The Quick and Dirty

So where have I been and where’s that book I promised you – a year ago?

Truth of the matter is, my dear dedicated reader, that it’s been a long nasty road that I’m not done traveling yet and I can confirm has been seeded liberally with landmines.  The gist of it? I picked up a part time job because editing is expensive. Various important appliances (computers, cars, you know the things I need to live) have broken down and been jury rigged into a state of “please don’t die just yet.” My grandmother has had a stroke, recovered and gone home, had another and resigned herself to hospice care for what will very possibly be the rest of her life. Mom made great strides in her own health that all came crashing down like a castle of cards as soon as her mother got sick and I didn’t help matters much by immediately catching a flu so bad it reminded us both that people can still die from the common cold.

It’s been bad, dear dedicated, and it’s likely nowhere near done being bad just yet. While I’ve been occupied with all of that I’ve gone and let this vital lifeline grow dangerously thin and that’s not helped matters one bit. A writer that isn’t writing is a very unstable and hazardous person indeed. So in the interest of getting healthier (while still recovering from that monster flu) I’m preping “Toxic Ash” for paperback release and working on the rewrites of “Tasting Ash.” It’s slow going, a little like an athlete that’s been out of competition for a long while, gained a bit of a gut and a lot of self hate, before finally starting to train again more for their sanity than for any love of the game itself.

I don’t love editing. Editing is a very special kind of hell that’s only true competition is the dreaded formatting for paperback publication that will come next. But there’s a very special kind of healing magic to be found in reading your old work over again. A kind of wonder and ego boosting pride to read a few pages that aren’t half bad and realize that maybe you don’t suck half as bad as the mangled manuscript you’ve been wrestling with off and on for a year has led you to believe. That maybe, just maybe, you can polish this old turd into a diamond after all. You’re not entirely sure of the exact alchemy you’ll have to perform, to transform turds to diamonds, but there before you is the proof that you’ve done it before and you’ll do it again and again and again.

Probably.

So long as you can just keep with it long enough.

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What the Azathoth is Going On Here?

Posts have been few and far between for a while now, culminating in a long period of seeming silence. I haven’t updated anyone on what’s going on with the books or posted anything of use on the blog, facebook, twitter or tumblr. A few particularly astute readers have taken the time to track me down and demand answers but I’ve been cagey even then.

The truth of the matter is, many nasty things have happened in the last six months or so added up with recurring bouts of problems with my hands and fingers that have really put a hurt on my writing work. Not all of what’s happen only concerns me and my affairs so I’m not even at the liberty to divulge them all (except for the knowledge that my Grandmother had a stroke earlier this month – and we’re lucky that she’s recovering nicely) that have left me psychically and mentally fatigued.

I keep trying to put off saying that I’m exhausted, depressed and looking at a complete rewrite for “Tasting Ash.” Shortening the projected story line has ruined the flow and it needs serious work before I can release it to anyone. Meanwhile I’ve lost one of my first readers to mysterious (and worrisome) circumstances. I’ve also been casting about for a new editor to go over the second books in both the Eldritch Elysium series and The Four Horsemen series, in preparation to committing them both to paperback.

All in all I’m a bit overwhelmed and tired, I had some awesome plans for the new year (setting up a proper newsletter, taking the site to it’s own page, offering up a few ecourses on self publishing) but now I’m cutting my project list waaay back and just trying to keep my head above water for the nonce. Books will be published, stories will be written – it’s just going to take a lot more time and right now I feel like I’m at the bottom of the hill looking up with a giant boulder in front of me that needs pushing.

“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.

A Vital Reminder

This last year has been a not so great time for me. I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on family (often at the expense of my writing) while my family minimizes my written work and suggests with full candor that I would be better off doing literally anything else. I might be a stone cold bitch that habitually writes about getting away with murder but that still hurts, a lot.

Thankfully other writers are always there to remind me that awful as that is, it’s also kind of normal. We all have to fight for the time and space to do that thing that no one else really understands and seems largely composed of staring at blank walls from time to time. And we’re all here to help each other out and deepen our craft as we go.

So let’s do a relink of some of the more visited posts on my blog that are full of helpful tips for other struggling Indie Authors out there.

Starting with the most important step:

Once you’ve got that you should update your series “bible” before tackling the beast that is formatting for paperback.

There you go Indies, a recap of everything that I’ve written on writing in this digital era that should prove useful to anyone looking for the information. Sign up for updates if you would like to keep abreast of anything new going on with my books or on the blog. Keep strong, keep your heads up and for the sake of the old gods’ keep writing!

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.

Happy New Year!

It’s 2015 already so I suppose you guys deserve an update.

Laptop has been repaired, my work on “Tasting Ash” has finally resumed (slowly with many false starts and general malaise) and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to release the novel sometime this year. My main workhorse computer is still down for the current count though so I’m not at all sure what I’ll be doing when it comes time for me to do the book covers, hopefully by then I’ll have the desktop back up to speed.

I’ll get back to finishing my series on using Scrivener to write series as soon as I’ve gotten my word count up to satisfactory levels. Stay tuned.

Alright, update complete. Back to work!

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!