Space yourself

Contrary to what my friends in sci-fi gaming think, I’m not suggesting you throw yourself out an airlock…

Writing is a complex process. Technically, it’s a compound-complex process; literally a process made up of multiple complex processes. Sure, it may seem simple, if you only do a few of the steps or your goal is a C grade on a high school essay. But creating good writing takes a lot of effort, and getting it into “print”, or even read, takes multiple skill sets.

Salesmanship, negotiation, marketing, finance, resource management; they’re all part of the process. And then there are the ‘pure’ writing skills…

Among the ‘pure’ writing skills there’s still a lot to talk about. There’s outlining, vocabulary, syntax, punctuation…. Lots of things to talk about. (Diagramming sentences has a purpose, but the day I write a post about it SHOOT ME! (Or at least find me some anti-depressants…)). Among the big processes are editing (which can be broken down into sub-processes (example: the 1 ½ pass editing method)) and actually writing a draft.

While I agree with Steven King, fix those typos when you find them (don’t wait!), it’s usually a good idea to put your internal editor on hold while working on that initial draft. In fact, it might be a good idea to let a little time pass between first draft and editing push.

Drafting and editing are separate processes

Drafting is actually creating a piece of writing. It might be preceded by outlining and research, or it might not. Drafting involves initial idea formation and creation of big pieces of the story. Editing is taking your draft and shaping it. Refining bits. Filling in gaps. Removing extraneous material. And of course, the spelling/syntax/punctuation stuff known as copy editing… Editing might include outlining (sometimes re-outlining) and research, but it might not.

Actually, some parts of editing should contain research (fact checking or filling in holes) and other parts shouldn’t (If you’re down the final polish stages there shouldn’t be any (for this project at least) if there is, you have problems…). Some editing might not include the spelling/syntax/punctuation stuff (other than killing errors you spot while doing other things). Don’t let a bug hunt impede doing the big stuff.

In fact, that’s why I recommend avoiding editing while creating your first draft. Worrying about the little details; wringing your hands about exact/perfected wording, ‘Sweating the commas’ 235 words into a 50,000+ word novel, and other ‘editing stuff’ can impede doing the creative work. I’ve seen many young writers get lost in these editing issues and never finish a first draft.

There’s also a time to quit drafting and start editing. You have an end, you have a beginning, and you have something in the middle. It might not be the right end. It probably won’t be the actual beginning. And your something in the middle… only the writing gods can speak to that. But the time arrives where you need to stop creating new material. Call that first draft done. Set it down for a while. And then come back and start building your draft into a polished piece of writing. Now is the time to let your inner editor out and send the initial creator part of your mind on to some other project. Because the initial creator can get in the way to…

Sometimes forgetting is a good thing

The initial creator part of us thinks it got the whole story out. In your mind it’s clear that the reference in chapter five ties back to that witty comment in chapter one. But readers might not see it that way. When we just wrote something, the connections are clear in our minds because we remember creating it; we know why we put it there. When we set the writing down, those connections weaken. When we come back later, we can see the things that don’t connect.

We won’t forget everything. We remember the stories we create. But giving it space and time allows the connections to fade. Our experience comes closer to that of a first-time reader. And, for everyone but us, there’s still a first time reading it (we got our ‘first time’ while writing it…). Understanding how that first-time reader sees the work is one key (of many) to success in creating a piece of work that will be read (and re-read. And shared. And commented on. And…). We can get help from other readers, but not giving ourselves the opportunity to see the work from a new, or at least rested, perspective is kind of like driving with your eyes shut and hoping your passengers will warn you about problems.

Sometimes the gap will be longer than others. The differences are in the kind of writing we do and the time table you’re on (that term paper can’t wait till next semester and that blog post is comparatively short, but that 100,00-word novel… You’ve been working on that for a while. It’s rooted. You may need more than a night’s sleep or a lunch break before editing).

What to do in the meantime

There’s lots to do actually. Have you gotten exercise lately? Cleaned the house? Eaten properly? Do you remember that other project you’ve been meaning to work on? All of those are good suggestions.

The cleaning, nutrition, exercise, and having a life stuff can all help bring our bodies and minds back into alignment to continue the work. The ‘other project’ stuff can help us in the forgetting and resetting helping us look at the writing with fresh eyes. It gets our minds off what we put on that page and on to something else. That way, when we get back to editing (and please come back dear reader) we have those fresh eyes. We can find and fix our issues (or at least some of them) before we show the work to someone else. It improves our image with others and can save us time and frustration.

We need to do the drafting. We need to do the editing. And we can gain a lot by getting a little rest in-between. 

That’s it for this one dear reader (until I come back and edit tomorrow…) Develop your skills, perfect your message, and… I’ll see you next post.

My Audience versus My Audience…

Thinking about your audience is important to success as a writer. Developing an understanding of who they are can help you create content that will be interesting, energizing, and generate the responses you want. The thing is, no matter how much you know about your audience; how you think about them also matters.

My Audience

Sometimes we make the mistake of believing our audience belongs to us. When this happens, it becomes easy for our pride to run away with us. “Of course my audience will like this post! I’ve researched them and they love the stuff I write!” When you think that way it becomes easy to churn out some pretty useless content. You’re not concerned with serving your audience, meeting their needs and giving them a reason to read/watch/listen and respond.

Some authors think they own their audience. It’s a mistake. That kind of thinking pulls people away from you instead of toward you.

My Audience

We can seek to give to our audience. Serve them by entertaining them, helping them solve problems, and teaching them things they want or need to know. In this modality we’re offering them a service (and information). We are using the information we gather about them to give them something. And, if we’re doing it right (in the right way and the right spirit), we’ll get what we want and need.

So, what does it all mean?

We can have all the self-confidence we want. We can have faith in ourselves. But we need to get pride out of the picture. Our audience doesn’t show up because we’re so great. They show up because they want things and get something useful or desirable out of what we write. It’s a natural consequence of putting the effort of creating useful and desirable content readers will reward us with views, follows, comments, shares, and occasionally even money.

When we know who our audience is and write for our audiences (rather than just assuming they’ll read/watch/listen to it because we wrote it) we set ourselves up for success. That’s when the opportunities happen.

I haven’t always been perfect at this (has anyone ever been perfectly perfect at it?). But I’m trying and learning to do better. And I see the rewards that happen when I do.

Understand your audience. Help them. And you will see the rewards.

As usual, dear reader, I’ll see you next post.

Continuing and improving…

Six years ago, I almost died… Not as big a deal as it sounds. It’s happened before and might happen again (Heaven doesn’t want me, hell’s afraid I’ll take over, but the Grim Reaper’s convinced there’s a bounty on my head and really wants his five bucks…). My adventure six years ago did one significant thing. It convinced me to get off my butt and start writing. Since then, I’ve written a couple of books, lots of blog posts, and a few other projects. But I can do more and better.

Learning has always been something I do. Right now, I’m learning and working to make the blogs, my books, and the other things I do better. I’m planning on returning to regular posting next week (I hope) with other changes to come. It’s been a bumpy ride (if it isn’t you’ve missed something…) but things can and will get better. See you next post (hopefully next week), dear reader. And remember, things get better.

To post or not to post…

Yes, dear reader, I’ve been away from the blogs for a couple weeks and I might be gone for another week or two. But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten you or the blogs; there are just a few things I need to bring under control.

Words are powerful. We as human beings and children of God are powerful. And I’ll be back to talk about those things soon. See you next post.

An update on waiting… And third dates…

Last post I talked about not hearing from a publisher when the response window ran out. I emailed (gently) asking for information. And… It turns out that there was a bit of a slowdown on the editor’s end and they’re working to catch up. I immediately thanked the editors for the information and told them I’m looking forward to hearing from them in the future.

The good news is I’m not out of the running and my story hasn’t been forgotten. I just have to wait some more. I also showed the publishers that I can behave professionally rather than acting like a jerk. Sometimes you have to take the good in a situation. I looked good in the eyes of the publisher and my stuff is getting a good hard look (Like I’ve said, they ain’t shy about tossing stuff that doesn’t fit their needs. A hard look isn’t immediate, but it means I’m close. Playing things right could tip the scales in my favor)

Yeah, delays happen. And if you deal with them in a courteous and professional manner, you may give yourself a leg up.

I’ve also been continuing with my writing group. To be honest, some of our writers are very new. So, the writing group is also a chance to do a bit of teaching. And like many teachers, I learn at least as much as those I teach, if not more.

Last meeting one of our newer writers gave me feedback. And her feedback is dead on correct. When I really thought about her advice, I discovered how to get the effect I’m looking for. In return, I helped her recognize her voice as a writer. Which helps get her story to where it needs to be.

Writing is often solitary. But we can’t do it entirely on our own. We need people and we need to learn to work with people, even when our project is personal and important to us. We need to learn to be gentle and constructive in dealing with others, even when they’ve goofed up.

Dealing with people isn’t just important, it’s vital. And how you do it can make or break you.

Be constructive with the people in your writing world, dear reader. Help them be constructive with you. And I’ll see you next post.

Hurry up and wait… (But don’t just wait…)

Well, dear reader, the 16-week window for a publisher’s decision on Names and Secrets has come and gone. And… NO DECISION has been made. I have written previously about what this could mean, but I have said little about what to do (and what I’m doing) in this situation.

Three options (and one ‘sort of’ option) come to mind:

  1. Keep waiting to hear something. AKA do nothing (Probably not the best option)
  2. Retract the submission and look elsewhere. (Possibly correct, but this solution could cost you)
  3. Just give up. (Basically, the same as the keep waiting or retract the submission options, but you also get to feel like a failure (I ain’t doing that…))
  4. Gently, patiently, and carefully communicate with the publisher and find out what’s going on. (We may have a winner here!)

Each option has its good and bad points…

If we choose to keep waiting, we might avoid offending anyone. But we aren’t doing ourselves any favors. We might not be pressuring the publisher, but we might convince them we don’t care about our work (which might tip the scales in a NOish direction…). Or, the submission may have simply fallen through the cracks and been missed. In this case, we’re just wasting our time while nothing happens. Unless you are so emotionally strung out that you can’t write a decent email (or are too busy to write one) this might not be the best option. (And if your time and emotions are keeping you from writing the email, this might be the time to stop and regroup…)

Retracting the submission might be the best option. We might find success elsewhere. But we risk cutting off a positive decision without knowing it. In Think and Grow Rich Napoleon Hill tells the story of a man who invested heavily then gave up three feet before hitting gold. The man who bought his equipment got rich. The man himself went broke. Quitting might have been a good idea in other circumstances. But this guy gave up three feet from the goal. We don’t want to do that, do we? We might need to look elsewhere, but let’s get more information first.

Getting more information means asking questions. Now, I don’t mean we should start bugging editors five seconds (or even five minutes) after we make our submission. (Trust me, pissing off the editor ain’t the way to get a book published) Publishers that I work with have a time window in which they predict they will respond. Give them a chance to fulfil that promise (Most of them ain’t shy about saying no and want to get things rolling if the answer is yes). But if that window has come to the end, asking questions is fair ball.

How do we ask those questions? First off, figure out the publisher’s system for communication. They might prefer a message in the submission system, or an e-mail to the editor may be the best bet. Then write up a message with your question or questions that is fair and professional. You don’t need to be timid or defensive (the publisher said they’d respond in a given window and haven’t asking questions is fair ball). On the other hand, there is no reason to be offensive or accusatory. Be careful about your assumptions (trying to call out a black editor as being a white supremacist ain’t a great idea and calling a single parent whose child has cancer lazy probably isn’t too smart either…). Write a communication with a calm, patient tone; information to help identify which submission you’re talking about; and good questions that help the publisher give you genuine answers (“I would like to inquire about my submission title here, submitted on X date” is going to get you a lot farther than “Hey butt-head what happened to my manuscript?”)

Asking questions won’t guarantee acceptance, but it helps you find out what you need to know (and might help get a stalled process back on track). Sometimes how you deal with a situation is as important as the fact that you dealt with it. And not dealing with it doesn’t get you anywhere at all…

Well, dear reader, I should get back to editing (and checking my e-mail every five minutes to see if the publisher’s responded yet). Good luck with your own projects. And I’ll see you next post.

An update… Or lack of one…

We all have to wait occasionally dear reader. And let’s be honest, waiting is hard.

Last October I submitted my book Names and Secrets for publication. The time line for response was 12-16 weeks. Well, as I’m writing this, we have officially hit the 16-week mark and… I have heard nothing! But that’s not a bad thing.

Christmas fell into that 12–16-week window it might have put things behind. But there’s a better reason not to worry (actually a reason to be hopeful). I’ve worked with this publisher before; they send you an email when you’ve been rejected. The fact I’m at the end of the window and have heard nothing means I haven’t been rejected yet! It means that they may be seriously considering publishing the book.

The publisher isn’t shy about rejecting stuff that doesn’t fit. Not hearing at this point doesn’t guarantee publication, but it means the book has lasted longer than my last rejected manuscript. Even if it comes back a no, the effort spent on a yes or no answer indicates I’m that much closer to a yes. That means I’ve just got to push it a little more to get to yes. And a yes is what we’re looking for.

No matter what we do, we’re making progress if we can honestly say “we did better than last time”. And, who knows, there may be a success in our (near) future!

That’s it for this one dear reader. I have to get back to editing the sequel (and checking my email every five minutes…). I wish you success in your projects dear reader. And I’ll see you next post!

Third date…?

This weekend I will hold the third meeting of my new writing group. The group is something I’ve been thinking about and working on for a while. And I think there’s some real good to it. But, then again, this is the third meeting. Will it be like a third date? You know, the time when those horrible secrets come out…

Depending on who you listen to, writing groups can be the best thing we do, or the biggest mistake we can make. Being me, I’ve listened to both arguments and made my decision (you should make your own decision too).

What I’ve realized is that a writing group is just like any other group or project. You’re going to get out of it what you put into it. If you gather a group of people who really want to be successful, published writers and will support each other in getting there, then your group will produce published writers. If you gather a group of people who love story, you’re going to sit around talking about story (which isn’t wrong!). if you gather a group of people who sit around whining about how hard writing is, then… Well, you get the point.

I’m not saying you have to gather a group that all think alike, or even a group that has an equal level of experience. I’m saying you need a group that comes together for a purpose and actually works toward that purpose. There are lots of things you can do in a writing group (or any other group). The group that will actually help you is the one heading for the purpose and providing the support you need.

So, step one before joining or building a group figure out what you need the group to do. Based on that, you can gather some people, set some rules, and create a group that leads to success.

Note that in that last paragraph I said you can gather some people. One of the biggest mistakes is expecting the group to do things for you. And by the way, you shouldn’t be doing everything for them either! A writers’ group needs to be a place of give and take. Every member of the group contributes positively toward the goals of the group. With my group, those duties include participating by putting up work to be critiqued and critiquing each other’s work from a reader perspective and sharing information and experience that will help the other members of the group toward their success.

Again, not everyone has to have the same skill level or even the same skill set. In fact, it’s probably better if they don’t. Sure, the old hand has more experience in submitting work to publishers. But the “new kid on the block” may see a problem in a story that all the “old hands” have missed. The point is everyone is contributing and working toward the goal of the group (be that publication, a better story, or just getting away from the daily rat race and having a lovely beverage with some like-minded folk…).

A lot of writing is a very personal, internal, and often lonely business. But you can’t do it all alone. After all, you won’t sell a million copies of your book to yourself! By creating or joining a writers’ group, you can surround yourselves with others who share similar struggles and goals. But you need to make sure the goals of the group actually go where you need them too (sitting and whining doing nothing to improve your situation gets you nothing!).

How’s this week’s meeting going to go? No idea. But it’s going to be fun finding out! If something really interesting happens, I might even talk about it here. Until then dear reader, good luck with your own work and I’ll see you next post.

The danger of acceptance

I’m waiting to hear about a novel I submitted. I’m also working on the sequel and a couple of non-fiction projects. Getting the book accepted will be exciting. I’ve been wanting to work with this publisher for a while and good things will come out of them accepting the series. But there is danger in the book being accepted.

The book being accepted is going to be a big step for me. This is true. But I can’t stop growing as a writer just because the publisher likes the book. It would be easy. Acceptance means they think my work is “good enough” to publish. But is “good enough” really good enough?

Most people I’ve met know ‘that guy’, the one who achieved a goal (won a championship, served a mission for his/her church, got married, graduated college, etc.), and then just sort of gave up. We can’t do that. Not as people or as writers. As people, the moment we stop growing is the moment we start dying. As writers, if we don’t keep learning and improving, our audience will tire of reading the same old stuff and move on to someone or something else.

I’m really looking forward to hearing my book is accepted, but I can’t let acceptance stop me from making the next one better. Everything we try, whether we succeed or fail, provides us with lessons we can learn (if we pay attention to them).

No one on this earth is truly perfect. That means we all always have the potential to be and do better. Sometimes we have to struggle to find that potential, but it’s there.

The moment we stop growing, we start dying. If we think we’ve done the best we can (especially if we think our work is perfect) we need to search for what we can do to improve (or we need to set it down and come back when we’re smarter…).

It’s a choice we have to make dear reader: keep growing and learning, or be the person sitting around talking about what used to be. I intend to be the guy talking about what I’m doing next!

I wish you success dear reader. I don’t want you to stop at “good enough”. As usual, I’ll see you next post.

And then there were three…?

This month I started editing Identity and Birthright a sequel to Names and Secrets, the book I submitted for publication in October. This week I made a hard decision about the book: I’m splitting it into two manuscripts.

During the editing of Names and Secrets, I made the hard choice to leave several chapters on my desk because the natural endpoint of the book occurred earlier than the chapters did. If I kept them in the first book, it would either be too long for my audience or too rushed to tell a pleasing story. So, I left them on the desk and put the end of that story where it belonged.

In November, those rushed chapters gave me source material for the second book, and I felt better about the story I was telling. Except, again, I felt like things were getting rushed. When I started editing the manuscript, it felt rushed. I could develop things, but I was still struggling to give everything the attention it needed. And there was another natural break point, about halfway through…

The hard part is that the ‘natural break’ in this book was about halfway through a 53,000-word manuscript instead of roughly 50,000 words into a 60,000-word manuscript. So, I told myself, “this is just the first ½ pass of the first 1 ½ pass edit, let me work up to that ‘natural break’ and I’ll decide then.” It was a good, but scary, decision.

I started the deeper ‘full pass’ part of the edit, and sure enough I could identify a three-act structure within the first half of the book. And I have good reason to believe there’s another three acts hiding in the second half of the manuscript.

The first ‘half’ of the book (at least the first act of the first half…) got longer as I added some detail that had been skipped in the rush to get moving and get to where I thought the book was going. But I if I broke things up, I would still be dealing with a 33,000-word manuscript and a 28,000-word manuscript. Since I want 50,000+ words in each (and don’t want a lot of filler) that felt like a lot of work.

The next question, the real question all along, was “what’s good for the story?” I really was rushing. I was pushing toward where I thought the story ended and allowing things that should have taken time to build up to ‘just sort of happen’.

There was a two-day lag between books (in the story there are two days between the books). Sometimes a time gap between books makes sense. Noir detectives and police investigators might want to stop off at the bar between cases (or at least go home and see the kids…); classic fantasy adventurers probably want a little down time too. There are a lot of reasons for a time break between books. But not in this case!

My hero and heroine are 11 and 12 years old respectively, have just lived through an exciting adventure, had significant life changes they’re trying to come to terms with, and are currently living in a nomadic camp on the brink of war! Two days would feel like an eternity in that situation (at least to me…). So, I picked up the new story the next morning.

I then realized one of my villains could even start earlier, creating an overlap. I also discovered this villain should have more backstory knowledge on the situation that my heroes don’t have, or at least haven’t noticed, stuff that can help the reader understand what’s going on and get them invested in the story (and maybe feeling like they know more than the characters do…).

So, is splitting the story scary? Yes.

Does it mean a lot more work for me? Yes!

Should I do it? YES! In this case (but not always!)

It all comes back to that question, “what’s best for the story?” As authors, we should write things that people will read, stories that entertain and works that teach. If we’re not doing that, then why are we doing this?

Anytime you’re working on a first draft, there are things that need to be refined. There are places where things need to be added and things that need to be removed. There are things you want to include need to be removed, and places we might not want to go (places we didn’t go in the first draft) that we have to go. Often, those places are the ones that make a story interesting for the reader.

Consider this a bit of a case study dear reader. As writers, we all face hard decisions, eventually. Our solutions to manuscript problems can make or break our stories. So, we have to ‘go there’ even if it isn’t easy.

Good luck with your writing decisions dear reader. And I’ll see you next post.