Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Cover Art



My latest cover art from my French publisher J'ai Lu, for their translation of In the Leaves. This is also the first book I sold to a traditional publisher without an agent, so it's a bit of personal history, too.

Monday, October 16, 2017

NaNoWriMondays: Habits

For National Novel Writing Month we always talk about the big issues: productivity, motivation, time management etc. Of course they're important, so they get a lot of attention. But almost every writer develops habits that can often become roadblocks on the way to the finish line. Since we have a particularly difficult road to travel in November, here are:

Ten Writing Habits That Can Wreck Your NaNo Novel
(And what you can do to stop or curb them)

Backtracking: Aka writing a scene or chapter, re-reading it, editing it, re-reading it, editing it, re-reading it, editing it, etc.

Solution: Read and edit what you write for NaNo only one time. If you can't resist the habit, only indulge it for that day. The next day, no matter how much you want to backtrack again, write something new.

Critiquing: Getting feedback from other writers on the work while it's in progress.

Solution: I don't do this, but I know it can be an important part of the process for other writers. Bottom line: You don't have time for critiques. Hold off on all of them until December 1st.

Doubting: Various ways of beating yourself up because you're not worthy, talented, a pro, as good as [insert name of favorite author], you suck, you never finish anything, your ninth grade English teach spit on everything you wrote, or any other reason that shuts down your muse/mojo.

Solution: First, agree with yourself. You're not worthy, or talented, or a pro, or as good as whoever, etc. I often think I suck at this, so you're in good company. Second, write it anyway. Write it for fun. Write it like you're just practicing your typing. Write it for no damn good reason at all.

Excessive Researching: You look for three accurate resources to confirm every fact in your story, and you won't go on until you find them all and add them to your bibliography.

Solution: Do your research and fact-checking in December.

Nesting: In hopes of creating a warm and cozy writing space you constantly do things like make idea boards, collect chachkas, surround yourself with scented candles, hang writing good luck charms over/around/on your computer, and pin motivational messages to yourself on the wall.

Solution: I'm not a nester, but I do respect your right to bury yourself in inspiring junk. The two problems with nesting are 1) being unable to stop long enough to write anything and 2) being distracted from the work by all the inspiring junk you've piled in your writing space. To solve either or both, for the month of November write somewhere else where you are not permitted to nest, like the quiet room at the library.

Over-Editing: There are various forms of this (like backtracking), but they all boil down to spending way more time editing than writing.

Solution: During NaNoWriMo do only a single pass edit of what you write. Save the rest for December.

Perfection Questing: Acts involved with the need to be sure your plot, characters, word choices and anything else involved in the writing is perfect, and the inability to write anything new until they are.

Solution: Like doubting, this habit can be paralyzing. I once sat next to a famous writer dude at a luncheon who admitted to me he spent ten years writing a single book because he had to be sure every word of it was perfect. You don't have ten years, you have thirty days, so write the story first and make it perfect later.

Procrastinating: Finding reasons not to write that include but are not limited to your lousy day job, mental exhaustion, your family problems, the fascinating new season of DWTS and so on.

Solution: This is a tough one, but remember that life is short. So is NaNoWriMo. I suggest that for the month of November you commit to writing an hour every day -- no matter how much your life sucks, or how little you get on the page. You may not cross the finish line, but having actual writing as part of your daily routine for a month may help combat the procrastination blues.

Waffling: You have difficulty or you're unable to make story decisions, which stalls your progress.

Solutions: I've got two for this: if you can't decide between two or more options, flip a coin until you narrow it down to one and use that. If you can't think of any options, place an editing marker like this in the story [name of John's high school] and move on.

Zoning: You can only write in the zone, aka those times when the words come in a huge, thrilling, endless rush that keeps you working tirelessly for hours.

Solution: I would love to write in the zone all the time. Personally I only get there once or twice a week -- if I'm lucky. The rest of the time I just show up for work and do my job. Showing up and doing the job for thirty days is a good way to get out of the zoning-only habit, too, so try it.

Do you have any writing habits that you want to kick? Have any advice for kicking them? Let us know in comments.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Story Jinxes

Since it's Friday the Thirteenth I thought I'd admit to:

Ten of My Writing-related Superstitions

Avoidances: There are some things I avoid writing in a story (and on the blog) because they spook me or I consider them jinxes, like that lettered board people use to talk to the dead. See how I avoided writing the name of it? Ha.

Beginning Rituals: I always meditate for an hour before I start a new story. Mostly I try to empty my brain and make it into a clean slate, but I also give thanks to the universe for any creative energy it's willing to send my way. If I can't do this, I'll put off starting the new story until I can.

Coin-Flip Titles: When I can't decide between two titles I really like for a story, I flip a coin and let the Fates pick it. This is why Evermore is not titled Everlasting.

Color Cursed: Yellow has been my bad luck color for most of my adult life, although I'm trying to get over it now via therapeutic quilting. Until I do, any time you see anything yellow in my work? Definitely not a good sign.

Crazy 8s: The number 8 relates to many weird things in my personal history, and it spooks me, so I try to use it sparingly -- usually only for weird things in a story.

Do No Harm: If I do base a character on a person in the real world, I try not to kill them off in the story, as I think that's tempting Fate in a very bad way. Anything else goes, however.

Easter Eggs: I regularly embed little treasures in my stories (and I'm not going to tell you what or where they are) mainly for fun, and to see if readers are paying attention. Like anagrams (also something I regularly hide in stories) I think they're good luck.

Fabulous 14s: Fourteen is my lucky number, and I do put it somewhere in every story I write as a personal talisman. If I can't fit in the actual number somewhere, I'll use the letters of the word fourteen as a secret acronym or acrostic sentence.

Names Not Used: I try never to name characters after people I dislike, random nouns, or members of my family. I think the first is bad luck, the second is silly, and the third is creepy.

Never me: It gives me the willies when writers Tuckerize themselves to become characters. One of the reasons I stopped reading Stephen King is because he did. Thus you will never see PBW as a character in any of my stories. I will occasionally refer to myself as part of a joke, but always unnamed.

Do you have any writing superstitions? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rats

Just got notified that one of my favorite online shops for writers is closing:

"It is with mixed feelings that we announce we will be closing the Writer’s Bloc online store in November 2017. We are holding a going out of business sale offering deeper discounts on all of our popular items in an effort to clear out our inventory. We want to send out a special thank you to our loyal customers and deeply appreciate all of your support over the years. You’ve introduced us to some fabulous brands that we love and write with on a daily basis such as Clairefontaine, Rodia, LAMY, Noodlers, Pelikan, Pilot, Aston Leather, and so many others. You will certainly be missed!

Thank you for sharing the last 10 years with all of us here at Writer’s Bloc."

Monday, October 09, 2017

NaNoWriMonday: Less than 10%

National Novel Writing Month gets plenty of online attention and participation. We writers talk about it a lot before, during and after November. Since it began NaNoWriMo has evolved into a writing community of its own. Just take a look at the stats from last year: 384,126 participants jumped in and gave it their best shot. Of these (according to their 2017 press release) over 34,000 crossed the finish line with a 50K book that they wrote in 30 days.

A lot of writers join in, but less than ten percent finish (and I'm not on my high horse here; I failed to win one year because one of my pets died and I was horribly depressed.) While it's fun to talk about writing a novel in a month, and even to start one when November 1st rolls around, it's a lot harder to actually produce fifty thousand words in thirty days.

I think there are three big obstacles that almost everyone has to deal with during NaNoWriMo:

No time -- you have only 30 days to do it. No extensions. No time off. No sick days.
Holidays -- In the U.S., Thanksgiving. And if you're a shopper, Black Friday.
Work-- Some writers insist on working at a day job so they can pay their bills. Disclaimer: I'm one of them.

Then there are the more nebulous reasons, such as when the idea fizzles out, or the self-doubt kicks in, or you find yourself wanting to kill off all the characters in the story. Basically the writing stops being fun and becomes work. You find yourself slogging through the pages, and making up excuses not to work on it, and suddenly it's November 29th and you have 40K left to write in order to win. One month goes very fast.

I can't guarantee you'll cross the finish line in November; no one can. But here are some tips that may help you be part of the less than ten percent who probably will:

1. Advance Chapter: Test out your story idea by writing a chapter now, or sometime before NaNoWriMo begins. You don't have to count it as part of your 50K, and it will give you a preview of how the writing will go.

2. Brain Work It: Imagine your story from start to finish in an abbreviated form, like a movie trailer playing it your head, until you can clearly envision the major or dramatic highlights (and this won't work for organic/pantser writers).

3. Make a Mix: This isn't something I can do anymore (hearing loss sucks), but plenty of writers make up soundtracks for their work that they listen to before or during their work sessions. Having the soundtrack seems to help some writers better envision the story.

4. Whiteboard it: Outline your story on a whiteboard. Killzoneblog.com has a neat article on this here with example boards from J.K. Rowling and Norman Mailer.

Look around you and see what changes you can make with your writing time and space. In order to produce 1,667 words per day, you'll probably need to write for at least a couple of hours. I recommend splitting the writing into two sessions. It may also help to work when things are calm and quiet, like early in the morning before everyone gets up, and/or later at night when they're all in bed. Or leave the house and go somewhere quiet, like the library.

For those of you who prefer noise, take a laptop to Starbucks or a mall food court or a busy park. You also don't have to write every day, but if you're planning to take time off during NaNoWriMo, write a little extra on the days you do work to compensate.

Another big time sink that can kill your writing: television/movie watching. Stop it completely for the month of November, and devote that time instead to your novel.

Also, don't try to go it alone. Ask your friends and family to help you during NaNoWriMo however they can to free you up for writing.

Does anyone have any tricks they use to be more productive with their writing time? Let us know in comments.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Oh Cool

Now this is really neat: Hubspot's blog idea generator uses three nouns you input to generate a week's worth of blog post titles. I fed it the words writing/novel/plot and got these:

1. 5 Tools Everyone In The Novel Industry Should Be Using
2. 10 Quick Tips About Writing
3. Why We Love Plot (And You Should, Too!)
4. How To Solve The Biggest Problems With Novel
5. 7 Things About Writing Your Boss Wants To Know


Some of these won't work, but I like the quick tips idea, and the why we love plot. I might use those in future PBW posts.

For the words reader/book/sales I got:

1. 10 Signs You Should Invest In Book
2. What Will Reader Be Like In 100 Years?
3. 14 Common Misconceptions About Sales
4. The History Of Book
5. Think You're Cut Out For Doing Reader? Take This Quiz


Okay, I'm not cut out to be doing readers, but what will readers be like in 100 years? That would be fun to imagine.

Finally I tried love/story/hero, and my results were:

1. 20 Myths About Love
2. 10 Quick Tips About Story
3. The Worst Advice We've Ever Heard About Hero
4. The Ultimate Cheat Sheet On Love
5. 14 Common Misconceptions About Story


You can see that the generator starts repeating itself, but there are still some decent ideas here. I'd like to research 20 myths about love, and if you're writing a hero, there are mountains of bad advice out there to avoid. I also like the ultimate cheat sheet on love -- what would a writer's version look like?

If you're looking for fresh ideas for your blog, give this a whirl -- you might find inspiration along with a few chuckles.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Fun Story Outlines

Today we're going to talk about outlining stories. All strictly artistic, spontaneous, organic and/or pantser writers should now leave the blog, lest I poison your well, ruin your process or otherwise mess with your mojo.

It's not that bad. Outlining can be a blast, if you stop with the dread and go for the fun of it. I did that last month with my outline for my NaNoWriMo 2017 novel. I had the general idea of what I wanted to write, so basically I just channeled the protagonist and let her tell me the bare bones of the story in her voice. Since I think Emma is hilarious, it was something I really enjoyed -- and that is the key.

If you don't like writing traditional outlines, why try writing them at all? Instead, why not write what happens in your story like a bullet list:

Soviet missile sub commander defects -- with invisible sub.
CIA drops analyst on US sub.
Subs meet; get cranky.
Analyst and defector become periscope pals.
Second Soviet sub arrives.
Torpedoes fly.
The cook is a saboteur!
Sam Neill character dies.
Soviets think defecting sub sank.
They defect happily ever after.


Okay, it's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but that is a bullet list-style outline of The Hunt for Red October. I covered all the major plot points in ten lines (and just fifty words) off the top of my head. Took me five minutes because it was fun.

For those of you who are muttering that you're not into list outlining, okay. Why not invent your own method? I did that back in 2015 with story cards, and in 2012 with SCARAB outlining, and in 2008 with my speedy ten point plot outline. So now it's your turn. What can you think up that would make the task easier, faster, or more interesting?

Don't limit yourself to what you can do on the computer, either. You can use index cards, sticky notes, a small notepad, a story journal, a composition book, a cork board collage -- anything that helps you organize your thoughts can also work for outlining a story.

Finally, back in 2015 I reposted my master list of novel outlining links, and most of the links still work, so if you don't want to follow my method, try someone else's. See what feels like fun for you, and you might never again dread outlining.

Monday, October 02, 2017

NaNoWriMondays

From now until November 30th I'm going to devote Mondays on the blog to National Novel Writing Month, in which I plan to participate, and will absolutely nag everyone else who wants to listen. If you do a search of PBW with the NaNoWriMo tag you will also find all the posts I've written in the past with pep talks, helpful links and free or very cheap online resources etc.

We've got almost a month before the madness begins, and I'm sure some of you are still on the fence as to whether or not to join in. Lots of writers wait until the last minute before they sign up, which is fine. Sometimes it's tough to decide. The thought of writing fifty thousand words in thirty days can be intimidating, especially when you have a day job. I'll be writing two books simultaneously for the first couple weeks in November -- one for work + my NaNo novel -- so believe me, I understand.

NaNoWriMo is work. Hard work. Challenging, frustrating, often maddening work -- but it isn't all work. It's allowing your muse to do whatever it wants. For a novelist, it's a month-long chunk of creative freedom. Your novel isn't going to write itself, and it's possible you could end up with a story that lives in a drawer or trunk or on a hard drive forever. Also, at the finish line you don't actually get anything but your story. Well, and bragging rights. And that cool winner badge to post on your blog or web site, and possibly some special free offer thing from NaNoWriMo commercial sponsors. And the satisfaction of knowing that you wrote a book in thirty days.

This November I'll be writing Haunted House Style for all of you. I'll post online every word I write daily so you can see how I handle a first draft. Once I've finished and edited the book, it will be permanently posted on the free reads page. I can't wait, either. This is the most fun I can have while staying dressed. Also, I love that winner badge.

Are you ready to commit? If you have, how are you prepping for NaNoWriMo? Tell us in comments.