Thursday, June 28, 2012

Finding What Works for YOU

Meditation, Visualization, Word Count, Page Count, Timed Writing, Boot Camp, Retreats, Accountability Partners -- all methods of increasing writing productivity, and it seems to me, I've tried them all.

In trying a variety of methods, I am discovering what works and doesn't work for ME as a writer. All reasonable, valid methods, I've learned that each works for some people, but not for all. One might work like gang-busters for an individual writer, while another might be that writer's particular solution.

There's not one way that's THE right way of increasing productivity. There's what works for YOU as an individual, unique writer.

On Author Rachel Aaron's Pretentious Title writing blog, Rachel addresses a way to track and increase daily writing output production. She actually finished a book in 12 days, please see Rachel's 12 days of Glory post! Rachel went from writing 2,000 words per day to 10,000 words per day.

I so appreciate Rachel sharing her system and can vouch to the fact, for me, her method is working! I may not ever get to 10,000 words a day, but I've found what's working to increase my productivity.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yardley

Rock Your Plot is a simple, powerful, and action-oriented guide to plotting your novel. It gives an overview of three-act structure, defining plot points as well as providing clear examples of each, and suggesting easy-to-follow assignments. It's an espresso shot of information that will give your story the boost it needs to carry you through to a finished novel.

Cathy Yardley has been so helpful by sharing her plotting and writing process with me. She's published 18 books and has just published her e-book, Rock Your Plot. For $2.99, you get a lifetime worth of experience and a process that actually works!

I would definitely recommend Rock Your Plot! Please visit Amazon to download and enjoy!

700 Hours Battery Life, Less than 2 lbs,
Take it Anywhere -- It's a NEO 2

I gave myself an awesome birthday present a few years ago, the Alphasmart NEO. The NEO has been so helpful to me in my writing life, that I wanted to share how this writing tool has been one of the best gifts I've ever received (even if it was a gift from myself). ;-) [NOTE: production of the NEO has ceased due to competing technology. The products may be found on ebay for purchase. NO existing technology can stand up to the sturdiness or the battery life.]

Recently, this low-cost, go-anywhere writing tool was upgraded by NEO Direct to the NEO 2. For $169.00, the NEO 2 weighs less than 2 lbs, and, at times with the help of a lap desk, I have written on airplanes, in a camping tent, on front porches, in a stationary car, at doctor/dentist office, atop picnic tables, while curled up on the couch or chaise lounge, propped up in bed, etc.

Instead of maybe 1 to 3 hours of battery life like most laptops, NEO has 700 hours (seven hundred hours) of battery life from 3 normal AA size batteries.

The screen is small and is not back lit; therefore, you will need a light source to view the screen. (I've even used a headlamp at night while camping.) I write with the largest display text, 36 point, with only 3 lines visible on the screen. The NEO 2 can store up to 100,000 words, more than enough for an entire book.

The NEO 2 Key Features include durability. So far, my NEO has been dropped more than once, sat on, and stepped on, and is still going strong.

Touted as the Ultimate Personal Writing Tool, the NEO 2's built-in word processor, AlphaWord Plus, provides a thesaurus, spellchecker, and word/page/paragraph count. Also, it emulates a keyboard -- when you plug it into a USB port and press Send, NEO types your text directly into your word processing software.

My personal favorite features of the NEO include:
  • No internet access (no temptation to surf)
  • Lightweight
  • Fits in a small carry bag or medium to large purse
  • Durable
  • LONG battery life
  • EASY to use
  • Amount of text storage
  • Low cost
What with having worked on the computer a great deal for my previous job, right now, I am in need a break from sitting at a desk in front of a monitor because it feels so much like "work," so writing on NEO works for me.

Yesterday, I wrote 3,300+ words in 4 hours, all comfy on the chaise lounge, with Jasmine the Siamese cat keeping me company. Thanks to NEO.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What's in Your Closet?
(Creating Characters with Character)

Once I jot down basic information about my main characters, such as Age, Height, Weight, etc., (Cathy Yardley shared a short, concise worksheet with me, less than 2 pages, that drills down the basics of each character.) Thanks, Cathy!

After filling out the information on the character sheets, I know my characters fairly well. In addition to this basic information, which includes providing the Chronological happenings of the character's life, I added the following to help me get to know my story people even better.

What is his or her favorite saying or catch phrase?

What's under his or her bed?

What does his or her closet look like? What's in his or her closet?

What one secret item has the character hidden away for his or her eyes only? Where and why?

Up to this point, what is his or her most traumatic experience?

What's his or her happiest moments? What's his or her biggest accomplishment?

Just as these sort of things tell us about real world people, they reveal so much about the people that populate our stories.

So, why not ask your characters, what's in your closet?

Yesterday's Writing Results:

I wrote two short scenes yesterday (approximately 1,200 words).

If I'm going to write for a living, I need to be able to write as much as possible in as short a time as possible, so I'm experimenting with the location and conditions in which I write.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Index Cards Are My Friends

I've spent the last few days since my final work project ended playing with and shuffling index cards, and brightly colored index cards at that! (I had no idea plotting could be so much fun!)

Author and Writing Coach Cathy Yardley shared with me about her use of post-it notes, so decided adapt the idea to the unlined side of index cards due to my tired eyes and give it a try.

First I focused on the main plot points, using the Not-Really-An Outline method, then jotting down possible ideas for other scenes. Notice I say POSSIBLE. What is written on an index card is not chiseled in stone. These colorful cards can be edited, shuffled, written on on both sides, and/or tossed.

I wrote quick, few word descriptions, such as:

Index Card: Her family is missing.

Index Card: Water floods cave. Knows who's responsible.

Index Card: Finds grave in garden.

Index Card: Son has disappeared. Frantic.

I taped the index cards up on my cork board and whiteboards, or if I use reusable post-it type tape, I can tape them directly to the wall. (AND there are sticky index cards as well, but I like the color selection for regular index cards better.)

Like shifting pieces of a puzzle to see if they fit, the cards can easily be moved around and relocated. As in, this would be better if it happened here, rather than happening there.

Yellow for main plot points. Different characters stories (points of view) get their very own color (usually orange or green). If applicable, romantic scenes are written down on pink. (I'm using a fine-point black sharpie marker so that the notes are bold and readable.)

As you can see by the picture, my wall is bright and colorful (I used the Oxford Glow index cards, which are almost florescent in color.)

Today's Goals:

Today, I pick the next card in line for my story -- the next scene -- and write a few words (no more than a paragraph or two) about what I'm going to write about today, then I'll write at least a scene or two. (In the next few days, my goal is to see how many scenes I can comfortably and realistically write in a day.)

3 x 5 index cards. So simple. Makes me realize how overly complicated and difficult I've made things for myself all along.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Goggle Eyes and Gars and Gators, Oh My!
(The Similarities between Fishing and Writing)

Up at 5:00 AM to go fishing. (I love fishing and I've got my Angler Management and my Fishouflage t-shirts to prove it!)

Just after sunrise, I'm dangling my feet off the edge of the boat so that the soles of my boots are just above the water. (This was before hubby mentioned the Gator. More on that to follow.) As I enjoyed a slight breeze and early morning sun on my face, I casted cast after cast and considered how similar fishing and writing are.

You don't just GO FISHING. You have to get a lot of things in place to be able to go fishing. Boat, trolling motor, trolling motor battery (man, that sucker's heavy), fishing rods, lures, catch basket, etc.

Hubby got most everything ready the night before, so all I, still sleepy-eyed and groggy, had to do this morning was fumble into my clothes and waterproof hiking boots.

Still, I'd even gotten the clothes and boots ready the night before.

So, I'm thinking to myself, You wouldn't go fishing without at least a fishing pole and a lure or some kind of bait.

SO -- this is where the writing part comes in -- why would you expect to just "write." Most writer's have heard the saying, "Writer's write," and of course writer's do write, but for me, just like for fishing, I need to do a few things to be prepared to write.

Like sketching out a bit of what the stories about, perhaps using Jennifer Crusie's  the Not-Really-An Outline for Plots, filling out index cards using a few words to description of each possible scene, and writing a brief paragraph about what I will be writing about for the day. These three things have given me a direction that I've been missing in my writing life.

So today, just like when I'm going fishing, I'm prepared to write.

As I was considering these outstanding -- at least in my sleep-deprived early morning state it seemed to be -- comparisons of fishing and writing, hubby begins to talk about a previous visit to the lake.

"We were coming over the dam," Hubby said. "And we saw the gator just over there."

"Gator?" I lifted my feet and rested my boot heels on the edge of the boat.

"Maybe seven or eight feet long."

"There's an alligator in here? In this lake?" I asked, tucking my boots under my seat.

"I doubt he'll even come out during the day."

A few minutes later, from another boat, my hubby's friend called out, "Did you see him?"

"See what?" Hubby asked.

"You didn't see him? You just floated right past where the gator was."

Needless to say, BEFORE the gator sighting, we caught several fish. AFTER, not so much.

During our fishing, hubby caught a couple of Goggle Eyes, which is a fish that's body looks like a brim and its head and mouth look like more like a bass. It looks as if it's all put together wrong and is considered by most folks to be an "ugly" fish.

Hubby also almost caught a Gar. Gar's have a long snout and their mouths are filled with needle-like teeth. Yeah, fish with teeth, in the lake where I'm fishing.

"Why don't you tell me these things before we get on the water?"

"I know you like fishing so much." Hubby grinned that boyish grin of his. "I just wanted you to be able enjoy your fishing."

Well, all righty then.

As I write over the next few months, I may encounter oddities and uglies like those Goggle Eyes or get stuck in a scene or tangent off course, and, of course, that bites just like a Gar, and something unknown may surface from my imagination or come up during the process, like that Gator lurking in a hideaway along the bank or in the water. Hungry. Waiting. Stalking. (Enough of that! Shudder.)

One thing's for sure, as I go along, I WILL be on the lookout for and prepared for, as best I can, those Google Eyes, Gars, and Gators, Oh My!

Friday, June 15, 2012

In 30 Words or Less - Your book is about WHAT?

A waiter brought the appetizer, a spinach, artichoke, and cheese dip and bread.

To Ms. Author sitting across from me, I asked, "So, what's your book about?"

One meal and dessert order later, Ms. Author is telling me all about her story, and has been doing so for forty-five minutes.

Forty-five minutes.

And she scheduled to pitch her book to an agent in a ten-minute slot the next day.

As we cut a huge slice of cherry cheesecake into halves to share, I said, "So for your pitch tomorrow morning, what are you going to say?"

"I just told you." The author beamed. "What do you think?"

What did I think? My first thought was that my eyes hadn't glazed over at the thirty minute mark as much as I had feared. My next thought was there's no way she's going to condense forty-five minutes into ten, which would actually equal eight minutes or so, due to introductions and niceties. My final thought was that her story was actually intriguing, in a long, drawn-out sort of way.

I took a deep breath and blurted out, "I think I need for you tell me about your story, in twenty-five words or less."

She gasped. "I couldn't possibly."

I grinned, rummaged a pen from my the depths of my purse, and handed it, along with a grocery receipt, to Ms. Author, and said, "Sure you can." 

As storytellers, if we can't describe what our story is about in thirty words or less, how can we expect an agent, editor, and, most especially, readers to be excited about what's the story is about? You know, like those movie quick, snappy movie descriptions.

For example:

When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane and corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. (Gladiator) [26 words]

A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love, must outwit her abusive fiance, and find a way to survive aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea. (Titanic) [28 words]

One of my one-line descriptions or loglines might be:

Children forced to become weapons of mass destruction must escape their captors, survive in a world that's turned against them, and stop the apocalyptic devastation they set in motion. [29 words]

So, how about it, what's your story, in 30 words or less?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Talking to da Fear - Woo-Woo Stuff and Getting the Book Out!

Years. I wasted years of trying to write by attempting to face my fear and to overcome my fear of writing a book. Fear fought back with a vengeance and won almost each and every time. It's a wonder I ever got any writing out of my head and onto paper or into a file.

Author Cathy Yardley introduced me to the concept of meeting and talking to my fear. (Please visit the The Fluent Self blog for a detailed description.)

Okay, I have to admit that talking to my fear as if it were someone was a little woo-woo out there for me; however, in choosing to do so, I'm now able to get these darn books out of my head. Bottom line, the process worked, so who cares if it's woo-woo or out there or both. Who knew? (Well, Cathy did and the folks at The Fluent Self did, so I am eternally grateful that they chose to share that knowledge.)

Since my fear involves writing, I wrote a conversation between my fear and me. (Once I got past the woo-woo factor, the process actually made sense.)

Understanding that my fear is a part of me and that it's doing its darndest to protect me helped me to realize that attacking the fear was like attacking myself. My goal was to work with the fear, not against the fear. (Novel concept, huh?)

My written conversation with my fear went something like this:

Kathy: "Fear, what exactly are you afraid of?"

Kathy's Fear: "I'm afraid of letting go. If I let go, people will judge you and you'll get hurt. If you step outside your comfort zone, you'll get sick, get hurt, get in trouble, be out of control, look stupid, won't be good enough, make a fool out of yourself, etc. These are the things I'm trying to protect you from."

Kathy: "What will happen if I write?"

Kathy's Fear: "If you write, you will expose yourself to scrutiny and to failure. If you write, you will reveal secrets that are best left buried. You'll feel things better not experienced. Secrets are to be kept, feelings are NOT to be felt."

Kathy: "When secrets are revealed, the revelation robs the secrets of their power, then I will no longer be caught in the web secrets create. I know you're trying to help me and take care of me, but what if I give myself permission to write crap and that for the first draft, I don't have to be good? What if I focus on writing scene by scene? What if I only allow myself to feel, one scene at a time?"

Kathy's Fear: "I'm not so sure about this, but as long as we discuss what you're doing along the way, I'm willing to give it a try."

This "woo-woo" approach worked for me. Like gangbusters. Like nothing else has thus far. Instead of working against me, for the first time in my life, my fear and I are working together toward the same goal. Such a simple, yet life changing approach.

As I go along, I'm sure Fear and I will sit down and have further conversations and negotiations.

So, why not give it a try? What if it actually is that simple? Talk to da fear and get that book out!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Diving In - First Learn to Swim

Today, June 13, 2012, I completed my final project for the company where I've worked for the past eight years, to pursue a full-time writing career.

Having worked in the corporate environment for my entire adult life -- until noon today, that is -- this new venture is a scary gut-wrenching, throat-clenching thrillfest. (Welcome to my journey!)

Recently on Joe Konrath's blog, A Newbies Guide to Publishing, Author Jude Hardin pushed the button on submitting his letter of resignation to move into a full-time writing career. (I gave my notice a few weeks prior; therefore, I can relate to the anxiety, fear, uncertainty, excitement, thrill, etc., and appreciate Jude's willingness to step out and share his journey, which served as an inspiration for starting this blog.)

In the 1990's, I received requests for partial and full manuscript submissions (even from a top agent/editor or two), and although I was presented with opportunities to publish, I couldn't bring myself to sign away the rights -- perhaps indefinitely, more than likely permanently -- to my books, especially when research revealed publishers retained the bulk of monies earned and doled out what seemed, to this wannabe pre-published author, a mere pittance of the overall sale price of a book.

I discovered Joe's blog in 2010. Just what was Independent Publishing? Having decided to learn, I read every blog post from Joe's earliest to the most recent. 2010 served as my research year. I monitored Joe's and other authors sales, visited numerous blogs, and studied faithfully what to do and what not to do (that's another blog post in itself). I discovered that an author doesn't have to sign away their rights, and that e-book sales returns (2.4% from a publisher such as Harlequin), can be competitive and worthwhile (35% to 70% percent from Amazon.)

Trend setters, such as Joe, Amanda HockingJohn Locke, and Tina Folsom, have paved the way for up and coming independent authors. (My thanks and appreciation to you, as well as other, independent publishing frontiersman and woman.)

2011 and the first half of 2012, I participated in numerous Savvy Authors workshops and courses. I attended a couple of writer's conferences, participated in a group writing mentorship, attended an online and and in-person writer's retreats, and, most recently, have the opportunity to work with a writing coach.

Learning and honing my writing craft while working full-time, which at times included extensive overtime, served as a challenge; however, I built on my previous knowledge, which wasn't much and it's a wonder I ever completed anything at all, and have discovered what works for me. (BULLETIN: Not every technique works for everyone.)

One thing I considered was that I've observed several authors that have published a book or two and then floundered because they don't have a back list of books to build upon; therefore, for the past two years, along with gaining knowledge and insight, I've stocked away enough money, thanks to the overtime worked, to cover living expenses to carry me, albeit frugally, through the process. Health insurance options researched? Check. Realistic publishing goals? Double Check. Reality check? Every dang day from here on out.

Jude Hardin has a multi-book contract with Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer imprint for his Nicholas Colt thriller series. To date, he's published two novels and two novellas. He pushed the button. (Jude, I'm happy and excited for you. Thanks, so much for inadvertently validating and encouraging my decision.)

As far as my publishing credentials? Nada. Nothing, zilch, not a page or a kilobyte. At least, not yet, as of June 13, 2012.

One thing I remind myself of -- and will do so daily, I'm sure -- is that I am not just recklessly diving into the pool of independent publishing. I've spent the last few years, researching, learning, and writing. I've learned to swim. This afternoon, the water's fine. With hard work and determination, and a plentiful splash of luck, I'll swim, write books, and will make a living doing the same.