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Point of change… August 2017

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I didn’t get to posting last Friday and it looks like I may not get to it for the next couple of weeks either… Fear not dear reader the blog isn’t dead!

Several things are shifting at the same time in regard to Forever Mountain Publishing and my life as a person, so rather than babbling randomly I’m taking a couple weeks off from the blog and hope to come back with a much better idea of what’s going on soon.

It’s for the best dear reader. The good of what I do will be getting better and the rest will start shifting in line!

Thanks and see you soon!

You have to commit

Honestly the hardest thing I had to deal with during my wife’s family’s family reunion was the owners of the property where we stayed.

The husband (who seems to be the one detailed to actually maintain the place) was quite evidently not committed to the operation. He had another business that he was interested in and was quick to write off issues and problems with the property as being his wife’s ‘thing’.

The wife (who I have not met in person) by all appearances is trying to run the business, but she really doesn’t seem to have put the learning and thought into really running things. I could be wrong in my diagnosis, but it was very easy to identify problems. Even when you filter out the maintenance issues which she sent her husband to deal with there were business end items that the husband was quick to put squarely on her shoulders.

But what does this have to do with writing?

Well, writing is a serious business. Writing is something that there aren’t a whole lot of people who are actually going to be pushing you to do (at least not in a way that is helpful). Writing is something that you personally have to put the time and effort in on if you want to succeed.

You can get help (I’ve discussed it here), but ultimately writing is a vocation that requires personal effort. It takes time, learning, thought, and heart. Writing is something that you have to commit to.

In The Karate Kid Mr. Miagi said, “Karate is like road. Karate Yes, OK. Karate no, Ok. Karate maybe so? Squish.” In Think and Grow Rich Napoleon Hill teaches us to decide what we want and what we will give to get it. Both of these apply to writing one hundred percent.

To write anything worthwhile, long or short, fiction or nonfiction, you have to pay the price. You have to put in the work. If you are just going to ‘try’ you will fail. If you commit and do you have a chance to succeed.

I’m not always perfect. We all have off days and days we can’t give 100%. But, if you want to be a writer and you want to have a product that is worthy, you have to commit. You have to put in the time and effort. You have to read, learn, write, and edit with real intent and effort. You have to do what you need to do to succeed.

If you do all that you can and fail. Well, you failed while daring greatly. If you failed because you didn’t do enough. Well, that’s on you.

If you choose to be involved in this endeavor I do want you to succeed dear reader. That’s why this blog is here. The idea is to assemble what you need and the rest is on you. See you next post.

When it happens it happens…

It’s a short and sweet one today because a lot of things are starting to move very fast on a couple of book projects. On the other hand… I decided to push off the post I’d planned on doing today because some of what’s going on is really exciting (to me at least…).

Some days you can’t see that far ahead…

This week I’m seriously started on Jamie’s Sacrifice, the third book in a series that started with Johnson Farm. I got chapter one written last week (at the dreaded reunion…), but that was as far as I got. So, I started this week with a hand written chapter one to transcribe, and no idea how to get to the events I knew were happening at the end of act one (apparently three act structure is a thing for this book…). I also had a ton of stuff that had piled up on my desk while we were gone (still digging out actually…).

Monday: I got the prologue and the first part of chapter one transcribed, but still no idea what came next.

Tuesday: I got the rest of chapter one transcribed and still had no idea what to do next.

Wednesday: I figured out what should be in chapters two and chapter three, but didn’t actually get to write much of it. I got about three hand written pages and conked out again because I wasn’t sure how to attack the next section.

This kind of thing can be quite disheartening. I know of more than one project that has failed at this point because the artist/writer/creator allowed him/her self to become invested in not knowing how to move forward. Things get depressing. You want to stop. But, you can’t let yourself do that.

Some days you can…

Thursday came and I transcribed the first part of chapter two. Almost immediately it became clear what needed to happen in the next section! I ‘pencil whipped’ nine pages in a burst of activity that persuaded more than one customer at my hangout of the day that interrupting the ‘mad genius’ was a bad idea…

Friday (today) started with basic (non-writing) ‘get it done’ stuff. Then, while watering the roses, I realized that not only did I know what to do with chapter three, but chapter four followed pretty logically.

By the time I could put things down and do something about my ideas I knew what had to happen in chapter five.

By the time I got inside and finished writing myself a note I knew what was happening in chapter six.

Between finishing that note and actually getting into the shower I knew what I had to do for chapter seven.

By the time I was out of the shower I had worked out chapter eight and had a pretty good idea about what was happening in chapter nine.

At this point I realized I had caught up to the end of the first act stuff that I’d already planned. And that I really needed to get all of this formally written before I tried to push further…

We all do have hard days and hard times on the projects we work on. Actually I have to ask… “If they didn’t challenge us occasionally would they really be worth doing?” I am not going to say “buck up and get going” because that’s both insensitive and stupid (it overlooks people’s reality and situation. It’s an attempt to get people going while not really paying attention to what’s going on). But, I will say that if what you’re working on is really important to you and one of those down points hits. Don’t give up! Hold on to the project. Hold on to what you want to achieve and keep trying to find that next step forward. If the project is worthy and you are willing to keep trying, the answers will come and you will be able to move forward.

The universe is a really big place dear reader. The answers are out there and they will come in their own time.

Until then, good luck and I’ll see you next post!

Walking Lines

I spent most of this week at my wife’s family’s family reunion. I was also working on starting the first draft of Jamie’s Sacrifice the third book in the Johnson Farm series (I know, I know… I’m working on the series title… (But the start of book three is going really well)). Between these two activities I’ve been doing a lot of observing people.

The thing is my people watching really comes from two very different yet weirdly similar traditions. By training I am a scientist. I have a masters in psychology (I was headed for a clinical doctorate in the time before time…). On the other hand, by nature I am a story teller, and by profession I am a writer/publisher. Both of these paths involve watching people, but there are real differences in how and why.

The differences are in objectives and goals.

In the realm of psychology and scientific observation you have goals like predicting behavior and knowing how to modify behavior. As a writer I am seeking to portray behavior and convey meaning through the portrayal of behavior.

The hard part is that it is easy to fall into one path when you really need to be in the other. And, while the two aren’t entirely mutually exclusive, it is really hard to create an engaging story if you are stuck in scientific observation. It is also hard to do an objective/impartial/scientific determination if you are allowing yourself to be carried by the drama and emotion of what’s happening.

Because the two traditions are different and have different objectives you get different results, depending on which one you are following. I have to feel that both are useful to me. The scientific observer is helpful for behind the scenes understanding of what’s going on in your story; but the story teller’s observation is the one that will help you create a story people want to read.

It takes practice

Ultimately I do think learning both techniques is useful, but you have to know which mode you’re in and how to use it.

The good news is that you can learn both. The bad news is that you have to figure out how to do it for yourself. No two writers have the same background or experiences (maybe twins (maybe…)), so each of us has to find our own way to do it. And if we are continuing to learn and grow (I.e. we are living beings…) we will probably have to continue figuring it out all our lives.

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

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.

 

The written word doesn’t work alone…

Writing is in many ways a solitary process. Ultimately if you want to write something you have to sit down and actually write (if you pay someone else to write it you didn’t entirely write it). The thing is the writing process, and even more so written communication, is seldom actually a solitary process.

It is true. Written communication and the writing process are not things you can solo your way through. Well, there is the case of you writing a note for yourself, but that’s the exception that proves the rule…

Generally when we write, be it a text, an email, a blog post, a pamphlet, a novel, a series, or a set of encyclopedias (remember those?) we are writing with the expectation that someone will read what we wrote. That means we might finish the writing, but we haven’t actually communicated until someone has read and understood what we wrote (and then there’s the issue of multiple ‘right’ meanings…).

Someone has to read what we wrote for communication to happen. That means, unless you really are just writing to yourself, at least one other person is involved in the process (and even if you left yourself a note you have to come back and read it for communication to have happened…).

Sorry… Other people are involved and we actually need them…

Because we can reasonably expect at least one other person to be involved in the process, we have to start thinking about our audience and how to communicate with them. Sometimes we can do that on our own, but as we get into more complex projects or deal with new and different audiences it can be useful to get other people involved before you finish the writing part of the process.

It’s not always easy to listen to criticism, and not all criticism is constructive (or even helpful). But, pre-readers, editors, and other helpers and advisors exist to help you, the writer, convey your message.

Sometimes it’s annoying (like when the guy you asked to check punctuation wants to rewrite your opening scene); sometimes it’s thought provoking. Sometimes it becomes down right funny (like the time a 14 year old pre-reader thought the story was about him, even though it was written before I’d ever met him). But, no matter how little (or how much) you like having that second set of eyes, having someone read and give honest feedback is really valuable in writing.

In fact, some writing projects won’t work out without some help and feedback. (if you leave out texts and shopping lists that’s most projects…)

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

P.S. I’ve left out the very special category of book reviewers… That’s not any form of disrespect. It’s just that they work at a different point in the process, so I’ll talk about them at another point in the blog. For now let me just summarize this way… If you want the book to be readable find an editor. If you want people to read it find a book reviewer!

The good (and bad) of NANOWRIMO (Part 1)

I know it’s still a long way till November, but since the book I just finished and the novel I’m editing right now are NANOWRIMO wins I might as well start talking about it now…

For those who aren’t familiar, NANOWRIMO means National Novel Writing Month. It is an event and an organization that can be a major help to fiction writers (especially those just getting started). It is also a major cause of stress. The idea is that during the month of November those daring few will sit down at their notebooks/computers and write the first draft of a novel (at least 50,000 words).

There is good and bad about this. There are reasons I have found it useful and reasons I won’t do it again unless I’m working with a writing partner I want to encourage through the process.

NANOWRIMO can help you commit to the act of writing. Through the website you have a way of tracking progress and sharing with likeminded people. You have a deadline to work against. You have a source of advice. All of these are proven to help at least some of us get through the process.

On the other hand…

Not completing could act as a depressant that impedes future attempts. Some people are legitimately busy, with “day jobs” and lives that make it harder to finish. And, when you get down to it a ‘write it in a month’ rush doesn’t work for every writing style, or every book.

The first two books in my Johnson Farm series were NANOWRIMO projects. The second book is taking a lot of reworking. The third book will definitely take a different process, so I’m not even trying to turn that one into a NANOWRIMO project.

There are challenges, and limitations on what you are going to be able to do in a single month. It is going to be a lot of work. You definitely shouldn’t mistake what you get out of the process for a finished novel (you’ll hopefully have a finished draft. But, a finished novel? Not the way to bet…)

NANOWRIMO should be treated as what it is, something to help you write and something to help encourage the growth and development of fiction writing. It is a tool to be used and a way to test yourself. It is also something that I will be talking about occasionally on the blog.

I’m not going to guarantee that NANOWRIMO will help you dear reader. I am not going to promise it will ‘work’ for you. But, I think it is useful and I look forward to discussing it more in the future… And I welcome any comments/questions/discussion you choose to provide on the topic…

See you next post.

Understand your rules!

With the completion of Johnson Farm I’m on to edits for the second book of the series Going Home the Hard Way. I’m also engaged in several nonfiction projects including projects of my own and some where I’m providing editorial support. As you might expect this leads to some meta thinking about writing.

Rules part 1: other people’s rules…

Every project has rules and if you’re going to succeed you need to understand them. Some rule sets are fairly obvious, like publishers rules for what they will accept and general rules for the kind of story you want to tell.

Sometimes these sets are fairly simple and clear. Your magazine publisher wants a particular format and word count. Your book publisher hates it when you send them a manuscript that’s printed on maroon construction paper and uses the six point wingding font. Your mystery novel needs to include some sort of mystery.

Sometimes the rules make less sense, but if you want to be published you still need to follow them. Your magazine publisher may insist on APA style, except for that one little detail that looks more like MLA. Or, your book printer may demand images be in CMYK instead of RGB format. You might not understand them, but there are reasons for the rules and knowing and keeping them helps you get published.  If you do a little asking and digging you might even find out why the rules exist and that will help you grow as a writer.

Rules part 2: you and your stories rules…

There is a second kind of rules for any given writing project; the rules that you create based on how you choose to write, and what you choose to write about.

Some of these rules are based on biology and other realities of life. For example I avoid writing anything late at night because the things I write late at night make no sense (even to me…). If you drive a cab for a living you probably shouldn’t write while trying to do your day job…

Other rules are created when you make choices about what you write. If your hero is riding with William the Conqueror in 1066, I’m sorry he did not just call Will up on his smart phone and he definitely didn’t find the Saxons by Googling them. If you’re choosing to write a midgrade novel it shouldn’t read like the letters column of a porno mag.

This gets more complicated as you progress through the story and into sequels. If your character has aged several years between books you’d better communicate that up front. If your character is allergic to shell fish in book one, sorry he or she should not be commenting on how good the shrimp cocktail tastes in book two.

Sequels and new situations can invoke new rules as well. In Johnson Farm my hero is on a farm. In Hard Way he is back home in San Diego. In Hard Way he also has his dad’s girl friend to contend with. Both of these changes affect what John can and can’t get away with. He’s back in school now so if I want him running around the mall at 10:00 AM on a Tuesday I’d better explain why he’s there and he may have some school complications as well.

Summing it all up…

No matter what you write, long form or short; fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, one of the things you have to do is learn the rules for what you’re doing. Sometimes this comes from looking up or reading, other times it comes from deciding or doing. Either way if you want to succeed as a writer you have to learn the rules. You have to learn how and when to keep them and how and when to break them (and what happens when you do…)

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

Don’t write (all) your obsessions!

One of the first, and best, pieces of advice young writers are given is: ‘write your obsessions’ (you can substitute passions for obsessions if you must). It’s good advice, but it’s a guideline with a dirty little secret.

You should write things you are interested in, things you know about, care about, and are willing to spend time with. Those are the things that you do. They are part of your natural way of going. Those are the things you know enough about to write them well (or at least you are willing to learn about them to a high enough degree to write about them well).

Writing about things you really know and do saves you a lot of time in research because you know the basics already. You know the language of what you’re writing about. This is a good thing, but it will also require you to think about what you’re writing and who you are writing for.

“Well Farangian… I’m already thinking about those things!”

Yes, but sometimes the way you have to think about things to write about them is different from the way you think about them to actually do them. You have to think about audience. You have to think about presentation, formatting, packaging, grammar, narrative structure… Sometimes you may even find yourself trying to work up projects just so you can write about them.

And there dear reader is the dark secret. If we write about our obsessions, if we write about the things we love, it can easily turn what we love to do and do for enjoyment into work. Turning what we love to do into work can kill our enthusiasm for doing, and for writing.

The way out is to write about your obsessions, but not all of you obsessions. And definitely do not write about all of your obsessions all the time.

Yes, if you love pottery you can write pottery books. But, when it gets to feel like work you might need to back away for a while. That may mean putting the writing down, or going to work on some other interest (for a while at least… Don’t give up entirely on you obsession, or your writing). It may be a good idea to separate what you love from what you write, or spend some time with another interest that you’re not writing about (at least for a little while).

Sometimes time away from a project is the best thing you can do for it. To achieve that ‘step away’ time you need to have something you’re not writing about (Gasp! I know… It scares me too!)

So, yes dear reader, write your obsessions. Just don’t write about all of them all the time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I think Delta and Echo companies need their commander…

DSCN1277

See you next post!

When editing turns ugly…

Well, we did it! We got Johnson Farm done. As we speak the proofs for the e-book are on my desk and the physical copies aren’t far behind. It’s a success, but it’s also a point where we have to change our thinking a little as we move to other projects…

A few weeks ago I talked about editing a blog post vs edition a book. In that post I mentioned that editing a book is a much longer process. It is, and editing a book can be ugly in a number of ways.

The last day editing Johnson Farm there was one edit, a single period in a 50 page stretch of writing. The first day of editing for my next nonfiction project I had entire paragraphs that were moved or rewritten. There were quite literally more changes in the 20-30 page section I worked on that day than there were in the entirety of Johnson Farm on the last pass.

That many edits can make for quite a messy page (I’m one of those weird people who does a lot of his ‘thinky’ writing and editing on actual paper (but if you work on the computer and use track changes it isn’t much prettier…). The thing is that visually ugly editing is actually beautiful if it’s done right. You are making what you’ve written better. You’re clarifying and developing what you’re said. This kind of editing can be a lot of work, but it makes your ideas worth reading.

Eventually this editing transitions into another kind. This time the page looks fairly pretty, but the process seems ugly to me. But, I know this kind of editing is still vital.

We’re done with getting the big ideas in place. For the most part we’re finished getting the small ideas in place. Now we are doing things like checking capitalization, stressing about commas and finding that period or quotation mark that seems to have wandered away.

This kind of editing has a dramatic effect on people wanting to read what you write (and how seriously they take you as an author (Myth takes c4n bee ape roblem)).

You really need both kinds of editing, but you probably only like one or the other (if you like either one…). Whether you like them or not you still need to do both kinds of editing. The purpose dear reader is to make your writing the best it can be, to make it something your reader will have confidence in and want to read.

Writing that first draft can be fun and challenging, but skilled editing is what gets you read. It is really worth doing, especially when the editing seems ugly.