Not politically correct, but…

Merry Christmas dear reader. Merry Christmas to all!

There are those who would tell me not to say Merry Christmas, that saying Merry Christmas is somehow offensive. Well, I’m not going to say they aren’t entitled to their own feelings, but most of the “Don’t say Merry Christmas” crowd that I’ve met either don’t understand what the phrase Merry Christmas means, or they don’t want you to have a Merry Christmas.

Yes dear reader, there are people in our world that don’t want you to have a Merry Christmas; there are people who don’t want you to have peace, joy and hope! But, to you and them I say Merry Christmas.

Christmas is a Christian holiday. I know that there are Christians among my readers. I also know that there are Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and many others… And I respect your rights to follow whatever faith you choose (if you’re at a place where you choose not to believe I respect your right to do that too…). I also expect others to respect the fact that I believe what I do. My beliefs come from a lifelong process of learning and seeking for understanding. I do not believe the things I do lightly.

Christmas is the celebration of a birth, the birth of a person who would spend his life teaching all who would listen regardless of race, gender, or social class. This person, our Savior, then capped those teachings with a personal example. He laid down his life for us and then took it up again.

To teach what you believe, even when it isn’t popular, takes courage.

To live the things you teach takes even more.

So, if you don’t accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. I’m ok with that. I hope you change your mind but I’m not here to force or silence you; that’s against what I believe in. But please accept that I celebrate the life of one who “walked the walk” and “talked the talk”.  Please accept that I have considered beliefs and that when I say Merry Christmas, I am wishing you love, joy, and peace; and celebrating the life of someone who not only taught principles, but lived them.

I am also celebrating the fact that we (all of us) can practice what we preach. That we have the right and the ability to both say and do according to our beliefs and principles. That’s what Merry Christmas means to me dear reader.

And so, Merry Christmas. And, I’ll see you next post!

Don’t give up…

Yep, it’s been a couple weeks. But, I’m still alive.

Sometimes you want to work, but life has other plans. Sometimes you just can’t put off that scary step any longer (at least not if you want to finish the project). Sometimes you find someone or something isn’t what you thought, and you have to change plans.

Yes, sometimes it’s an uphill fight.

Sometimes it’s an uphill fight featuring 100 mph winds, precision guided ball lightning, and terrestrial laser sharks.

But, if the project is worthy, don’t give up.

All success comes at a cost. At a minimum, you could have done something else instead. In the middle range, that ‘easy’ success results from learning and practice. And then, there are the successes that come only with great personal cost.

Writing and other creative activities are definitely not at the easy end of the spectrum dear reader.

So, why do we do it? Well, here are a few of my answers, feel free to add your own…

  1. Because we love it.
  2. Because acts of creation rank among the most God-like things a human can do.
  3. Because anything else that’s worth doing will also be a struggle. So, we might as well work on the one in front of us.

You might have to put things on hold.

You might have to hire a little help.

You might have to learn a little more.

But, don’t give up dear reader. If it’s worth doing, don’t give up.

Next week (I think) we’ll be talking about office supplies and gearing up for NANOWRIMO…

Don’t give up dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post…

The in-between…

As I write this, I’m in one of the scariest positions a YA writer can be in, I’ve got young adults reading my unpublished manuscript.

It’s scary, but it’s what needs to happen. It also means there’s not a lot of point in working on it too much until I get some feedback.

So, while I’m waiting, I do what writers (at least writers called Farangian) do… I’m catching up on the worky icky managery portions of writing, trying to get my house/workshop/office back in order, and watching way too much Curse of Oak Island.

The thing is, all of this stuff is necessary, and part of the workflow, even the binge watching.

The manager stuff and the organizing stuff cover thousands of little things that need to be done, the ones that get hard when you’re ‘heavy focus’ on an exciting project. (That’s why my office looks like a library/print shop exploded come December 1st)

The binge watching helps me think about stories I’m not working on, and in searching for new ideas and interesting alternate ways to look at ideas. It’s a way of replenishing my store of story bits while letting the ‘creative fields’ rest. It helps, but resist the urge to get stuck in that mode too long.

Eventually we all have to get back to work.

Eventually we all have to face what our audience thinks about our work (even if we are our only audience).

But, in those quiet times between, don’t feel bad about getting the dusting done instead of pumping out epic numbers of words per day.

Feel good about getting the shelves stocked, the bills payed, and all those other things that need doing done.

And, binge watching/listening/reading? Well, we can call that research… Just remember we have to get back to our own work when the time comes.

I should be back to work next week dear reader, hopefully with some encouraging reports from the teens. See you next post!

Audience expectations

Playing with what our audience expects can be dangerous. Sometimes you can pull it off. Sometimes it really backfires. This week we’re looking two audience expectation failures I’ve found.

Email oops…

First, early this week, I got an email from a spice monger I buy from. The first couple of lines were what you would expect, “Hey we have some great deals and a free offer!” Then, instead of telling me about the great deals and wonderful spices, the author hits me with two rambling paragraphs about the president and the Muller report before getting on with talking about the spices

I will not go into what I believe, or don’t believe, about the Muller report. This isn’t the place for it. And, an advertisement for spices wasn’t the place I expected to find it either… Mulling spice, probably. Mulberries, possibly. But Muller the ‘special council’, no.

The author was passionate about the report and presidential politics, but he was talking about them in the wrong place. At best, he got a “Huh, what?” response.

Or, he could get “this is click-bait $#$@#%@$#!!!” and the audience stops reading.

What if the author was actually successful with those paragraphs? The reader rages about presidential politics and forgets to buy spices!

We can, and do, have many interests and many things to talk about. When we are writing, or talking, we need to think about our purpose and what we’re trying to achieve in a piece.

If we’re here to sell spices, we need not talk about politics.

If we’re here to talk about politics who cares whether the Cumin is available in a quarter cup jar and the three-quarter cup bag.

And, if we’re supposed to be talking about either of those topics and somebody lurches into “why rainbow suspenders are cooler than bow ties”… Forget it! I’m out!

When you come to your audience with a topic and a subject line, you probably want to stay on topic (or at least explain why you’re changing topic and make  your topics somehow related…)

Video Voops…

Unfortunately, switching topics without a clutch isn’t the only way to offend your audience and violate their expectations.

One of the basic assumptions a good audience has is that you are a credible source. And if you mess with that belief you can get yourself in a lot of trouble.

Ok, in fiction we have the unreliable narrator, that’s a device authors can use in telling a story. It isn’t the author screwing up or failing to do research. It also isn’t the easiest technique to use in fiction. In non-fiction, it’s better to stay away completely.

The day I wrote this I watched a non-fiction video about exotic weapons and watched the narrator/writer’s credibility burn on impact. The problem: the narrator/writer put up a wacky old pistol design and proclaimed it had 20 barrels and 2 chambers. He then described the function of the mechanism, and just like his picture, his description proved he didn’t know the difference between a barrel and a chamber.

It wasn’t just a onetime mistake. He made the mistake three times in that description and then made it with multiple other museum pieces…

Ok, the gun community has debates and wierdnesses about terminology. In practice, the person on the street probably doesn’t care whether you call them clips or magazines (stay away from clipazines though…). If you really have to call a revolver a wheel gun I’ll try to be patient with you. But, when you describe things in a way that is obviously wrong, even to people outside the field, there’s a good chance you will come out looking like an idiot.

For other examples, just turn to the customer reviews at Amazon or other online sources. Somewhere, right now as you read this, somebody is posting a review calling a pipe wrench @$@#!!! because it doesn’t ‘hit down’ the screws right…

One of the basic audience expectations is that you have some basic knowledge about your subject.

In fiction, that means you know something about genre conventions and the lore of the world you’re in. (Please, please do not show up at the Star Trek convention and talk about the time R2-D2 piloted the Serenity straight into a black hole while Captain Reynolds watched from the Bridge of the Galactica…)

In non-fiction (and in fiction) you need to do your research. You need to have some understanding of the subject.

When you claim knowledge you don’t have, your readers will figure that out. Maybe not all of them, not right away at least, but some of them will figure it. And, readers talk to other readers, especially in the day of social media.

When your readers figure out you don’t know what you’re talking about, say goodbye to your chances to get them to do anything, and (probably) your chances of them reading something else you wrote.

There are times and ways to play with audience expectations, but going off topic unnecessarily or proving that you don’t know what you’re talking about aren’t good ones. The good ways of playing with audience expectations take skill and practice; and even then you only want to do it when there is a payoff for you and the reader.

That’s it for this one dear reader. If there’s something you’d like to say, or a way I can improve in my fulfillment of audience expectations, leave a comment. And, I’ll see you next post.

Yep, still here!

Yes dear reader, I’ve missed a couple weeks on my blogs. Occasionally life gets in the way and this time around it had two conferences, some illnesses, a surprise change of young men’s activities and some wrinkles in my new editing process for backup.

One of the greatest lessons we can learn is that we will have challenges. And, the important part is how we deal with those challenges.

Sometimes things that seem terrible can work out for our benefit. It all depends on how we respond to them.

As you’re reading this, I’ve just crossed the halfway point on this editing pass for Unintended Consequences. I’m also brining a couple other new challenges under control and doing a little good in my corner of the world.

I should be back on schedule next week (at least I hope to be).

Do good in your corner of the world dear reader, and I’ll see you next week.

Beginnings and entry points

When I started Johnson Farm (my first published novel) I started with events found in the second half of the story as it reads today. Most my first ideas are in the story’s ending.

My entry point into Unintended Consequences (hopefully my second published novel) was, I thought, in the middle of the book. It turns out my entry point is actually the beginning of the second book in a trilogy.

A similar thing happened yesterday in a real life conversation, I had to help someone ‘catch up’ to where I was in a conversation so I could make my point.

As writers, this is something that happens all the time; the point where we enter a story is seldom correct entry point, the correct beginning, for the reader. And, the same thing happens in many real-life situations.

A customer may walk in wanting to buy a car, but that doesn’t mean she/he is ready to buy the car you want to sell.

You may need to explain to a doctor what symptoms are bothering you before he/she can find a correct course of treatment.

The students in your class probably need a review of previous studies and a transition into how that stuff relates to the current topic before they’re ready to move on to that capstone project about new material.

Understand who you’re talking to…

It’s said in writing classes all the time, “you need to understand your audience.” Well, here’s a practical example. If you want to persuade, or even entertain, you need to understand where your audience is coming from, and then set up the entry point into your story/lesson/sales pitch or whatever else you want to say or write.

If you’re telling a fantasy story, or a science fiction story, or a horror story or… You need to give your reader some idea of what the rules are before you dump things on them. (Not everything at once, but give them a starting point!)

In any story, fiction or non-fiction, you need to give your reader some orientation to where they are or what’s going on; even if that orientation is “Hey! You have no idea where you are or what’s going on!”

Sure, there can be a twist later. Sure, you can turn the tables on someone in a debate. But if you don’t give the reader/watcher/hearer some grounding, you’re not turning the tables or creating a satisfying twist. Without that grounding you’re cheating, or convincing the reader/watcher/hearer you don’t understand what the @!%”$#@$@$!!!! you’re talking about.

And that’s a sure way to make people unhappy. And unhappy people don’t buy books, do stuff you want them to, learn stuff, or share things with their friends.

But, how do I know where the beginning is?

Well, you might not when you start out. Once you have an idea you need to think about who you’re talking/writing to and figure out what the right beginning point is based on your idea and your audience. That might take effort. It might just mean learning about your audience and your idea.

Remember, texts and tweets are about the only place a first draft is acceptable, and even those first drafts can be iffy. It’s a good idea to think before you hit that send button or return key.

Get a little meta. Think about what your purpose is and who you’re talking to, not just your content.

In the last few years I’ve talked to several people about the subject of diabetes. One of the best started with, “So, what do you know about diabetes?’ The single worst started with hand puppets.

The presenter who asked “What do you know?” was coming in at the last minute and was doing an impromptu presentation. The one with hand puppets knew for at least a week that she was doing a continuing education class for a group of mental health and social work folks (most of whom had master’s degrees!).

It doesn’t matter how much time you have to prepare if you don’t think about your audience. If you don’t think about them and start at the wrong place, you will struggle.

It’s the nature of life dear reader. We love our own ideas. We understand our own views and positions better than those of others (If we don’t understand our own, it actively hinders us in understanding other people’s…). But, we can’t just assume that the person we’re talking to is at the same place. We have to find the right beginning for the person we’re trying to communicate with.

Otherwise, there’s a really good chance he/she will be too confused and annoyed to go with us through the whole story, much less to do something more.

Knowing where to begin is a success skill. It creates a foundation on which we build.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Find your beginnings, help others understand what you have to say. And, I’ll see you next post…

Worth Saying?

It’s been said before, and I’m saying it again… If you’re going to be a writer you need to do three things:

  1. Read
  2. Write
  3. Read about writing

In a book I’ve been reading the author puts a lot of emphasis on having a salable story. It’s a valid question: is your story salable? It can also be an off-putting question.

On the other side of the writer’s pen I find people worried about writer’s block… One cause of “writer’s block” is the false belief you have nothing worth saying. Putting emphasis on a salable story can double down on that stress and fear.

Do I have a saleable story? And, do I have anything worth saying? Are both worthwhile questions, but never mistake them for the same question!

How do you define “worth saying” (or worth writing)?

Salability, a trait marking people’s willingness to pay money for a piece of writing is one way to measure worth, but it’s not the only one.

What about the things we say and write that make someone else feel loved? You might not be looking to be paid for those.

What about words that save a life? You might say or writing those words for a purpose other than the ‘almighty dollar’.

The question “Do I have anything worth saying?” can be properly rephrased as “Do I have anything to say that’s worth the effort I will put into it?”

I hope you have something worth the effort to say.

I also hope you put the effort into your ideas, all the ones you write and say that are worth saying.

What do you want out of what you write? Once you know, you can figure out what to say and make it worth saying. It takes a lot of work sometimes, but it is possible.

What is your purpose in writing? What do you want out of it? What interests you? What drives you? Once you have those answers you can, and will, find that within you and your world that is worth writing.

We all have something unique in our experience and perspective. We all have something worth saying.

We have to find it.

If we want people to read what we write, we also have to work it into something salable (but that’s a different question…).

Salability

Salability is a measure of whether, and how much, someone else will pay for the things we say and write.

Salability is as much about how you present your words and ideas as it is about the ideas themselves

It doesn’t matter how brilliant your idea is if your query letter reads like it should have been written in crayon. You probably aren’t going to be taken seriously as a publisher if you present an unreadable business plan. At the bank, you won’t get your funding if no one believe what you’re saying.

If your story contains more profanity and epithets than anything else highly doubt it will be salable as a children’s book…

Salability is about presentation and audience as much as it is about the idea. That means almost any idea, even a silly one, can be salable if you package it right and present it to the right audience. Remember the fidget spinner? The pet rock? The Tide Pod Challenge? All of those went big!

Salability is a question of research; figure out how to work your idea and who to present it to.

Chances are, if you have an idea worth saying you can make it salable with work (but it can take a lot of work).

If you’re not willing to put in the energy; if you don’t think the idea is worth saying, it will not be salable (at least not by you).

Be careful putting out ideas like that… Someone else may find them; find them worth saying; and then figure out how to really make them salable.

So there it is dear reader, two separate but related questions to get you where you want to go as a writer.

  1. Is it worth saying? If it is, work on that idea! If not, find something that is worth saying. You have something to say, trust me on that.
  2. Is it salable? It can be if it’s worth saying. You just have to figure out how to make it happen.

They’re real and important questions dear reader. And they’re questions every writer needs to ask regularly.

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

Tools: organization systems…

Welcome to 2019 dear reader! One of the new things we’re doing this year is we want to use an FMP Instagram account to feature pictures related to the stuff we’re doing, and some pictures meant to provoke stories and ideas in the minds of our viewers and readers.

I’ve thought about using some of my toy collection in the pictures. But, it’s hard to do when you don’t have a schedule, and even harder when your tools (my toys) look like this…

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So… one thing I’ve been working on is organizing.

It’s a little too common to hear people saying “I don’t have time to get organized”.

If they actually took the time it would pay off.

It takes an investment of time, and often money, to get organized. But, every time I compare organized work to unorganized work, I find I can get more done when I’m organized. That initial investment pays me back fairly quickly, and well.

In fact, some of the benefits can be quantified (as I’ll show below).

In the Instagram example there are two kinds of organization we need: physical, and planning/chronological

Physical organization

It’s costing me some money (about $9.00 per container), but I’ve found a solution for organizing the bits and pieces I’ll use for the pictures.

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This method is costing money, but makes things much easier to find.

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And this technique is flexible, I can alter and expand the organization as I go.

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By taking this time now I’m making myself more willing to make the scenes and do the pictures.

And when I make the pictures, I can do them faster and easier. Because I can find the stuff I spend less time searching for the stuff.

I can even improve my pictures because I can see options I might forget otherwise.

Planning and time organization

As much as I love my bins and boxes I’ll never get around to doing the pictures if I don’t decide to do them and decide when they will be finished and posted. I also need to keep my decisions in front of me while I work.

My favorite tools for this (at the moment) is my Google calendar and task list. I can see how much time I have to get things done, and when things are due. They also help me figure out what parts to do when.

The tools help, but you have to get into the habit of using them and doing the thinking.

When you do the thinking, and then incorporate your decisions and plans into your calendar and task list, you are committing yourself to action. Committing yourself to action improves your chances of completing the task. Remembering that commitment (which your calendar/task list helps you with…) strengthens that commitment, and your probability of success.

Does it really help?

Yes, it really does. In fact, you can put numbers on it!

I finish 90+ percent of the things I put on my calendar, and maybe 50 percent of the ones I don’t

I can also get my pictures done faster, and as they say… Time is money. If having my toys organized saves me two minutes per picture, and I only do one picture per week that is a savings of 104 minutes over the course of a year (about 1.67 hours…),

If you figure 1.67 hours at the $15.00 minimum wage folks are talking about these days, that organization saves you $25.05 per year. Since I value my time above minimum wage, I save more. And, these numbers are for one picture per week. Some posts will have four or five pictures (plus pics for the blogs, etc.). When I figure in the value of my time and the multiple pictures per week, I’m definitely saving the cost of my boxes this year….

Getting and staying organized takes an investment, but doing it allows you to spend more of your time and money doing what you want and need to do in the long run. Saving that wandering and flailing around is worth it. So… I supposed I should get back to getting things organized and ready for the months (and books!) ahead.

If you have an organization technique you want to share, or a question about organization, let me know in the comments. I love responding to comments. And of course… See you next post!

2018 and the future…

Well, dear reader… We made it… This is the last Forever Mountain Publishing post of 2018. For good or ill, the year is just about over.

I have to say while we didn’t get everything to go our way, I’m kind of pleased with where the year is ending up. I personally got two fiction first drafts done, I found the motivation to get one that was stuck in my drawer fixed and out. I got a book out and published (always a good thing when you’re a writer…), met my publishing goals, survived being a leader for the local Cub Scouts, and found solutions for improving my writing, filming and other projects. For the first time in a while I’m going into 2019 with a complete planning picture of what I will do in the year to come!

Planning is vital lf you’re going to be a writer or publisher; you’ve got stuff to do and you rarely have an hour to hour manager looking over your shoulder. It’s a perk of the career, but it means you have to figure out how to manage your own time.

Planning is a big thing. Too big for a single blog post. It’s also one thing that will be an ongoing discussion here at FMP in the year (and years) to come. For now, dear reader, know that one of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer is to think about where you are, where you’ve been and what you need to do to become better. This principle of taking stock and making plans for the future is right there at the core of planning as a writer (or in just about any other field). And the end of the old year and the beginning of the new is a great time to do it.

Whoever you are and whatever you believe dear reader, I’m wishing you the best here at the year end. I am looking forward to Christmas with my family here in a couple of days.

Take stock, take care, and I’ll see you next post.

Pearl Harbor and moving forward

When this post goes up, it will be an anniversary of a battle. It is the anniversary of what was meant to be a crushing defeat. It could have been, but it wasn’t. December 7th 1941 ended with the bulk of the U.S. Pacific fleet burning or on the bottom of the bay at a place called Pearl Harbor. But, instead of giving up people got to work. A country went to war. Men and women took their fate and the fate of their country into their own hands and did something.

Men went into training. Women went to work. Ships rose from the ocean floor to fight those who had attacked them.

There was a lot to do. The fight was long. But, when the war ended in 1945 the United States of America stood stronger and taller than it had before. We as a nation, and many as individuals, became more than what we had been before. We grew stronger because of a defeat, a failure some were sure would kill us.

Failure and defeat happen. Sometimes, even when you win, you are so exhausted it seems like you can’t go on. One example of this, not as dramatic as a world war but a real thing, is what can happen to a writer after NANOWRIMO…

I’ve pulled it off again. I ‘won’ Nano… But I also won myself a lot of work. There are the worky icky managery things I’ve put off because I was taking a month to write, there are the blog posts I’m behind on and then there is an almost 60,000 word (222 double-spaced page for those non-word count folks) manuscript that is going to need a lot of work before it sees prime time.

But in some ways I’m one of the lucky ones. I actually finished the first draft.

Whether you’ve finished the first draft or not, there is still a lot of work ahead of you. There is a reason that Nano’s “finish the manuscript” period is in February and March. One of the most important things to do right now is figure out where the Q@%#$%#%#$!!! you are and what to do next. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a finished manuscript and you’re heading into the world of editing. If you didn’t finish the first draft, you might want to take a look at why, and figure out how to move forward.

Either way, there will be issues in your story you need to address. Sorry gang, no first draft is perfect. They just aren’t. You are going to have things in the story you need to fix. And, you’re going to need to shift your work habits to a different mode (and time table) to get through it. But it is possible.

Some of the work ahead will take a team. Sometimes you will need advice. Pretty much all the time you will need somebody other than you to read stuff (we’re not here to write a big old manuscript and then shove it up on a shelf…). What you need readers, advisors, and other helpers for depends on where you as a writer are, and what your story’s about. But one thing is definite, trying to do it all yourself is about as easy as one guy in a wetsuit trying to get one of those sunken battleships back into fighting shape!

Writing and publishing, and how to do those things, are what we talk about here. These are the stories, adventures, and learning experiences we share here. If you’ve succeeded in these things; if you are engaged in doing these things; if you’re having problems with these things, but are willing to stay in the fight; you are welcome here. We all have rough patches and hard spots in what we do. Any successful writer has a few failed manuscripts lying around. Any good writer has learned something from those failures and then used that learning to do more and better the next time.

I learned a lot doing Nano this year, and I hope ‘win’ or ‘lose’ you did to.  In fact, I learned things doing Nano that are motivating me to raise one of my ‘failed’ manuscripts off the ‘bottom of the bay’ and make it what it needs to be!

Take time and figure out what’s next dear reader, it’s that time. Spend time with the ones you love (and be on the lookout for those who are feeling alone!). Win or lose in the past we are heading into the future Dear reader and let’s make it a good one!