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!

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!

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…)

Editorial Choices…

As always I’m working on a couple of my own writing projects. At the same time my wife and I have been working on some editing projects to help a couple of other writers. This has all gotten me thinking about the choices I can make and actions I can take as an editor…

You can’t dictate everything…

You can’t. Ultimately the individual piece is the author’s piece. You can help shape that piece. You can help refine that piece. You can help the author make it better. But, what you can’t do, is take it away from the author completely (obviously we’re not talking about the whole copy right/rights to the characters can of worms (we can talk about that another day but not right now…)).

In a lot of ways being an editor is to be an assistant. In a lot of ways being an editor is like being a teacher. You are guiding and supporting an author in the process of creating a work. You can put in a lot of work, and you should be rewarded for it. But the person who had the idea and did the writing needs her/his own reward as well (it was his or her baby!).

In this side of things you can advise, but you can’t dictate. You are helping the writer to create and improve a piece of writing that ultimately belongs to its author. If you try to take it away then you’re going to have issues (we’re back to that copy right thing again…).

There are choices you can make.

If your author comes seeking advice, or asks for your input, you can certainly give both.

If your author asks “should I do ‘A’ or ‘B’?” It’s kind of your job as an editor to give the best answer you can.

You can choose what advice to give. You can choose how to give it (actually it’s often a good idea to discuss and even negotiate what kind of advice your giving and how BEFORE you start working together).

You can choose to say “one or both of us need to think on this some more”, or even “Let’s bring someone else in on this”.  There are good reasons for making these choices actually. Some things need more thought and planning. Sometimes you really do need to hand things off to, or enlist the aid of, someone else.

What’s an example of that last one? Here are a few…

My author client wants support in telling a good story. I can do that!

My author wants advice on how to present statistics in a piece. I can do that (I’ve tutored doctoral students in stats and written scientific papers…)

My author wants advice on how best to portray a bisexual Latina living on the U.S. Mexico border. Umm… Let me call in a friend from back when I was at San Diego State. In this case it’s not that I’m unwilling, it’s just that I happen to know someone with a much better skill set for that particular need.

An author (I won’t call this one mine…) contacts me to work on a piece entitled “ALL WHITE MEN ARE RACISIT SEXIST HOMOPHOBIC BIGOTS AND SHOULD BE SHOT OFF INTO THE SUN!!!!!!!”. This time I’m actually going to decline to work on the piece. I can sense right off the bat that there will be some problems in working on this one and I’m not the right person to work with this author (if nothing else the fact that the presented title is in all caps is a bit of a red flag…).

There are choices you can and should make…

Even though I come from the school that says “don’t take the piece from the author”, there are choices you can and should make.

You can, and should, make choices about who you work with. If you can see that the author in question is going to be a headache (or from the author side if you can see the editor is going to be a headache); then why would you choose to work with that person. If there’s not a compelling reason, then you might want to seek another partnership. And money alone isn’t compelling enough (for me at least!)

You can make choices about how you work with the person. One of the concepts we learn about in the seven habits of highly effective people is the idea of the win-win scenario. It might be a good idea to find ways to make your author/editor interactions win-win (from either position why are you going into this if you’re expecting to lose?).

And then there are some bigger ‘special case’ decisions…

So far most of what I’ve said has had to do with helping an author with a piece; you’re part of a team working to create something and make it the best that it can be. But, there is another hat that editors occasionally wear; being an editor you occasionally also serve in the role of publisher.

As an editor (and chief editor at that!) I try not to take my authors projects away from them. I’m not going to demand that they change the main character from a male to a female and species reassign the sidekick to be a bottle nosed dolphin. But at the same time if I’m going to be the one to publish the work, that does give me more of a say. The author can choose to write what he or she wants, but just because somebody wrote it doesn’t mean I have to publish it!

The difference is that when one steps from the role of editor to the roll of publisher one is transitioning from helping someone else to tell her/his story to actually using one’s own resources to put that story out to the world. Now that we’re talking about publishing I’m in a place where it is my name and reputation on the line as well.

What you write says something about you. What I publish says something about me.

(That’s why “ALL WHITE MEN ARE RACISIT SEXIST HOMOPHOBIC BIGOTS AND SHOULD BE SHOT OFF INTO THE SUN!!!!!!!” ain’t getting published at my company. It’s a message I don’t agree with and I’m not going to be forced to put my name on it. But, if the author feels like going somewhere else to publish it and that person/group chooses to publish it, then the fall out is their problem…)

I’m not for taking away anyone’s free speech (that would negatively impact my business), but at the same time I don’t have to give up my free speech by allowing people to use my company to say things that I can’t ethically agree with.

Summing it all up…

So there it is dear reader… Editors shouldn’t try to take away a writer’s work, or mutilate it in ways the author doesn’t agree with. But, at the same time, it is kind of the editor’s job to do his or her level best to help the projects he/she chooses to pick up become truly excellent.

Editors and writers can and should choose partners/coworkers that they can actually work with in an amicable way. And both need to work together to make the piece really good.

No matter what else happens, no one in the relationship: writer, editor, or publisher really has the right to force someone else to say something she/he/whatever else doesn’t agree with.

So that’s it for this one dear reader. Choose people to work with who will actually help the work to go forward, and don’t try to bully folks just because you don’t agree. And of course…

See you next post!

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)

Be willing to be wrong

From the moment we are born (and some will argue even before that…) we are always learning, adjusting, and adapting….

Well, we are doing those things as long as we don’t mess it up for ourselves.

How do we do that? We’re human, we tend to invent new ways as we go. But, there are some pretty standard options. One of the most common is being afraid of being wrong.

Nobody likes to be wrong

It’s a general fact dear reader. We don’t usually like to be wrong.

Occasionally we are pleasantly surprised and something turns out better than we hoped, but for the most part being wrong isn’t fun.

It’s a matter of perception and perspective. We are generally invested in being right. We have put time and energy into learning, thinking, and believing a certain way. And being wrong means a loss.

We have put in the time and energy to learn, think and do and it turns out we didn’t get what we wanted. We were wrong.

And sometimes it’s more than just a little effort at stake. There can be cherished beliefs, love, money and possibly lifestyle at stake. And naturally we don’t want to lose any of it.

In fact, our opposition to the possibility of being wrong often increases with the perceived stakes. That’s why we’re darned tenacious when we think being wrong means loosing something important.

The more important things seem the more we will fight to be right. And that’s good… If we’re right.

Unfortunately we aren’t always right. Sometimes we’ve goofed and now we’re fighting to cling to an idea or belief that is wrong. We just can’t succeed that way.

But sometimes you have to be wrong to be right…

If we perceive being wrong as a loss we fight tooth and nail to avoid it, or at least to avoid accepting it.

But, sometimes we need to recognize that we were wrong so that we can change things and accept something better.

Sometimes dear reader, we are wrong and we are going to remain wrong until we do something to correct the situation.

Correcting the situation may mean a number of things: unlearning, relearning, accepting, adapting, or even (and people hate this one…) repenting.

No, I’m not going all religious on you here dear reader. The word repent has religious meaning, but it also has practical meaning. In a practical sense repentance means rethinking and behaving differently than you have in the past. In practice it means you stop being wrong and start being right.

Repentance is sometimes an unpleasant process. Being wrong is sometimes an unpleasant condition, but if we are willing to accept that we were wrong in the past and that we can choose to act and correct the situation; then we can take the necessary steps to be right in the present and in the future.

If we are not afraid to be wrong we can actually take the steps necessary to move from being wrong to being right.

It’s not easy, but it’s important

As I’ve said, a lot of the problem is actually perception. If we are afraid of being wrong we will fight against it.

If we see ourselves as striving to become better, and learning to be right, then the moment of wrongness and our  correction to overcome being wrong are just another step in achieving and becoming greater than we have been.

In practice any time we actually want to do something or be something greater than we are we have to accept the possibility of having been wrong. Then, if we focus less on having been wrong and more on becoming right, we can move forward and achieve.

If we recognize that we were wrong we can ultimately become right.

It is a question of perception and understanding dear reader. And for any of us out here in life there are many ways and times that we might be wrong. But for all of us it is necessary that we be willing to recognize when we are wrong and overcome our wrongness. It is then that we can succeed in our desires.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Until next time…

Be willing to learn and become right, even if it means being wrong for a little while…

Piecing it together…

One of the projects that is almost out the door is an instruction set I’m working on for how to make a chainmail belt.

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I have also been talking to people who are working (or want to work) on putting out some sewing and knitting patterns. I can promise you that as much thought and work needs to go into a pattern or instruction set as is needed for any other project (you know… If you want your instructions to be understandable instead of rage inducing…)

But there are differences between writing a pattern or instruction set and some of the other writing we talk about here…

Doing and writing

One of the things I’ve really noticed in the process or writing instructions is that it is a good idea to actually make or do whatever yours supposed to be writing about while you’re writing the instructions. This can be slow and awkward. You keep having to set one thing down to do the other. However, this is often one of the best ways to avoid forgetting those little details that crop up while you’re working. Doing and writing in a parallel mode helps you think more about what you’re actually doing, so that you can write your instructions correctly.

There are times you need to write things up later, but this really can lead to memory problems and missing details. If you absolutely can’t write while doing, you might think about video or audio recording, or some other form of in vivo documentation to help you.

A picture is worth a thousand words

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” photographers tell me this all the time. As one with a few hundred thousand words under his belt I can say that this is one of the situations that they’re actually right about. Pictures, graphs and charts can show information more clearly and concisely than a verbal description; but only if you’ve put some thought into your pictures, graphs and charts! If you want to see the full spectrum of good and bad visual information head over to You Tube and watch some ‘instructional’ videos after you finish reading this post…

Often it won’t be enough to “snap a few pics” that you can insert into your instructions.  You need to think about what you’re showing, and from what angle, and with what kind of lighting and contrast. You might even want to get into some picture editing software and add some labels and text…

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Your pictures really do need to be as thought out as the rest of your instructions. And even then you’re not done!

Play testing!

It is virtually always a good idea to have someone else read what you write before you call it done (trust me, some of us have learned the hard way…). When you’re writing instructions or a pattern, it might not be enough to just have someone read over what you wrote. For patterns and instructions you might just want someone to actually try to do what you’re writing about.

In this case you can’t do it all yourself! You already know how to do what you’re writing about and you may well miss errors and confusing points that will be obvious to someone else trying to follow your instructions.

I know someone out there want’s to skip this step, but… Nope, you need to let someone else try to follow your instructions and then give you feedback. (note: fear of feedback shouldn’t be an excuse that stops you. If you’re seriously afraid of what people will say, then either you or your instructions aren’t ready yet…)

Instructions are a teaching tool. They are worthy of genuine thought and effort (and, based on how many knitting patterns my wife buys, they are sometimes fairly profitable…). In fact if you want to do them right you should give them as much attention (or more) than you would give any other writing project.

You also have to understand how your instruction projects are unique.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week…

Back to the long and the short of it!

The importance of time

One of the things that drives my wife crazy about my writing is time. Not that I spend time doing it (she gets that part…”). Sometimes it’s not even really about how much time I spend writing. Instead she gets frustrated with how regimented and monitored that time can be. I can honestly tell you how many pages I can typically write in an hour. I know how many pages I can transcribe in an hour. I can estimate how many hours it will take me to write a given thing and when it will be most efficient for me to put those hours in. I’ve spent a few years doing this and I’ve figured this stuff out. And sometimes my idea of what I need to do just doesn’t work for my wife…

The thing is, my wife has things that she wants to do too (and other people and things in the lives of us writers usually have the same kind of needs). And sometimes the amount of time, and the actual moment in time when things need to happen, conflicts with what we as writers want and need to do. And this really does lead to problems.

While there are those that will try to pass off a ‘system’ for writing as ‘the right system’ for everyone; I for one don’t really buy into any of it. In my estimation you have to learn the best way and time for you to write by your own experience and adjust for your own situation. A professional writer with no kids and a full time mom with three kids don’t have the same situation (and they may have wildly different writing styles, subject matter, and/or genres as well…). And don’t even get me started about my friend the funeral director (who is basically on call 24/7).

I won’t try to give you ‘the’ system dear reader; however, I will pass on a couple of things I have learned.

You have to actually put time into it…

Not a whole lot to say on this one. You have to actually devote time to writing if you want to write. If you don’t there will always be something in the way. You have to choose to write and make time to do so.

You have to learn about you…

You need to know a lot to figure out what kind of time you need to write, and how to use that time. Some of that knowledge can be found in books, blogs (like mine…), and other sources. But, some of that knowledge can only come from you, and you can only obtain it by experimentation. You can only obtain that kind of knowledge by actually trying different writing times and keeping track of how you spend your writing time. It really is a ‘learn for yourself’ situation, and in some ways it has to be. No two writers are alike, and neither are their situations.

You have to be reasonable with others in your life…

As much as we may want to climb into our hole in the ground, office, booth at our favorite restaurant, or whatever, and just write the world away; husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, children, etc. all do need some of our attention and time. None of us live in a vacuum and there are people to see, bills to pay, and things to do. Even (especially…) if we don’t want to, we need to be aware that we will spend time outside of our writing.

Some of that time can be handled and dealt with through planning (get out your calendar and plan a time to pay that light bill…).

Some of that time happens unexpectedly, and you really do need to put down your writing and deal with something else (if my wife is crying I might just want to find out why… If my desk is on fire who cares if I’m almost done with chapter four?).

Some of that time… Well sometimes you have to make a decision. Do you really want to go to that concert, play that golf game, or go see those in-laws? (It could happen…) If you do, then you have to figure out how to make that happen and still have time to write. Or you choose not to do one or the other, and suffer the consequences…

You have to communicate (and sometimes teach)…

I know this one isn’t always fun, but for the 100% of us in real life; sooner or later you need to talk to someone about writing and the time you need to write (note: I don’t mean “explain to” but actually have a conversation with). Often the person you’re needing to talk to is someone important in your life. These conversations can be challenging, some people have little experience in the writing world. Sometimes the people you’re talking with work differently than you do. Sometimes the people you’re talking to really haven’t thought about what you’re trying to do. In any case you need to communicate with them to help them understand, and to understand their side at least a little bit as well.

Communicating about writing isn’t always easy, but doing it is easier than not doing it. Communicating effectively can save a lot of ‘hurt feelers’ in the long run.

Time is an important part of writing dear reader. You need to learn about it: how to use it and how to communicate about it. If you don’t, then you’re headed for problems (if you do anything at all…)

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week…

Chaos… Panic… Scented pine cones??? It must be the holidays!

My NANO Kit

As I mentioned last week I will be doing NANOWRIMO next month…

For those who don’t know yet NANOWRIMO is a yearly event in which writers try to write an entire 50,000+ word novel in a single month. I’ve done it twice. I can tell you it isn’t easy. You have to be committed and put in the work. You also need to know a little about your habits as a writer (and you may learn more in the process). Today I’m going to talk briefly about my “NANOWRIMO kit” and the process I use.

The bulk of the kit is actually in the front picture for this post. I’m one of those oddballs that likes to write by hand before I put the story one the computer, so I depend heavily on pens and seventy page college ruled notebooks (some of the ones this year are predecorated by a friend and will be used for the female pov in the story). Doing things this way has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side my writing speed (by hand) and my thinking speed are closer together for long stuff like this, so on a flow basis the notebook works better for me. The notebooks also make it easier to strike through and go on if I take a wrong turn.

On the other hand it’s harder to do word count on a physical copy, and the final count is computer verified. So, ultimately it has to be transcribed onto the computer to ‘win’.

Here’s the thing though. This ‘weakness’ in my style is a strength in disguise. Usually when you pick up for a new day’s writing it’s a good idea to review what you were working on last time (or at least the pages leading up to what you will be writing). When I start a day’s writing my first step is to transcribe what I wrote the previous day. This gets the information into the computer, allows me to review, and serves as my first editing pass. It takes time, but it puts me in a stronger place to write the next section (and gives me that all important word count…).

It’s my way of doing things and doesn’t work for everybody. Part of the fun is learning what works for you (and, by the way, that may change from story to story).

One thing that does change story to story is where I write. I virtually never do the actual writing at my desk. Editing yes. Writing not so much. Instead I tend to go out to write. For some projects it may be the public library; for other’s it’s my traditional writing hangouts. Last year I wrote about half of the book in a mall food court and rewarded myself with CCG cards.

This year I have two pov characters and things might get even more complicated.

The final piece of the kit (other than time) is also not in the picture. That would be the vast amounts of my favorite soda I’ll be drinking (another reason I don’t write on my computer…). Like so much else the choice is up to you. But I do recommend finding a lovely beverage to support you through the process. It helps.

Because I am going to be going all out on the book I will be quiet in the blogosphere next month (I’ll be writing, just not here…). I look forward to talking about the experience after NANO and I hope to hear from a few of you as well.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you in December.

Until then: Um…

Yes, can I have several packs of pens, a case of notebooks and all the (product name withheld) delivered to…

Outlines: It is written! But not really…

Outlines are one of those tools that people like to push on writers, students, and others who work with ideas and symbols. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. There seems to be two main factors that will significantly predict the successful use of outlines: the project and the person or persons doing the writing.

I have to admit sometimes for some projects outlines have helped me. But, that’s depended on the project in question and how I have used the outline. For a really ‘good’ outline (the kind my high school teachers liked) the best procedure seems to be: take something already written; read it; and then write the outline based on what you read. That’s what we did in my AP computer class and occasionally in English… Writing things first and then doing the outline.

It really does work, if your purpose is for someone to grade you based on your outline. If you’re actually going to use your outline as a writing tool, then you’re probably going to want to do things the other way around (unless you’re doing a rewrite…). And, you’re probably going to want to understand what an outline really is.

But we already know what an outline is…

You might. People who read this blog are usually pretty smart. If you have some good ideas on using outlines then how about leaving a comment?  Of course you might also want to know a little more about outlines and how to use them. And that’s why we’re here today…

The simple, simple definition is that an outline is a frame or skeleton around which you write what you’re planning to write. A better definition states that an outline is a theoretical framework or structure around which you write what you’re planning to write. I stress that it is a theoretical structure because many a time the outline you create in the beginning has changed, or needs to be changed, by the time you’re done.

When you are creating an outline for something you intend to write (or rewrite) you are thinking about what you intend to write, and creating the framework for it as you think it will go. It can help you get started and stay on course. It can help you to make sure not to forget anything. It can also lead you astray.

As you are doing the actual writing you may learn things about what you are writing. If you’re writing fiction you learn about your characters. Occasionally you realize your hero (or villain, or sidekick, or…) would do thing in a different way than you had planned in the outline. If you’re writing nonfiction you occasionally realize that you need to add something else, or to change the order of things in the text. When you find yourself in a place where you need to change things (usually between page 50 and 2xx…) you have two choices: plug along by our original outline even though you know it’s wrong, or you can rethink your outline.

Some might argue that you should throw out the outline entirely. Often those folks are the same ones that didn’t want to do an outline in the first place. I encourage you to modify the outline (or build a new one), but don’t just throw it out and ‘wing it’. The point of an outline (like a business plan or budget) is to get you to think about what you’re doing. If you revise the outline, and look at what the change will impact elsewhere in the outline, you have a real chance to stay on course and create a superior product. If you plug along with an obviously flawed plan you will end up with an obviously flawed product (if you finish at all…). If you toss the outline without replacing who knows where you’ll end up (‘pantser’ games is another post).

The key is to stay flexible

There isn’t anyone who is going to grade you on how you stuck to your initial outline (unless this is a class project maybe). The point is to create a good product. Often that means changing your outline along the way. You’re still thinking about what you’re doing, but you’re also reacting to your increased knowledge and understanding. If something needs to be changed change it.

Often people that dislike outlines, and those who blame a writing failure on the outline, are those who consider the outline a carved in stone, law of the land, fact. In practice if you understand that the outline is only a tool, a guideline and thought experiment, it can be really helpful.

So, yes, I do recommend outlines. And, I recommend revising them as needed.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Planning tools are here to help you, use them! See you next post.