“Writers Write” Is That Really Too Much To Ask?

I’m in the middle of NaNoWriMo and polishing off a novel I’ve been struggling with for about two years now but something was making the rounds of my independent author feeds the other day that rubbed me such a wrong way I stopped what I was doing and took a minute to reply that turned into an hour and several paragraphs. Ain’t no one got time for that shit in that format so I had to snip it out and bring it here.

Basically it’s the idea that the golden rule of being a writer, the simple life affirming maxim that “writers write,” was just too much. Inspiring guilt and angst in people with *gasp* actual lives and responsibilities outside of their writing.  Because failing to write, every day, every second. Every. Possible. Moment. Brings with it such horrible feelings of guilt and sorrow.

I don’t have any problems with the phrase “writers write.” There’s nothing in that short phrase that sets your potential pace; it simply, succinctly, draws you to put words to paper; again and again, put words to paper.

Your pace is your own, there are some well renowned novelists that couldn’t manage more than a single word a day, maybe a paragraph a month. Do you think they sat in front of their blank pages staring at them constantly for the entirety of that time? No. They lived their lives. They went to work, took care of their families, went to war or walked across the country. Did they feel guilty for every moment that they weren’t putting words on paper? Who knows, most of them are dead now so we can’t ask but I highly doubt that they did.

If the phrase, “writers write” is causing you some distress it’s because of your own issues with how much you write. It means you know you could find time to write a little bit more often but you’re not, hence the guilt. If you’re really doing all you can and truly don’t have the time for your writing, there won’t be room for guilt.

However if you know you could have written but instead you watched another episode of your favorite TV show, read another chapter of someone else’s work or did something else that’s trivial instead of feeding the beast within you that is your writing, then you’ll feel guilty. You’ll feel guilty because you betrayed yourself, that phrase didn’t betray you. “Writers write” didn’t set the bar so high that you couldn’t help but fail to meet it, that would be you doing that. So stop, reevaluate and either put that bar someplace you can actually reach or stretch and make sure you meet your own expectations.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s 5 p.m. and I’ve got two thousand more words to get out of my head and onto paper.

How?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions that sum up simply as “how?” How do you write a whole novel? How do you write a series? How do you self publish? How do I book cover? Sales how!?!

Simple questions often have a complex answer that seems discouraging but shouldn’t. I can, and  have, outlined pretty much all the steps in writing a novel and/or a series and how to format for epublication. I’ve outlined how to do it for as little money as possible (though there’s no real way to do it completely for free, you have to have at least one editor and they will cost you) but still I get asked “how.”

So I’m thinking of setting up an ecourse to help people through the process, step by step though of course that brings up all kinds of new questions. Like what do you want/need to know first? Besides write the damn thing; I’m sure there’s something hopeful independent authors are really struggling with and want to know how to do right off the bat.

Let me know what you think in the comments and I’ll try to come up with something to help. Now back to work on this massive bloody novel.

 

Scrivener Series: Export Draft

Scrivener-LogoThis is the sixth installment in my Scrivener Series, which showcases how I use Scrivener  write entire novel series. Be sure to check out my writing process post for quick links to the currently published posts and a preview of what I’m going to cover next.

In a perfect world (but unfortunately not the current reality) the novel in it’s umpteenth draft is finally complete and I’m ready to move it out of Scrivener for final edits prior to formatting. Why export now and not after the final edits? Two reasons.

Formatting

Ebooks have different formatting needs depending on your method of distribution and print on demand books have even more formatting hells to go through before you can hold your book in your hands. Scrivener is awesome in so very many ways but when it comes to the down and dirty of formatting the ‘nuclear’ option is usually the best possible starting point.

The ‘nuclear’ option is where you take your completed edited and beautiful novel in all it’s glory and strip it of all formatting, before painstakingly reapplying it all in a pre-approved method that works with the distributors guidelines.

Scrivener is an awesome tool and it’ll allow you to customize your formatting as you go and export just as you tell it to – but it only takes one little squiggle of errant coding to get your novel rejected by the distributor for puzzling and seemingly invisible reasons. To cut that headache out before it can grow roots deep into your precious gray matter, a preemptive strike is necessary.

A Different Perspective

It’s the second reason you’re going to export before you edit. Everyone’s editing process is different but many can agree that seeing your novel in a different way really helps you to find those stubborn errors and weed them out before sending things out to your editor. Some prefer to print the novel out in it’s entirety and work with a red pen directly on paper.

I on the other hand, find that a staggering waste of paper and ink. Simply exporting the novel into a different program is usually enough of a fresh view for me.

How To?

This is so wonderfully simple it makes all the formatting to come look like exactly what it is, a rather annoying uphill slog that takes lots and lots of time away from your writing your next novel (so if you’ve got the cash to spend you should totally have someone else do the final formatting for you but you’ll still need to export from Scrivener first).

In your Scrivener document, go to the first scene of the first chapter and look in the general metadata tab. Click the “Inlcude in Compile” option. You’ll have to do that for every scene in your novel. You can do it for every chapter as well but I find that the extra break was not actually useful in the final Word doc.

Once you’ve checked all the scenes in your novel go up to File->Compile. A window will pop up and you’ll have a chance to look over your entire Scrivener project file and make sure you’ve included everything you wanted to in the new document. You’ll see you can also fiddle with formatting and page layout but again I’d just ignore those options at this point. Compile as .doc for a Word compatible document and then hit “compile.”

Easy peasy.

Scrivener Series: Re-outline, Reorder, Rewrite

Scrivener-LogoThis is the fifth installment in my Scrivener Series, which showcases how I use Scrivener  write entire novel series. Be sure to check out my writing process post for quick links to the currently published posts and a preview of what I’m going to cover next.

By now I’ve been writing up a storm in the universe of my novel. It’s still a very random storm but it’s starting to coalesce into something nice and terrifying, a molten doom planet of madness.

At this point in the process things are really humming along. I’ve stopped writing random scenes, finished digging up facts and compiling them for easy reference while I write and finished my first chapter, second chapter, maybe my third and fourth. By now I’ve got a pretty sizable word count (say around about 50k) on my hands and I should be sitting on cloud nine knowing that all is write with my world.

But I’m not.

Something is wrong – very, very wrong – with each paragraph, no, with each and every word, the certainty grows. Wrong, all wrong and getting worse fast. Part of me screams that I’m in too deep! There’s no turning back now! If it’s that wrong I’ll have to toss more than half of the book! Despair overwhelms me and my head hits the desk. Repeatedly.

But there’s hope, thanks to Scrivener!

Re-outline

When I wrote my first novel and came to the point where I realized it all just didn’t work, things weren’t flowing properly the pace was stagnant and dead and I couldn’t figure out how to write myself out of the muck I’d made for myself – I tossed the whole thing in a drawer and left it there, for five years. I’d have thrown it out entirely (that came later to my second novel when it hit a similar sticking point) but I still thought that maybe somewhere in the future, maybe when novels were written entirely with software linked directly to our brains, it could be saved. Eventually I came back to it, printed the whole thing out, marked up each page with notes and created a separate document for an entirely new outline while I ripped it apart and tried to put the pieces back together in a way that made more sense than the original. It was a mess, painful, frustrating process that involved many paper cuts and printer ink refills before I was ready to continue with the story again.

I don’t recommend it. All told, from start to finish, that novel (“The Uncertainty of Death”) took seven bloody years to complete. Not nearly fast enough to come close to earning a living as a writer. My second novel (a horror novel I might start again someday) went straight into the trash and when my third (“Ash of Ambitions”) hit a similar, though slightly less throat-slitty, wall I was kind of beside myself with frustration and self loathing.

I began using Scrivener with “In the Absence of Famine” and didn’t hit quite the same wall but with “Toxic Ash” I didn’t just hit it – it fell on me. There was a moment of black panic as the weight of the thousands and thousands of words I’d already written slammed down on me. Then the dust settled and I was able to realize I could fix it, starting with the outline and working my way out.

Old-OutlineFinal-Outline

Pictured above are side by side screens of my outline before the wall and after. Just the first few sections as I rearranged things mostly by manually copy/pasting from one section of my Scrivener document to the other. Sometimes adding in connections that were missing or deleting connections that were present in the previous. The evolution of the outline is obvious though it’s hard to really get a feeling for the flow seeing it this way but these first few sections were also the most heavily reordered. Again, this part was the only manual copy/pasting I really had to do largely thanks to the next section.

Reorder

I believe I’ve covered Scrivener’s handy dandy ability to move notes, scenes and even entire chapters around with a mouse click before. This is only one of many moments where it really shines. My novel’s Scrivener structure is pretty basic: each novel is a folder, with that folder each chapter is another folder, within those folders each scene is a document. In my outlines it averages out that each numbered section is about a chapter and the subsections are scenes (more or less, remember it’s an imprecise map).

So once I’ve edited my outline/map it’s a simple thing to move around the scene/chapters to match. Pretty much click and drag. A far cry from my days with a dozen pens, hundreds of papers and paperclips and a million paper cut/migraine combos.

Since this was my first time trying this method (just encase I decided later that I wanted to go back to the beginning again) I copied everything I had done so far and moved them all to temporary folders within each chapter, then copied those sections so I could play with the order without losing the old order. Not strictly necessary but gives me an easy backup point if I need it. That just leaves one more step.

 Rewrite

This is probably the hardest part. Reading through your reordered chapters and scenes, making connections and transitions, checking for plot holes, sometimes rewriting entirely from scratch. There really isn’t much I can say about this slog except that at least it’s better than editing!

Now you’ve got the most drastic rewrite out of the way and it’s been hard, very hard, but it hasn’t been turn your eyes away from writing for years and years and hate yourself and your work and the gods and anyone else that looks at you cross eyed and asks about that “book” you were “writing” kind of hard. Which is actually almost easy by comparison. So we’ll call it “easy” and wink when we say it.

Next up on my Scrivener Series: exporting the draft!

Don’t forget if you want to skip the extra blather about my writing process and just go to the next book release, you can always sign up for email notification!

Scrivener Series: Final Outline

Scrivener-LogoThis is the fifth installment in my Scrivener Series, which showcases how I use Scrivener to write help me write entire novel series. Be sure to check out the previous installments (Bible, Wallowing) or check out my writing process post for a preview of what I’m going to cover next.

At this point I’ve got timelines for everyone new, I know when they were born and what shaped them into the horrible horrible people I know and want my readers to love; I’ve also given every major character and the antagonists in the novel their own outlines for the book. So you’d think I had a pretty good idea of what’s gonna happen when and could just get to writing the thing.

Nothing is ever that simple.

Final Outline

Outline

I’ve said before that the Final Outline is a map of the novel but there’s still room for plenty exploration and getting lost along the way. Before I can even get to the final outline however, I’ve got to get all these headstrong characters’ actions and reactions to merge in a single continuous timeline – and of course they have other ideas.

With “Toxic Ash” whose final outline is pictured above, I came to the final outline with five individual outlines (Ash, Buddy Jenkins, Caliban & Caine, Helen) and while the main points line up somewhat in each individual outline, timing, reaction, action and when each individual character wants something to happen – don’t line up at all. Usually it’s close. Very very close. Close enough that I’m often tempted to just merge them together like shuffling a deck of cards and trust it’ll all work out.

Unfortunately it’s more like shuffling several different decks of tarot cards, one for each character outline, and that means you’re going to end up with one heck of a muddled reading. Two or more Death cards will appear, two or more Devils, Lovers and Fools; not together probably just far enough out of sync to make deciphering the resultant mess a real headache.

So you start over. From the very first scene, letting the characters outlines inform their actions in each scene (a headache and also a big help, especially in the Eldritch Elysium series which is all mostly from one characters POV). As you go you add other elements from your notes (I keep a color key to remind me to put science fiction elements here, romantic elements there, tie ins from previous books here and a foreshadow of the next there) so all of that time consuming research doesn’t go to waste.

All of that is made easier by being able to keep all my notes and elements open in the same document as I work. Need to see what Caliban gave Ash at the end of book one, it’s a few tabs up, that bit of research on Shub-Niggurath, two tabs down, information on the rest of Helen’s illustrious family, over there highlighted in purple. So much easier than trying to find all the documents and notes I scrawled on bits of paper and tucked into various folders on my various computers! Allowing for ever richer, more complex, stories.

You can also see from the image above how simply I’ve sketched out each scene and chapter. Partial sentences, sometimes just a single word give me a sense of where I’m going but don’t even come close to taking away from the joy of pantsing it – just makes sure I end up lost without a shirt a good deal less likely.

Hopefully some of that will be helpful. Be sure to check out the previous installments (Bible, Wallowing, Timelines & Outlines) or check out my writing process post for a preview of what I’m going to cover next.

And don’t forget if you want to skip the extra blather about my writing process and go straight to the next book release, you can always sign up for email notification!

Amazon, Hachette and Smashwords

So – I’m re-reconsidering Smashwords, for several reasons. First and foremost, though the meat grinder is still their prefered method of upload for new titles and though it still sucks mightly, there is now the option to upload checked epub files instead. I’ve yet to figure out how to create an epub that they’ll accept but I think this option really makes them a lot more worthwhile than previously especially since I’ve seen some wonky things happen with my Draft2Digital publications.

Recently files have gone online and offline at D2D with seemingly little rhyme or reason. I’ve cracked down on one cause, which is entirely my fault, while the others seem to have more to do with disputes between the various distributors themselves. My mistakes are bad enough but they come with the territory, I’ll learn from them, make fixes and move onto releasing a better product. My work seemingly caught up in dispute I’ve got nothing to do with? Not so much.

Which is where Hatchette comes in. Initially, I looked on Amazon’s feud with the one of the big six traditional publishers the way I look on anything that seems to spell trouble for traditional publishing – with miserly glee and much mwhahaha’ing. Of course, that was largely because the feud is partially shrouded in mystery (we don’t know what Hatchette’s particular demands are) and slightly because all the articles I’d read on the subject really looked at the situation from a traditional publishing standpoint.

Until I saw an article on Smashwords that clarified a few things I’d been thinking about recently as well as the Hatchette/Amazon feud in a way relevant to me as an independent author. So I’m rethinking Smashwords, again, though the final decision will likely hing on my abilities to use the new tools properly.

 

Scrivener Series: Write The Damn Thing

Scrivener-LogoThis is the fourth installment in my Scrivener Series, which showcases how I use Scrivener to write help me write entire novel series. Be sure to check out the previous installments (Bible, Wallowing, Timelines & Outlines) or check out my writing process post for a preview of what I’m going to cover next.

Alright, now I’ve got my final outline – my map to the novel – and I’m ready to write the damn thing. When I first started writing novels I wanted to be a total pantser, absolutely certain that if I plotted anything out in advance I’d lose all the magic of the story and possibly end up boring myself silly in the process. Indeed there are methods of plotting that are exactly like that but my final outline isn’t.

My final outline is more like having a map on a hiking trip. It keeps me from getting hopelessly lost in the woods but doesn’t ruin the feeling of exploration or wonder at all.

Following the Map

It’s up to you and the way you structured your outline really. Mine is a simple list (I love list) of the characters in the scene, the location and a few key actions that happen there in. Sometimes I manage to pull a chapter title out of that mix as well. Mostly I look at the subsections on my outline, get a general heading of the direction I’m going and then work with my characters to write the scene, one word at a time.

Word Goals and Milestones

Everyone’s actual writing process is different but I find it useful to have an idea of how much ground I can cover in a day and trying to push myself a few extra as well. I average about 2000 words per day (about 8 pages) sometimes I under perform and only manage 1500 and sometimes I have a really great day and manage 5000. Chapters will fall where they need to but a lot of the time they seem to have about 10,000 words in them.

While I’m writing the actual novel I do everything in my power to avoid even the smallest gap in writing. I skip weekends, holidays and invites out with friends or family. There is no such thing as writers block but there is such a thing as having a hard time getting your novelist cap screwed back on and putting the words on the paper, so I avoid the things that make it harder.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable however. When that happens I try working on other aspects of the process like designing the book cover and gathering resources for it.

Still with that kind of word output the novel (mine seem to average around 75,000 words or so) can be written in a little over a month!

Except there’s almost always a hitch.

The Hitch

It just doesn’t work. The flow is off. This bit right here doesn’t have the impact I thought it would. It’s taking too long for this thing to get interesting. Too much blah blah not enough uh huh.

At some point in every novel, you’re going to realize something is wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. So far I’ve been graced with not finding anything so wrong that it couldn’t be fixed with a rewrite but sometimes you look at your whole novel and despair, knowing it has to go right in the trash.

When that happens there’s nothing for it but to stop where you are (writing more only makes the problem worse) and re-evaluate your map and everything you’ve done up to that point, figure out where things went wrong and how to fix it.

This is where Scrivener’s ability to quickly move chapters and scenes around in their entirety is an absolute life saver! About 25,000 words into “Toxic Ash” I realized the opening scenes were all wrong, making the plot drag awkwardly and sublimating the most exciting parts till way too late in the story. I had to cut it out, rewrite it and put it in later, move that bit to the beginning, write a new opening scene and restructure all the scenes I’d written so far so that they made sense again – a task so large that if I was working directly in Word I might have half assed it or tossed the whole novel out in despair. It was bad even with Scrivener (seriously you should see my trash folder) but I was able to make  it through and the book proceeded far more smoothly from there (well there were a few more edits but not anymore complete rewrites so – yay!).

Don’t forget if you want to skip the extra blather about my writing process and just go to the next book release, you can always sign up for email notification!