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Getting Back on the Horse.

swearing_3421243Last week I wrote a rather depressing blog post about the ups and down (mostly the downs) of being an independent author.  It was nasty, dark, and true. But is also awoke something in me. Something that I hadn’t really had in a long time.

The writing muse.

Muses are funny is the way they come and go.  They also have a weird way of being awoken at the most interesting of times. But this little muse snuck right in and wacked me over the head with a frying pan.  I’m not sure why a writing muse has a frying pan, but it worked at getting my attention.

My writing days started way back. But the real passionate writing that I enjoyed started in 2003.  I was finding myself stressed out beyond belief.  And escaping to the world I had created, the world that Dissolution of Peace is set in, relaxed me.  It relaxed me to a point that I could sleep well and face the next day ready for those challenges.  I’d put down 2,000 to 4,000 words a day and I loved doing it.  And when I did it, I had a small hope that someone else would read it and find themselves escaping into my world to relax.  But that was never the point, the point was a lot simpler.

I wrote for me.

There was that damn frying pan to the back the head again. That was what the muse had came to lecture me about. I wrote to relax, and now here I was stressing about how to get more book sales.  I’m stressing about the very thing I used to do for fun. And if I was no longer doing it for fun, what’s the point?

Every story teller just wants to be heard (or read in this case).  And I still very much want readers to escape into my worlds and relax.  But I have always written for me first.  And fortunately this muse, and the frying pan, reminded me of that.

So I started a new novel project the next day. I’m sorry to say that it isn’t the next book in the Dissolution of Peace series.  Though I think that will be my first ever NaNoWriMo project.  I digress.

This new project has spoken to me for a while and it touches very deep on some of my own life trials and tribulations.  And, it has had me writing 2,000 or more words a day.  Yesterday alone I put down over 6,000 words. And you know what, it feels good to be writing to relax again.  It feels good to be telling a story that makes me happy, and it feels great to get back on the horse.  If I keep my focus on what I love, my books will eventually sell themselves.  And, eventually readers will find relaxation in the pages of my worlds.

The best part is, I feel better.  I feel like I can take on the world with my keyboard and computer.  And the muse has finally put the frying pan away.

And with my new positive outlook, something did come my way.  Samantha LaFantasie, another author is going to do an Author interview with me in October.  And she got me thinking.  Why can’t I post things on my blog to help out other authors?  So I will. Starting in August.  I will be posting some things for other authors.  If you want to join in, you can contact me here.  Just fill out the form and we will be in touch.

Here is what I am thinking:

1st Friday of every month: Author Interview

2nd Friday of every month: Guest Post

3rd Friday of every month: Book Review/Feature

4th Friday of every month: Author Spotlight (Brief Bio, List of Titles and upcoming releases)

This is free.  I won’t charge anyone for doing this, I just want to help promote others because that is what we should be doing.  So Please sign up to participate.  I’ll do my best to accommodate everyone.  It will likely have to be on a first come, first serve basis.  But we will see how it all goes.  So head on over and contact me.  Won’t cost you anything. It just might be what gets you back on your own horse.

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Dry Spells

We writers often talk about writer’s block.  I even had a blog post on the topic.  But sometimes we just have dry spells.  They can be caused by different factors, including writer’s block, lack of time, and lack of motivation.  For me it has been the motivation mostly.  The ideas have been flowing free in my mind.  Both for a sequel to Dissolution of Peace and the current novel I am working on have been very active in my mind.  But I just don’t sit down and write.  So for today’s blog I thought I would talk about how to ride out these dry spells and even do a little rain dance to get things going again.

The first step is recognizing the dry spell.  That may seem easy enough, and for some it is.  But for me it wasn’t so easy.  I only just started thinking about how little I have written.  And when I look at my work in progress, I see the file hasn’t been modified since May 10th.  That is nearly two months ago, and I wasn’t aware of it.  This is by far the longest dry spell I have had in some time.  The only saving grace is that I have still been writing in this blog on a weekly basis.

In fact it was this blog that made me recognize I was in a dry spell, and at the same time it was what made me not realize it for so long.  Each week I sit down and put together a blog post for you.  I’m writing, and perhaps writing these blogs kept my ‘writing sense’ working.  Blogs are great ways to keep people aware of your existence, and to break down writing blocks and walls.  But, in this case it tricked me into thinking it hadn’t been so long since I wrote.  But, when I only wrote a short ‘Happy Independence Day’ blog last week, it clicked to me how little I have written.

You may not blog, so you may see you haven’t written in a matter of weeks.  Or, it could take you some time to recognize it for other reasons.  The point is you have to realize you’re in a slump before you can move on to the next step.

The next step is identifying the cause of the dry spell.  Again this may seem easy, but that is not always true.  Writer’s Block is often the first thing to blame.  But, if your ideas are still percolating in your head, as mine were, writer’s block is likely not your cause.  You have things to write about in your head, you’re just not sitting at the keyboard and doing it.  If you think it is writer’s block, dig deeper.  If you find no other causes, then revert to the steps to break down writer’s block.

The next most common thing to blame is time.  That is what I blamed.  I told myself I haven’t had time because I have been running a magazine.  I’ve been trying to get the first issue ready for print.  But that wasn’t fair.  Sure, running the magazine has taken up a lot of my time, but so does work, and my family.  All valid things to be working on rather than writing, but I’ve worked around all of them before.  But if you work through all this and find that time really is the issue, then you need to revert to the steps to find a time to work on your writing.

You might find it is depression, lack of motivation, or you have something new in your life that you’d rather be doing.  You may even find out that writing isn’t what you want to do.  But chances are that if you’ve realized you’re not writing, and are looking for ways to start again, you genuinely miss writing.  Once you find the cause, you need to dig deeper and find the true cause.

For me, I found it was a lack of motivation.  The ideas were there, but I wasn’t writing.  I dug deeper to find the cause of my lack of motivation.  That was a series of bad news in my writing.  I have received five rejection letters in those two months.  Three of those were for a story I have really felt confident in.  It has been stacking up the rejections and it has started to take a toll on my confidence.  In fact I have two short stories that are not selling despite approaching a year in circulation.  I’ve reminded myself that my first stories sold remarkably fast.  I’ve also reminded myself that I have not turned out a short story in almost eight months.  That is not a bad thing though.  I’ve been focusing on putting out novels.  When the right idea hits me, I’ll write another short.

There have been other delays in my novel as well.  I still don’t have cover art.  The edits may be delayed.  That coupled with the lack of sales of my son’s children’s book, has me worrying about my ability.  I get frustrated when people are not as excited about something as I am.  I feel as though they don’t approve of it, or even thing it not as worthy of their time.  I am a pessimist by nature, so I see all these things for the worst rather than the possible truth.  I see cover art delays as an artist who is disinterested in my story.  I see edit delays as an editor who thinks my work is so bad it needs more time.  And I see lack of sales on my son’s book as validation of my worst fears (that I can’t do this).

Long story short the reason for my dry spell is a lack of motivation because I am suffering from the “I can’t do this” and “I’m not good enough to do this” mentality.  We all hit this.  Everyone, in anything they pursue, hits a point where they think they can’t continue.  But if you stop, you are only proving yourself (and your critics) right.  It is the people that continue and refuse failure, that make it to their goals.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Next, you need to break past your road block.  You have figured out what the cause of your dry spell is, but now you need to break on through and keep working.  For writer’s block, it may be as simple as sitting down and typing until you get something going.  For a lack of time, you can schedule in writing time.  If it is more complicated, break it down into simple ways to motivate yourself.

For me, I inflated my ego a bit.  I went to the reviews of my short works that are previously published and saw what they had to say.  Reminded myself that people do enjoy what I write, and that eventually an editor will.  I also recognized that not everyone is able, or willing, to fall into finite deadlines.  I either need to live with it, or only work with people who will follow deadlines (likely a mixture of both).  Last, I think I am good with marketing.  But I had to recognize that when it comes to books, I am new at it.  And when it comes to Children’s Books, I am unsure where to start.  So I’ve started asking around for help on that.

The point is whatever is holding you back needs to be addressed.  You need to either make peace with it, or solve it.  Either way you have to get those things out of the way before you can start writing again.

Last, perform a rain dance.  You will never get past a dry spell if you don’t start getting things going.  If you have a work in progress, open it up and get working.  You’ve worked past all your issues, but your desire to write won’t magically spark up.  You need to start writing.  You might find that you will jump right back in.  Or, especially in the case of writer’s block, you will struggle to start up again.  But after a little time at the keyboard you will find the rains will fall again.  And hopefully once you get going again your next dry spell will be a long way off.

Some people hit dry spells and give up.  For some people they simply don’t feel the need to write anymore.  But, chances are they would not be interested in finding a way to start writing again.  If you have the desire to keep writing, but you just can’t seem to do it, you are a writer in a dry spell.  Don’t give up on it.  Clearly writing is something you enjoy doing, or you wouldn’t seek out advice on how to end your dry spell.  Now get to work on fixing it, and get those words on paper.

 

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Titles

I have a small confession to make:  I hate coming up with story titles for my writings.  I can never think of a good one. I even struggle to name many of these blog posts.

I think it really boils down to a problem naming things.  I had trouble naming all but my oldest son (since he is named after me it was easy).  I had a hell of time picking a business name I liked (when I was in business), and now it plagues me when I try to name my stories.  Its exactly the reason I could never use a pseudonym

I am not sure why this is.  Perhaps the permanent nature of a name is what concerns me.  After all, once the story is published I have to call it by that name for the rest of time.  With titles, its also about getting the readers attention in some way.  I think it also boils down to wanting to find one of those great titles I see in publications.

So with a bit of self exploration, I decided I would look into the purpose of a title.

The title names the story for recognition and ease of description.  Can you imagine if every time I wanted to talk about “Death Watch“, I said “The story about the guy with the watch that tells him when he will die.”?  I can’t imagine doing that.  But that is probably the most basic of reasons for a story title.

But, lets face it you are attracted to more unique titles.  When I browse the crowded book shelves of the book store (you know that place you can get real books at) or look at short stories, I am always attracted to the titles that are different.  But different is a relative term.  Obviously you don’t want to use the title “The Computer”, but “The Computer Code” would draw my attention.

But also your title shout be appropriately named.  You will want to avoid names that may imply a different genre then the one you are writing.  For example, you may not want to use “Princess Tales” as the title of a story about the Starship Princess’ voyages.  The story title implies something different.

I love double meaning titles, though I have not picked one.  “The Computer Code” is a good example.  Computer code is a common topic for the IT department, but the Science Fiction reader will know right away, that you are not talking about 0 and 1.  Perhaps that is part of the story, but Code likely refers to something completely different, like a Code of Conduct perhaps.  Its a bit different then what I mentioned above because the title is still fulfilling its promise in the name.  Where as “Princess Tales” isn’t really a double meaning but is rather promising something different.  A thin line perhaps, but a line none the less.

I hate long winded titles.  “Greg Branson: The Millionaire Who Never Spent a Dime” is an insane title to me.  Its long, awkward, and often people shorten it anyway.  Of course that is my opinion, and I have nothing to back that up, as many people have been professionally published with such titles.

And of course, even though I have seen it forgotten, the most important thing is that your story title has something to do with your story.  I don’t think I could have called “Dream Job” something like “The Car Chase Chronicles”.  That is a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is, a title is part of the promise you make to the readers.

Tips:

Really only you can name your story, but asking for opinions is great.  You may have to ask directly because in all the critiques I have gotten, no one ever has mentioned the title.  So ask people what they think of the title when they read your work.

Don’t delay writing a story simply because you don’t have a title.  In fact, almost everything I have written got the title after it was finished.  Like I said above, I have so much trouble committing to a title, so I’d never write anything if I waited.

Keep a sheet of paper near your computer.  Titles have often hit me while I am typing out a story (or even these blog posts).  Having a sheet of paper to scribble down a title you think of can be as valuable as your story ideas notebook.

Often that initial thought that brought the story to your mind, may make a good title.  Both “Dream Job” and “Death Watch” are named for their story idea source.  “Death Watch”, came from the idea of how a device that would tell us when we died might influence our choices in life.  “Dream Job”, came from a nightmare I had.

So I hope you have a better time with titles then I do.  If you do have an easy time, share your tips below for those poor writers (like me) that struggle with naming our precious tales.  I always look forward to the comments.

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Muse (Where I get my Ideas)

Once people found out I was a writer, and more so now that I have this blog, the most common questions I get is this:

“Where do you get the ideas for your stories?”

My answer is always the same.  Getting the ideas is the easy part.  Taking that thought and making it into a story is the hard part.

I think the common misconception about writers is that we get the idea for a whole story in our heads in a flash of brilliance and inspiration.  It has been my experience that is not how things really work.  I have yet to have a sudden epiphany and instantly a whole story come to my mind.  It is usually one line that come to mind, or even just a fleeting thought.  Odds are you have had one too.

For example, you may have wondered “What if the sky was green?”  or “What if I could visit Venus?”  That’s all it takes for me to get started.  I start thinking about it.  How would life be different under a green sky, could it change our skin color?  Could it change the way things look around here?  I play with the idea in my head until I am either ready to write about it, or I throw it out.

That’s right, not all my ideas became stories, I’ve had to throw a few out.  Throw them out is not really accurate.  I keep a book of my random thoughts and ideas.  Since I think of them a lot at night, and have a nasty habit of forgetting by morning, I write them down.  Some have turned into stories, others are still sitting there.  Some of them joined with other ideas in the notebook and their love child became a story.

So when do I think of all these great ideas.  All the time.  At night when I am about to fall asleep.  Some come from dreams I have had.  I have to write those down in my notebook fast since I forget my dreams easily.  At the gym on the treadmill, I mull many a story idea over there.  What else am I to do walking all that time and getting no where?

Ideas come all the time.  Its the ones that stick in my head that become stories.  The ones I can’t seem to stop thinking about.  They grow in my head, until I am dying to write them down.  I have to constantly ask myself, “So What?”  The sky is green, so what?  So, I can visit Venus, now what?  As I keep asking myself what is next, the story just form in my mind.

However, that is hardly the end of it.  The next challenge is getting the idea on paper.  Developing the right way to say things; to paint a picture with my words.

What do I like to do to help me catch my muse, to keep coming up with those ideas and playing with them in my head?  Music is always a good way for me to clear my mind.  I mentioned above, the gym always works for me.  Sometimes a long drive also helps.  Some authors find reading helps them.  I tend to get wrapped up in the story I am reading, and while reading is very inspirational, it doesn’t allow me the chance to play with my own ideas.  But, I know it works for many.

So, while getting the ideas is easy, using them is hard.  That is what really takes time.  Good luck with yours, you just may have the next big idea just waiting to be developed.

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