I #AmEditing Again

YES, it’s true: after many moons of non-editing (most of which was for not-really-very-good reasons), this past weekend saw a burst of writerly action at last.

I think the kick in the pants that started this effort was a direct consequence of the writing workshops I’ve been going to at Old Firehouse Books up in Fort Collins. Those had the effect of getting me thinking about writing again, and I think it just went from there. The most recent workshop was last Tuesday; by Friday evening I’d decided that I was definitely going to do some editing work on The Artemis Device on Saturday morning. But unlike similar decisions in the past, which had been made a bit half-heartedly, this time I meant it. No, more than that — I was itching to get busy, for the first time in months. I was actually looking forward to it.

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You read that right: Looking forward to editing, of all things — the part of writing a book that many writers truly detest.

Well, there were a couple of distractions (for one, I have a regular Google Hangout call with family on Saturdays, and I didn’t want to miss that). But despite that I got past the hurdle in Chapter One.

Let me explain: there was a sentence in Chapter One that my copy editor had marked up requesting a change. But I wasn’t able to fix it. Every time I tried to work on it, I’d stare at it without a clue what to do.

Saturday I solved the problem. Here’s how: I ignored it. Went past it to the next mark-up, and dealt with it. Then the next. And the next. And then on Sunday I moved on to Chapter Two.

Only when I was done with Chapter Two did I go back to that first killer hurdle, the one that had been such a problem. By then I had momentum. I had confidence. My Vorpal Keyboard went snicker-snack, and the Sentence Of Doom fell. Success!

That was enough editing. I’m still rusty at the process and it’ll take a little while to get back to being able to edit for five, six, seven hours at a stretch, like I used to.

But I still had some writing left in me. I updated my WiP page. I wrote a couple of short posts on Google+. And of course, right now I’m writing this.

Today, after work, I did a little more editing. And the plan is that tomorrow I will finish the editing of Chapter Three. But if, like today, the day-job gets hectic and I’m not able to finish it, that’s ok. If I can only spend even ten minutes on it, I’ll be happy — because ten minutes of progress is better than no progress at all.

I might even write some more tonight; I have a couple of other projects in the works that I could spend time on. One needs some outlining work, the other, a read-through and maybe the start of a rough timeline.

But first, dinner. All work and no food makes Pete a hungry boy.

Until next time . . .

Yay Writing…

…AND enough of the politics for a bit. I can only take so much #TrumpRussia and #TrumpCare in a week.

This week the day-job project switched over to qualification testing, so apart from dealing with trouble tickets as the testers find things wrong I actually get some breathing room for a few days until we start the next sprint. Which means YAY I CAN DO SOME WRITING.

Yes, I know, I should be able to find time to write regardless of the six day, fifty-plus-hour weeks. And you’d be right, too. There are no excuses. Most days I start work around 6am and finish around 3pm or so, and then there are usually chores or something that need to get done, and those can take an hour or three, depending. After that I usually feel too buggered to do much other than watch TV or maybe play some game (I’ve been playing Astroneer on Steam recently; check it out). But now I have a solution to that, which I’ll come back to.

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I signed up for a summer writing workshop at my favourite local indie bookstore, Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins. The group meets once a fortnight over the summer, and even though we’ve only had one workshop so far it promises to be educational and fun.

As an example of the educational, here’s a thing: you know when you try to set aside an hour or two for writing but it never seems to work out because something else always comes up, or you’re just too damned tired or not in the right frame of mind?

So here’s that thing I said I’d come back to. One of group (I think he said his name was John) mentioned something he’d read: don’t try to set aside an hour; instead, whenever you have fifteen minutes free, grab your writing stuff and write (or outline, or timeline, or something — anything that moves your project forward).

That’s it. Simple.

And if that fifteen minutes of free time ends up being ten, or five, because something interrupts, that’s ok — because at least you got five minutes’ work done where you’d normally have done zip.

Of course, it can go the other way: you might find that the fifteen minutes you thought you had becomes twenty, then thirty, then an hour or more.

This is quite possibly the best little gem of writing advice I’ve heard in the last couple of years. Now, after the work day and the chores are done with, I can think about grabbing the Chromebook and getting something done, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes.

On that note, I need to make a phone call, and after that I have fifteen minutes free.

Until next time, gentle reader…

Bad Days, Good Days

THE last couple of weeks have been really heavy going at work, which is the main reason I haven’t had a chance to throw out any updates here. We’ve been moving a few of the web applications to new host machines, and it’s one of those jobs where ninety percent of the work is easy and takes ten percent of the time, but then you hit the ten percent that’s all hurdles and problems and means you can’t just finish it up and get it done. As I write this it’s Sunday morning, and tomorrow I have three, count ’em, three system moves that are stalled waiting on things.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, writing work has all but stopped, which is very frustrating. I’m working on a story I want to write, and I’ve been stuck at the planning part for something like a month. I have a character, she has a name, and she has an interesting past that’s given her an ability, if you can call it that—sometimes it’s going to be a lifesaver, most times it’s a curse. And I can’t say more about that without giving too much away at this early phase. The big problem is that I still don’t have a solid story, and I just can’t seem to get the time to think my way past that.

The day-job work craziness been part of that, of course—among other things I’m so tired at the end of most days I just don’t have the energy to get into writing, and in any case there are home/family things that take up what little time I might have had—but there are other things too. For example, I now officially work at home and hook into the office over VPN; I rarely need to go in. It’s great, but one definite downside is that it’s caused a complete change of routine. I used to use the drive time between home and office to think about story and characters; Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia was planned and plotted and all but actually written on that daily drive, as were The Artemis Device and Smoke & Mirrors (more on status of both of those shortly).

But I don’t drive in any more, and my writing time is suffering badly for it. I need to change my routine to give me some of that time back somehow.

OK THAT’S ENOUGH OF THAT. It’s not all doom and gloom. Time to focus on some of the positive.

One thing that’s taken away some of the writing time is that I’ve been catching up on READING, and that’s not something I consider at all bad. I mean, seriously, I went through a period of several months during which I hardly read a thing. Not good. So I kicked myself in the pants and told myself to shape the fuck up.

Rod Duncan’s The Custodian of Marvels came out Tuesday and I’ll be starting on that just as soon as I’ve finished reading Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles; I’m almost through Trapped (which I think is the fifth book in the series). But wait, there’s more: the eighth book, Staked, just came out and we went to Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins on Thursday to meet the author and get a signed copy. Really? I hear you say. Pictures, or it didn’t happen. Okay, then:

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There you go.

Now, last points: I mentioned I’d give a couple of status updates, so here they are:

  • The Artemis Device is still with my copy editor at Xchyler Publishing, but as I think I mentioned she got married recently, and then she was dealing with a book release (Ben Ireland’s Kingdom City: Revolt) and now, as I found out just a few days ago, she’s off on honeymoon. So I don’t expect to get back any editing notes in a hurry.
  • Smoke & Mirrors is still looking for an agent or a publisher. A publisher in England had an open submission period last month, so I sent them the first couple of chapters. The web site said it could be three to six months before I hear anything, so right now patience is the word.

Until next time, gentle reader . . .

2015 Wrap-up

LET me begin by saying I hope you all had a great Christmas, and I’d like to wish all my readers (Sid and Doris Bonkers of Pahrump, NV) a Happy New Year.

So 2015 is all but gone, and 2016 is just around the corner. Will it be any better? In hindsight I don’t think ’15 was all that bad. ’16 could end up being a lot worse, but I’m optimistic. On the political front, I really don’t think the GOP has much of a chance; if having a lying, bigoted misogynist like Trump as front-runner really means that he’s about the best they can offer, then as far as I’m concerned they’ve already lost. My money’s on Sanders this time around.

But enough of that. I want to keep this short because, well, The Expanse episode five isn’t on yet, so I’m in the middle of binge-watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (I only ever saw a couple of episodes when it first aired) and I want to get some dinner and watch some more. So:

On the writing front: I’m still working on the storyline for the Artemis sequel. With the week before Christmas being taken up with all the prep for the big day, I got maybe fifteen minutes in on that. This week’s been lighter so I’ve made a bit of progress but I still have quite a way to go.

On the subject of Artemis, I’m expecting some editing work to be coming my way from my copy editor, but with the holiday I have no idea when that’ll hit. I’ll update the WiP page when I have something.

And on the subject of works-in-progress, so far no luck finding an agent for Smoke & Mirrors. What I did find was a publisher that usually doesn’t accept unagented submissions, but has an open submission period through ’til the end of January. For them, I have to boil my six-page single-spaced synopsis down to no more than three pages of double-spaced. Basically all I can do is slice out more and more detail and compress what’s already there, and hope what’s left still does the story justice. It might sound easy, but it’s surprisingly hard.

Tomorrow I’ll be getting back to that and hopefully finish it in time to get it out before New Year’s Day. Not that that’s important, but it gives me kind of a mental target to hit.

That’s all for now. Time to get some grub and get back to ST:DS9.

Until next time . . .

An Hour With @KevinHearne

Yesterday evening my wife and I moseyed on down to the library in Erie, CO to listen to a talk by Kevin Hearne, author of the Iron Druid series.

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Kevin Hearne on the right. Yours truly on the left. Like you couldn’t figure that out. Photo cred: Kate Ford

We had a great time. Mr. Hearne didn’t go with a set script, instead prompting the audience (about a dozen people, I guess—I didn’t count heads) for questions about writing in general and his writing in particular. And so he talked about Iron Druid, and his writing style; and people asked about how he came up with his characters and settings. He often went off-topic, telling us about things that happened while researching his books. I could have listened all evening. If you ever get a chance to catch one of his talks, do.

It was entertaining and educational (I definitely learned a couple of things, particularly about how developing a character can automatically create story—something I’m taking to heart as I develop my currently untitled WiP).

Check out Kevin Hearne’s web site for details about forthcoming events (including signing tour dates for Staked, the eighth Iron Druid story).

Writing Process #7: Submitting

YOU’VE self-edited your script, and now it’s much better than that first draft you had before. Is it perfect? Probably not. You could do another editing pass and I’ll bet you’ll still find something wrong. Lots of somethings, in fact. But there comes a point where you can honestly say to yourself that your typescript is something you’re happy for someone else to read. Are you ready to get it published?

How do you get it published?

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There are a number of options:

  • Self-publishing. There are plenty of places to do that. My very first full-length work was self-published on Smashwords, and as part of that process it was automatically made available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and several other platforms. But to self-publish properly, you have to do all the work that a publisher would do. You must BECOME THE PUBLISHER. You need, really need, a professional editor to work with you on polishing the work to a high shine. (I can’t stress how important that is. Some people can self-edit to a professional standard, but those people are as rare as rocking-horse droppings; do you really, honestly think you can self-edit to that standard?) You need someone to format it properly for publication. You need cover artwork. Of course, you could do all that yourself, but you’re better off getting professionals involved—and that costs money. So you have to ask yourself, are you happy to spend the cash with no guarantee that you’ll make enough sales to get that money back?
  • Go directly to a publisher. Smaller indie publishers will generally accept submissions directly from authors. Larger publishers, not so much (see the next bit, about agents). Work up a list of publishers that deal with books in your genre—you might be surprised just how many people submit work that’s in a genre the publisher just doesn’t deal with. Make sure they’re accepting submissions (many publishers only accept submissions at certain times of year; some only open for submissions when they have the bandwidth to take on work). Publishers have guidelines for submissions—for example they might ask for the first ten pages of your story to be pasted into an email cover letter. Some will ask for a synopsis. Many will delete emails with attachments unread. So read the guidelines carefully and follow them to the letter.
  • Find an agent. The bad thing everyone thinks about agents: they take a percentage of the profits of sales of your book. Well, of course they do. They have to pay the rent on their double-wide, same as you. But the good things about agents outweigh the bad by a good margin. An agent can submit your book to publishers that won’t take submissions direct from authors. They can help make sure that a publishing contract isn’t screwing you. They can get you better contract terms (for example a better percentage on sales) than you might be able to manage on your own. In the end, the fact that agent takes, say, fifteen percent, is more than made up for by the fact that she’ll get you a publishing deal that makes you more sales. Some agents also suggest edits to improve the work. As to finding an agent . . . well, there are a few ways. Follow Writer’s Digest (@WritersDigest) on Twitter—they often send out alerts when agents are looking for books in specific genres. Check out QueryTracker—this is a great tool that can help you search for agents. When you find an agent to submit to, the rules are much the same as for publishers—check genre, make sure the agent is accepting submissions, follow submission guidelines closely. When it comes to writing query letters, check out Query Shark.

This is IMPORTANT: No reputable agent or publisher should ever, ever, EVER ask you for money up front to “cover costs” or for anything else. Real publishers and agents take their percentage from sales of the book AFTER it’s been published. If an agent or publisher charges for their services up front, they’re almost certainly scam artists intent on taking your money. Take a look at the Writer Beware site for more on this.

Here’s another thing: Be ready for rejection. In fact, expect rejection—that way it won’t faze you when it happens. And it will happen, over and over and over. At a rough estimate based on what I’ve seen, the chances of any one agent accepting your work is something like five percent. Indie publishers appear to have higher acceptance rates, but it’s hard to be certain about that because good data is hard to find. The thing is, agents and publishers are taking a risk when they accept your work. They have to cover the costs of doing their job until your book is on the shelves and making sales—in the case of agents, time spent dealing with publishers, and in the case of publishers, paying editors and artists and everyone else involved in getting your book out there. Maybe you’ll sell hundreds of thousands of copies and you’ll all be rolling in cash. Or not. It’s a gamble, and it’s on their dime, which is why agents and publishers are so picky about what they accept.

Now let’s say your work is accepted. What next?

AFTER you’ve celebrated a little bit (because getting accepted IS a big deal and worthy of a little celebration), be ready for what can be the hardest part of this whole thing. Remember all that self-editing you did? Well, now it’s about to happen again. Only this time, someone else—maybe your agent, maybe a copy editor working for a publisher—will be picking your book apart and finding things you didn’t even suspect weren’t right. They’ll be coming back at you with lists of things that need changing. (They should not be making those changes themselves, beyond maybe correcting simple, obvious stuff like spelling errors; they should just be telling you this passage or that scene needs fixing, and they might suggest ideas for how to fix it. But it’s your book, and how you fix it is up to you.) And you might very well find yourself working to a deadline.

Here’s a story for you; at the time Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia was accepted, I had no idea that I was about to spend the next SEVEN MONTHS editing the typescript for publication. Seven months of working on it evenings after work, and hour upon hour at weekends. It was tough, and not just on me—I swear my wife had plans to throw my laptop out into the yard and then set it on fire. (This is why so many books have an “acknowledgements” page where the author thanks their spouse for putting up with it all for so long. Until you’ve been through it, and put your other half through it, you have no idea just how much mutual understanding is needed for this.) But seeing the book out where people could buy it made it all worth it.

And guess what? Once you’ve been through it once, the lessons you learn will make the next one go that much easier.

That, I think, concludes this short series of posts (unless I think of something else to add). I hope, gentle reader, that this helps in some small way.

Until next time . . .

Writing Process #6a: I Found This Great Book

I was in the process of writing the #7 post for this short series when I came across a book . . .

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It’s How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, by Randy “Snowflake guy” Ingermanson. (Here’s a link to the web site.) And having read it, I have to say that if the articles I’ve been writing about my own process resonate with you, then you should have a look at this book. Ingermanson’s method is very similar to my own in many respects, but formalises some steps that my own process tends to leave a bit vague. (On the other hand, my process seems to have a couple of additional aspects—for example the way I think about characters—but I should be able to merge bits of my own process as described so far without any conflicts.)

The way the book’s written comes across as a little weird at first—Goldilocks goes to a writer conference and learns about the Snowflake Method, meeting the three bears, the big bad wolf, Mother Hubbard, and other storybook characters along the way—but it makes for a more entertaining read. The last couple of chapters summarise the method and show in detail how it was used to write the book itself.

I’ll definitely be using this method for my next book (or to be more specific, I’ll be creating a Frankenstein hybrid of Snowflake and my own, using Snowflake for the framework and adding in my preferred way of thinking about characters together with the way I like to build my timelines).

Does Ingermanson’s method supersede the posts I’ve already done in this series? Maybe. Probably, even. But I’ll leave them up anyway. Does it mean #7 won’t happen? No, it doesn’t—because that’s going to be about getting a work published, which is something the Snowflake method doesn’t get into so much (beyond writing short and long synopses, but that’s still considered part of the process of developing a story as well as being something you can use when submitting for publication).

So, watch this space for #7 in the series, which should be up within the next few days. (Sorry for the delay on getting it done, by the way; life intervened and pretty much blew away last weekend, which was when I’d planned to finish it up and get it posted.)

Until then . . .