The value of time

This week we’re talking about a very helpful tool, one overlooked by many outside the “grind a day” world: an hourly rate.

Hourly rates for non-hourly people

There are those that’ll tell you the hourly wage is for blue collar folk. And, the hourly wage might be, but the hourly rate is for anyone who values their time. Actually, that’s what setting an hourly rate for yourself does: it assigns a minimum value to your time.

Once you’ve set a value on your time, you can use that number for decision making. No, it doesn’t mean you have to punch a time clock. What it means is you can estimate how long a project or process will take, and then use that information to make decisions, like how much money to ask for in a bid, or decide whether that project is worth hiring out or doing yourself.

As writers, we know this won’t work for novels and extensive projects like that. But what about editing gigs? Reviews? Ad copy? Estimating based on an hourly rate will never work for the big labor of love projects (we do those for things besides money), but for the other projects, the ones that pay the bills in the meantime, it can be helpful.

Knowing how we value our time helps us make other decisions too. “OK… My favorite drink is on sale for fifty cents less at the store across town. I’m in the market for two cases… Is it really worth my time to drive all the way over there or should I just buy it here?” If you know what your time’s worth, you can make the best decision possible.

In my situation, it’s probably not worth it, unless I’m planning to go that way anyway…

We can use this process for more than snacks and drinks too…

Time investments and when to call for help

There are a lot of factors that go into deciding to hire an editor or a book designer (or a plumber, or a mechanic, or…). Do you have the knowledge to do it yourself? Do you have the tools? How long will it take you?

My car’s last oil change cost me about $40.00. It takes my oil change guy 10-15 minutes. It would take me longer. I don’t have a garage so I’d be laying out in the street. And, I’d have to buy some extra tools. That one’s a “no kidding” I’ll hire it done for many reasons. I’m better off paying someone to do it.

I also enjoy eating. Specifically, on ‘big project days’, I like to order from a Chinese place about five miles from the house. I figure I’d have to stop working, drive the 10-12 minutes to get there, order, wait for the food, then drive another 10-12 minutes to get the food home, where I can resume my bad habit of eating while I work. I could do that. Or, I could pay a 15% fee and have the food delivered (about a buck fifty on my usual order). I don’t need any new tools. I’m not stuck lying in the street. But, my time’s worth more that the service fee. So, unless I need a break, I guess I’m having it delivered.

These decisions can get really important in writing work. Not necessarily from a money saving stand point (though that can happen), but from a time saving one. And, possibly, from a quality of work standpoint.

Depending on what’s needed, a freelance editor’s typical rate is about the same as mine. So, hiring one won’t save me money, but by having the editor edit one piece while I’m writing another, I’m getting a lot more done in a day. 

Would you like to see the money come in this year, next year, or a few years down the road? Paying the price to hire an editor can speed up when you get paid. Hiring a cover designer can save you time, software fees (generally, excellent covers don’t come from freeware…), and give you a better product than what you might create yourself. Hiring a proof reader might be cheaper than doing it yourself (on a time spent basis), and spot that typo that you’ve gone blind to (We alll have tham).

An hourly rate isn’t just for “work a day” labor types. An hourly rate is a tool we use to help us decide what we’re working on, how we work on it, and sometimes how much to charge for what we’re doing. It’s a planning tool, not a limitation.

Think about your hourly rate if you have one. Think about setting one if you don’t. And, I’ll see you next post.

Justifiably ragged…

Justified vs ragged right edge text

As a writer, I do a lot of reading. As a reader, one of the first things I do is look at the text. Not read the text, look at it. How is it set up? What font and font size are used? How big are the paragraphs? Are there headers? Charts, tables, or pictures?

One of the bigger headaches in reading text (sometimes literally!) is text alignment.

Some text is “justified”. The spacing of letters (and sometimes the letters themselves) are stretched or shifted in such a way that the words of the paragraph will reach from one margin to the other, generating a column of text that looks nice and even on both sides. I know people who love this setup (but I don’t think a lot of them do much serious reading…). (Note: the people who love justified text don’t seem to work at WordPress! This paragraph was written in justified text originally, but WordPress doesn’t offer that option.)

Other text has a “ragged right edge”. This text is easy to spot and “justified” people hate it because the right edge of the column shifts around all messy. That happens because the characters within the text and the spaces between characters are consistent. In ragged right edge text (aka “ragged right” or rag right text, consistency within the line’s spacing is more important than making sure the text stretches all the way across the column; there is also a preference to avoid hyphenating words.

But here’s the question, which one is really better? It depends on what you’re trying to do!

Appearances

Justified text “looks cleaner”. You have nice consistent sides on the columns. If you’re just looking at a page rather than reading, it the paragraphs all look consistent. Unfortunately, if those paragraphs are long enough, you also get the “wall o’text” effect (Which can be offputting to readers).

Text with a ragged right edge looks “messier”. Perhaps you’re “wasting space” at the end of each line. The catch is, using that space means spacing out the words and characters within the line (not really saving you anything) or hyphenating words.

Hyphenation might save you space on the page, but there’s a cost to it. You have to move all the way to the other end of the next line to finish read-    ing the word. Which makes the reading part harder. And reading performance matters.

Performance

By some arguments justified text optimizes the number of words per line (at least in two column per page text). What it really doesn’t do is to optimize the readability of the words themselves. 

As I’ve said, justified text brings in more hyphenated words. Which means you have more breaks within words, which makes reading those words slower and harder. You have to put your reading “on hold” in the middle of a word to shift lines.

Justified text messes with the spacing between words and characters, and sometimes even messes with the size of the characters. When the spacing isn’t consistent, it’s easier to stumble in reading. The flow isn’t as smooth, and comprehending takes more effort.

Sometimes when the “justification” really messes with character size and spacing it seems like you’ve shifted to a different font, which not only looks bad (the opposite of what justified text is meant to do), but it can through you right out of reading.

Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally use shifts in text foremphasis. But if you’re only doing it to make your margins pretty, is that really effective? You might emphasize things you didn’t mean to (along with making the reading slower and more complicated).

A place for both?

So, ragged right edged text is easier to read… If we want people to read what we write, then the “rag right” wins. Right? Not always.

Again, it depends on what you want to do. Most of the time I go with ragged right because it’s easier to read (takes less effort). But sometimes I want things to look a bit more formal, justified text is good at that.

Sometimes it’s appropriate to use both in the same project. For example, if you’re using a large quote and most of your text is ragged right, it’s worth considering using justified text for that big quote.

Why? It helps you identify what you’re quoting, and separate it from your own words. You also usually pull in the margins around your large quote, but the shift from rag right to justified adds further clarity. You might also choose justified for long captions for pictures and tables or sidebars, anywhere you’re wanting to create a visual separation from other text on the page and don’t want to use a font change or italics. (Naturally, if your main text is justified, you could flip things and use ragged right for your separated text. The same principles apply)

In the world of writing, there is a place for both “Justified” and “Ragged Right” text. Knowing which to use is a matter of knowing what you’re trying to achieve and making good choices. (Note: if you’re writing for an audience or publisher who expects a particular format, go with that format. It’s the same principle: go with what gives you the effect you want. And in this case, the effect you want is to be published.)

It seems like a small choice. Does it really matter whether your text stretches all the way across the column or that the right-hand edge shifts back and forth? It might not, but then again, it might. It’s one of many choices we make as writers. There are bigger ones (don’t get hung up on rag right versus justified to avoid larger issues), but getting published can depend on the little things. So, when the time comes, make sure you get the little things right.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. Keep planning, keep writing, and I’ll see you next post.

One step…

Often, the first (and one of the biggest) obstacles to getting things done is getting started… Once you’ve started, you’ve got traction. Once you’ve started, you’ve got an investment. (note: you may have invested money beforehand, but once you start, you’ve invested time and effort and for a lot of us, those seem to be even more tangible than cash…)

Things that get in the way

Things come up. They just do. Between writing the headings of this post and writing the body text, my wife had a sudden unexpected meeting in my office, my printer melted down, and I tweaked my back. But I had those headings in place. I’d already started. I had something I could hold on to and keep going. If I hadn’t had that leg up, I might easily have stopped dead and not gotten a post out this week.

Things will still crop up after you started (like in the example I just gave…), but by having started you give yourself an advantage; the momentum you build up can help you get through.

Sometimes when you’re starting, or restarting after a pause, the magnitude of the project creates a barrier that’s really tough to get through. “You mean I have to do all of that?” “Ummm, a novel should be at least 50,000 words???” It can be rough.

Sometimes, the solution is to not think about the whole thing. Just think about one part of it. You know, the step right in front of you.

“Opening the box”: doing something is where you start

As a kid, I built plastic models. As an adult, I write books, assemble tools, create sculpture, and (occasionally) do home improvement projects. The first step in all those things is to “open the box”, to look at what’s involved, get a feel for the process and figure out what to do next.

When you look open the box (literally or figuratively), you cut out a huge chunk of fear (primarily fear of the unknown); because you now know what’s there and can make better decisions. You have a better idea of what’s going to happen, what you might need help with, what to do next, and an investment.

Once you’ve opened the box, you can say, “I’ve come this far already.” And, you can make better decisions on how to proceed.

Of course, opening the box isn’t usually the end of the road.

Now that you’ve started

Once you’re started, there are still plenty of questions: what’s next? Should I keep going? Am I missing something? You’re not done, but you’re in a better place to decide and answer the questions in front of you (for some questions you have more information and for others you know they exist… You can’t answer a question till you know it exists).

There are lots of answers to the question “what should I do next?”. There are lots of options. But you can’t get to any of them, and you can’t succeed in anything until you get started.

It can be scary. Beginnings always are. Starting is the first step to finishing. It’s something we have to do if we want to succeed.

I’ll end today’s post with a question. What helps you get started? If you’ve got a good one, leave a comment. And, I’ll see you next post.

A writer’s conference?

Last fall I did something I’d been actively avoiding for a long time. I went to a writers’ conference.

My arguments against it seemed valid, even felt valid. Why spend that much money? I can’t spend the time doing that. I have other things to do. I don’t want to travel. What can a bunch of other writers teach me about my writing? (Ok, since I’ve talked about writing groups I had a good answer on that last one, but it worked for avoiding conferences…) Now that I’ve gone, I wish I’d gone sooner!

Just going to a conference doesn’t make you a writer. (Writing does that…) Going to a conference creates opportunities and can help make you a better writer. And, with the number of virtual or hybrid conferences going on, there are plenty of low cost, low travel options too. But whether you attend online or in person, it’s as much a question of what you put into it as what you get out.

Being an attendee

The simplest, lowest intensity, level of participation is going to the conference as an attendee. You don’t have to physically go to the whole conference. Online and day-pass attendance is valid. Being an attendee, you’ll get access to some keynote speakers (those are the bigger name folks that talk to everybody); you’ll get to attend some breakout sessions addressing specific topics (choose one’s you’re interested in…); and if you’re attending in person, you might get some food out of the deal (sorry, so far as I can tell, lunch and snack delivery is usually not part of your virtual attendee package).

Perhaps the most important thing is you get to make contacts. Writers are often introverts, and can be pretty well spread out, but at a conference you’ve got lots of folks together and a common interest, so finding someone to talk to becomes easier.

For the folks saying “but I don’t want to talk to other writers!” First off, maybe you should, sometimes it’s a good idea to bounce ideas off someone. Second (and even more important) writers aren’t the only people that show up at writers’ conferences. Editors, agents, publishers, marketing people, artists (as in cover artists), book designers, music people, and film people show up at these things too. A conference is a place to find the people you need to finish your project.

Being “on the inside”

Once you’ve attended a conference, the next step (one that few people take) is to get into the action as an insider. This might mean being a volunteer (you might do this for your first one (if you have the right contacts already)). You might serve on a committee. If you have something to sell, you might even slide in as a vender.

As an insider, you get some definite benefits (at the cost of more work).

As a volunteer, you’re putting in work at the conference but have the opportunity for reduced or even free entry (at least on the days you’re working).

If you’re on a committee, you’ve can shape the conference itself! Do you really want a session on a specific topic? If you’re on the right committee, you can push for that. (And committed folk frequently get free or reduced conference fees (they built the thing after all))

As a vender, you’re getting advertising and the ability to sell stuff. On the downside, as a vender you might have to pay to be there. (But hey, advertising… And if you sell more than the conference costs, you’re making a profit.)

You could be a presenter. Yes, a presenter… Keynotes are usually contacted by the conference committee, but many conferences hold a call for proposals. And, a call for proposals is a chance to present things you’d like to talk about at the conference. (I know, I know… Introverts… But the possibility is there, so I had to mention it.) And again, as a presenter, you’ll probably get at least a day pass admission for your trouble.

Whatever position you fill, being an active part of the conference increases your chances of contacting with people that can really help you with your writing goals. Currently, I’m on the conference committee for the Latter-Day Saints Publishing Media and Arts conference (LDSPMA). I’m sharing space and time with fellow writers, publishers, editors, social media types, and marketing folk. I’m in a spot where the folks I’m working with either are the contacts I need or know someone who is.

What we get out of it

There is inspiration to be had. There’s information in the sessions. There are products and services to be bought. But, the most important thing we get from conferences isn’t a what, it’s a who.

Writing is a lonely business sometimes. There are things we have to do for ourselves. But, if we want to succeed, we usually can’t do it all on our own. A conference is a place to find the people we need, or the people who know the people…

It’s a practical matter. As a writer, we don’t want ourselves or our writing to be just another manuscript. By learning from the conference and talking to people, we make the move from “just another manuscript” to being a real (known) person with a good manuscript. We might even find that right person and key information to make it a great manuscript. And we’re pitching it to someone we already know, someone we can present a specific, planned pitch to.

No, attending a conference isn’t mandatory. But if you want to present the right manuscript to the right person, and actually get stuff published and read, attending a conference is a step in the right direction.

I’d encourage you to check out LDSPMA dear reader or, if not our conference, check out another conference that fits you better. And of course, I’ll see you next post!

A light from the shadows

One of the new things we’re doing at FMP is talking about books we’re reading. No, we’re not just giving another book review. Book reviews will happen from time to time, but the why is more important than the what…

Any reading I do needs to have a purpose. In this series, I’ll talk about books I’m reading and why I’m reading them. What did I hope to get out of them? And am I getting it? (So, it is a book review, but it’s a purposeful, targeted review instead of an “I’m a book arse” review or a “this is my 5th grade book report” review)

That said, let’s get to it, dear reader!

Ender’s Shadow

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card is the first book of a companion series to the Ender’s Game series. It’s top shelf sci fi by a top shelf author. But, I’m not (just) reading it because I like science fiction.

In my current writing, I’ve got some parallel perspective and parallel story telling going on. As I’ve said previously (link), there’s a parallel book to the one I started last November (link) that needs to be written. So, I’m doing myself a favor and looking at how one of the best does it.

Ender’s Shadow tells part of the same story as Ender’s Game, but it’s a story of its own. It follows Bean, friend to Ender Wiggin, and tells Bean’s story with the story of Ender and the war against the Buggers as a backdrop.

If you liked Ender’s Game, you’ll probably like Ender’s Shadow. It’s not just a retelling of the same story. It has its own storyline, and turns that hold suspense, even though we know parts of the story already. It has its own payoff, even though we know the kids will win the war.

What I’m getting out of it

I’m reading the book, and will compare it side by side with Enders Game, as part of learning and improving my parallel storytelling. The first thing I’ve gotten out of Ender’s Shadow is a firm appreciation for Card’s world and abilities as he tells a second story in the same place and time without tripping over things. It’s an individual story that can stand on its own. It proves that it can be done and shines light on how to do it.

I’m also learning more about how to make a story have real stakes in speculative fiction, without having the world ending cataclysm or ancient magical super widget front and center in the story. Having read Ender’s Game, I already know the big revelation at the end of that story. In this one, Card’s telling the story of a kid growing up and facing real stakes challenges with the world-ender as a backdrop, not the main tension line of the story (it’s still a component of the plot but not the part that really drives the story).

What I’m doing next

I mentioned it already, but the next step is doing a side-by-side comparison. Reading about the same events from Bean and Ender’s perspectives. Hopefully this helps my study of perspective for things within book and between books (I’m a polyphonic sort of writer…).

Yeah, there are challenges. It’s not just a “sit down and read a book” sort of reading. It’s not just a “read and make notes in the margins” sort of reading either. It’s not simple reading, but there’s a payoff. I’m learning craft from one of the best.

After that, after Ender and Bean have had their victory? I’m still working on my book and working on perspective and storytelling. I’ll also be doing more reading. Pray for me dear reader, next I’m going old school with The Great Gatsby!

Writing is a craft. It’s something that takes effort and study. Part of that study is reading.

Take the time to read, dear reader. Read the good books and the bad. You can learn from both if you try. And, I’ll see you next post.

Growing and adapting

It’s January 2022. It’s a new year and a new opportunity for improvement. Here are some things we’re doing to improve here on the blogs.

Reorganizing

Over the next few months, we’re reworking and reorganizing the pages on our websites and the way we organize posts in the blogs. These changes should help us focus our material and develop our outward facing presence to improve communication and access to information. The specific changes will vary depending on which blog/site you’re viewing.

There are those who’ll ask, was the old stuff bad? Is there something you’re trying to hide? Nope, that’s not it. It’s just that I’ve learned a lot since we started all this (seven years ago) and it’s time to apply what I’ve learned and clear away some of the dead wood.

New voice

At Words Mean Stuff, we’re adding a new contributor. The blog has always been about learning, developing, and making good choices. This year we’ve got a professional teacher and instructional designer sharing some of the writing duties. She’ll be introducing herself in a couple of weeks.

Better organization

One thing bringing in a new partner forces me to do is to up my planning game. I need to talk to her about what she’s putting up and when she’s doing it; that means I need to think farther ahead about the stuff I’m putting up. Working together, we’ll both improve our product.

Improving what we’re already doing

The section header says it all, dear reader. The point is to refocus and help us do what we’ve wanted to do, and to do it better. Sharing the things we’ve learned and discovered is important. Improving our skills is important. The changes this year are a way of doing that.

If you’ve found value in anything we’ve produced, stick around. Things are only going to get better.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. I’ve got a digital photography course calling my name (we’re improving our visuals too). It’s a new year and a new chance to learn and improve. Take the opportunity dear reader, share your successes if you like, and (or course) I’ll see you next post.

Merry Christmas 2021

It might not be politically correct to say, but who cares! Merry Christmas dear reader. Merry Christmas to all.

What is Christmas? Why does it matter?

Christmas is a Christian holiday (even for the ones who want to forget that…). It is also a day with significant meaning. It’s a day meant to celebrate the search for peace and love. It is a day to celebrate the possibility of people coming together, being good to each other, and living in peace (it’s possible if we really work at it!). It is a day to celebrate the birth of one Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Who is this Christ we speak of?

Well, there are many people who wonder about that. People debate and even argue whether Jesus was God, a literal son of God, or just a man.

In my understanding, none of us is “just” anything. We’re far more complicated than one aspect or idea. And that applies to the man named Jesus too.

Our understanding is part of the problem. For Jesus to be what I understand him to be, his existence is partially outside of our current understanding. This sometimes leads to people making assumptions. It leads to serious mistakes, including writing off Jesus Christ as impossible, or (equally bad) assuming our Savior’s life and existence will always be outside of our understanding.

Some will even say that Jesus never existed, that he was just a story. Well, if he was just a story, that was a great story. Look at how the story of Jesus has shaped our world. Maybe this is something we should look into a bit more.

A few things I find in the story are that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, both man and god combined. He came to this world. He taught. And he left a lasting mark on our world, and on our individual lives if we’ll let him.

People will argue and dispute the logistics of how he could be man and god at the same time. Others will argue there’s no archeological proof he existed. But those questions aren’t really the best place to start.

If you’re teaching physics, it’s a lot easier to start with Newtonian models than string theory. If you’re teaching psychology, behavior is a lot easier to observe than neurochemistry. Maybe we should focus on who Christ was and what he taught and stood for before we go mucking about with the metaphysics of dual man/god existence.

As for archeological evidence of Christ; that was two thousand years ago. It can be a struggle to find evidence of individual people living much more recently. Finding evidence of a specific homeless person living on skid row right now could be a bit of a challenge. More important questions include what does Jesus (real or fictional) represent and can we come to know him.

My God is a god of agency…

One of the most important things God has placed in our world, and one of the most significant things his son showed us, is the principle of agency. We as people are allowed, even expected, to make choices; to act for ourselves and learn from the results of our actions. A key implication of this principle is that we won’t really learn about God and our Savior without making a genuine decision to learn and then acting on that decision.

We are given rules and guidelines about what we should do. But neither God nor God’s Son force us to follow them. We are free to choose our actions, and then benefit or suffer from the results.

Understanding this principle of agency and that we must genuinely choose to search and learn for ourselves is the first step to coming to know the truth about God and Jesus.

With an emphatic yes, we can come to know God and our savior. It just takes effort on our parts.

God is both knowing and knowable.

God knows us. His son Jesus knows us too. And we can know them.

I love it when people ask me if I’ve ever seen God. The answer is no, I haven’t. I haven’t seen the wind or the interaction of ions in a human nerve cell either, but I can observe their effects.

Coming to know God and our savior is a process or seeking, experimentation, and observation. Sometimes we study the testimony of others (like what we read in the bible and other sources). Sometimes we appeal to God directly (as in praying). Sometimes we examine the results and draw conclusions.

It really helps to listen to the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost, but even when we can’t hear them, we can observe things in the world.

Do people who love and care for their families seem happier? And we’re not just talking Christian families here. Check a few Jews, Muslims, Hindus and atheists while you’re at it. The principal functions on its own, no matter what title we may put on our faith or behavior. If the results fit the principle, then the results support the principle. God teaches us to love and value our families, and I’ve seen the principle work with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and atheists. If you follow the principle, you get the result.

Right now, dear reader, I’m telling you I believe in God and our Savior Jesus Christ. I know they are here for us and Christmas is a holiday to celebrate that. So, Merry Christmas dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

Nanowrimo 2021: I won! I “lost”! I learned… And what happens next?

NANOWRIMO 2021 is now in the history books, and as promised, I’m back on the blog. In this post I’ll tell you a bit about how it went and what’s yet to come.

I won

I did. I finished a nearly 60,000-word manuscript in less than a month. A story that’s been on my mind for a few years is now recorded in print!

I “lost”

Honestly, as I said here (link), I’d intended to get TWO manuscripts for a total of 85,000 words finished. So as Cuddy said on House, “I passed by their meager standards and failed by my own.”

But, there’s the question… Did I really fail? To be honest, I don’t think so!

I learned

One of my goals this year was to apply skills I learned at a writers’ conference. My outline was better this year and exposed changes I needed to make in my planned stories and some things I needed to learn. I actually applied skills I’d listened to and thought about. I discovered some flaws in my work and started addressing them much earlier, saving myself a lot of re-working.

I’m coming out of this year’s project with a better plan for what to do in the future. I also discovered the seeds of a third (3rd!) book hiding in the mix. It comes from needing to know what a pair of secondary characters in the finished first draft are doing. Their story touches on the one told there, but isn’t really that story. It’s a separate story that’s happening right beside the one I was writing. I’m going to have to apply all the planning tools I’ve learned to that story to finish the one I’ve written, so why not write the newly discovered one too?

I know what I need to do to finish the manuscript I’ve created, what I need to learn to finish the second, and I have a plan for the third. I’ve even got research materials ordered (some have arrived already) to help me do that. I also learned that NANO can, does, and did help me in other (even non writing) ways.

So, NANO’s over. I won. I lost. And I won in an even bigger sense…

So? What happens now?

Now? First I recover. Second, I assess what happened and mark the lessons learned (like the stuff I just wrote about…). Third, coming up quickly, I survive Christmas. Then the big stuff really starts rolling.

In January I start my first really big 1 ½ pass on the new novel. I create a new outline, including the stuff for those secondary characters (which will become a new first draft…) and make notes on what’s needed to fix the story. Then I do more research and work on stuff a piece at a time.

As I’m doing all that for the book, I’m also making changes here at the website/blog as I’ve discussed previously. I will also be working on a writing conference I’m taking part in and hopefully helping some people make their lives better.

There’s lots that needs doing, dear reader. And if we really commit ourselves, there’s a lot of good we can do. I wish you both luck and blessings in your good doing, dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

Well dear reader, that time has come (again)… I’ll be taking about a month off from the FMP blog to complete a NANOWRIMO project. As I’ve said, I’m working toward my highest goal ever this year and actually feeling pretty good about it (found some new tools…).

After NANO, I’ll be back and things will be changing. I’ll be using some new tools for writing and planning and we’ll be welcoming a new contributor in December. But while some things change, others will remain the same. This blog is still about writing and publishing (though we will add more gaming content!), so we’ll still be focusing on telling stories (ours and yours). Please, come check out the new stuff after NANOWRIMO.

Until then, see you next post!

NANOWRIMO vs the writers’ conference

Well dear reader, it’s true I’m doing a National Novel Writers Month project again this year. It’s also true that I was at a writers’ conference last week. And, to be honest, the writers’ conference both hindered and helped me in my thinking about NANO this year…

Things that get in the way…

My wife and I were officially on the “nonfiction” and “fiction” tracks of the conference respectively, but we went to sessions based more on interest than a sense of “supposed to”. That led to me spending a fair amount of time thinking about what to do with my Instagram and how to improve some nonfiction projects. It also led to me feeling a little unprepared for the manuscript I’m starting in two weeks.

I’ve always considered myself a “plantser”, both a planner and a pantser. But it was shocking just how much planning some of my fellow attendees were doing for their books. It left me with a (temporary) feeling of “I can’t do this! I’m not ready.”

I attended a session on plotting that had some useful information. I applied it to the story I planned to tell for NANO. I had trouble making it work. I had trouble making the advice work. I realized the story wouldn’t work.

I had stove-piped two stories together. At least one of those stories wasn’t ready to be told yet. It was a problem. The planner part of me was stymied. I wasn’t sure I could pull things off.

May also be the things that help you!

The plotting advice kind of threw cold water on the story I meant to tell. But then I remembered two other stories I’d “been gonna” work on.

I had the background research for those already done. I was just getting pulled toward the other stuff because it was shinier and newer. Finishing the stories I’d left “on the shelf” would clear the way for newer stories and solve problems with stories further along the line.

They need to be written. I know that. So, I crossed my fingers and went to work again. Applying the things I’d learned about plotting to work on my newly remembered ideas. And, wouldn’t you know, it seems to work. The stories seem to work. Which means I can make the whole series work!

What matters is the effort you put in

Not all stories are ready to be told. No story “pops out” perfected on a first draft.

That’s ok. I know how to work. And the stories that feel ready are ones I’ve been wanting to do for a while. The others will come when their time is right.

There’s still a lot of work to do. Even after I finish my new, better plotted, first drafts, where will be a lot to do. But by improving the work I do on the front end, I will (hopefully) reduce the work on the back end. That means the stories will get out faster.

Six years of NANOWRIMO “wins” and the conference tell me one thing, that what you get out of your writing depends on the effort you put into it.

They also tell me I (and you) can do it if we put in the effort. We all had a first time somewhere. I’ve written a book. I’ve published a book. I went to the conference as a first-time attendee. Now I’m on the convention committee!

It can be done, dear reader. We just have to put in the work and really think about what we want to do. Speaking of which… I’d better get back to work. Good luck with your writing dear reader, and I’ll see you next post.