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!

Plantser…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chaos, panic, other people, and getting it done!

At the time I’m writing this I have (at least) four big projects going, including: getting the finish work done on a book, getting a new chainmail project set out, putting together a story for a national completion, and gearing up for writing the third novel in a trilogy. I also have my wife at home recuperating from surgery, a Cub Scout den meeting tonight, dinner to make, shopping to do, and worky icky manager stuff demanding my attention. It isn’t always easy being a writer!

There are times when being a writer is really great; there are times you get into a flow and get some good work done.

There are also times when you’re a couple lines into your flow and someone comes and bangs on the door…

There are times that you want to work, but there are just a few too many things pulling you “out of your zone”.

We want things to go perfectly when we write, but let’s face it. Perfection is an ideal thing not a real thing. Fortunately there are things that we can do to help ourselves be better and more successful even when the wife/husband/child/pet is sick, the phone is ringing off the hook, random people are at the door, and your social media is infested with trolls.

Learn about yourself and your work style and then put that learning into action…

We’ve talked about this one before. You will be well served to learn about how you work as a writer: do you prefer to write in the morning or the afternoon? Do you like the stimulation of a busy place? Do you like to listen to music as you write? Do you need a lonely quiet place? Does a lovely beverage help? If so, which one?

When you learn these things the next step is to start putting them in place in your schedule.

If you write best in the morning, make it so that you can write in the morning. This may mean coordinating your schedule with other people and things. If you have a “day job” this means the “day job” gets relegated to afternoons or evenings. If you have to take the young’uns to school, you may want to figure out a car pool so you have more morning time to work.

If you like music, figure out what works for what you’re writing and build a sound track.

If the phone is what’s getting to you, you don’t have to answer. (Actually when I’m in my office my phone is usually on the other side of the house (which is why I never seem to answer phone calls before about two in the afternoon…)).

When you learn about your writing habits and what works for you, and then put that learning into action, you are actively reducing the distractions and other problems that can get in your way.

Plan and communicate with those family members…

This is a hard one. Your spouse/bf/gf/whatever always needs attention. So do your children. And of course the dog, cat, hamster, raccoon, or purple spotted land squid is going to do it’s best to stick its nose in as well. (And we haven’t even gotten to the mail man, the door to door salesman and the old friend from high school yet…).

One of the best things here is an office with a door (or perhaps even an office outside the house). This is actually one of the reasons I favor writing in restaurants for some projects (the caffeine refills also really help!).

I like my office time.  But I also know that you can’t just wall yourself off. Family members get hurt feelers, and the cat… Well he/she/it can get just plain vindictive. You need to communicate and do a little teaching. Help those family member and others understand that you are working and as much as you love them there are things you need to get done.

It’s complicated. You can have some real struggles with this one (enough to get their own post at minimum…). But you do have to set some boundaries and find some balance.

Don’t stop, redirect…

Even though it makes things harder sometimes, there is a reason I’ve always got more than one iron in the fire.  There is also a reason I try to plan ahead and know what needs to be done on which projects and when.

Having multiple projects, and plans for those projects, allows me to redirect when I’m really struggling to get work done. If the baby’s crying for attention, the ferret wants to nap on your keyboard, and your mother in law reeeaaly wants you on that conference call about the family reunion it’s probably not a great time to be working on new writing. But, it’s a funny thing…

Babies like a soothing tone of voice no matter what the words are. What about reading your work aloud while you’re holding the baby? That’s more the review/editing side of things, but it can help you think about what to write next.

If the ferret’s on the keyboard, maybe it’s telling you to get off the computer for a few minutes. Pick up the weaslekin and head for another room. You might not be writing at that moment, but you can still be figuring out how to pitch your story to an agent or editor. You can also be pondering that one detail on page 47 that just kind of feels wrong.

As for the mother in law… It’s a conference call. Unless there’s a camera on she’s not going to notice if you put the call on speaker and clean up your desk (you know you need to… And dust those shelves while you’re at it…).

The point is,  even if you’re stuck beating your head against the wall with one part of the process there is still probably something worthwhile you can be doing, something that will be moving your writing forward. It’s generally a better idea, and a better feeling, to be getting something done than to be banging your head against a wall and getting pissed off about it.

If you can’t seem to get rolling on what you’re trying to do. Find some other productive part of the process to work on and let your subconscious work on the hard stuff. It works amazingly well (definitely better than stopping completely or having a hissy fit…)

You have to make choices…

Let me bottom line it for you dear reader…

As much as I love writing these posts, if my wife is in pain and needs my help I’m going to be over there helping her and not in here writing this post. That’s a choice I’ve made.

As much as I want my story in that contest, I’m still making sure the light bill gets paid.

On the other hand…

As much as some people tell me I can’t do this I’m still getting the book done, I am still going to write. (Actually, those people are fun sometimes! Like when they tell you you’ll never be able to do this and then you pull out a royalty check… (And it doesn’t even have to be a big one…))

You have to make choices about what’s really important to you. It is the important things that will get done.

It helps to figure out why the stuff is important. I do the worky icky manager stuff because getting it done supports the writing stuff that I want to do. Another guy I know once spent two hours getting the lint out of the track for his closet door because he really didn’t want to face cleaning  the bathroom (the avoidance was important to him).

Sooner or later we have to make decisions about our writing. We have to decide what we really want and how to go about getting it. We have to decide how we work best and to organize our lives so it can happen. We have to decide what is really important and seek after those things.

When we genuinely make these decisions we can move on to figuring out how to make them happen. When we are honest with ourselves we can find ways to put down or deal with the distractions, and some of them may even go away on their own once the decision is made.

We do have to keep our decisions and reasons out in front of us (it helps us to stay on target). But we start by making the decisions and then succeed by following through.

Remember style points are only added after successful completion of the project! There will always be things we could have done to make it better.

If we continue in writing there will always be things to learn from and do better (or change completely!) next time.

But nothing succeeds like success. You have to finish a project for it to be done, and that means finding your way past the obstacles and distractions.

Speaking of getting it done…

I think we’ve finished the post dear reader…

So what say we all go out and get some other stuff done, and I’ll see you next post!

More reading and writing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keyboards and pruning shears

Some people might not see how yard work ties in with the writing process, but it does. It’s not just in some strange scene or subgenre, and it’s not because I’m more or less always thinking about writing.

Step one planning and prep.

Sometimes you get really really lucky and a plant or story grows where you want it to without you having to do anything. But, in a lot of those case the ‘volunteer’ plant or story happens a side effect of what you or some other living creature has already done.

It happens but it’s not something that can be counted on to happen as often as we might like.

Usually we have to do some planning, to decide what we want to plant (or write) and how we want to go about it, both step wise and organization wise. This can include sketches, story boards, outlines, or whatever other planning tools you see fit. What matters is you figure out what you want to put where and have a plan that makes it possible.

It is also a good idea to do some fertilization. In the yard that means getting needed nutrients into the ground. In writing it means doing some reading and research. In either case it means you’re making sure your seed (story or plant) has what it needs to grow.

Sometimes you get lucky and a cool plant or story ‘just happens’. Most of the time you have to put in the initial work before the ‘magic’ really happens.

Step two growth

Hopefully our prework has gone well and our little seed starts to take off. The job at this point has a lot to do with making sure our seedling continues to have what it needs. In this first phase of growth (that’s a first draft for your fiction and nonfiction writing) a lot of what we are doing is trying to get the seedling to grow big and strong enough that we can start shaping it the way we want it, shaping it so that it can grow into what we want and start producing for us.

Usually we don’t’ want to do too much tinkering at this point, but the time is coming!

Step three training and pruning

And then the day comes that our first draft is finished. Our seedling story or plant is ready to start the process of being shaped and managed into what it needs to be in order to achieve the maximal, most beautiful and productive, success.

There is a lot going on at this point. We need to be filling holes caused by pesky gophers or plot points we missed; adding more fertilizer, protective chemicals, and other needed things (researching that one arcane point that’s suddenly important); and, possibly most scary, pruning.

Pruning isn’t a whole lot of fun. My roses have thorns that just love to stick me when I’m trimming. It hurts just as bad to accept that I need to trim out that bit of text or side character that I really like.

The truth is, if the bit doesn’t belong there or is going to cause problems it is best to cut it. Pruning helps get rid of sick, dying or otherwise problematic material that hinders the growth and productivity of our plants and our stories.

But, we don’t want to just trim willy-nilly. We need to put real thought into what to cut and what to keep. We don’t want to kill the best growth to get at one wonky stick…

Often when you’re working on the roses you need to get near and far views before you cut. This applies in writing as well: there comes a point where you need distance. Often in writing this distance comes from someone on the outside, someone who isn’t the writer (or even the main editor), someone who can read the thing and give you feedback to help you know if you are achieving the effect you want.

A bountiful harvest

Hopefully the plants and stories we nurture will reward us for our labors. They may do this with beauty, fruits and veggies, prestige, or even good old cash money. If this is what we want (and you know it is…) we have to put in work before the seed hits the soil or the pen hits the paper. And then we have to continue the process right up to the moment of harvest (and even do the finish work after…).

We can do this, but it takes time and effort. With plants and pages we need to develop our skills: our ‘eye’ to see; our understanding of techniques and subject matter; our ability to do the work; and all the things that are needed for success. Developing these things is what separates the winners from the losers at the state fair and the best seller list.

We can do this dear reader. It takes effort. It takes study and thought. But, we can do this.

Now get out there and do! (and I’ll see you next post)