Bounce back!

As writers we’re often working on one or more big projects: a first draft of a book, editing a manuscript into a book, launching a book, working on another first draft for a book… One thing we don’t seem to talk about is what to do in the time between those big projects.

Myself, I usually want to roll straight into the next one, finish what I’m working on and roll into the next big thing. Occasionally I even try to do that, even though I know it’s a mistake.

We writers have lots of reasons for the stuff we work on, and we put a lot of resources (physical, mental, time, and financial) into those big projects. We might want to plow straight into that next big thing, but there are reasons to give it a little time and space.

The ‘managery stuff’ in-between

Chances are there are some little things that need to be handled between projects. It’s a good idea to take some time to make sure the bills are paid; put away the notes, pieces, and what-evers from that last project (you’ll need some space for the next one); shovel out those coffee cups/soda cans/water bottles that seem to accumulate (and then go get new ones!); pick up the other physical supplies you need; communicate with people (you know… your agent, your spouse (maybe even your kids), that contractor who still hasn’t fixed that leak…).

There are lots of little things that need to be done. If you take time between projects to make sure they’re taken care of it helps cut down on nasty surprises while you’re working on the next one.

Resupply missions…

I already mentioned getting more soda/coffee/whatever and more office supplies, but you have other resources and reserves that need to be restocked.

Catch up on some sleep.

Read a book. (And not one you’re using for research…)

Maybe you should get a little exercise and sunlight…

We have physical (as in body) and mental resources that need to be recharge from time to time. As much as we might not want to admit it; some exercise, a couple of nights sleep, a little non-work social interaction, and/or some other physical and mental activities away from the writing desk will help us get ready for that next big push.

You don’t want to be away for too long (your skills can atrophy with non-use) but running from big project to big project without rest can be just as damaging (and worse, you could be underperforming and be too exhausted to realize it…).

Give yourself a little time to recover. To borrow from (and edit for language) the advice of an old Staff Sargent, “Grab a drink, have some fun, get in trouble somewhere else for a while!”

Plan and prepare

Chances are you learned something in that last big project. Take a little time to record and understand what you learned. And while you’re at it, put together some plans and figure out what you need for that next big push.

Are there people you need to talk to?

Is there research you need to do (that you know about)?

Does the new project differ from the last one in ways that change your approach to the project (again, any you know about…)?

Take some time at the end of the last project to make sure things are in place before you start the next one. You know more about the process and about yourself than you did when you started the last one. Use that information to help you in the gear-up process for the next one

Whatever you do, don’t give up!

Whatever you do, come back for the next one dear reader. Don’t give up. Don’t surrender. Take your time between projects to analyze what you’ve learned, recharge your resources, get things in place for the next push, and maybe even spend a little time with your loved ones (remember them?); then, come back and get started on that next big project.

If you’re a writer, you’re doing this at least in part out of love. You won’t be happy if you don’t.

That’s it for this one dear reader. If you’re still climbing that mountain good luck in the climb. If you’ve finished the climb grab a little rest. And, I’ll see you next post!

It’s the result that matters

Recently I overheard a debate between a group of firearms enthusiasts. As a group they were ranging from vehement to butt hurt about their preferred theory of aiming over iron sights, and that there is more than one opinion on the issue. For me, the whole thing was resolved by one statement, “It isn’t the technique that matters, it’s the result.”

That statement is true.

It’s true about a lot of things. It doesn’t matter if you look down the sights with one eye open or two if you’re not hitting the target. In the same way it doesn’t matter if you’re first draft is typed, handwritten, or spoken into a recorder. The important part is you produce a story or article that fulfills your objectives in writing.

There are lots of techniques out there, and lots of people that will take your money and time while promising to teach you ‘the’ secret.

But, the only techniques that matter are the ones that help you get your words on the page and the ones that reach your audience.

All the other techniques, all that other stuff out there, is just stuff. It’s not practically relevant for what you’re seeking to accomplish.

The thing is… You have to find out what works for you and your audience. And, that means you have to do the work. Try different things until you figure out what works. No matter who you are, there will be some research and learning involved in becoming a proficient writer. There will be something you have to figure out in telling your story and reaching your audience.

There is no point in getting hung up on what ‘they’ tell you is the right way. There is also no point in sticking with something that isn’t working. If what you’re doing works keep doing it, and tune up the parts that aren’t working so well.

If what you’re doing isn’t working, find another solution. It doesn’t matter if your old teacher said what you’re doing is the right way. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work, and you need to find something that does.

If what you’re doing is working, who cares about what ‘they’ say (unless they are your main audience…). History is littered with books, movies, and songs that critics said were garbage, but their audiences loved them!

What matters is what works for you. Anything else is a bunch of guys arguing about having one or two eyes open while shooting instead of proving they can shoot a target.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Find what works and do it, and I’ll see you next post!

Not as good as an editor, but…

Even the best writer can’t go it entirely alone for editing. The best thing, the most helpful option, is people reading your stuff. The human eye and mind are the best tools for finding things you need to fix, and options and opportunities you missed. But, sometimes no one’s available, or sometimes you want to cleanup and edit before you show your stuff to anyone (I don’t even like to send texts without reading them twice…).

It’s still a good idea to find help…

You really need the help…

Some will try to rely on their own skills and resources. But, to be honest, I’ve met people that can’t get a 144 character ‘tweet’ right on their own. I’ve known good and intelligent people who find a 20 page paper challenging. And, if 20 pages (about 5000 words in double-spaced school writing or 10,000 in single spaced ‘legalese’) is challenging, how hard is it to work your way through a 50,000+ word novel?

At some point you go blind to the annoying little errors (grammar and spelling).

Somewhere else in the text you get wrapped up in the meaning of your thought, and miss those nasty little word substitutions (affect/effect, there/their/they’re, patients/patience…).

Somewhere along the line you miss the fact you ‘yada yadaed’ certain details and explanations that are clear in your mind, but the reader will want spelled out more.

It’s ok… At some point any writer’s brain gets a little overwhelmed with his/her own stuff. You have big ideas. You have passion. You are too busy looking at the forest in its entirety to see that particular tree.

What you need is help to see that stuff…

But, like we’ve already said, sometimes you don’t have the resources available (time, money, favors, people) to have someone read it over, or you really want to go over it and clear up some of those embarrassing little derps before you show it to anyone…

So, we bring in other resources.

Editing software

I’ve already talked about the voice input option in Google Docs, and some oddities of using it. And, I would wager that most of us reading/writing/thinking about this have met the basic tools in Word; Word’s clones; and other popular writing software, apps, and browsers. What we’re talking about here is something bigger and deeper.

After running into problems, and not wanting to let those derps slip through the cracks again, I checked out more heavy duty grammar and style software.

The two that rose to the top of my list were Grammarly and ProWritingAid. In both cases I tested the free version before deciding to spend money on something. Grammarly worked ok… But I wasn’t willing to go farther with it. ProWritingAid worked better for me, and I’ve got a lifetime paid subscription now (before I wrote this… this is not a paid add…).

For the users, fans, and makers of Grammarly, there are still times I recommend it; I think it is probably good for folks that are general purpose/basic writers. But, when I ran the same piece of text through both apps, ProWritingAid better matched my style. And, Grammarly has more of a tendency to be overly fixated, and over regularizes language structures in ways I don’t like (Grammarly’s way of handling commas was annoying, but your mileage may vary…).

In either case, the software helps fix the little stuff, the derps and glitches in style and grammar that are so easy to overlook while you’re focused on the big ideas. It spares you and your readers time and headaches looking for the nasty little typos and allows you to work on story and content.

ProWritingAid and editing a post…

As promised in Words Mean Stuff, here is me editing a post with the help of ProWritingAid. For the record, I use the MS Word add on version.

ribon

But, there is a web browser option too.

I do a couple ‘read and edits’ to get the ideas in place and get the ‘human eye’ stuff largely in line. Then, I turn to the software.

First, I usually get an overall report…

report1

This gives me an overall Idea where things are gives me an idea on where I am with style, grammar, etc. I also like the fact that ProWritingAid gives me an idea of the reading level for the piece.

reading ease

If I’m writing from the POV of a little kid, I like that number to be lower. If I’m writing from the point of view of a professional lawyer who teaches Shakespeare on the side… Well, in that case those numbers might get higher…

Then I go into the style and grammar tools to fix some of the biffs.

style 1

This gives me a list of stuff the software has problems with and suggests fixes. Usually there are some I agree with and follow, and others I don’t. This is one challenge of software versus a real person, the software can’t tell when I misspelled or misused a word on purpose. It will always mark those things as wrong. But, you don’t have to follow what the software tells you. The software will bring up issues; this allows you to leave the ones you make on purpose and helps you fix the ones that really are mistakes.

But, even here the software isn’t as good as a real person. Sometimes fixing a real mistake with just a mouse click creates a new mistake. Omitting a word instead of changing a tense may change the of the sentence. Or just be wrong… You still have to do some reading and thinking for yourself. Otherwise, you’re in the same boat you are with good old spell check and auto-correct… (And we all now how that goes…)

There’s more to say on ProWritingAid (I haven’t even used all the features yet), but this isn’t a full product review (that one’s still coming…). The point for today is: grammar and style software helps you fix the little things, so you can stay focused on the big things, and not look like a dork while you’re doing it.

If Grammarly works great for you, then keep using it. If ProWritingAid serves you better (like me…), then use it. If you find something else you prefer, use that.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Check out some software, and or comment on what you like to use. And, I’ll see you next post!

A Writer’s Instinct…

I was working on another post for today dear reader. I stopped in the middle… Why did I do that? To be honest, I could see I wasn’t creating the quality of post I wanted to. I couldn’t do it in the time I had.

The way the week has gone I haven’t been able to put in the amount of work the post really needs (at the moment I’m wondering if I don’t want to do a shorter post and also offer a  class…). I could see and feel that the post would not be as good as it should have been, and that, even if I had everything ready, to do it properly the post would be much longer than the 750-1000 words I had in mind.

There are times I see and feel things like this when I write. There are times working on a manuscript I think “this isn’t right…” or “I have no idea where I’m going with this”. Sometimes I’m reading over a manuscript I think “Boy, I really ‘yada yada’ed on that part!”

I’ve learned over time I need to pay attention to those feelings.

A whole brain activity…

Writing is a whole brain activity. As a fiction writer I’m drawing on my imagination, I’m pulling stuff out of memory and my subconscious (and according to my friends I’m pulling things out of a few bodily orifices).

Even in non-fiction, it’s more than the brain’s ‘language centers’ and ‘motor control’ that are involved. Your memory is going. Your internal editor is running. If you’re an active writer, you will work on all circuits (and if you’re a serious writer, you may find a part of your mind writing even when you’re supposed to be doing something else).

Because writing is more than just flailing at a keyboard, really getting into your writing can be both rewarding and exhausting. For myself, those days where I’m pulling 3,000+ new words, editing what I did the previous day, and trying to pay attention to an overall story can be downright exhausting. But those are really good days, in the back of my mind I’m living my story. Even when I’m doing non-fiction, on those days I’m “right in there” with things I’m interested in and care about.

Because we can, and do, become focused and “right in there” with the things we’re working on, our conscious mind can really develop tunnel vision. Sometimes when this happens other parts of our mind seem to know something needs to be said differently, that something is missing, or any number of things. It’s sort of like back at grad-school, those of us with offices in the basement navigated around each other even when our minds weren’t on where we were going. When we’re writing, those parts of our minds occasionally get our attention. And we need to pay attention to them.

It’s not something that happens right away…

We didn’t start out with a writer’s instincts. Where do they come from? Reading, writing and reading about writing.

Writer’s instincts are something we learn as we are learning our craft. You pick up some when you’re reading; you see what other writers have done. You apply what you’ve learned while you’re writing; your own work is your practical laboratory. If you’re doing it right, your reading about writing helps you refine your understanding and strengthen your weaknesses. And then it all repeats…

Your instincts about what you’re writing develop just like your vocabulary and your ability to write (both in phraseology and in number of words…). Instincts are simultaneously something that seem to be ‘just there’ and something that results from ‘getting your hands dirty’ with the work.

It can take a while for them to show up, but those instinctive warnings and feelings can really help you in your writing. It’s worth taking the time to develop them. Developing them sometimes means ‘crashing into the walls’ and making mistakes, but that’s part of the learning process. You will not become a writer of any level of merit without it. You will have to learn to take criticism, but that’s part of the process.

Fear of criticism is both something that prevents us from showing our stuff, and thus prevents us from developing, and a useful instinct to develop. I will not let my fear of criticism stop me from saying what I want to say, but I like to know when I will be criticized, and for what, so I can decide if it’s worth it.

Writer’s instincts are something internal to us. Just like our brains, our instincts are unique and develop as we do. I can’t tell you all about your instincts (and you might not entirely ‘get it’ if I try to totally explain mine…). But I can tell you this dear reader, as writers we all have them, and develop them. We also need to learn to pay attention and use them. Sometimes it’s our instincts that help us do the good and creative writing when no one and nothing else can.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Learn to recognize your writer’s instincts. Take them out to dinner and have an honest discussion about why that part of your story feels ‘weird’, ‘not right’, or ‘unfinished’; find out why you’re uncomfortable writing that post. And then figure out how to fix it! And… I’ll see you next

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!