Worth a thousand words…

Well dear reader, we’re doing it… Forever Mountain Publishing (my crazy little company) is running its own Instagram!

As one might guess it’s about story, making things, and the beauty we find around us.

Here’s what we put up this week…

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Go to Instagram if you want to see the caption that goes with it…

What’d we put up since start? Go see.

Telling stories by picture is new for me, but I like it. And, enjoyable things that do good are worth the effort (at least I think so).

I’ll also be adding more pictures here. Some might cross over with the Instagram or my other blog  but not all of them.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. So, since I have at least a thousand stories to tell, I’d better get taking pics.

Thanks for reading, and…

I’ll see you next post.

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!

Office supplies and NANOWRIMO…

A lot can change in a week. In the last seven days: I got a novel to the publisher (toy/reward budget unlocked!), plans with my in-laws changed (three times…), and (at least in my area) School supply season is open!

Long time readers know that I’m one of those weird old-school writers who like to write things out long hand before using the computer. There are lots of reasons: I think at about the same speed as I write, my notebook never runs out of batteries, my handwriting is bad enough it counts a data encryption (sadly not a joke…), my notebook is lighter than my laptop… It’s a system that works for me (and as always I encourage you to find the system that works for you and use it).

The system works, but it means I spend a fair amount on office supplies.

I guess you could say office supplies are a two-stage motivator for me. Office supplies make me happy (no idea why), and when I have a bunch of them, I find myself thinking “Well, I have them, so I’d better use them!” which gets me to writing. And then the writing depletes the stock sending me back for more office supplies (is there such a thing as a positive vicious cycle?).

School supply season also reminds me that National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) is just around the corner. And, that means I will need a new box of pens and at least 5-6 purple notebooks for my nano project, and at least 4-5 yellow ones for those edits/rewrites that will definitely happen. And then, since I have the stuff, I can’t let myself back out on NANO. It’s both a productive writing time and my vacation of sorts.

But, NANOWRIMO the organization is more than just a bunch of writers flogging keyboards and using massive amounts of caffeine. They also promote reading and writing in our schools and libraries. NANOWRIMO is both a way to get that first draft out and a way to do some good in the world. (If you want two ways to do good and like office supplies, why not donate some to someone in need as well?)

As writers we’re a lucky bunch, we get to chase our dreams and obsessions and call it work! We get to learn, do, and create things we want to. Those are perks of the job (make that a career… life style…?).

But, it’s also good to help others while we’re helping ourselves. And, NANO is a great way to do that.

I’m sure I’ll be talking more about NANOWRIMO (and office supplies) in the months to come (I do every year). In the meantime, check out the organization , think about giving, and writing.

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…

Use your tools…

There comes a time when the big things are done: you’ve figured out your audience; you’ve finally got your voice down; your themes, concepts, and symbols are there; your plot is running; and your characters are who they need to be. But, sadly, the big things being done doesn’t mean everything is done.

This is the point where editing becomes a bug hunt. You’re triple checking continuity. You’re checking punctuation. You’re fixing wrong word and spelling errors. You’re straightening out formatting problems. Unless you are a very special person this part of the editing process isn’t a lot of fun.

But, you can make it better if you use your tools

Formatting follies…

My wife is a full-time employee and affiliate faculty at our local university. I go there to do research. Between us we hear many people (students and faculty) whining about nitpicky problems with formatting.

Yes, weird stuff happens. But, you can cut a lot of your formatting headaches out of the bug hunt if you do your work up front.

Think then write…

Think and plan what you’re working on from the start. This helps you have the formatting in place from day one. There is less to do at the end if you’ve been doing it all along.

Learn, use, and love styles…

A certain professor who shall remain nameless constantly protest that styles are a plot by Microsoft to control our writing. To be honest, I’m not sure if it is laziness or just paranoia. Styles existed before we had any word processing or desk top publishing software.

Most desktop packages have styles options. Most good ones allow you to edit styles and create your own. Even if you’re not ready to create your own styles, just using and changing existing styles helps you a lot.

Using styles helps keep all those formatting bits under control and allows you to change the easily when needed. I can change the body text of my entire 73,000+ word novel from Calibri to Times New Roman, or even Wingdings with a couple of mouse clicks using styles.

Without styles… Now we’re having headaches.

Styles allow you to have your formatting under control without having to do lots of little fiddly stuff on every page.

Choosing and/or creating styles at the beginning allows your manuscript to be formatted right from the get go, even if you want to do something obscure.

Using styles simplifies the bug hunt. But, we can do even more…

Editing add-ons…

A while ago I wrote about Pro Writing Aid and Grammarly. Choose the one you like, or some other that works better for you, and use it. The sad truth is we can easily go blind to punctuation, spelling, and grammar issues in our work. These packages can help us find these problems (but like I said don’t let them do all the work…)

You might even consider volunteer or paid copy editing help. A good editor is better than the software, and can really help. Software doesn’t understand intent. Editors just might. Editors can hash through things with you in ways the software can’t.

You might get away with eyeballing an email or text. But, maybe not… For a book… Do yourself a favor and get some help (and if your help finds nothing wrong, maybe you have a career as a copy editor…)

Summing its up…

The bug hunt is necessary dear reader. Even the best story becomes hard to read if it’s full of errors. A story without copy editing is kind of like showing up to a wedding in your underwear… You might get away with it in some limited circumstances, but most of the time you’re opening yourself up to ridicule and denial.

Using your tools helps make your bug hunt easier.

Do your editing dear reader. I know your pain (I’m working on mine…). And, I’ll see you next post.

The middle of the pass… And facing the hard stuff…

Two weeks ago I talked about the “one and a half pass” editing pass. And, 345 manuscript pages (73,500 words) later I’ve dug through the reader feedback, made my notes, and found three things that need more than a one word fix or altered point of punctuation.

Two of the three are relatively easy. I need to move a little character description earlier in the story. There’s work involved, but it could be worse. The first fits in with my heroine’s natural way of going and the second is easily dropped into my ‘rather particular’ (aka anal) antagonist’s running commentary about the people around him.

As I think about it, it’s kind of weird I missed them in the first place… But that’s part of the challenge of writing fiction. You have to get the story in your head onto the page in a complete form that the readers will want to read. It takes practice and training, but if you’re willing to do the work, you can get there (And if you think you’re there… Check anyway).

The last change is big. It’s the hardest change to make. It means the most work. But, it will pay off in the long run.

Part of the stress on my heroine comes from two videos that show up in the middle of the story. Initially, I thought the same character shot and posted both. But, the videos need to be on two different accounts, and have different styles and kinds of content. It feels like more than the original perpetrator would do. Generally, things don’t feel right.

The videos are important. They help put pressure on the heroine and drive her toward making a mistake. They need to be there. But, the way they were initially conceived didn’t work. So, I borrowed some teens I know and had a talk about embarrassing videos. And yeah… I’m making some changes.

And, the changes are more than just inserting a different name. Two different characters are putting up the videos now. One of those characters is the original. His video was put up on a false account and the two characters didn’t get along well in the first place (and the account hasn’t been tied to him yet). So there’s not much change to be done.

But, the other video is now being put up by a female character that the heroine knows. It will change some interactions between those characters, which means I have to work through all the references to that video, all the interactions with that character, and stuff relating to that character and rework things to fit her being the video poster.

It’s a lot of work. But, it focuses and increases the pressure I wanted on my heroine. It gives my antagonist something to be mad about (in his mind he’s protecting the heroine). And it fits. It’s a lot of work; it means digging through, thinking, and reworking, but makes the story better. Making the story better matters.

I’ve already put in a lot of work. This is supposed to be the last go ground. And, I’m lucky; there’s only one significant change, and it’s a fairly manageable one.

Taking your story apart and reworking pieces can be a pain in the butt. It’s not something we like to do. But, if you want the story to work, sometimes you have to rework a piece or two. And, that work extends beyond just rewriting a sentence or two. It can mean making changes across the length and breadth of the story.

It’s not something you have to do; it’s something you have to do if you want the story to be right. It’s something we all need to do from time to time (Ask Steven King if you don’t believe me…). It’s rewarding. It makes your story right; it helps your readers love your work; it matters.

Telling a good story should be a goal for any fiction writer. And revision is part of that. It is worth the effort.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Do your revisions. Make your stories great. And, I’ll see you next post.

The “one and a half pass” editing pass

The day this post goes live I’m collecting the last of my reader feedback for Unintended Consequences. That means Monday, June 3, 2019, I am starting what will, hopefully, be my last pass on the book before the whole thing gets submitted to the ‘big’ editors for publication. It’s time to give the whole manuscript one big once-over using everything I’ve learned, just to make sure it’s ready.

I’ve said it before, one of the best things you can do to develop as a writer is to read about writing.  A while back I read Steven King’s On Writing and learned something important….

One of the most helpful (to me at least!) things in that book is the simple statement that when Steven edits, he makes notes on themes. When I read that. I realized I should do the same thing. It would help in longitudinal (through story) editing. I tried it, and my system’s grown from there.

This new and evolving system has really helped me pull the book together. Since I’ve developed the “one and a half pass” editing pass I honestly get more done each time I go through a manuscript.

Why a “one and a half pass” pass.

Well, that’s because the first pass isn’t really a complete pass. The first time through, I might fix little things: typos, little bits of formatting, etc. But I’m spending a lot more time marking the bigger stuff I need to work on and making notes. What this does for me is it helps focus on the themes important to the book (and the ones that need to be edited out). It also helps identify problems in continuity within the book (and between books if you’re doing a series…) and gives me time to think about those big fixes and insight about how to resolve them in the context of the whole book.

So, the “first” pass isn’t really a complete edit. It’s a list of what I need to work on in the edit. The second pass begins armed with the notes I’ve made and helps me fix the things that need to be fixed, drop the things that need to go away, and focus on the story as a whole.

That “second” pass is really a complete editing pass, but I couldn’t do it without the first ‘partial’ pass.

Why not just make notes and edit everything in one pass? Because, that results in lots of little mucking about with things that will change again (possibly back to the way they were in the first place!). The point of the first “half” pass is to find the stuff that needs attention in the big picture of the story. If I’m giving up a bunch of time just focusing on the section I’m in, I miss some big stuff.

When I come back on that second pass I can fix the stuff I need to with an improved understanding of how it meshes with the rest of the work.

Is it really that simple?

Umm… We’re talking about a manuscript over 50,000 words long (73,571 words for this specific manuscript at this specific point…) simple isn’t the first word I would use to describe any effective editing process for a document of that size.

The idea is really that simple: make notes about themes and the editing to be done, then go back and do the rest of the work. But, the practice can (and does) become more complex.

There are tools to be assembled. There is a mindset to be developed (and possibly habits to be broken). You have to figure out how to adapt the process to the way you work, and the manuscript you’re working on.

Tools?

Well, we’re talking about making notes. So, you need a way to make notes. That could be the comment feature in Microsoft Word. It could be a feature in Scrivener. It could be a separate document on your computer. Or, it could be an actual, physical notebook. Myself, I go with the actual notebook because sometimes I like to work and think away from my computer.

You also need tools and a system for marking within a text. Again, this could be a software solution or physical tools, but you need a way of working that makes sense to you (and any co-authors and editors working with you).

I use a ‘dead tree’ edition of the manuscript and a collection of colored pens (yep, the weird colored ones you can’t use on official, legal documents). The colors help me recognize at a glance what the notes I’ve made refer to. Usually my color system goes something like this:

  • Blue: actual edits to the text (fixing typos and immediate edits). It’s old school classical editor stuff (though in the old days it would be a blue pencil…)
  • Black: notes on themes and general notes on stuff to be worked on in the second pass (this color gets used more in the notebook than in the manuscript)
  • Purple: Voice issues. Honestly, if I feel like there’s a problem with the voice in a section, I put a big purple circle around it. That way when I come back later I can figure out the right way to do the voice in view of the whole story.
  • Red: Continuity stuff. Red ink helps me make note of things that differ or shift between one section and another. Before I developed this technique, there were times the calendar and time of day started to feel more like suggestions than facts. And, that’s saying nothing of who did what to whom issues…
  • Green and other colors: I add other colors when necessary to reflect issues and needs within a specific project. For instance, in Unintended Consequences there are several points where texts and online chats are used for character communication. I used green to mark things that should have been in my text/online style but weren’t.

The tools I use (and the ones you develop for yourself) should make that “second” pass easier and more effective. When you get it right, a “one and a half pass” pass can easily get more done than three or four passes doing the “just focus on this chapter” method.

Summing up…

It’s really about productivity and improving your story (both interesting and readable/salable). Yes, the “one and a half pass” pass takes more work than a “single” pass. But, because you can look at the whole work with the help of your editing notes, you can get a lot more done in a pass than you could otherwise.

Nobody said this stuff was easy. The truth is writing takes work.

This method is a way I’ve found to make that work easier and more efficient.

And today I’m sharing it with you dear reader. Use it if you will. Adapt it to your own needs and process. And, I’ll see you next post.

(As usual, if you have something to say, leave a comment. Thanks)

Hear what they’re saying

Two weeks ago I said Unintended Consequences was in the hands of some teen readers. Well, we’ve got the first reports back and I have to say I’m happy, and I learned a thing or two.

One of my teens is a very avid reader, and claims he can usually guess how the story will end. He didn’t see this one coming. I won’t say the ‘twist’ got him, because there is no intended twist. Instead, we have a natural flow of events that doesn’t come out quite the way he expected. That’s both fair play and a surprise ending!

Possibly the best part of the review was that he wanted to see the second one already (which is sitting on my desk in slightly edited first draft form).  I’ll get it to him when I’ve got this one further down the road and that one is ready for people to see it.

Initially, I was just interested in feedback on the story. While I agree with Steven King and prefer to fix spelling/grammar issues when I find them, I wasn’t looking for feedback on grammar and spelling from the teens. But, they’re giving me some and its giving me something to think about.

My readers picked up on grammar and punctuation differences between sections, and could tie those sections to the correct point of view character. They’re telling me that my characters, and their reader experiences with those characters, are distinct. After a chapter or two they can tell who’s speaking/experiencing the action with no section header to tell them.

This is good. But, they also told me that some of the punctuation/grammar use for one character was annoying. Which is good, because the character is supposed to be annoying. But, it’s also a warning sign. I have to walk a balance. If the annoying punctuation/grammar helps make the character distinct and adds to the feel of the character, that’s good. But, if the annoyance is so great that the reader stops reading, that’s a problem. If the grammar and punctuation are annoying enough to drive the reader away, my stuff isn’t getting read.

There’s some good there, but I have to be aware and walk the balance.

Listening to reader feedback can tell you a lot. But, you have to put the work in and really see what they’re telling you.

The good stuff we want to hear.

The bad stuff (if given and received constructively) can be helpful.

The unexpected feedback leads us to new learning and discoveries.

If we’re not hearing new information, of finding new ways to apply that information, we’re not growing as writers. And, growing is how we get better.

Listen to your readers. Learn from them and become better.

As always, if you have any feedback, responses, or arguments for me, leave a comment.

Be successful 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.