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Plantser…

There are two standard ways to write a novel: the “Planner” method and the “Pantser” method.

Planners have (or claim to have) everything planned out. They figure out everything first, outline every detail, and then write the book. This method will work because it creates a pile of text with sufficient words and all the parts of a story. But, there is no Ah-hah moment. It‘s all laid out. Where’s the joy?

These books are often plot driven. Too often I see characters bent to fit a preconceived idea even though the author might feel the character would do something else.

Pantsers “just write”. Real Pantsers don’t have a plan… Writing this way is possible, but you at least need an idea!
Steven King is a Pantser done right. He starts with an idea or interesting concept, finds a starting group of characters, and then allows them to behave realistically.

This method can work. But, you need to have a good concept, and a handle on your characters (a handle… not a complete plan (please skip the second grade report card!)). You can succeed if you have the right skills and mindset.

But, people think the Pantser method is easy, “you jump in and write”. What they miss is that people like Steven King have had a lot of practice and an idea or concept in mind. Without those your story has a good chance of acting like a cow that finds a hole in the fence.

Being a Pantser takes work, it’s just different work. But, I like the freedom for surprises (that’s part of the fun).

Unless you‘re willing to put in the work; all I can say is “MOOO!”

When writing, I try to hold the middle ground. I have a situation and some big challenges planned. I have a handle on my characters and key events thought out (“fixed points in time” for you Doctor Who fans…). But, I don’t plan everything.

In one spot I may say, “Here my characters move out of their comfort zone into their adventure.” In another I may ask, “If my characters do this, how does the government react?”

I have a plan; however, I also allow things to move and grow as I learn about my characters and story.

This is the “Plantser” method. You plan (you know won’t happen), but you also leave yourself some freedom for the spontaneity and surprises that can make those great moments of literature.

Starting on the first, I’m once again doing NANOWRIMO dear reader. You might not hear much from me until December. My plan is here. And, I’m looking forward to having my questions answered!

I invite you to join us in the fun and madness of trying to write a 50,000+ word book in a month dear reader.

The choice is yours. And, I’ll see you next post!

Nano is comming

Yep, that’s right dear reader, next month is November. And, that means it’s NANOWRIMO time.

For the fourth year in a row I’m pretty much shutting down my other projects and doing a straight burn to get a novel done in a month. For the second year in a row I have a personal goal of 85,000 words (I surpassed 80,000 last year). For the first time the book in question is not a Johnson Farm novel.

I’m at one published (and heading for a re issue) with three more books well on the road to being published for this series. Two more are planned, but because of the nature of those books I want the previous books a little more developed before I do the last ones. So, I’m going for something new…

This year I will be writing a fantasy adventure novel, one set in a world that is kind of my own fault (yeah, you’ll get to read about that part too, but that’s another story…).

I’m really kind of excited with the story I intend to do. I’ve already met some of my characters (there are always a few new ones who show up at the last minute…). I sort of have an idea what will happen (but those darn characters always do kind of do their own thing…). I even have a handle on the where (but I haven’t fully explored it yet (at least not that completely)…)

This is my writing blog, and I’ve talked about Nano here before. So, I’m guessing at least some folks have heard of it…

For those who haven’t:

Here’s a link to the NANOWRIMO web site

And links to a few of my previous NANOWRIMO posts…

NANOWRIMO both surviving and thriving

My NANO Kit

NANOWRIMO as a Tool

NANOWRIMO is a real opportunity for those of us who are, or want to be, writers. And, if you haven’t tried it yet, I invite you to join us! (And if you have tried feel free to try again (it’s a learning process even when you ‘win’)).

Either way dear reader, good luck in your literary endeavors. And, I’ll see you next post.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled…

We’ve all got skills and ideas. We all have stuff we can make and do. If we’re really smart we can turn those things into new (and sometimes awesome!) things.

Somewhere along the line somebody realized you can use chainmail (you know, the stuff the knights wore) for scrubbing cast iron pans. Earlier this year I realized I could combine my skills as a writer with my knowledge of chainmail to create an instruction set for those wanting to make their own chainmail scrubber (or, you know, fight off barbarian hordes or something…) and so…

Today I’m announcing the release my chainmail scrubber instructions, and a kit that includes the rings to make a scrubber of your own. It’s right here in my ETSY store!

Yes, you could buy some sweatshop made scrubber. But, what if you want two or three? What if you want one in an unusual size? What if you want to change the shape just a little? Why buy a sweatshop scrubber when you can learn (and then teach) a skill?

With my instructions and kit you can get a scrubber and learn a useful skill. (Seriously this stuff isn’t just for fighting the horde anymore, people are making chainmail jewelry out there. And house hold goods… And…).

You can learn to make something useful that really works and really lasts. And, you can customize it to your style and needs.

Right now they’re available in stainless steel, and aluminum (light weight for you hikers and campers out there…). I’m also considering putting together kits with bronze rings (The color is different and they tie in with a story I’m working on…). The bronze ones aren’t part of the first wave, but if there’s enough interest they’ll be out by the end of the year.

If you want to, you could get really creative and mix metals to create a scrubber with your own custom pattern!

The scrubbers really do work wonders with stuck on food (especially on good cast iron that you don’t want to use dish soap on…). And, you can say you made it yourself! (And modify it so it’s uniquely suited to you!)

If you’re interested in learning, or just have some cast iron to clean check them out in the ETSY store.

If you’d like to talk, or hear, about writing instruction sets, leave a comment or send an email.

Either way, see you next post!

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!

Story in fiction and nonfiction

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is that nonfiction should be written so that it tells a story.

But… story is a fiction thing!

Actually “story” can be a fiction thing, but it is also a way of organizing information. In a story you have a beginning, middle, and end. In non-fiction you have an introduction, the thinky stuff in the middle, and a conclusion. The parts are similar and are used for similar purposes.

Whether you are doing fiction or non-fiction you are using words and ideas to move a person from a beginning point to an end point.

In both cases your beginning is a starting point, you need to catch the reader’s attention, acclimate him or her to the way you’re going to talk to her/him and instill enough faith in the reader that the reader will actually stick with you through the stuff in the middle to get to that endpoint.

In a fiction story that end point is a conclusion with a payoff (that pay off may be emotional, just having been entertained by a good story, or a range of other things). In non-fiction that conclusion might be a payoff (say being satisfied that you now know something), but often it is a CALL TO ACTION! In non-fiction you often want your reader to do something (buy a car, stop smoking, vote for XYZ, or…)

The stuff in the middle, the stuff that gets you from the beginning to the end, includes a lot of necessary information. The kind of information might change depending on what sort of story you’re telling, but fiction and non-fiction can share a lot here.

A how story (how to build a deck, how the Allies won in World War 2, how a couple of short, fat guys from a rural backwater saved the world by chucking a ring into a volcano…) is showing and teaching how something  happens. In this sort of story you are following logical steps from a pile of (literal or fictional) parts to a completed act or product.

A why story (Why you should vote for my candidate, why we should apply Feminist theory to the war on terror, why Jimmy the vampire chose to go vegan) explains the reasons for a thing happening. You might not follow a straight line from beginning to end on this one. You still have a starting point, but you don’t have to start with a stack of unassembled pieces. You can begin close to the end and catch the reader up to where you are. And then, with the built up momentum, move the reader to doing or believing something you want done or believed.

Fiction stories have a protagonist, that would be the ‘hero’, the person the writer is expecting the reader to follow and root for. In fiction the protagonist could be male or female, or for that matter a dog, a duck, a chicken or an anthropomorphized hunk of plastic.

Non-fiction writing generally also has a protagonist. This time we probably don’t have a hunk of talking plastic as the ‘good guy’, but we could have any of those others I just mentioned. In fact, the protagonist might be the reader. How will XYZ (if your name is Bob you can call him Bob. If your name is Juanita call her Juanita. Or whatever…) assemble that shelving unit? It isn’t going to happen by itself.

Story is a way of conveying information. It is a way of helping the reader follow what you’re saying from point A to point B. It is a way to present things so that the reader will find value in what you’re saying/writing and, hopefully, be motivated to do or feel what you, the writer, intended.

Like everything else in the craft of writing, story is something you have to learn how to use. One of the best ways to do that is to read. You will need to read in your genre to see what has gone before, but you may also benefit from reading outside of your genre as well. A good mystery story or medical drama could teach you something about how to write your trouble shooting text. A classic story of desire and obsession might tell you what you need to know to sell pizzas. On the other hand biographies and world history do drive fiction (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings… If you look for it it’s there).

We as humans love story. So, whether you write fiction or non-fiction, if you want to succeed with your readers tell them a story!

And, I’ll see you next post.

More reading and writing…

I’d like to thank the people who liked and responded to last week’s post about reading and writing. Since the post went up I’ve had a couple of interesting discussions on the subject. So, I’m adding a little bit more this week.

I mentioned I was finishing up Steven King’s On Writing. I’m not quite sure what comes next in that line (I’m thinking maybe the how to create an online class stuff my wife asked me to look at…). I’m also reading Glen Cook’s Garret for Hire and I’m about to start a book on how we got the King James Version of the Bible (Hey, um, even those among us who aren’t religious might be interested in the origins of a book that’s managed to stay on the market for a few hundred years…).

On the writing side off the house I’m finishing up a book on ‘Beach’ glass that’s due out by the end of the year, and I’m working on a novella about love and magic… (And there’s that story I’m supposed to submit for the Writer’s Digest short story contest, and…)

So, dear reader, I’ve told you what I’m doing… What are you reading and writing?

If you want to share leave a comment. And, I’ll see you next post.

Reading and writing

Well, I had planned to do a software thing this week… But, as it happens the new technology is kind of being a pain in the rear. So… We’ll talk about some old technology instead.

Woven in-between the other things on my schedule I am almost finished reading Steven King’s On Writing. For any of you who haven’t met the book it is a bit of a memoir, but a lot more of a how to write well book than a “when I was five we moved to…” sort of book. It is definitely worth a read.

One of the things Steven talks about is the relationship between reading and writing. I actually agree with him very much, to paraphrase his words “If you’re not reading you shouldn’t be writing either.”

We read for a lot of reason:

  1. We read to gain information
  2. We read for entertainment
  3. We read for inspiration
  4. We read to find good examples
  5. We read to find bad examples and to learn from other’s mistakes
  6. We… Well, you can run the list out as long as you like. The point is that there are a lot of reasons to read

Reading and writing are two different sides of an exchange of ideas. If you are going to do the writing side well, then you have to understand what the project looks like from the reading side including format, language use, punctuation, voice, etc. The way you learn about what things look like from the reading side is to read.

Reading shapes writing

It does. You pick up bits and pieces while reading that will show up in your writing (or will be kept out of your writing because you learned to avoid the mistakes…). But that doesn’t mean that your writing has to echo someone else’s too closely (that would be plagiarism…). No, reading shaping writing works best (and most ethically) as a process in which you pick up bits and pieces here and there and “try them on” in the process of finding your own voice and your own story.

I might pick up an arcane detail here, a formatting style there. I think I picked up my preference for using a polyphonic structure in large stories from George R.R. Martin, but some of my thoughts on how magic works are heavily influenced my David Eddings.

It’s a process that works over time. The stuff you read will influence how you write, but you really do need to draw in the bits you like and work on your own style (a while back I looked at some of my earlier stuff (like my first finished book length manuscript) and immediately decided I have to rewrite it before I put it out (can you say Tolkien much… And, that’s not even counting the fact that I hadn’t really figured out how to write female characters yet…)).

Don’t limit your reading

Don’t. I know you might want to write in a given genre, and you need to read a lot in that genre if you’re going to learn and write it well. But, it will help if you read outside your genre too. You might even want to jump the tracks and read some nonfiction (or read some fiction if you’re a nonfiction writer).

Reading outside of your area of specialization helps bring in fresh and interesting ideas. It can help sweep out the cliché’s and help you write things differently.

When I’m in my ‘normal’ work mode I usually have two or three books going at the same time. Usually I’m reading a novel or memoir (something where story is king), a nonfiction book about a subject I’m interested in or researching (coins, guns, history, psychology, geology (pretty much any of the ‘ologies’ really), or anything else I want or need to know more about, and one ‘worky icky’ book, one that is about writing, publishing, or marketing (you know the books that you don’t necessarily want to read but you need to in order to succeed in your craft).

One of the reasons I cycle between books is that I know the limits of my attention span, and I know how fast I can read. If I read too much of the same thing for too long my efficiency drops and it takes me longer to finish a book. Reading and rotating actually helps me pay attention and read more books in a given amount of time (your mileage may vary).  One of the keys is to make the books different. Reading three of the same kind of book at the same time would be more confusing than reading in three separate areas at the same time.

Putting it on the page

I’m a writer and an editor. I think a lot of the people who read this blog are writers, editors, and other sorts of folks involved in putting words on the screen or page. When we are reading, at least one of the things we are doing is learning about the writing process. We need to ask ourselves some questions about the stuff we’re reading and actually use our answers in the stuff we’re writing and editing.

Is that arcane fact interesting for some reason? How can you use it in your own work?

Is that opening effective? Is the writer conveying his/her meaning well? Is that an aspect you can borrow?

If the scene you just read sucks, then why does it suck? Are you guilty of the same mistake?

When we analyze the stuff we read, and then apply that analysis to our own writing, we develop our writing style and we are on the way to making ourselves better writers (you know, the ones who can write better, sell more, and actually make a dollar doing this stuff…).

It is important to put stuff into the system by reading and experiencing the world around us. And, if we want to be writers, we need to take that stuff we’ve put into the system and put it out in our own way, in our own words, and in our own works.

If you want to be a writer you’ve got to write. If you want to learn how to write better, you need to examine the written word, and that means reading.

There’s lots of other things to do (experiencing life and people is important too), but reading is a key to being a good writer (even a great one). And, of course, writing is kind of what the job is; it’s taking the knowledge and tools that we’ve gathered and using them in a satisfying and effective way. And that’s kind of what this is all about.

That’s it for this one dear reader. If you’re looking for something to read between this post and the next one, give On Writing a try, or take a look at a couple of posts here and at my other blog Words Mean Stuff (last week we actually talked about meaning, and next week we’re talking context). And… I’ll see you next post!

1000 is just a number (but it’s a useful number)

Just a short one this week dear reader; lots going on. But, even when there is a lot going on, if you’re going to be a writer it’s kind of important to write…

There is an idea floating around out there that if you want to write a book you should write 1000 words a day. Some people swear by this rule, and some people hate it. Myself, I see a 1000 words a day goal (or any other X number of words per day goal) as a tool. I also look at it from the standpoint that if you average somewhere at or above your goal you are probably doing OK (so don’t kill yourself because you only got 994 words yesterday; you might get inspired and hit 1250 tomorrow…).

There’s lots of other stuff you need to do as a writer. There are lots of things to learn. You need to edit. You need to revise. You need to submit copy. You need to market copy. You really should do some research… But, while you’re out doing all of that you still need to actually write. That’s what a 1000 words per day goal does for you; it helps you actually write, to get into the habit of putting words on the page (or screen).

There is still a whole lot of stuff to do before and after, but if you’re a writer ya gotta write (it’s not just in the job description it’s in the job title…).

The X word per day goal is a way to help you get one part of the process done. It won’t save you on its own. But, it can help, especially if you have trouble getting to the actual writing part. In fact, once you learn to use and keep an X words per day goal it can help you to feel like you’re actually accomplishing something. If you meet your goal, or if you “don’t need one” because you’re already writing, why not stretch a little bit and do more?

Honestly after doing (and winning) NANWRIMO three years in a row 1000 words a day feels pretty easy. Knowing that I can do that much, knowing that I can work that part, makes it easier for me to move on and do some of the other things, the harder things, that I struggle with. Starting with a words per day goal and demonstrating I can do it is one of the things that has helped me move on to other parts and to set (and achieve) goals to do that harder stuff each and every day.

When we make specific goals, ones that we can state simply and actually achieve, we are starting down the road to make weak things strong; we are on our way to becoming better authors.

So, if you need a 1000 word per day goal, set one (if you’re doing NANOWRIMO set one somewhere north of 1600 words per day…). If you need to market better set a goal related to marketing. Thousand word goals (and any other goals you have) are tools to help you achieve and get stuff done. And, you have the power to set the goals you need!

That’s it for this one dear reader. Now get out there and do, and I’ll see you next post (at the moment we’re looking at doing a little software/app thing…)

Paying the Fiddler and being the Juggler…

I’ve considered myself a full time professional writer since May of 2015. I have run my own publishing company since early 2016. I have learned a lot about these endeavors and I’m still learning more…

One of the things that you learn over time (you might intellectually know it, but you don’t really learn it until you get there yourself…) is that I can’t do everything. Sometimes you have to do it yourself. Sometimes you might be better off hiring it done. Sometimes you need to set something down for a while (or just write it off completely!). The key is finding balance in your life and what you do.

I for one am still learning that balance in one form or another, and I’m still adapting and growing. One of the ways that I’m choosing to adapt at this time is that I’m going to shift how I do the blogs…

As some readers know I’ve been doing two blogs my personal blog Words Mean Stuff, and my professional blog at Forever Mountain Publishing. And, some of you know that there has been some cross over between them. Some crossover makes sense, but I’m trying to refine what each blog is.

I am also trying to manage my time better so that can keep the blogs going, keep the books coming, revise my website, keep up with the social media stuff (really need to do better on that), keep the business side of the business in view, and maybe even see my family once in a while.

So, one of the ways I’m going to do this is as of next week I’m going to put the blogs out on alternating weeks. For example, next week I will put out a post on WMS; the following week I will put out a post on FMP. Hopefully this distribution helps me stay in contact with my readers, generate better posts, and get the other things done that I need to do as an author and business owner.

Life and writing are a balancing act dear reader. And we all have to work out that balance for ourselves.

That’s it for this week dear reader, see you next post.

Summer Holiday

As people may or may not recall, about 242 years ago next Wednesday a group of colonists put their lives and sacred honor on the line by signing a document called The Declaration of Independence. This action, this one event, was a critical moment in the chain of events that leads us to where we are in the world today. In honor of this event, and the upcoming federal holiday, we at Forever Mountain Publishing will be taking a little time off.

Thank you dear reader for being a reader of this blog. We’ll see you in two weeks!