10/21/2014

6 time-tested tips to "WINNING" NaNoWriMo this year (and every year)


At this time of year, I start seeing posts and updates and articles mentioning NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month ... the idea is to write a novel in a month!

The concept is incredible, but as crazy as it sounds, it's possible to do it ... I've tried and "won" (finished a first draft before the end of the month) the last three years, and the purpose of this blog is to share my top five tips so you can do the same thing.

















1) Fully commit to the process and jump in the deep end before giving yourself a chance to think too much

Tell your family and friends that you will be participating in NaNoWriMo, and explain the process to them. They may think you're crazy, and that it's impossible (and they might even be right), but  many of them will be supportive and ask how they can help.

Sign up on the NaNoWriMo website as soon as you can. Don't worry if your title and synopsis and other details aren't set in stone; the important thing is to shout your intention to write a novel to the heavens.

Now is the time to decide when/where in your life you can carve out a couple of hours a day for the month you'll be NaNoWriMo-ing ... for a month, you can live without some combination of the stuff that makes up your normal life if it means writing your novel.



Give yourself permission to ask for help and time and absolution from some of your regular responsibilities at home and work ... you'd be surprised at how many people will give you a hand with other things to leave you more time/energy to focus on your writing (especially when they know it's just for a month).

Fully committing to the process was magic for me, and my writing. I'd always dreamed of writing a novel, but never made the space in my life for it. I was hooked the second I heard about NaNoWriMo, knowing that it would be the only way I'd ever get my novel written.



2) Know the story, characters, and setting ahead of time ... make a plan

I can't stress the importance of pre-writing enough; it was the key to my three-time success at NaNoWriMo. There are lots of people who take pride in being a "pantser" (someone who writes by the seat of their pants), and I will tell you that I hear lots more of them talking about their novels at the beginning of the month than at the end.

I like to start the planning months ahead, with notes and memos to myself, but only get serious about mapping out characters and the story arc in the month leading up to NaNoWriMo.


I get to know all of my main and secondary characters, writing down details of their lives, key motivational drives, and stuff about where they live as an opening exercise; I do this in a composition notebook or similar

The arc of the story is next ... I like to know where the story begins, where it ends, what the main (and secondary) conflicts will be (and how they'll be played out; I map this part out on a big sheet (or sheets) of construction paper.

Having a plan, even as simple as a what I've outlined above, gets me thinking about how the story will both start and play out. I think of these steps more as a general map than a recipe ... the guideposts along the way give me form, but also allow me to wander where the story wants to take me.




3) Set up your working environment & conditions to maximize efficiency and minimize distractions

Stephen King knows of what he speaks. You need to set up your NaNoWriMo time and space so as to give yourself privacy and quiet and space.

You should be writing in a place that is physically comfortable for you, and as distraction-free as you can manage.

Beyond that, you need to try and close the door on the rest of your life and relationships for the hours each day that you're writing for NaNoWriMo. Leave work and family matters on the other side of the door; at the end of your writing sessions, leave the story in the writing space (you'll be tempted to share details about the story ... resist, and instead keep your fans/supporters updated with generalities).

I like quiet classical music, Stephen King likes loud hard rock, you may like something in between or something entirely different. I alternate between writing at the kitchen table and at a standing desk, depending on my mood, the angle of the sun through the windows, and whatever else is going on in the house ... the important thing is to acknowledge what works for you and set up those conditions.





4) Tell your story, trust the process, JUST WRITE, don't edit

The important thing with NaNoWriMo, more than with any other writing process/project you've experienced before, is to find a way to start writing everyday, and get a couple of thousand words down before you stop.



The NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words works out to 1667 words per day, if you write every day during the month; I have never been able (or willing) to write every single day, so I aim for 2,500 words, so that if I miss a day I don't feel horrible/defeated.

My three years of NaNoWriMo, I have ended up writing 75,000, 90,000, and 85,000 words for my first drafts ... if the day is going well, I don't mind running through my goals and have produced as much as 7,500 words during a marathon writing day.


This is what you have to keep telling yourself, especially when you get tempted to go back and fix something that you wrote the day before ... if I really can't get a fix out of my head, I'll either go back (if I know that it's the kind of thing I can change in a couple of minutes), or write my thoughts about it down on the back page of whatever notebook I'm working out of currently.


You will find, as you get immersed in the month-long writing process, that your writing becomes easier and faster, and that the 1667 words per day that once seemed so imposing has become an easy morning's work for you ... enjoy it while you can, some days it will still be tough to get going, so it's nice to have a cushion of words.


4a) Don't you dare upnplug during NaNoWriMo
Lots of writers will tell you to unplug completely while writing your NaNoWriMo novel ... I couldn't disagree with them more.

I send emails to friends and family during breaks with updates, sometimes begging off from dinner or pickup from camp. I always have 6-8 browser windows open on my laptop, so that I can access maps and facts and do some just-in-time research and look up moon and tide cycles and historical weather data and number nerdery. I recently posted a blog describing my favorite apps to use while writing, and often have my iphone playing music, while I'm working on two or more things on the ipad, and a bunch of windows vying for my attention on the laptop ... without my tech, all of my writing would take much longer, and being able to access it on the fly makes my NaNoWriMo work.



5) Have appropriate food and fuel ready and waiting for you, for both snacks and breaks

Writer often joke about our coffee addictions, but the truth is that I have a much easier time writing, especially for NaNoWriMo, if I'm gently wired on coffee; too much, and I become jittery and the writing gets harder again, so it is really a matter of finding the correct balance.


I also always keep a glass of cold water at hand, so I don't dehydrate, and sometimes switch Coke for coffee if the weather is warm enough that I think of it.

I've found that I can't write if I'm starving or stuffed, so during NaNoWriMo I work to stay in the sweet spot as much as is possible. I also like to avoid foods that are slow or messy, either to prepare or eat or clean up. I end up making/eating a lot of GORP (a mix of dried fruits and nuts, sometimes with jerky in it, or on the side), along with apples, bananas, hard-boiled eggs, and pasta from the night before during my writing days.

I always have food and drink next to me while I'm writing, and also make myself walk away from my writing to take a 20 minute 'lunch' break every three hours or so ... I find that getting away from the story for a bit every once in while helps keep me writing longer.





6) Feel free to skip chunks that don't come easily, you will have to fix it later anyway


One of the issues that I struggled with during my first NaNoWriMo was continuity of story and writing, while still maintaining forward momentum and my daily word-count numbers. I would be having difficulty writing a scene or some dialogue, and derail my writing flow/speed.

What I learned with time and practice was that I ended up with better results when running into this sort of trouble if I just wrote something like, "THIS SECTION NEEDS WORK!", and moved on to whatever was next in the story.

It felt like cheating the first few times I did it, but you end up having to chop and graft and prune and add so much to every piece of the story that it's really better to skip the tough part and come back to it later (either in the editing stage, or sometimes the fix would come to me during the night, and I could add it in the next morning).



Keep repeating this to yourself the whole time you're writing your NaNoWriMo novel ... that way if you have some gems mixed in with the crap, you'll have convinced yourself that you're a genius. The most important thing is to get the framework of the story out and onto the screen or paper, so that you can take it to the next level with your beta reader and editors.


One of the things that I love about NaNoWriMo, besides that it has helped me become a writer (which is a pretty big deal in and of itself), is that everyone who crosses the 50,000 word line can consider themselves a 'winner'. By any measure, a person who completes the first draft of their novel has won, because it changes your world forever.


Another fantastic thing about NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to rush headlong into a process that far too many people think far too much about before, or while, they do it ... writing.

The forced march of writing thousands of words each day for a month is a form madness with a spectacular method behind it ... it forces you to put your self-consciousness aside, to think less and write more (which is always good for your writing).

If you have laid the groundwork in your planning and preparations, have the environment and sustenance taken care of, have the support of friends and family, give yourself permission to write whatever comes, and skip what needs skipping the first time around, you'll have a pretty good chance fo being successful at NaNoWriMo this year ... and every year.


10/17/2014

5 things to look for in (and love about) an awesome beta reader!

What's a beta reader, and why do I need one?

Writing a novel is fun and scary and stressful and wonderful and nervous-making and exciting!

At the end of the process, whether you wrote the thing in a month (ala NaNoWriMo) or over the course of a decade, you will have a first draft of something that is solely the product of your brain ... it's your offspring. 

The most important thing you can remember at that point is:


The sad, harsh, demoralizing, and anxiety-inducing truth is that nobody writes good stuff the first time around (my understanding is that Kurt Vonnegut worked on each page until it was perfect, and then shipped them all to his publisher for printing ... but let's face it, we're none of us Kurt Vonnegut, except for Kurt himself, of course).

You translated a mess of ideas and plans and whims and questions into a story, and it shouldn't come as a surprise to you, or anyone, that it won't come out right the first time. You need to fix it, and you need help.

You need someone (or a bunch of someones) to help for a number of reasons:
  1. you're too close ... to the story and even the words on the page
  2. you'll have trouble seeing what you're missing, what you have too much of, and what just sucks
  3. you can't look at the story with a stranger's eyes, and take it in with a brain unused to the characters and conflict
  4. your style and grammar and syntax may work for you, but be troubling for everyone else
  5. it's possible (easy, even) to know too much about the story and leave out important details or scenes or characters
This is where your beta reader comes in

A beta reader reads a written work of fiction, often a first/rough draft, with an eye to readability, believability, plot (and plot-holes), conflict, continuity, characters, and setting. A beta reader generally shouldn't concern themselves with spelling or grammar, unless there are such grievous problems that they affect the readability of the story.


Your beta reader will be the first set (or sets) of eyes on your writing, which will likely initially be uncomfortable and leave you feeling tremendously exposed (and possibly defensive); for that reason, and because of my belief that the importance of a functional/healthy relationship with your beta readers can't be overstated, I'm going to share my thoughts some traits to look for and foster in a beta reader, and your relationship with your beta reader.

Some my advice/thoughts/commentary on the role and function of the beta reader will differ from what can be found elsewhere, and all I can say to that is that I've successfully published two novels (and am most of the way done with my third) and a quartet of novellas, and feel strongly that none of it could have (would have) happened without my beta reader.

1) You have to know and trust and respect your beta reader

As I mentioned above, giving your rough draft to the beta is an extreme act of trust and bravery; exposing yourself, your work, your mind, to their critical eye will only really work if you have a pre-existing relationship with them that is based on trust and respect.

{a caveat to this rule is that the beat reader should not be the person you brainstormed the story with before writing it ... they need to come to it with as little foreknowledge as is possible}

2) Your beta reader must be an accomplished and voracious reader in the same genre as your book

The most important job your beta reader does is to tell you what 'works' and what doesn't in your rough draft; this can only be valuable if they read enough books (and books within your target genre) to know what 'works', what doesn't, and why.

3) Your beta reader needs to understand the elements of good writing and good books, and more importantly, the difference between the two

A beta reader should be able to determine if you've followed the basic rules of writing, and to tell you if poor writing gets in the way of the story; more important, though, they should have a good understanding of the arc of a story, effective use of conflict and characters and pacing and setting and voice and tone and dialogue.

4) Your beta reader should have, and be able to form and share, opinions about books and writing ... and do it without hosing you down with unnecessary negativity or praise

They should know how they feel about your book and be able to say it in a way that helps you figure out how to improve your writing; a beta reader too gleeful (or apologetic) about their criticism won't help you take your book from first draft to publication, and at the end of the day, that's their job.

5) Your beta reader understands their job, their role in your writing process, and is willing to put in the time and effort to help you get your story to the next stage

The beta reader is not your editor ... that comes later. They serve as a first set of eyes on your newly minted work of fiction with an eye to readability, believability, plot (and plot-holes), conflict, continuity, characters, and setting. 

They should expect to read the book twice (once to get a general feeling, and a second time to make notes about issues/questions), be comfortable with the terms used to describe/critique fiction, and be conversant in what makes a book (or parts of a book) great ... or awful.


Yup, got it, but what does that all mean?

Basically this means that they should read your book to see if it 'works' for them; a beta reader that points out specific things that they liked or didn't like about the book and/or how you wrote it is much more useful than one who gives you highly general comments:

Examples:
Helpful - "I loved the consistency of voice/feel in the protagonist, but didn't feel that there were enough significant obstacles in the story before the conflict was resolved ... the part around his solving the mystery and breaking the code felt too easy and neat to me."
Less Helpful - "The characters were awesome, but the plot was 'meh' and then done."

Besides a list of 'big picture' comments about what they liked and didn't like about your book (and why), your beta reader should bring a list of questions that they have about the book, plot, conflict, characters, setting, and scenes; they may feel that you need to know more about some things than you gave in the first draft, and want other things cut or streamlined to reduce static in the storyline.

It's generally much more helpful for a beta reader to tell the writer what the problems (and highpoints) of a book are (and why, with details), than to offer prescriptive solutions.

In a perfect world, your beta reader will be willing to take a look at the book again after you've finished working on their suggested edits, to see if your changes made the necessary difference to the first draft.

How do you find this mythical beast, the perfect beta reader?

You probably don't ....

In most cases, you'll be able to find someone who meets some, but not all, of the criteria outlined above; make sure you take their potential shortcomings into account when planning the edits of your novel. 

Lots of people work around this issue by lining up multiple beta readers ... I don't, now let me tell you why.

My wife is my beta reader. We've set up a system so that we're both comfortable with the exchange of ideas and process surrounding our joint work on whatever my current writing project is. She's an enthusiastic reader and gives honest/balanced critiques of my work, never overstepping or apologizing for her thoughts/questions about my stories. Over the years, we've worked out a method for going through my books, scene by scene and also looking at the arc of the story; it gets better with each book that we work together on.

I am loathe to mess with a system that's working, but I've been thinking of adding another beta reader (or three) to the mix. I won't do it for the novel that we're currently working on, but am in the process of writing a lengthy piece of serial fiction that might benefit from additional sets of eyes during the formative stages (and since it's something completely new to me/us, it won't feel so alien to add more readers to the early stages).

My final thoughts on beta readers

Having written numerous novels and novellas, and seen the difference between first draft and finished product, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that having an excellent beta reader is vitally important to your writing. 

I have good ideas, and get about 60 to 70 percent of them out in my first drafts ... without a great beta reader that I trust completely, my stories might never get past that stage. 

With my wife's help, I am able to flesh out my ideas more fully, pruning and grafting where needed to improve the ideas and delivery and emotional impact; I can produce more effective writing.

10/14/2014

15 IOS Apps That are Priceless to My Writing Process

I do most of my writing on a laptop (a Chromebook, if that's of interest), but I use a number of apps throughout my writing process.

As always, let me point out that what works for me may not work for you ... but it may give you a starting place, or an idea, or simply to cross-off something you've been thinking about for a while.




Pages - The app I use for taking notes with my iPad; it's a robust word processor that allows for simple sharing and storage. I don't like typing lengthy pieces of work on my iPad, but when working up ideas for writing projects, it's perfect.





Kindle - I use the kindle app to ... wait for it ... host and read books. A big part of a writer's job is to read, and the Kindle app is wonderful for that; it also allows me to search through my earlier books for specific words or names or places, much more quickly than flipping pages.






Google Maps - Although I tend to have a pretty good idea of the places and spaces through which my characters move during the course of my stories, I love being able to check directions and distances and relationships between places and objects with this superb mapping app.






Sunset & Sunrise - My characters and I like knowing when the sun rises and sets in different places, and this is a wonderful resource that allows us to do just that ... I also have two that help me with the phases of the moon and the tides, but that's too nerdy to admit, so I'll pretend this is the only one I use.





Netflix and Amazon Instant Video and HuluPlus all come in handy once in a while, when I refer to a TV show or a movie in my writing, and want to make sure that I have the quote or scene or characters or action reference correct. 





Pandora internet radio is great for picking/playing music while you write. I always write to music, and it's almost always instrumental classical music (no singing, and no hard edges to the music). I tend towards Mozart and Bach, but have gotten lucky quite often letting Pandora take me where it will.





Voice Recorder is my favorite of the numerous voice recording apps that I've tried. I wanted a simple interface that I could operate easily with my iPhone and sausage-fingers while driving (I get lots of ideas while on the road); it also arranges the files in a logical manner that works for me.





Camera+ is an easy to use camera app, that offers a little more control than the basic camera that comes standard with my iPad and iPhone. I like taking photos of places and people and buildings and documents, for later use in my writing, and this app makes it easy to do.




Wikinodes and WikiLinks are wonderful research tools that deliberately shows the linkages between subjects in a visual web of informational nodes. I love starting on one subject, and seeing where following the info-nodes takes me.





Date & Time Calculator is a useful tool for figuring out all manner of conversions in dates and times. I find the need for this in every writing project, and this app makes it much easier than ether googling or using pen and paper.





Pomodoro Tmer is a fantastic, and infinitely configurable timer, based on a proven productivity research for maximizing efficiency to help you beat procrastination in long-term projects like writing.





Writer Lists is a treasure trove of lists of information that can help a writer with all sorts of details for their writing: character names, physical traits, occupations, milestones, and personality; plot, setting, genres, along with a ton of other information useful to writers ... all gathered in one place.



I'm certain that there are other ways to get the stuff done that I am able to do with the help of these 13 apps, but having them loaded onto my iPad and iPhone make my life, and job as a writer, that much easier, and leave more of my brain available for thinking about writing stories.

Thanks,

Jamie



10/09/2014

4 Tips to Improve the Feeling of Place in Your Writing

(I love this quote, and couldn't agree with Eudora more)

My books are set in the Adirondack Park, and more specifically the Tri-Lakes area (including, for those interested, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, and Lake Placid); this place is important to me as a person and as a writer.

Numerous readers and reviewers have commented that the feeling of place in my stories almost makes it seem another character; this isn't anything I do intentionally, it's just an outgrowth of the pre-planning activities I indulge/engage in before I begin writing.

Having a clear picture of the place, or places, that my stories and characters will inhabit makes it much easier for me to write; the sense of place gives me something to hang the stories on.


Although in a writer's lexicon, setting includes time as well as physical location, let's talk about setting in terms of simply the location for a moment (since my books deal exclusively with the present, or very recent past).

The setting of your story provides the environment through which your characters and plot and conflict move and advance; if those other elements are well-seated in the setting, as in the diamond ring above, then your story has a much greater chance of success, and not falling out and getting lost (to truly abuse the metaphor).

There are four things that I do before, and while, writing every story that help to establish the story's setting, most especially in terms of the feeling/sense of place, which will provide a solid foundation upon which to build the rest of your story (think of them as the four prongs of the setting above).

I'll explain them below through the lens of a recent series of pre-writing exercises that I engaged in while preparing to start a piece of serial fiction I'm hoping to start the release of in January.

1) Site Visits: I've lived in, and explored, the Adirondacks for more than forty years, and am generally very familiar with the places that I write about, but I always take the time for site visits as early as possible in my pre-writing process (and then again as needed while writing).

Memories and drive-bys aren't enough for me, I need to get out and tromp around. The physical act of exploring a place that I want to include in a story helps my brain start doing the proper things needed to include details in the upcoming writing.

(I recently too a site visit to an abandoned apple orchard that the forest is slowly reclaiming ...
we got there early enough in the day for some lingering fog and dew on everything)


2) Sensory Exploration/Immersion: An important part of the experience for me is to find a way to experience the location using as many of my senses as I can easily (safely?) manage.

I like to feel the cold or hot on my skin, rub a finger along the bark or moss or glacial erratics and sit or roll around on the ground; to listen to the birds and beasts and bugs and the wind in the trees or grass; to stop frequently to breathe deep in the smells native to each place and reflect on why it smells that way; to look for colors, muted or bright, shadows, deep and dark or tiny, and shapes, tall and thin or squat and round or spooky or comforting ... I was going to say that I don't taste things in the places I visit before writing, but I do; the sharp/sweet taste of tiny unripe apples, the acrid grassy taste of cool moss plucked off of a boulder, the clean dirt taste of old twigs.

All of these things help me to build a feeling for the place, and eventually will make it easier to include it in my writing.

(I took this while exploring an area that my homeless protagonist lives in ... the morning fog and cold and feel and sound of the woods is all captured quite nicely in this picture)


3) The Buddy System: Whenever possible, I like to bring someone else along with me on my explorations, and talk with them about what we see and do while out in the field. They'll often see things that I miss, but even if they don't, we are bound to experience the place differently, and those differences are useful to me when taking notes after the fact.

When I visited the orchard with my son, he was drawn to the still mostly-open fields, while I was focused on the tree-shaded areas ... it provided a nice balance, and eventually helped me re-think some of my assumptions about wild places and open space and the edges of the places mankind tames and then lets go again.

(My son, Ben, came along with me on the site visit to the old orchard ... seeing it through his eyes, and hearing about it through description to my wife, was invaluable)


4) Aids to Recall and Writing: Clearly I take pictures on these field trips, but beyond simple recording, I try to capture images that will remind me of what it felt like to walk in those places.


There were a number of signs of long-ago farming in and around the old orchard, this milk jug among them (also some strands of barbwire fencing grown inches into large trees, stone walls enclosing ancient pasture lands, and so on).


Spider webs were everywhere, highlighted by dew and the sunshine coming in at a low angle ... I'm sure they're always there, but they felt even more present on that morning.


I'm a big fan of glacial erratics, and my protagonist will be living in a shelter built against this one at the edge of the orchard.

Beyond these, and other, photographs, I recorded some audio of the wind going through the leaves of trees and blades of grass at different points along our exploratory path through and around the abandoned orchard. I also took a small apple from one of the trees, and a tiny shard of mossy rock from an old stone wall. I wrote down a quick set of notes as soon as I got home ... my impressions of our walk in the woods and orchard and overgrown fields in the backcountry.

These things, taken as a whole, provide a powerful set of stimuli that make it easier for me to picture, and understand, and write about, this place; I get them out and take advantage of the recall they bring either before or during my writing time.

Some of these steps may be overkill, but none of them take much time or effort, so I'm content to make the investment; so far, it's been working for me in writing stories with a rich sense of place.


Remember:


This sounds a bit trite, but is true nonetheless ... if you can paint a nice picture of a place with your writing, your reader will have an easier time with their suspension of disbelief and enjoy your story that much more.


As a result of following these four tips in establishing a feeling of place for my upcoming serial fiction project, I was able to create this cover image, which feels about right to me, based on the place I visited and hold in my head. I may alter the cover somewhat before publication, but this is pretty close to what I picture in my head.

Thanks,

Jamie

10/06/2014

A writer's thoughts about time: 3 tips for time management as a writer

Why I feel qualified to talk abut time management as a writer

In the last three years, I've written and edited and published two novels, four novellas, and have another novel in the final throes of the editing process and am currently also engaged in a lengthy work of serial fiction. 

That's in addition to my day job as a Special Education teacher in the local public school, and my other full-time jobs as husband and father to my son and two rescue labs.

Making it all work is difficult sometimes, but I think the key to writing under my, or any circumstances, is to understand the nature of a writer's time, and maximize your effective use of time.

I'm going to share my ideas on the subject (which is why I established my bona fides at the beginning), but it's important to note that while I'm nearly perfect and entirely brilliant, what works for me may not work for you ... so take everything I say with as much salt as you feel is necessary.

1) Writers write, so find/make/steal the time
People are generally surprised to find out that I'm a writer, and always ask something along the lines of, "That's amazing ... where do you find the time?"

I don't find the time, I make it. I carve chunks of time out of my already busy life, and guard them jealously.

The next thing they say (if they haven't wandered off to find someone more interesting to talk with) is, "I have always dreamed of writing."

That's awesome! I always want to say that I've always dreamed of being purple or trying my hand at brain surgery or subsisting solely on bacon for a month ... but not as much as I dreamed of becoming a writer, which is why I'm a writer, and not a purple brain surgeon, living on nothing but bacon.

If you want to be a writer ... WRITE!.



2) Write every day ... if that works for you
One of the biggest tyrannies in the writing world is the stated rule that you have to write every day in order to be successful (or even to call yourself a writer).

My personal belief is that this scares/keeps away more potential writers than do worries about writer's block, never being published, and landsharks.

If everybody who spouted this 'rule' did, in fact, write everyday, we'd all be buried in piles of newly written books tall enough to be seen from space.

I think it's an easy (possibly lazy) way to say that writers should write, and that establishing routines for that writing is important to being successful as a writer (by which I do not mean cashing ginormous royalty checks, so much as finishing books).

I have routines for my writing, but do not write everyday ... never have, and I probably never will.



3) Writers have many different jobs, and they all take different amounts and qualities of time ... this can work for you

As a writer, I have lots of different 'jobs' that, in a perfect world, all work together to make my writing better and also get human eyes on the pages.

It can be tough to juggle all of those jobs effectively, since some of them are much more fun than others ... but the good news is that I've found that the different jobs have radically different needs, in terms of the amount and quality of the time I have to invest/spend/devote to getting them done.

Creative writing of a first draft of anything is the most expensive kind of writing time for me: I prefer to do this kind of writing when I have at least two to six hours of private/quiet time. This often translates to a stolen day (or half of a day) when nobody is home but me and the dogs.

Editing time for my work is slightly easier to come by: I like to have an hour or more, and for it not to be filled with interruptions (although I can handle talking with people and helping my son with homework during this kind of work).

Research and story mapping/planning is something that I can do with 10-20 minutes chunks of time, using big pieces of paper and pen and a wifi connection: I've done this in McDonald's, in the ski lodge, even during my lunch break at work.

Social media management is almost the easiest job I have as a writer (which is a good thing, because I only do it because I have to ... writer's want to tell stories, not talk about themselves or their books ... we're introverts, look it up). I can post updates about my current writing projects or thoughts about writing on Facebook or Twitter or Google+ in a minute , and crank out a blog like this one in a half hour of stolen/found minutes during the day (or in the early morning with my first cup of coffee).

Reaching out to local vendors is something I tend to do on Fridays for some reason. About every 2 months, I send a group email to local stores that sell my books, asking if they need more copies ... I also make them aware of what I'm currently working on, and the schedule for any upcoming releases of printed material. This takes me three minutes that I tend to find between stages of making Friday night dinners.

Mailing and invoicing is drudgery, pure and simple; nobody becomes a writer so they can do more shipping and accounting work, but it's a part of the gig. I keep a box of books in my car so that when I hear from a vendor who would like some copies, I can stop off at the post office on the way home from work some afternoon. I force myself to send an invoice for each shipment as soon as I get home (I do it by email, and have a form that I use, so it's pretty quick).

Taking/making notes is a nearly instantaneous thing for me; an idea comes to me, and I either jot down a note, or record a memo with my iphone ... I do this all the time in a couple of seconds between whatever else I'm doing (it's cheap and easy writing work for me).



What does all of this mean to you and me and 'them'?
These three tips have been working for me for a couple of years and a couple of novels so far; they might work for you.

Becoming (or being) a writer firstly means giving yourself permission to call yourself one ... after that you have to find and manage the time necessary to do the writing, to tell and share your stories.

I'd love to write full-time, but that doesn't seem likely from where I am right now, so I have worked out this system to mesh my writing with the rest of my life ... that being said, your life is different from mine, so you have to find which adjustments to make, and how to make them.

The 'them' I refer to in the section heading above is your audience ... your readers. Finding the time, making the sacrifices, making it work, is all about you, but also at least some about them. I love writing, and/but a part of that love is wrapped up in knowing that other people read my stuff and enjoy it.

Finding a way (or ways) to manage your time as a writer, along with everything else going on in your life, will result in better writing ... better stories (or poems or songs or whatever) to share with your audience.

I write my novels during the summer months, and edit them with an eye towards publishing the new one around January first each year ... not because I have to (I'm an independent writer and publisher, so the only deadlines I face are the ones that I set), but because establishing and maintaining some level of control over my writing/editing/publishing process (all of which relates to time management) makes me a better writer and storyteller.

My other writing projects are shoehorned into the rest of the year as/when/how they fit. The schedules of my work, my wife's work, and my son's work (school and activities and friends) are a big part of determining when and how much writing work I can get done in any given week/month, but we all work together because it's a priority for me, and them.

Although you may (probably will) end up managing your time as a writer differently than I do mine, if you find the time management method/balance that works for you, you'll be a better writer, and share better stories with your readers.

Thanks,

Jamie





9/15/2014

Mid-September Updates & Thoughts


Now that the beginning of the school year is behind me, and the students and schedules are starting to settle, I  can start to focus some of my time/energy outside of the workday on my SmartPig business and my writing again.


I won't kid you ... a lot of the writing and editing process is supported/enhanced/maintained by my intake of coffee. Finding the correct balance between sleeping and shaking can be a difficult process.


The first order of business for my autumnal writing is to edit the novel that I wrote over the summer. I'm filling in some holes in the first draft, in terms of scenes and characters and connective tissue that should help the story hold together and flow more effectively. Gail and I will be working on a series of major and minor edits for the next 6-8 weeks.

After that, we'll be sending the mostly finished work out to another editor for line/copy editing ... by that time, we've read the book so many times that we're snowblind when it comes to seeing any remaining issues.


After the new novel is fixed and ready for publication (and maybe even a bit before that), I'll start working on 2 new projects:

  • a serial fiction project that I hope to be hosting through JukePop
  • writing down ideas for the next novel (to be written in the summer of 2015)

I'm interested in both of the new stories in my head, and can't wait to let them out to play, once I have the time and energy.  

I've wanted to try my hand at serial fiction for a long time, and envision this project running for 20 to 30 installments of a couple of thousand words each. The protagonist lives in the lee of a glacial erratic in the woods between two small towns in the Adirondacks, and the story will see him discover some interesting and disturbing things about the places and people around him, while we also learn more about him and a shadowy group known as 'The Guides" in each installment.

The next Tyler Cunningham Adirondack Mystery (the eighth, an idea that takes my breath away), starts with the discovery of a body, and quickly progresses to much worse things. Tyler's semi-accidental involvement in, and exposure to, the investigation leads him to believe that this is not a random and isolated act of violence, but the work of a seasoned serial killer who may be operating, or based, in the Adirondacks.


It's a wonderful feeling, to enjoy writing the stories, and to feel the ideas for them come with ever-increasing ease and speed. I have a system for taking/keeping notes now that allows me to keep track of the ideas and stories, and it seems as though the writing and planning all work together to establish and maintain a creative momentum. 

A lot of the credit, and all of my thanks, goes to all of the people who have been so supportive of my efforts over the last few years ... I literally couldn't have done any of this without you.


I had a fantastic week in sales last week (my best ever!) ... I sold over 500 copies of my books in the last 7 days! I hope that all of the sales translate into reading enjoyment on the part of those who bought the books, and that some of them translate into reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Thanks,

Jamie