Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

PPWC Session Wrap-up, Final

Here’s the last PPWC wrap-up post, Squiders, so if you haven’t been digging them, you can rest assured that we will definitely talk about something else next week. Maybe we should a readalong. Haven’t done one of those in a while. I’ll poke around and see what we’ve got. Or we’ll start the next nonfic post series, which will be about finding story ideas.

Anyway! Sunday! Last day, which is always a bit sad. It’s really very nice to spend the weekend surrounded by other writers, especially if you are friends with some of them and you don’t get to see them very often otherwise.

Building a Successful Online Critique Group (panel-Travis Heermann, Megan Rutter, David R. Slayton)

I was hoping to learn about the “building” part, but the panel was more about the “successful” part. They did talk briefly about how to find people to form a group with, the most promising of which seems to be the idea of joining the local big writing group (Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) which has a whole section just for forming critique groups. Of course, I’m not sure a critique group is what I’m looking for anyway.

How to Add Suspense to Your Writing (Fleur Bradley)

This was the least successful session I went to the entire weekend. It was very basic in level, focusing mostly on story structure (which, frankly, I have had better sessions/read better books on). There was also some focus on plotting, such as how quickly your main plot needs to show up, but very little on suspense aside from “if you do a good job with your structure it will show up automatically.” Ms. Bradley did say she normally teaches this information over a six week workshop, but it did not work well in this format.

Maximize Your Discoverability on Amazon (Jennie Marts)

Ah, my second and last marketing panel for the weekend. Ms. Marts went over the options offered in Amazon Central as well as in your books themselves in terms of metadata, author’s notes, reviews, etc. I picked up a couple of new things, which is impressive at this point. She also talked some about how many books you need to be selling to be at which ranks, and touched on ways to get more reviews. Pretty useful, all told.

And that’s it for the panels. The conference ends after lunch on Sunday. We did have our final keynote speaker, Donald Maass, who tried to counteract the apparently-common post-conference what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-ness by telling us that as long as we had hope we’d be okay.

WE WILL SEE ABOUT THAT.

Donald Maass was also at the conference when I was last there five years ago. My sister and her friend think it’s funny how he picks up a “harem” that follows him around all weekend.

So, that’s PPWC for 2017. Will I be going back in 2018? Probably not. There are things I like about it, and I did a good job choosing panels that were helpful and at the right level for me for the most part (something I was bad at in 2012), but it’s a lot of money for a lot of sitting around, and I’d rather be out doing most of the time. It’s a lot to take in all at once. And it turns out that I am bad at one of the most useful things about conferences–the in-person pitch.

Still, I had a good time, met some neat people, reconnected with some others, and came out of it with some new things to try. I’ll probably go back some day–maybe in another five years, or maybe as a presenter. >_>

Hope this was useful, Squiders! I’ll see you Tuesday for something completely different.

Guest Post: Writing Process with Erin Zarro

Hey, squiders! Happy Tuesday! Let’s take a break from PPWC and hear how Erin Zarro wrote her latest book, Ever Touched. I love hearing about how other authors work, and I hope you do too!

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Writing Ever Touched was interesting because I didn’t use my usual method of pantsing as I did with Fey Touched and most of Grave Touched. Instead, I tried out the “writing from the middle” method by James Scott Bell. In it, you figure out your main “signposts” to write toward: Doorway of No Return, Opening Disturbance, Mirror Moment, Doorway of No Return #2 (Clue/Setback/Discovery), and Transformation.

Ever Touched coverThose seem kind of vague, but really, they are great. You see, I absolutely need some mystery in order to write a book. I’ve been pantsing for years, but that usually led to rewrites after rewrites because I was discovering things as I was going and had to make it all fit together at the end somehow. Grueling work. I’ve also went to the other side of the spectrum, and plotted stuff. And that worked… until I started adding in things because the muse told me to. Sure, overall it made the story richer, but that particular story also ended up in 12 separate pieces. I’m about to embark on a rewrite, and it’s already giving me fits.

So this method works better – and produces a cleaner draft – because I have some of it figured out, and I’ve left the rest as a mystery. And I really enjoyed the process, which is super important when you’re writing 120,000 words on a deadline.

I also added one additional point of view to the usual 3-POV structure of this series. I felt it was important to have a certain character’s viewpoint because she was completely different, with completely different origins as the others. And I wanted her story, too (I may, at some point, write a novella with her as a main character. She intrigues me that much). So I got to see her grow and evolve throughout the book as well.

As for the day-to-day writing, sometimes I didn’t know exactly where to go from where I was. Especially with the climax. I knew there’d be an epic confrontation with the villain and a fight, but the how of it eluded me. It took me several tries to get that right. And I ended up only doing quick written sketches of a few pivotal scenes toward the end because I literally ran out of time. One part was added in final edits because of something my editor said that I agreed with. That was probably the hardest – I wouldn’t have another shot at it before release, so I had to use my judgment as to whether or not it worked. I think it did, and I hope it does for the readers, too.

And then there was the theme song, which refused to show itself until 107,000 words in – that was interesting. It is “The Sound of Silence” as covered by the band Disturbed. It was playing during a very emotional scene between my two main characters and everything kind of clicked. Now, every time I hear that song, I will always think of that scene and those characters.

And finally, Brianna and Cobra’s romance. I knew sometime around Grave Touched that I wanted to put these two enigmatic characters together. They both had very big secrets, and lots to lose. And as I started writing them…they made sense. Every scene built on this beautiful, epic love story I was creating. It worked perfectly. I never had a single doubt about these two. They fit. And they loved each other deeply, and truly, and it was breathtaking to watch unfold.

But it’s tragic, too, due to some things I can’t reveal. Don’t worry, it ends happily. But they have to work hard for it (hell, all my characters have to work for their Happily Ever Afters. I’m a cruel mistress).

I also enjoyed creating the Ascended (no spoilers!) and exploring some of the aspects of who and what they were. That came to me literally in a flash as I was closing up at work. I’m glad I paid attention. It took a bit of writing to figure them out, but once I did…they were awesome. And they came from my brain!

All in all, I am very happy with how Ever Touched came out. It challenged me at times, made me cry at others, and excited me. I really loved writing using the writing from the middle method. My next novel will definitely be written this way, too.

Sometimes you have to break out of the routine, and do something completely different. With Ever Touched, I did that and more.

So I hope you enjoy Ever Touched, Brianna and Cobra, and the Ascended. There are others, but that would be a spoiler. I really loved writing it and think it fits very well within the Fey Touched world.

Stay tuned. There may be more coming. 😉

Off We Go

AH.

Hey! At least I’m further along than my sister, because I have a finished costume and a maybe decent query letter?

(She’s texting me pics because she’s working on her costume right now.)

(And it’s maybe decent because I had five people look at it and two said it was really good, two said it was good, and one said it was terrible. Which pretty much sums up my frustration with query letters in general.)

I’m meeting with a developmental editor once we get down to the conference hotel this evening, which should be interesting, but is also somewhat terrifying. Developmental editing is not one of the services I offer, because I don’t feel comfortable working directly with the core of people’s stories, but I’m hoping it will be helpful in terms of some of the issues I’ve been having with the current draft of Book One.

Anyway, said developmental editor has a copy of the infamous chapter one and we will be going over it, and then, depending on the amount of work needed and whether or not it’s doable, I may spend tonight/early tomorrow editing before my Read and Critique session tomorrow afternoon (Carol Berg! Ah!). If it’s a big job, though, I think I’ll just use the R&C as an opportunity to garner more knowledgeable feedback and then fix it next week sometime.

So I kind of feel like that madness is more or less out of my hands for now.

I may poke at the query and see if I can add in a little more detail without being too wordy (another thing I hate about queries), but I’m taking 3.5/5 as pretty decent no matter what. I researched the editor I’m meeting with yesterday so I could add in some personalization and he seems like a cool guy, lots of things in common, and he was the editor for Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy which I’ve talked about here previously and enjoyed. So I’m feeling okay query-wise. We’ll see how that goes. That happens at some time on Saturday, but apparently I don’t get to know when until I get my info packet tomorrow morning.

So, basically, here’s the plan:

  • Poke query but don’t worry if it’s not working
  • Finish packing (remember things like notebooks, schedule, business cards)
  • Print out copy of chapter one for editing purposes
  • Print out query copies
  • Dinner
  • Drive down
  • Developmental editor

And then it’s on to the madness of the weekend. I’ll see you guys on Tuesday to let you know how it went. If anyone’s going to PPWC, keep an eye out for me! I’ll be the tall blonde (and I will have tree pants on Saturday. Just FYI).

Conference Going for the Woefully Unprepared

We’re T-minus 2 days (and some change) until PPWC and I am not ready. It is unlikely I will ever be ready. Especially because I have reached that stage where I know I will never be ready and instead of, you know, working to be as ready as possible even if it’s not the ideal situation, I have spiraled down into a mess of unproductivity.

What, doesn’t everyone do that?

I did finish my costume today, which looks like I wanted it to look, so success! Except, of course, that one should argue that the costume that one will wear for a single evening is less important than, say, the query letter one needs to be pitching on Saturday, and one should probably be writing said query letter instead of sewing velcro onto a belt.

(Although, I can supervise the small, mobile ones and sew at the same time, whereas I cannot think and supervise at the same time, so it’s not like that time would have been useful no matter what. This morning, however, when I played Gardenscapes instead of working on said query letter…)

Anyway, here is this list of things that still need to be done (or at least worked on) by Thursday evening:

  • Query letter. This involves writing said query letter (which I am, in theory, going to do after I finish this post), getting feedback on said query, and editing it.
  • First chapter. I talked a few posts back about the first chapter thing and whether I was unsure I should edit it before the conference, or if it was a good opportunity to get feedback from someone who knows what they’re doing. I’m still unsure, but I do have people looking at it at the moment (the opportunity fell into my lap and I know a good thing when I see it) so if I get feedback in a timely manner AND it’s feedback I can easily incorporate, I will edit this monstrosity before the con. Have not decided if I will edit otherwise. With the way things are going, probably not. I’d like to, but I also need to go to the counter store.
  • New draft. I am currently sitting around 45K (out of an estimated 100K) and I am not getting anywhere fast. If I were on track, I’d roll into the con with 55K, which is still not a full draft, but is at least half of one?
  • General conference stuff. This is stuff like pick what to wear, pack my stuff, don’t forget business cards, etc. This is easy stuff. So of course I’m almost done because it helps me not do the things that really matter. Also in this category is picking panels to go to at the conference, and I have selected two for almost every time slot because I’m hoping my sister will go to one or the other, which is probably wishful thinking, but hey! Sometimes it works out. She will probably not go to the marketing panels for me, alas.

Now that the costume is done, I only have one non-conference related project to finish up (and am only waiting on the final go ahead), so I really have no excuse not to do the more important stuff. But will I? Hopefully.

If you didn’t vote in the nonfiction poll, I think wordpress probably closed it, but feel free to let me know your preferences in the comments. We’ll jump back into that once I’m done freaking out about the conference (which might be next week, but there might be residual freaking, so it may be the week after that).

Changing Support Needs

I started writing seriously in 2006, Squiders. I mean, I’d had periods before that–I’d been writing on and off since I was 8, including a fairly prolific time in high school (where I admittedly started a lot of novels I never made it very far on, though I did enter some poetry contests). I started doing Nanowrimo in 2003 and won in both 2004 and 2005.

But in 2006, I made the conscious decision to focus on my writing and to actually do something with it. Part of this was because I had a lot of free time. I graduated from college in December of 2005 but my new job didn’t start until March of 2006, which left me three months to do nothing, which turned out to be terrible. At the time I had no responsibilities and had just moved to a new city/state where I knew absolutely no one.

So it was as much a decision to save my own sanity and work my way out of depression as to work on something I’d enjoyed for most of my life.

Having been successful with the Nano model, I searched out a yearlong community called NaNoWriYe (National Novel Writing Year), which was a good start. It gave me some place to check in, had monthly challenges (including a fun one where you had to smoosh two unrelated genres together), and had team challenges as well.

The issue with WriYe was that everyone tended to start the year out strong, but few people managed to make it the full year. So it tended to be a bit dead as time went on.

Next I found April Fool’s, which was a challenge every April where you could pick your own word count goal. AF was active, and had fun perks like word count bars and winners’ pips. It also had an extremely active dares forum. AF was a good community, with people who bothered to keep track of each other’s work and goals.

And then it got hacked and everything got lost.

From there I settled into my current online writing community, where I have been for ten years now. And I got a real life group out in California that met once or a couple times a week. And things were grand! I was productive, my friends were helpful, and I was getting all the support I needed as a writer.

And then we moved back to Colorado, so I lost my in-person group, though one friend and I kept up virtual write-ins for a few years past that. And eventually I found my current in-person group, the one that I run the storycraft meetings for.

And it’s just become obvious lately that–I need something else. My online group has changed a lot over ten years. We had to close membership due to a truly ridiculous amount of spammers, so we don’t get a lot of new blood, and slowly but surely most of the people who were once regulars have been eaten by life. So it’s not terribly active anymore. And those who are left, I love, and they are supportive, but many of them aren’t writing regularly, or aren’t writing with similar goals, so they aren’t always the most helpful.

And with my real life group, well, it’s the same sort of thing. It’s dying out, and a lot of the people at the same or a higher level than me don’t come anymore.

I’ve joined some other online groups that specialize in things like query critiques, but they’re not really communities–people just show up for help and don’t really make connections with one another.

So I find myself feeling a bit adrift. As I mentioned on Thursday, I’m feeling low confidence lately, and working with people with similar goals and levels, or people who are more experienced, could be really helpful, I feel.

But for the life of me, I have no idea where to find such a group. Or a mentor might also be really beneficial, but same thing. Where do you find a person/people who might be a good fit?

Any advice you might have on the matter would be greatly appreciated. If you have a group or a mentor, would you mind sharing how you went about finding them?

A Poll, a Conference, and an Update

Can you believe it’s April, squiders? And, yes, I realize that we are halfway through April, which almost makes it worse.

At the end of April, I am going to be attending Pike’s Peak Writers Conference (henceforth PPWC). This is my third time going, but it’s been five years since I last went. (My mother and sister went last year, and when they renewed for this year, they bought me a registration too. Really hard to say no to a free conference.) I probably talked about it here on the blog back in the day.

(I checked. I did.)

Part of me is really excited. I stopped going partially because it is expensive (almost $400 for the conference alone) and because I’ve spent the last several years working on indie projects (such as Shards, which came out in 2013, and City of Hope and Ruin, which came out last May, as well as ton of really fun anthologies). I am trying a few projects traditionally again this year, so the timing works out.

I’ve even secured choice assignments–an acquisitions editor at Del Rey for my pitch assignment, and Carol Berg (!!!) for my read and critique.

But I’m also not in a great place confidence-wise at the moment. While I am finally getting somewhere on my rewrite (approximately 35K in at the moment) it’s quite obvious to me that this isn’t the final draft. I’m still worried about pacing in the first part (now that I’m past the inciting incident, it seems to be fine) and the first chapter is just a mess all around.

And I feel like I’m being overly critical of my basic sentence structure, which makes flow hard, and what if there’s not enough description still, and…

Oy. You get the point.

At the end of March/April I considered switching projects before PPWC. My options were:

  1. Pitch my YA paranormal that I’m finalizing submission stuff for. The novel is polished, the stuff is mostly ready, I could in theory start querying agents any day now. But I would have had to switch my requests for agents, etc., and that late in the game I was not likely to end up with anyone who was the right genre.
  2. Switch to my space dinosaur space adventure story. It’s at about 54K, the draft thus far is very clean, and the approximately 30K left is easy to get done in a month. Plus, no switching on agents, etc. But I would have lost several days to project switching, and there were no guarantees that I wouldn’t have run into issues with the last part of the draft and still would have ended up at PPWC with an unusable manuscript.
  3. Stay with the rewrite.

Which is what I did, because basically I’m not going to be ready no matter what. And here we go, come hell or high water.

I have been thrown into a bit of a panic re: Carol Berg. My first thought was “Oh God that is a lot more major of an author than I expected to be participating in this” and my second was “Oh God my first chapter should be burnt in a fire.” Having thought about it rationally-ish for a few days now, this could be a really good opportunity to get some help on something that has been giving me a lot of trouble. But it could also be an opportunity for me to make a giant fool of myself. Time will tell, I suppose!

Anyway. I’m going to keep the rest of the consistency topics for the book, so it’s time to figure out what we should move onto there.

As such, here is our favorite poll, yet again:

The weather’s been lovely here lately, squiders. I hope you have good plans for the weekend and that things are going well for you.

6 Strategies for Consistency

I think this will be the last post for this particular subject matter, Squiders, and I’ll keep the troubleshooting section for the book. Thank you again for working with me on this nonfiction posts. They have been hugely beneficial for me, and I hope you’re getting something out of it as well.

Today we’re going to look at specific strategies to help you meet your consistency goals.

1. Schedule Time

We talked about this a little bit in the basics section, but having a regular time that is writing (or whatever) time can be hugely invaluable. Doing the same thing at the same time in the same way helps a habit build up that much faster, and you don’t have to worry about stuffing things into your otherwise busy schedule. As a reminder, make sure the time you’re allotting for yourself is sufficient to meet your goals, and that it’s realistic (i.e., don’t plan to spend 10-midnight working every night if your brain shuts down at 9:30).

2. Figure Out Your Motivation

Knowing why you’re doing something can also help provide you with extra motivation for getting something done. Are you trying out something new that you want to share with your critique group? Do you want to see if you can write something you’ve never done before? Are you looking for publication, readers, to please your mother/sister/partner/friends, to share something with your children, to learn something before you lose access to it? This goes back to the visualization technique we talked about last time, where knowing where you want to be can help you get back up after failures and push toward your end goals.

3. Deadlines

Having deadlines can be a great motivator to help you become consistent. (It’s not for everyone. If deadlines make you go shaky with anxiety, just ignore this point.) A project can seem insurmountable, especially at the beginning, but knowing when you need to have something done by can help you know how much you need to get done every day and help you plan out your schedule. Breaking things done into easy, repeatable steps make them that much easier to accomplish. Deadlines can be self-imposed (“I want this book ready for publication before I’m 40”) or imposed by the activity (the submission date for an anthology, having material ready before the writer’s conference you spent a gazillion dollars on, making sure your section for your critique group is ready on time so people can look it over) but oftentimes knowing something has to be done by a certain point or you’re going to miss your chance can give you a needed kick in the butt.

Those are pretty general, and how you implement them will be up to how you work specifically. Here are some specific things to try:

4. The ABC Method

“ABC” stands for “Apply Butt to Chair” and is an oft-cited method brought up during monthly challenges such as Nanowrimo. The basics of this method are simple–you sit down in a chair in front of your computer or your notebook or your typewriter, or whatever medium you’re currently using, and you stay there until you get to your goal for the day. The idea is, in theory, that you get what you need to done, come hell or high water, and that you–also in theory–become more proficient and faster over time.

The con of the ABC method is that it requires a lot of time. It can be more useful for students or other people who don’t have a set schedule or a lot of responsibility and have the ability to sit in front of their computer for three hours at a time. So people who don’t have a lot of time at their disposal may find this method untenable. Another problem is that sitting at your computer does not directly correspond with productivity. You may want to combine this approach with an app or program that blocks the Internet (or specific websites) or games you may have to make sure you’re not wasting your time.

5. Prepare Your Day

You occasionally hear about these people who have greatly upped their word counts (going from 2000 words a day to 10000, for example), and the secret to doing so seems to be planning what you’re doing/writing about before you sit down to do it. (This tip works in other aspects of life also–I often see the same advice applied to making your to-do list, for example, as doing it the night before frees up valuable first-thing-in-the-morning time for actual work as opposed to administrative rigamole.) Outlining can help some in this regards, but it doesn’t have to be as formal as that unless that works for you. You can also run through what needs to happen in the story in your head, picture scenes before you write them, put in some prep work (such as doing research before you start so you don’t waste your writing time), and knowing where you want to be at the end of the day.

The idea is that when you sit down to write, you already know what you’re doing and can dive right in without getting bogged down by miscellany.

6. Consistency Challenges

A consistency challenge is a challenge, usually set up between you and other writers, where everyone pledges to consistently write a certain amount of words for a certain duration of time. The most common ones seem to be where each writer sets their own word count, and then comes back to some place (such as a single blog post or a forum thread) and reports their word count for each day. Some challenges require you to reset your streak if you miss a day, while others count cumulative days in a time frame, even if they’re not consecutive.

The idea is that having accountability (the other writers) make you more likely to follow through, to avoid the guilt of missing a day or to compete to see if you can write more consistently than everyone else.

The nice thing about consistency challenges is that you can tailor them to meet your needs. I’ve seen ones where the writer also sets a days-of-writing goal (“I’m going to write 25 days out of 30”) to build in some leeway if someone knows they can’t write on weekends or will be on a trip for part of the challenge. There’s also word count build consistency challenges, which can be useful if one hasn’t written in a while or wants to up their output in general. In a word count build challenge, writers start at a minimum word count (say, 100 words) and add a consistent amount each day to increase their goals. For example, a writer could decide that they’ll start at 100 words a day and add 50 words each day. So day 1’s goal would be 100, day 2 would be 150, day 3 would be 200, all the way up to whatever the end is. (So, at the end of a 30-day challenge, they’d be up to 1500 words a day.)

Challenges can also be set up with other metrics, such as measuring time or pages edited or whatever is relevant for the project at hand. I’ve also seen challenges with countdowns, such as ones trying to get drafts done before a certain event (start of a challenge, deadline for a contest, etc.). These challenges are customizable so you should play around and see what works for you. Changing up the rules every now and then can also be good, especially if you’re starting to feel like you’re stagnating.

If you don’t have a writing community in which to run a consistency challenge, have no fear. You can do it solo as well. One of the best ways to make the slog alone is by using 750words.com. You do lose the ability to set a goal under 750 words, but this website is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to keep track of a one-author consistency challenge. Each day you log in to the site, write (or copy and paste) your words into the box, and it keeps track of stats, such as how long it took you to write your 750 words (if you actively wrote it on the website), your words per minute, how many breaks you took, etc. It even analyzes the themes and your mindset of your writing, which can be kind of cool, to see what that particular passage is evoking, according to the site’s algorithms, at least. You also get nifty badges for writing certain numbers of days in a row.

Any other strategies you’d like to add, squiders?