Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cutting Back

Last year some time I realized that by cutting back on the TV that I watch, I would get a lot more writing done. Strange, right? And it's true!

When I'm writing, I like to have background noise to keep me from getting distracted by the little projects I have to do around the house and around town. I'll get them done, but they don't stay at the front of my mind all the time. Having the TV on in the background also keeps me from picking up a video game controller and wasting my afternoon an activity that's NOT writing.

Since I started my revisions, though, the TV has stayed off. Two days in a row where it doesn't even get turned on to check the weather. When I lived in Portland, broadcast barely made it to my house. And I was too poor for cable. I lived out there for a year, and I watched only the movies I could find for loan at the library. Which meant I got used to not watching TV.

I have to admit, even though it's only been two days, it doesn't bother me that I haven't watched any TV shows. The silence is nice. TV makes it impossible to focus on my editing, and none of my sentences make sense when I try to rewrite with noise on.

If you're editing, and you need background noise, find some music to listen to. But trust me: get rid of the TV for a while. No successful person ever said, "You know, I wish I hadn't missed that episode [insert TV show here]."

Monday, February 25, 2013

On We Go

Saturday, I edited that short story that some of my readers were kind enough to read, and I have to say their critique notes were quite valuable! Thank you :)

Yesterday, I sat at my computer and delved deeply into my protagonist's past and personality in preparation for today's revisions.  That's right, I started revising my book today!  I want this book ready to submit by September, but I'm going to push to get it into the RMFW annual contest.  If I remember correctly, that gives me until July 1, 2013.  Not much time, but it's a deadline, and I'm going to push really hard to see if I can reach it.

Obviously, quality is better than speed at this point, but I need to buckle down and get this project done.  My aim is to be a full time writer, and that means I need to be able to craft stories on a deadline.  I'm enjoying my time as a writer without deadlines, but I don't want to take too much time and get used to dilly-dallying on my way toward manuscript completion.

That's all I have for today.  Have a great week, and I'll hopefully see you Wednesday!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Short Story Request

As I mentioned Monday, I'm working on a short story.  I have a simple request today: is there anyone willing to beta read this story for me?  I'll tell you what I'm looking for if you're accept my request, but keep in mind it's VERY short, I want it to stay that way, and it's sci-fi.  If you're up for it, post your email in a comment, wait five seconds, and DELETE it.  The comment will show up in my e-mail, and your address won't be all over the internet for everyone to see.  Unless you have a spam-address you're willing to put out there.

That's all I have for today.  See you Friday!  :D

Monday, February 18, 2013

Personal Improvement

Yesterday, the Wifey and I signed up for our first ever gym membership.  Personally, since my supervisor made everything at work smoother and less labor-intensive, I've had a hard time maintaining stamina and getting physical exercise.  Yes, the shop runs more efficiently, but I have the beginning stages of a spare tire, dang it, and I want it gone!  So the Wifey and I are going to head to the gym at least three days a week to work out and make ourselves physically fit.

In other news, I'm writing a new short story.  Originally, I'd planned on making my cool-down break only a few days long, but since I have reading to do for my critique group, when I'm not working on their projects, I'm going to put together a short story to try to sell to a periodical.  When that's done, I'll start my revisions of the current WiP.

This story falls under the personal improvement category because I think I finally understand the theory behind how and why to write very short stories.  And I want to see if that's something I DO grasp.  I want to try my hand at it.  Wrap my brain around the concepts.  See if I can create a story worth selling.

It's a lot to push for, but I think I'm up to the task.

What about you?  What are your personal improvement goals or tasks?  They don't have to be big, just something tiny, like trying to smile at that one person who rubs you the wrong way.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hurray!

I finished my first draft! That's exciting for me because it's the first book I've finished in three years.  It's been nice to step away from revising other projects to get into nitty, gritty writing.  And it's paid off!

For new readers, this doesn't mean it's time to send it off to agents.  There are very few people who can send their first draft off and get an agent or a publishing deal.  In fact, it's almost impossible.  Unless their first draft process also includes active revision and editing while they write.

So what's next?  Well, I'm going to let it sit for the rest of this week.  I haven't looked at the first chapter in a couple of months, but I want the overall concept of this book out of my brain so that on Monday, I can sit down begin revisions.

This particular round of revisions will be some of the most important.  My outline gave me some great direction as I write this novel, but I deviated quite a bit from the original idea.  This means I need to go through and fix some of the anachronisms and continuity errors that might have cropped up.

But most of my writing tends to lean toward plot development rather than character development.  I have an idea of who the characters are, how I want them to behave, but getting that on the page takes a back-seat to overall story when I draft the novel.  Before I send this book off to any beta readers I find, I need to develop the characters more.

My critique group has helped a lot with pointing out areas where plot, setting, and character development are severely lacking, so I'll use their notes.  But over the past few years, I've also gotten pretty good at spotting some mistakes that the critique group might have missed.  Which is why I work with a critique group.  Even if they miss something, their critical eye helps me to see mistakes in my writing.  It opens my perspective and gets me to take a step back and look at the book for what it is, rather than what I hope for it to become.

So that's my big update.  I finished the first draft at 67,420 words.  Now it's time to rest, work on other projects for a day or two, and then get back to work!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Businesslike

I deal with people every day, and most of them are people who spend money where I work.  Some of them are also vendors who take our money when we need to rent equipment we don't own.  Most of these clients are polite, professional, and often times downright friendly.  Other tend to be either distracted or so businesslike that they might come across as stand-offish.  Most of the time, those people are in a hurry or they have many things to deal with for their job, meaning they can't joke around with us too much.

But now and then (and this genuinely boggles my mind) someone will simply fly off the handle and just swear up a storm, either at me or one of my coworkers.  I don't get it!

I read stories all the time of agents and editors who have the same thing happen to them.  Seriously, what is gained by losing one's temper?  Absolutely nothing!  In a world where people generally have to do business with each other, it makes sense to, at the very least, treat everyone else with cool, distant calm.  Even when they make us mad.

That doesn't mean be a doormat, either.  And don't run away from confrontation.  If it turns out that choosing not to do business with someone is the best option, make that choice, but do it in a manner that keeps you above reproach.  Snide emails that explain why you're not doing business with them won't help.  For that matter, telling them that you'll no longer be doing business with someone may be harmful to your career goals in general.  If someone's said or done something to offend, see if it can be worked out.  If it can't, shrug your shoulders and move on.

Most of all, if expressing anger is necessary, keep the language CIVIL.  No matter what anyone says, swearing is ALWAYS inappropriate in a business context.  ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS!!!

So that's my little tip.  Behave professionally, and it'll be difficult to get blocked from future business because of something you said or did.  As a writer, it means that the ONLY thing keeping you from getting published is writing quality and/or marketability.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Importance of Word Count part 3

Now let's bring this word-count discussion to the next level.  How does it apply to a writer–especially a debut author–in a practical sense?

Well, as I've said before, the length will be a consideration when pitching to agents and publishers.  A publisher I met last fall said that the sweet spot for publishing a book is 400 pages.  If it's a shorter book, typesetters will play around with the margins to make it EXACTLY 400 pages long.  This isn't a hard and fast rule, but it's a guideline they like to work with because the profit margin is so much better for them if it's 400 pages.  And what that means for debut and mid-list authors is that if a book is just a little too long, they'll start playing around with chapter breaks to make it fit.  And margins.  And widows and orphans.  It's a lot of work.  Mid-list authors may be worth it, but if debut authors have an editor on the fence, the extra effort needed may be the difference between their books getting published, or the slightly less marketable but cheaper-to-publish novel that's similar to theirs.

Is that fair?  Well, who cares!  It's a fact of the business world, and like it or not, publishing is a business.  So here's my advice, and it's something I live by: go into a local bookstore, or hop online and find out which books in YOUR genre are on the top of the charts.  Then do a google search on all of those books and find out what their word-length is.  Don't go under that by more than 20%, and don't go OVER it by more than 10-15%.

An agent I follow did say that certain genres have less leeway.  Romance, for example, she won't look at books that aren't in the 95k-99k range.  (I believe those are the numbers she quoted, but it might be an even tighter margin.  The number 99,999 sticks out because I think that's the ABSOLUTE max unless the rest of the query is fantastic.)

Whether or not you outline, this affects the decisions you make as a writer.  When it comes time to revise, that's where you have to make decisions about cutting or adding scenes.  Yes, emotional connection must be made between characters and readers, but do the scenes need to be as long as they are?  Can they be longer?

A rough goal gives you some boundaries to work within, and they'll let you know if there's not enough world-building, character development, and overall plot (if it's less than 60k, for example, and you're writing a YA Fantasy).  If your 500k retelling of War and Peace (Part 1 of the trilogy!) isn't selling, then chances are there's TOO much going on.

And while writers get into writing for the sake of the art, at the end of the day it's all business.  Publishers buy books that they can sell.  And a single author who's willing to buy a book doesn't mean the market will handle it.  Again, it may not be fair.  But it's business.  And in business, size matters.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

A Brief Interruption

We interrupt this regularly scheduled discussion on word count for a special announcement.  I'm not done with my first draft, yet, but I'm close.  I'm going to try to put some posts together soon, but I really need to get this draft finished!

So I'm going to push with the hope that I'll have this draft finished by the end of next week.  I'll keep you posted (for the folks interested), and then I have to do some serious revisions, then send out a call for beta readers.  :D

But, again, I might have another word-length post this week.  And I'm going to relate it directly to the book I'm finishing.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Charity of the Month: Marine Corps - Law Enforcement Foundation

This month, I want to feature the MC-LEF again.  It's been over a year since I discussed this organization, and I love how much they do for the children of fallen police officers and US Marines.  Please click the link in the right-hand sidebar and consider giving them $10 or so.

Next Monday, we'll resume the discussion on novel lengths.  But this weekend I want to take the time to remember the men and women who serve our country, both at home and abroad.