idea to keep track of why we’re doing anything we’re doing as writers.

Case and point…

The post you’re reading right now (the one I’m writing at the moment…) should have been done already. It should have been in my computer and ready to be reviewed and then posted before lunch today. But then life happened…

Shortly after I got into my office today I had the side thought “Hey, let’s try one more time to see if we can get that computer to boot from the optical drive”…

Well, it did! And then I spent the rest of the morning messing with installing the OS, and getting it into the right position on my desk so that I could connect the network cable, and downloading software (actually that last one is still going on…).

Yes, I’m still installing software as I’m writing this… So, how am I doing that and writing this?

Simple… I’m writing this on my other computer (you know the one that was already set up and running that I should have been working on…).

I should have been done with this post hours ago, but I let myself get sidetracked by other things that I ‘should’ (read that as ‘other things that I want to do’…).

Now don’t get me wrong. Getting the other computer working is a good thing. It helps me get more stuff done and will be better for some of the video work I need to do. But, futzing around with it when I should be writing kind of put me behind schedule and means my whole day is off.

The schedule problem is fixable (I found a couple of work arounds during lunch), but what if it had been something worse? What if I missed the old income tax deadline because I was futzing? What if I was working on an educational piece and skewed more into entertainment territory. What if I was intending to write something entertaining and skewed off into arcane detail that might be educational but nobody really cares about?

When you forget your purpose, why you’re doing what you’re doing, it can easily land you in trouble.

Micro and macro levels…

And while we’re at it you have to remember your purpose on a couple of levels. In the case of my pc I knew exactly why I was doing some of that futzing. I wanted the %#@$##$# program to work the way I’m used to! Unfortunately I was losing sight of the bigger purpose of being a writer/publisher who provides interesting and informative content to my readers.

In the heat of the moment working on my other PC I got wrapped up in the minutia of what I was doing and forgot to think about why I was doing it. If I had remembered that I might have moved on to other programs instead of fighting with the one that was being troublesome. Or better yet I might have quit mucking around and got some writing done!

It honestly works both ways. You have to keep your eye on the big picture, on why you’re doing what you’re doing. And you also have to keep your eye on the details of what you’re doing at the moment.

Ever gotten an email, text, whatever that made reference to an attachment or link and then found that there was no attachment or link to use? Yeah, that person should have paid more attention to the details…

Forgetting the ‘minor’ details for the ‘greater’ purpose can be just as bad as getting lost in the minutia. We really have to remember what our purposes are and keep an eye on both levels if we really want to get anywhere.

This isn’t just a ‘writing thing’

It really isn’t dear reader. Keeping an eye on our purpose is a life thing not just a writing thing.

As business persons we need to keep in mind that writing is a business and keep our purposes for the writing project, or whatever we’re doing, in mind.

As human beings need to keep an eye on why we’re doing any of this. If our real goals center around our family and being there for them, then why are we stuck in the office so much? If our real goal is to tell the story we’ve always wanted to tell, then why are we wasting our time downloading grocery apps?

I love writing.

I encourage others to be writers too.

But we really need to keep our focus on why we’re doing what we’re doing. We need to remember our objectives and purposes and make sure that what we are doing is supporting them.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next week.

Out of your comfort zone!

As writers we have favorite subjects to write on, and styles we prefer. It’s a good thing. We have (or should be developing) areas we know well and are good at. We have a general focus. But. Sometimes we are asked or compelled to step out of our comfort zone.

Sometimes this is a good thing.

Sometimes it isn’t.

It all depends on the situation and how we look at things…

The good

Sometimes we step out of our comfort zone because we have to. And in these cases we can find things we like and things that are very helpful to us. Sometimes we actually learn something.

Back in 2016 I published my first book Chainmail Bottle Carriers. In writing that book I found a few things I thought were better shown in a video than in the written style I was using. But… I had never written a video before much less made one.

I wanted to do it, but I didn’t have the experience or expertise in the area. Well, as much as I hate to admit it I see new subscribers on my You Tube channel more frequently than I see sales of that particular book here in 2018…

In practice I think I’ve reached more people because of the videos. But I had to get out of my comfort Zone to do it.

The bad

Recently Thomas S. Monson the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints died and an obituary was printed in the New York Times…

I happen to disagree with a number of points in that obituary. But I support the author in writing from the author’s own genuine stance and perspective.

There are a number of people who have pressured the Times to retract the obituary and even to force the author to ‘write a better one’. The thing is, if you try to put someone out of their comfort zone in this way (or if you allow yourself to be put out of your comfort zone in this way) you are creating a number of problems.

  1. If the original piece of writing was genuine you are forcing someone to be dishonest about what they think, feel, and believe. No matter how passionate you might be, you can’t claim to be honest and force someone to “agree” with you dishonestly while maintaining any sort of integrity in yourself.
  2. You run the risk of having things blow back on you (or if you’re the writer you run the risk of having the situation happen to you again).

 

They say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and this is precisely why I don’t’ agree with those who want the Times to retract their obituary and write a ‘better one’. Quite simply I support the author’s right to state a genuine opinion because I don’t want someone coming back at me and trying to force me to change my stance and opinion. If you force someone to dishonestly change their opinion you open the door for someone else to do it to you.

 

The take home

Sometimes it is good to get out of your comfort zone and try new things, but you need to be careful about doing it. If you are ding new things and writing new things with good purpose good things can come from it. If you are saying and writing new things because you are forced to do so, that’s dishonest and not good for you or the person making you do it.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Check out the video I just posted, and see you next week.

Would You Believe It Isn’t the Money (Why We Do This part 4)

Last Friday (a week before this post went live) I did a book signing thing with the cover artist for my novel Johnson Farm. The next day I got to hand deliver a copy to another beautiful and intelligent young woman who just happened to have been one of my most important helpers in this process. She was the first teen to read the manuscript (kind of important for a YA novel…). Both of these experiences are ones I treasure. Both of these experiences reminded me that there is a lot more than dollars and cents involved in being an author.

Before anyone accuses me of making excuses because my book isn’t selling… I’m not.

A first novel (like Johnson Farm) usually isn’t a big cash machine and I know that. Also, Johnson Farm has outsold my previous book already… Literally it brought in more in the first month than my first book brought in in its first year (and I’m not expecting sales for Johnson Farm to really take off until the second or third book is released). I’m not being bitter about money. I’m just saying that there are other rewards that are more important.

Non-monetary rewards…

Both of the young women I mentioned were excited to be part of something. They got to do something, achieve something that they hadn’t done before. Both got to be on the inside. Both received a tangible artifact that demonstrated that someone valued them for their talents and abilities.

And me? My reward? You could hear it in their voices. I touched their lives. I gave them something more than just paper with words printed on it. I honestly feel like I made their lives better, at least a little bit.

Actually there is no practical empirical measure of how much of an effect even a small nudge toward the good can have. A single pebble, a single sound, can start an avalanche that seems vastly out of proportion to the energy put in to start it.

If you choose to create (write, draw, paint, sculpt, whatever), or just in living your life; if your only purpose is money, yours is going to be a sad and shallow life. There are greater things out there.

In the scripture my religion holds sacred it is said: And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

It’s not about huge numbers, it is about the one.

What I will say to you dear reader is: If you choose to create, if you choose to build or make something that helps others access and understand the beauty, greatness, and power within them, then you are a force for good in the universe. And that has its reward’s dear reader, rewards that you will not understand until you see them. And even then you might not understand the true measure of what you have done.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Go, do, create, and be a force for good. See you next post.

 

Why we do this part 3

It’s been one of those weeks around the publishing office…

The first thing I noticed was an email from one of my cover artists. She was telling me she was pulling out of the project because life was becoming too complicated. Another artist has been MIA since last month…

That was the start and it was followed by the discovery that there had been no (zero) progress on the Johnson Farm Kickstarter over the weekend. On the other hand someone had responded positively to my last blog post here…

The team didn’t stop… A cover solution was found and we worked to help our artists get something in so that they can say they completed the project (and at least one cover still might come out of their efforts!). In spite of a negative start we were still on track.

Then came another round of ‘you can’t succeed’. Someone actually told me to give up on Forever Mountain and come work for them. Well that sucked for the people who like to tell us we can’t succeed! The guy was trying to tell me to give up right after I got the sales report for one of our other books. In addition to Amazon and Barns and Noble we actually sold copies at iBook (I’d forgotten we were selling at iBook!).

It seems like some people love to tell you you’re going to fail. It seems easier to ignore them when you’re feeling the love from readers.

Next came press releases, and dealing with what to say (and what not to say) when announcing a project to the press. There are times that it is possible to get annoyed with the English language (not English people, not English speakers, I mean the actual English Language…), but you work your way through and find a solution.

And then there are edits, and posts to write and all that other ‘work stuff’ that isn’t so obvious when you’re dreaming about royalty checks and book signings… But then there is also that unexpected pledge on Kickstarter; that comment on the YouTube video you forgot you did; that phrase that comes out just right… And that was just Monday!

Don’t get me wrong. Writing is not an easy process. No art worth doing is really as easy as some people think it is. Any project worth working on will be a roller coaster ride. It will mean stretching yourself and learning to be better. It will bring its share of stress and pain. But, if it is worthy, it will bring joy too… And that is why we do this, because for all the frustration, for all the negatives we encounter, there are positives too. And they show up when we least expect them…

In the time since I wrote this initially the MIA artist reappeared with a great looking cover, some funding came through, and four pages I wrote for a project turned out to be one of those “it’s a starting point but not really part of the text” things… No it isn’t easy, but it’s what you have to do if you want to be a writer (or a musician, or a painter, or a…)