Saturday, September 13, 2014

Writer's Construction Zone: Part 2

Once we face up to our dreams of becoming a writer, many paths open. Maybe we're not sure exactly WHAT we want to write. That's OK. Why not experiment -- poetry, flash fiction, short stories, even a running start on a novella or novel. Why not?

What am I writing? The craft of writing sets up writer and reader expectations depending sometimes on the length of what we write, the format we choose, or the genre. Trust me, writing a cozy mystery with cats and knitting is far different than a noir mystery where all characters carry their own sorrows.

Write whatever piques your interest. Maybe don't worry about finishing what you start. But consider looking at your current writing projects and asking: What am I writing about? Why? What draws me to these stories? Are there common themes, characters, conflicts that resurface?  

It was rather a shock when I discovered that buried in nearly all of my writing is that bedrock issue of abandonment, but I didn't have to think very hard to figure out why this issue remains important to me.

How am I writing? Although some folks criticize the old-fashioned "butt in chair" strategy of writing, I like this approach because you are writing -- every day.

Throughout the rest of the day, when you're not writing, the material is fresh enough that your unconscious is at work and may surprise you at that next writing session.

When you write every day (or nearly every day), you come to know WHAT you require to successfully get down on paper a certain allotment of words. 

What's rather fun is to figure out WHEN is the best time for you to write. You may be a leap-out-of-bed-at-dawn person or a let's-wait-until-everyone-is-asleep writer.

HOW you begin to write is also open to so many different strategies. Do you draft out an outline before writing? Are you a plodder, building that story structure (and supporting research, if needed) before you write? Or, are you a sprinter: do you leap into the story to discover with each plot twist, what happens next? My husband happens to be a 'bleeder,' someone who tortuously thinks for a long while before committing a single sentence to paper. 

Do you use prefer to write by hand? The very act of writing with a pen or pencil slows down how we think about the story we're telling. I tend to use word processing for story telling (drafting, outlining, taking notes, editing, and formatting), for I can type as fast as I can think. 

If you love technology, have you tried any of the writing programs like Scrivener that allow you to use sophisticated mapping, images, and research files in support of that primary document, your story?

How much am I writing? Before we fall into that pit of despair that says we are not reaching those goals we set, consider your writing productivity. 

How much are you writing every day? by the week? by the month? Even 100 words a day can lead to 3,000 words a month, though that's before editing. 

Do you set goals for how many words you write? Deadlines for your writing projects? Do you identify your long-term AND short-term goals -- in words?   

You may want to check out A Round of Words in 80 Days, an online writing community of writers who set goals by each 'round' of 80 days, and then check-in with short updates every Wednesday and Sunday.  

Next Saturday's post will explore the differences between skills we use in the process of writing and those storytelling skills we call 'writing craft'. 

Meanwhile, may your own writing go well.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Writers' Construction Zone: Part 1

A writer friend recently asked how she could jumpstart that novel that's been sitting in a drawer for the last five years. She wants to write, but those first 25,000 words still languish.  

I want to tell her to start at the beginning by thinking about her goals. When she's decided what she really wants to do, then she can begin identifying those "next steps" to lead her to a completed novel and a specific plan for skill building and marketing.

Because finishing one novel is not the whole story.

So here's Part 1 of Writers' Construction Zone, a guided workshop on identifying your writing goals and a self-assessment to determine where you are right now. Part 2 will identify those specific steps you can consider taking to reach your goals.


Some writers begin storytelling as soon as they can read and write. Others take a little longer to discover their dreams. If you are reading this far, you've already made a commitment to being a reader and a writer. But we can be overwhelmed by many different aspects of being a writer, from skills building, to publishing, to creating an online platform, to marketing.

So, let's take this step by step. Take some time to answer these next questions to build an writing plan that's tailored for you -- and that will identify the specific skills you need to work on to achieve your goals.

1.  What are you writing right now?
2.  What would you like to be writing within the next 2-3 years?
3.  How would you describe where you are in your writing career? Are you a beginning writer? Someone who's published a book or two? Someone at the end of your writing career but eager for just one or two more books?

Unless you are writing for your pleasure alone, somehow you'll want to get what you've written into the hands of readers. 

1. Who is your primary audience? 
2. Is your audience larger than family and friends?
3. Can you describe the demographics of your audience?

If you had a finished manuscript in your hands, what would you want to do?

1.  Find an agent and be traditionally published by one of the big 5 US publishers -- Penguin/Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hacette, or Simon & Schuster?

2. Work directly with a small, independent publisher?

3. Self-publish through Amazon (KDP and/or CreateSpace), Smashwords, or Lulu?

Much has been written online and in writing magazines about the strengths and drawbacks of each of these three publishing options. If you were buying a pair of shoes, you wouldn't rely on advice from your friends. You'd want to try them on, right?

Next Saturday's post will depend on your questions and comments. Let me know what you'd like to hear about first and what kind of information you'd find most helpful.

Meanwhile, the sun is shining. Let's write!

Friday, September 05, 2014

New Website?

I've been seesawing for a while. Which is better? My blogs here on Blogger -- or should I take that leap of faith and learn Word Press?

Like many writers with thoughts of the next book pushing away at the imagination, I've resisted. As a writer of historical fiction with a new stack of books just waiting to be read, I'd rather read than rewrite code, and so set aside thoughts of my online presence. But when I would visit other writers, their pages shone with easy accessibility. So . . . 

Blogger won.

Notice the new headline below the banner that introduces this blog, upcoming appearances, my books, and a bio. My website has been revamped! 

What do you think? 

Have you made a change in your website? What factors went into your decision?

Early morning crane (Camp 2012)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Two marketing ideas for writers to consider . . .

As August winds down, here are two marketing ideas that have inspired me AND that may be useful for you!

Birthday Month Reader Appreciation Sale.  It's Frank Zafiro's birthday this month. Frank's celebrating his birthday by setting a very special price -- 99 cents for ALL his e-books, ALL month. 

I've only read one of Frank's crime genre books so far, but I enjoyed his gritty, sometimes noir style that pushes the reader to reconsider the moral issues that crime solvers sidestep or face, at considerable cost either way. 

Frank's offer extends just to the end of August, though. Here's the link to his blog, to his Amazon page that lists his books, AND the link to Thriller Thirteen, an anthology of 13 crime/thriller novels that features a story by Frank -- some 3,520 pages for 99 cents!

I think having a birthday month sale is a great idea -- as is being a part of a writing anthology. 

Writers can plan their blogs? 

This second idea comes from a newsletter from The Book Designer (hosted by marketing guru Joel Freidlander) which featured Nina Amir's article, "How To Create a Blog Plan for Any Type of Book." 

Nina lays out how to plan posts for your blog so that they are focused around a theme and follow a neatly specific week-by-week, month-by-month plan that you -- and your readers -- can rely on. She suggests using your blog to build an e-book . . . post by post. 

I know a writer who's doing just this! Building an e-book, blog post by blog post. Check out Ruth Nestvold's blog for her very helpful series on Starting out as an Indie Writer. Ruth writes fantasy/science fiction and is a prodigious writer, with 16 published books and 4 works in progress. She takes the craft of writing seriously as well as sharing what she's learned about publishing and marketing. And her e-book will be forthcoming!

May your writing and marketing go well. 

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Four ways to write a little more . . .

Resting Kitty (Kevin Kosbab, FeedDog)
Who's ready to write? 

We all have our writing rituals, those little behaviors, like a cat peering out from a pillow or a dog settling into a nest of blankets, that ensure we are truly ready to write. Most mornings, I leap to work, inspired by my mini-outline from the last session, ready to work on what's next -- but that's AFTER I check e-mail.

Sometimes, though, between one major project and the next, we experience a lull in our writing. So here are four tips that may prompt your writing.  

1. Set aside time for exploratory writing. Dig into your character's back stories. Go ahead and draft a page or two (or a paragraph) that describes this person's attitudes about the great generalities -- life, love, their greatest hopes. Move from generalities to specifics. Include what they detest and what they fear most. Natter on about their dreams, when they have experienced joy. What were their most memorable experiences as a child, as a young man or woman? What will they never forget and why? 

2. Do a little research. Finding articles online remains a great distraction. But with a few key words, one or two articles can lead to insight and scenes for drafting.

For example, I have a teen-aged character in my current project who's fairly important, but he's shadowy, almost a stereotype. So in desperation, I looked up "behavior + teenager" and found several useful articles on teens and their developing brains that help me dig beneath the surface. 

These theories suggest that teens don't develop rationality until they are in their 20s. Their need to separate themselves from authority figures to create their own identity (called individuation) means lots of conflict. We can see that in a teen's willingness to test boundaries -- and how quickly that teen might defend dangerous behaviors or a dangerous friend. Because of hormones changing, teens also feel deeply and intensely; life with a teen can be filled with drama. All of this leads me, even in mid-19th Century, to see lots of potential conflict for my sixteen-year-old in the wilderness of Canada. 

3. Draw a portrait of your character with an illustrated map showing key events of her or his journey. I resisted trying this one because I simply do not draw very much. This kind of drawing -- do not lift the pencil or pen from the paper -- is like a trail that takes you to new insights. Somehow the brain relaxes as you scribble out the path, stopping to illustrate a key character or scene, sometimes with stick figures! You may find yourself surprised by what you learn from the drawing.

4. Make a commitment with a concrete deadline. Your promise to write can be to a writing group (lucky you, if you have a good face-to-face group), to an online writing community like The Internet Writing Workshop, or A Round of Words in 80 Days, or even Weds WIPpet, publishing a short excerpt from your current work in progress. Or, your promise can simply be to yourself. Key: Set a deadline and stick to it!

What strategies do you use to motivate your writing?

For your enjoyment, here's a very short video trailer (under a minute) for my just published Years of Stone.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

About the surprise . . .

Long ago and far away, I met a wonderful man, a Viet Nam veteran who wrote a book, though that doesn't define him. He had an agent in New York and loved to travel. I was entranced by his stories and his dreams. For whatever reason, his book, Reaching, made the rounds, and he collected a healthy handful of rejection letters. He stopped writing when our daughter, Rachel, was born.

Our 40th anniversary was last week. Like many partners, he can usually guess what 'the present' will be. Not this time. Rachel typed his old manuscript; I copy-edited and formatted it to Amazon's CreateSpace style, and ordered a proof copy.

Imagine the moment. We are at a rare lunch out at Anthony's, overlooking the Spokane River. He says, "Ah, a book." Then he says, "Ah, my book." He was surprised and pleased (I'm sitting there, thinking thank all the gods of writers, for even after all these years, I wasn't sure he would be pleased.) 

Allen, 1967
What's next? He doesn't want us to pursue the traditional path of agent/publishing house. In fact, he doesn't really want anything to do with the book. If we want to self-publish, he's OK. This quiet, modest, unassuming, and talented man wrote a book based on his experiences in Viet Nam. It's still, even 47 years later, a powerful story. We believe this story should be out in the world.

So sometime over the next few weeks, expect an announcement here. I'll be working on a new cover, making the editing suggestions he's mentioned, reformatting, and developing some sort of marketing plan. I'm not really sure how to move the book out to readers, but that's the next step for Reaching.

Meanwhile, my own writing continues. All is well.

Friday, August 01, 2014

99cents for Years of Stone! Just today!

Happy August 1st.

Today begins my Amazon Countdown deal for Years of Stone, 99c just for today. Check out this amazing read set in Australia in the mid-19th Century, when Tasmania was the dreaded penal colony, Van Diemen's Land. Can true love find its way?

Today is my anniversary. I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate than a lunch out with my dear hubby and this celebration pricebreak for my readers!


Tune in later today for another surprise.