Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 12: The Christmas Spirit

When I don’t start with writing, it gets difficult to squeeze it in during the course of the day. But if I write when I first wake up, even if it’s only a few hundred words, it puts me into the right mindset, and I find myself being drawn back to it time and again. To a certain degree, the writing feels natural, and I don’t have to force myself to put down a few words.

If I don’t get started early, any number of things can happen. It’s easy to get distracted, make excuses, and seek out other forms of entertainment. And the longer that the day progresses, the more of a burden writing becomes. The distance that we put between a task and actually doing it alters our perception of it, making it appear more difficult than it actually is.

Oh, the mind games writers play!

To avoid this pitfall, clear your mind and jump right in. Not only does the act of writing shatter many of the preconceived notions that a writer has (it’s too hard or you don’t enough motivation to do it), you may find that it’s one of your most productive days. Don’t be quick to judge the day before it has unfolded. There’s plenty of time to get back on track and turn things around.

I remember one such day when I was working on my languishing project The Christmas Spirit. I got stuck on a transition where my main character spies a thief at the end of the hall going into an apartment. He follows him inside and, err…ugh! I had established a good rhythm up until this point before grinding to a halt. This was going to be more difficult than the previous 3,000 words and writing description isn’t my strong suit.

But a funny thing happened when I finally sat down and started writing. Although the first few sentences were difficult as expected, once I’d gotten past them, I was able to move the story further along than I imagined. Not only that, the writing was good and didn’t require tons of edits. By showing up to write and taking a shot at it, I was able to break through any mental roadblocks.

Unfortunately, The Christmas Spirit still isn’t done. It’s one of those projects that’s lingered far longer than it should. The original draft was written back in December 2010, during a series of vigorous writing sessions that also produced Literary Dynamite. Although I was pleased with the result, I knew that it needed a lot of work.

A year later, after I’d finally published a few short works, I decided to dust off The Christmas Spirit and do an all-new version. Since the original was 2,000 words, I figured that if I doubled the length or hit 5,000 words I’d be happy. Once I got started, the manuscript kept growing and growing. I surged past 5,000 words in no time and wasn’t close to the finish line. But instead of staying the course, I switched to another project.

When I missed my goal of publishing The Christmas Spirit by December 25, 2011, I was mad at myself. I’d missed the most important holiday of the year and had the perfect product for it! I didn’t get back to it until the following summer, determined not to miss another Christmas. After reading over what I’d written, I decided to edit what I had and push the story forward. But this time, progress was very slow. Every paragraph felt like a mountain, and hours dragged by with getting little done. When I finally admitted that I wasn’t being productive, I switched projects yet again.

It wasn’t until December 2012 that I begin working on it seriously. Despite all of the time and energy that I had invested into the project, it was still moving at a snail’s pace. Finally, I gave up. Too many other projects demanded my attention. If I couldn’t be productive, I’d try my luck on something else.

Then I had a change of heart. In early 2013, I vowed to make one last attempt to get The Christmas Spirit done. I set up a blog and began posting what I’d done, bit-by-bit. This proved to be beneficial since I hadn’t broken up the story yet. By concentrating on each chapter, I zeroed in on what I was trying to accomplish and moved on. I did this for a while until the first ten chapters were up, the last one giving me plenty of trouble.

Then fresh doubt set in. Something was off, I knew it. Not only was it off, I felt that the monster that I had created was mortally wounded. The beginning had been promising, but now it had gone down the tubes. It stunk, in fact. I was no longer laughing at the ridiculous things that my main character was doing. He was annoying, and I was just trying to find the end so that I could put it out of its misery. Rather than pushing forward with a half-hearted effort, again I took a break.

September would be the last time I worked on it in 2013. Afterwards, I didn’t want to see it again. It was going to take a minor miracle to get it done.

But I’m not a quitter, am I? I’ve encouraged many authors not to give up. So why was I? Everyone starts a project for a certain reason. You owe it to yourself to see it through. Don’t throw away your effort. Collect yourself and try again!

Many pulp fiction writers would disagree with this assertion. Georges Simenon famously discarded everything he’d written if he’d stopped writing for more than 48 hours. It didn’t matter if he was nearing the end—once the spell was broken, he couldn’t rekindle the passion to finish it off. Considering that Simenon wrote in excess of 500 books in his lifetime, he certainly knew what he was doing. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to toss a project every now and then that’s causing problems rather than let them pile up like I have.

But there’s a lot that can be gleaned from Simenon’s stance. I stopped too early, thus breaking the spell. Once I got going again, I introduced editing into the process too soon. And once you begin to edit, look out! You’ll always be searching for the perfect turn of phrase before moving on. Don’t be surprised if your pace slows to a crawl.

Lack of discipline is my real problem. If I had worked a little on it each day, The Christmas Spirit would be done. Knowing this, I decided to revisit it two days ago. If I could produce 250 words per day—merely a page—I could finally put The Christmas Spirit to rest.

On Friday I read the first twelve chapters, tweaking here and there (I couldn’t resist). Afterwards, I worked on the thirteenth unpublished chapter, which was better than I had remembered. Surprisingly, I even liked it. With a little work, I polished off chapter 13, posted it, and then decided that was enough for the day.

When Saturday rolled around, I took another stab at The Christmas Spirit. I read chapter 13 again, made a few more tweaks, and then started writing the next chapter. Again I was confronted by the same question, “What should I write next?” You see, just ahead in the same document I have pages of notes that I’m incorporating into the final act of the story. There are some real gems mixed in with horrible writing and none of it’s organized. Rather then bumble my way through another chapter, I took aim at the notes.

It took me a while to get through them, and I found myself adding to them just as much as I was trimming the fat. Although I had added quite a bit of new content, I couldn’t say for sure how much I’d written. All I knew was that I had righted the ship and finally organized the project. That’s not to say the writing is going to be a piece of cake from here on out. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s not to underestimate a task. At least I couldn’t blame my lack of organization anymore.

By working on the notes, I also got a good idea of how much is left. Originally I thought I could wrap it up in a couple thousand words, but that’s no longer the case. There are three sequences left (this I know for sure), and it will be another 3,000 – 5,000 words before it’s all done. Since I have 9,100 already, that means I have about two thirds of the story.

I’m close. Very close.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how much is left. As long as I make a little progress each day, it’ll get done. That’s all I can ask at this point. There will come a day when everything snaps into place and I sprint towards the end. But I’ll take it slowly for now. It’s given me so many problems, the best way to defeat it is with patience.

It’s too bad that I didn’t write the story in its entirety while it was still hot in my head. Life happens, and it’s easy to get out of sync. It’s not in my best interest to be writing the same thing months or even years later. Six weeks should be enough; otherwise, I’ll start dreaming about writing something else. Anything, even these journals.

Wait a minute. What?!

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Day 6: 1,157 words
Day 7: 1,102 words
Day 8: 1,643 words
Day 9: 2,057 words
Day 10: 1,038 words
Day 11: 1,560 words
Day 12: 1,601 words
Total: 16,036 words

Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 11: It's the Novel, Stupid!

When I first got serious about writing, the first thing I did was write a 77,000-word draft of my fantasy novel The Key of Neverhence, which still has yet to be published. Afterwards, I made a strong push to write my vampire thriller Enura, but got sick of it after 45,000 words and never returned to it (to be fair, I overdid it with the editing). Then, by a combination of curiosity and circumstance, I began writing shorter works, which were profitable for a brief period of time, but ultimately sank to the current levels today. These days, my children’s books and short stories don’t pull in much—certainly not enough to live on even though I have 118 titles to my credit.

If I continue this way, I might be able to reverse my fortunes, but I suspect that sales will eventually slide back to where they currently are. Without a true novel, sales will falter and never reach the level that I hope to achieve.

For some time I’ve heard that novels are the way to go. Joe Konrath has mentioned this numerous times, and backed it up with sales data. I’m also seeing this bear out with my friends’ numbers, so perhaps it’s time to reevaluate. With shorter works comes short-term success. Perhaps it’s time for the main course. (Besides, when is the last time you’ve heard someone rave about a short story? For novels, this happens all the time.)

That’s not to say that I’m abandoning children’s books or my other short stories. I just won’t expect to make money off of them anymore. The fact that I’ve put all of my effort into short works and none into novels is troublesome. The smartest thing to do (yes, I’m challenged in that area) is to finish one of my incomplete novels or flesh out an idea in my head.

One such idea that I accidentally stumbled across yesterday is a science fiction action adventure called Dunderwhlep. Essentially it’s a comedy, featuring a reluctant superhero that can’t be killed (at least, not easily) and bumbles through life, getting himself into heaps of trouble, and perhaps, the girl in the end. It’s the very definition of pulp fiction and will be written under my new pen name Rockenweiler Gulch.

Why am I reluctant to start such a project? First off, I don’t have a cover and can’t think of a piece of stock imagery that would be suitable for it. I may need to find an artist, and that will cost money. Second, the pen name isn’t established. I don’t have any other works associated with it or a backlist to fall back on. And even though it will be filled to the brim with action, it very comic book-oriented in nature. It’s going to require a huge leap of faith on my part.

There’s no telling who will take it seriously. It’s not a detective novel per se, and although it is set in the future, it could turn off many diehard science fiction fans. What it does have is personality, foul language (which got me in trouble with Netherstream) and humorous situations. “Take a chance on me!” it screams. Would I be a fool not to take a chance?

Remember what I said about just writing and not worrying about the money? If I see it working in my head, I should just write it, right? Eventually I’ll need to establish the Rockenweiler Gulch brand name. It may as well be now.

But it’s different with novels. Unlike short stories, there’s a large investment of time and energy, and I don’t want to choose the wrong project and only earn one sale per month versus 50-100 per day. Some thought has to go into it.

I know, I know. Stop thinking about money!

Let’s take a step back for a moment. How long is your writing career? From today till the day you die, right? So what are you worried about? Regardless if it’s a failure or a success, as long as you give your best effort, you’ll do fine. Have some faith in yourself! If you like what you’re writing, keep going. In the end, there’s no guarantee that any of it will sell, and projects that I thought would sell in the past were total busts. You may as well choose something enjoyable.

And what if it’s successful? Wouldn’t it be fun to write a sequel to Dunderwhelp? There are worse things that you could get stuck writing. Like a cookbook. Or a basket weaving guide. Or a basket weaving cookbook. Don’t get stuck writing something you hate. Are you willing to tell your readership that there won’t be another book in the series if it succeeds? Worse yet, will you have a choice?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve written thus far and would be honored to follow up a successful work. For me, that’s not a problem. On the other hand, I have an acquaintance who writes what’s popular at the moment. He’s willing to write anything and everything, from children’s books to erotica, scruples me damned! There are things he’s written that I wouldn’t dare write in a million years.

Unless it were a comedy.

That’s the one exception I will make. With humor, you can get away with anything and the work is always more enjoyable because of it. Comedic works also tend to be written faster and readers are more forgiving when it comes to mistakes and logical errors.

That doesn’t mean that you can write bad. No, I’m afraid the angry mob of the literary elite will have your head for it. But it does illustrate a point: First, you must entertain. Although your story may be putrid with cardboard characters and clichés galore, if you entertain, you might just convince them that you did it on purpose, further elevating your legendary status. It’s a strange irony that also carries over into other art forms. Entertain them with something that is uniquely you and that they can’t get anywhere else and they will look for you next time they’re in Amazon.

This also takes me back to a previous discussion about editing. If you want to produce something that’s authentic, is it in your best interest to polish it mercilessly? Would it be better if your writing remained rough so that it didn’t sound like everything else out there? I’m not suggesting that you ignore mistakes and write poorly. I’m just wondering if it’s beneficial to scale back the editing a bit.

For this, I’m afraid I don’t have the answer. I’ve always been the type who writes something over and over again until I get it right. I wish I would be one of those writers who writes something once, does a few minor edits, and gets it out the door. I guess I write in a perpetual state of writer’s remorse, so scared that the reader will find an error that I pour over it in an apologetic eye until I convince myself that everything is as it should be. Of course, what I could be doing is making my work more cliché (i.e., it has the same ring to it as something I’ve previously read).

Novel writing is something that should be taken seriously. The majority of an author’s income is generated from it (just not mine yet). While it’s good to be productive, it’s better to produce something that pays the bills. If you’re struggling, try something new. You have no choice!

Also consider the reader’s expectations for a moment. If you were the reader, wouldn’t you prefer a novel to a 2,000-word short story? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with short stories, but it’s hard to justify when you can purchase an entire novel for the same price. Readers want novels, not one of the millions of short stories available today. Focus on novels exclusively and write a short story whenever you need a break.

Of course, if I had all of my free time back, I’d seriously consider writing more than one novel at a time. It’s kind of like writing multiple columns in a newspaper. When your motivation languishes in one, jump to the other. I’m sure if you told yourself to write a thousand words for Novel A and then another thousand for Novel B each day, you could do it. Juggling multiple projects keeps the writing fresh and makes it feel like less of a burden.

Many prolific writers recommend this approach for maximum productivity (oh no, here I go again). If your goal is to write as much as humanly possible, then this technique could be the goose that lays the golden egg. But it isn’t for everybody—just erratic authors who like to take on far more than is wise.

Ok, that’s all fine and dandy. Is there a point to this long-winded post?

Oh yes, it’s all about the novel, stupid!

Write one, then another. Mix in a few short stories to keep readers interested, but make novel-writing your primary focus.

This does not change my focus on children’s books. It just means that I must expand upon my original plans. So why not make Secret Agent Disco Dancer and My Little Pet Dragon full-fledged novels? For once, I might find success that sticks.

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Day 6: 1,157 words
Day 7: 1,102 words
Day 8: 1,643 words
Day 9: 2,057 words
Day 10: 1,038 words
Day 11: 1,560 words
Total: 14,425 words

Friday, January 10, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 10: The First Seeds of Doubt

Ten days. That’s all it took before the doubt began to set in. Should I really be doing this? Am I wasting my time? Look at all of the things that I could be working on right now! Perhaps I should be investing my time in a real project.

I’ve been here before and know better than to listen to these passing thoughts. Yesterday, it took me three hours to edit my 2,000-word entry. When you add that to the hour that I spent on the initial draft, it’s far too much time for a simple journal entry.

Still, it’s no big deal. Life goes on. I’m not stopping, not until I’ve finished out the month. I’ve already written over 12,000 words (including this entry). I don’t want all of that effort to be for nothing. Yes, I should probably limit my posts to a maximum of 1,500 words, but once I get going, it’s hard to stop. There’s so much that I need to get out that an abbreviated version doesn’t always suffice. To my detriment, I must allow these journals to exceed 2,000 words when necessary. The process is cathartic, and helps me get down additional thoughts brewing in my head.

Large amounts of editing always makes an author question themselves. It’s evidence that real projects take work; hard work, unlike text messages that can be typed up and shared in a few minutes, if not seconds.

Should I be more careful with my words? Probably. Should I nail down all of my points beforehand so that I don’t go too far off topic? Perhaps. Let’s not forget this is a journal. Anything goes.

Whenever I doubt myself, I’ll come back to this page. Just because something requires hours of editing doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon ship. It means the stakes are higher and now you have to get serious if you want to see it through.

This happens with most projects, even journals. I remember being overwhelmed by the editing task before me when I wrote the first draft of The Key of Neverhence. It was 77,000 words long and needed major surgery. I only rewrote ten percent of it before I decided that I really should be writing new content instead. When I had the chance, I’d get back to Neverhence. Seven years later, the draft still languishes. If I had done a little bit each day for a year, the novel would be published and earning money.

But that’s what a smart person would do. Please don’t confuse me with one of them.

Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged with the editing process. Break it down and tackle a little bit at a time. Even a couple thousand words can feel daunting, which is how I felt last night. But 500? You can do that in your sleep.

That’s what I started with and then quickly took a break. There, 25% done! I kept chipping away, little by little until it finally got done. Even though it only took three hours to whip it into shape, it felt far longer than that. (Authors are masters at playing mind games, which frequently backfire.)

The reality is that only a few sentences present real problems. Once I broke through those, I was able to go for a while before getting tripped up again. Perhaps I should have skipped over them? That doesn’t work for me. Often the sentence that needs work alters the chemistry of a paragraph and the ones around it. (I’m still getting a handle on the editing process, but eventually I’ll get it.) So if you’re stuck or your enthusiasm has evaporated, just remember that if you can get past one sentence, you’ll be good for a while.

Part of the problem stems from editing at the sentence level. What’s the point of making every sentence pretty if you lose sight of the story? Dean Wesley Smith pointed this out in one of his blog posts (I can’t remember which one but the sentiment is also buried here) and it really got me thinking. Would writers be better off editing at the story level and allowing their work to be rough? Besides, how we write is often how we speak. Are we polishing our voice right out of it by doing extensive edits? In fact, is that what I did last night?

If a writer allows their work to be more in line with how they naturally speak, they’ll produce a lot more. Boatloads more, actually. Editing deters prolific writing; the more perfect an author wants it to be, the less gets published.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all want to sound good and show off our knowledge of the craft. But simple sentences can be just as effective as meticulously crafted prose. You’ve got to hit the right balance, and it’s not always obvious until you’ve written a few books and read many more.

Sometimes turning off the mind is exactly what the doctor ordered. Can you imagine how much Guinness World Record holder Ryoki Inoue would have produced if he had indulged his self-doubt for a nanosecond? Would he have finished a fraction of the 1,100 novels that he wrote in his prime? Or would he have gotten discouraged and thrown in the towel before getting started?

Just to give you an idea of how prolific this guy is, here’s an article by Matt Moffett (The Wall Street Journal, May 2nd, 1996). In it, Mr. Moffett describes how Ryoki started “around 10” and wrote straight through the evening, finishing his 195-page manuscript “at 5:30 a.m., having consumed most of a packet of pipe tobacco and half a pot of coffee.” Assuming 250 words per page, that’s the equivalent of a 48,000-word manuscript in a little less than eight hours.

But that’s nothing. Apparently Mr. Inoue has a system for writing three books in one day. It just boggles the mind!

So why am I complaining about editing 2,000 words? Really, I have much to learn about the writing process.

When in doubt, just keep going. Turn off the negative voices in your head and don’t let anything stand in the way of success, least of all, you.

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Day 6: 1,157 words
Day 7: 1,102 words
Day 8: 1,643 words
Day 9: 2,057 words
Day 10: 1,038 words
Total: 12,865 words

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 9: Just Your Ordinary Chaos

So there I was, my day all planned out and motivation in check. I even knew what I was going to be working on. Surely I could finish a draft of The Forgetful Alien after a few hours of hard work, right?

Once I’d read over what I’d written and fixed some errors along the way, I went off track, pushing the story forward only a few hundred words. And after that? Nothing. Ugh!

It wasn’t exactly writer’s block that I was experiencing, and by and large, I knew what I wanted to say. So why was I struggling?

Oddly enough, my mind just needed a break. It wasn’t as if I didn’t want to write. Far from it! I just couldn’t get my mind into the task at hand.

But shouldn’t I keep moving forward, regardless? Isn’t that the right thing to do? Is a forceful approach necessary to get the project off my plate?

In the end, I realized that I wasn’t being productive, and decided to work on something else. I looked over my other half-finished projects and worked a little on each until I decided to transcribe the first page of Emberlake Hollow that I’d written by hand while watching the 49ers game (yes, I write by hand on occasion).

I didn’t transcribe much—less than 200 words—when I felt this sudden urge to write something new; not something half-finished or that had been brewing in my head, but something genuine. I didn’t care what I wrote about. I just needed something fresh and unexplored to keep my fingers moving.

“Here we going again,” I thought to myself. “What’s that ahead? Could that be another half-finished project?”

Remember what I said about starting new projects in lieu of finishing old ones? Now I couldn’t even follow my own advice. I was playing with fire, but what the heck? I hadn’t finished anything to speak off despite working all day. What harm could there be in deviating from my plan?

So I put on my Donald Rump hat (the pen name that I use whenever I want to write adult toilet humor) and went to work. Before I knew it, the first 500 words flew out of me. I had no idea where it was going; it just felt good. As I kept typing, the farts kept coming, and I knew that I was onto something.

After an hour, I had amassed 1,000 words. Then another went by and I had 1,750. Suddenly it was time to tie things up. Because of how this mysterious process works, the solution had been hinted at throughout the story and was now staring me in the face. I put down the last 300 words in a mad dash and finally my latest piece of fart fiction was born.

But what would I call it? Unlike other stories where the title became clear midway through, I still couldn’t decide on a name. While I pondered over the title, I sifted through stock art that I’d set aside for future Donald Rump books and picked out a pair of ridiculous images. Perfect!

Once I began the cover, my hand was forced. “What’s the title? That’s the $500 question!” I said aloud. Surprisingly it stuck. Sure, the title was just as corny as the cover, but this wasn’t Pulitzer Prize-winning material. It was just a series of fart jokes. Besides, it was the only title I could think of that unified all of the ridiculous elements of the story.

After finishing the cover, I added it to the Word document (I use Microsoft Word for everything) and began the slow, painful process of editing.

But this was a different type of “slow and painful.” I was only moving slow because I was tired. Really, really tired. By grinding forward, I knew I’d have something to publish later that evening.

Also, I’d written The $500 Question in a different manner than my other works, blog posts included. I moved from sentence-to-sentence, making sure each was of publishable quality before proceeding on. When I reached the end, I felt that I had something that could be submitted. Sure, there were still holes that needed to be filled and sentences that needed retooling, but for the most part, it looked good.

So for the next couple of hours, I tinkered with The $500 Question, strengthening nouns and verbs, trimming adjectives and adverbs and replacing or omitting sections that weren’t worth saving. Certainly I could have wrapped things up earlier, but I enjoyed the slow, methodical pace.

Eventually the entire book got done and put up on Smashwords. In the past, I used to create the Kindle version first and didn’t worry about the Smashwords version until much, much later. Since Smashwords wasn’t a major source of income, I never was in a rush to publish there.

But that was before I started my new job and was exposed to a different (better) way of doing things. Ironically, the Kindle version is now the last thing I work on.

My publishing process is this: Once I finish the manuscript, I go to Bowker’s website, assign an ISBN to it (unless I want to use a free one from Smashwords), add it to my book, and create the PDF. After a quick check of the PDF, I create a .DOC version for Smashwords, upload it, and jump over to Teachers Pay Teachers (if it’s a children’s book) or my author store (note: Donald Rump has his own store). Since Smashwords has to convert the Word document (and sometimes it’s buried in the queue), this gives me the opportunity to put up my work in a few more venues before creating the EPUB.

Once Smashwords is taken care of, I create the EPUB from one of the templates that I’ve used in the past. This part can be monotonous work at times, especially if I have lots of images. If I do, I create a quick HTML version and open it with Sigil, giving me all of the metadata I need for the OPF, and to a lesser extent, the NCX file.

After filling in the template with my content, I zip it up with a command line tool (I’m on a Mac) and validate it with IDPF’s free service. Once I’ve debugged all of the errors (I always seem to forget something), I open the EPUB with Adobe Digital Editions or Sony’s e-reader app (I forget the name). If everything’s good, I submit it directly to Kobo and then Barnes & Noble.

As you can see, there are a lot of steps before I even arrive at the Kindle version, and that’s where I stopped last night. After I get home from work today, I’ll create the MOBI version (I use MOBI Pocket Creator on my PC) and upload it to Amazon.

Once I have all three versions, I’ll add them to my author store and OmniLit/All Romance eBooks (if appropriate). And if I still want to keep going, I can submit my content to Lulu (I’ve had a few sales there over the years), Tradebit (still waiting for my first sale) or directly to Apple (they’re a pain and sometimes it’s worth giving Smashwords 10% so that I don’t have to deal with them).

The only venue that I will not use is Scribd. I don’t know what it is with these people, but I do not trust them. They’ve proven time and again that they are poor caretakers of my work and enough is enough.

It’s easy to forget the importance of trust in a relationship. A venue needs to earn your trust before being given your entire backlist. In my case, I’d just be asking for it if I continued dealing with them.

Several months ago, many of my settings were reset when Scribd performed a major update. This left several of my books visible in their entirety even though they were listed for sale. To make matters worse, many now had creative commons licenses associated with them, allowing readers to make alternate versions of my copyrighted work. What the heck?

Needless to say, I jumped all over it and fixed everything as quickly as I could. I have no idea how many copies were viewed/downloaded or how long it had been like this, but it really turned my stomach.

Even though I was angry with them, I decided to give them another chance. I hadn’t sold anything there yet, but it appeared that a fair amount of people had been exposed to my content and may have made purchases in other venues. Perhaps. But since Scribd is more of a document-sharing community, most users expect the content to be free. Most likely, my backlist was being advertised to the wrong audience.

Once I fixed everything, I played around with some of the settings and came across a subscription-based model that wasn’t being heavily advertised yet. Out of curiosity, I opted in a few of my books and waited for the results.

Then in December 2013, Smashwords announced a partnership with Scribd and automatically opted in its entire catalog. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted my backlist in their subscription-based plan, so I dragged my feet for a couple of weeks.

It was then I received a nasty, little e-mail from Scribd’s IT department telling me that my book Aveline had been pulled due to plagiarism. What?! There was no advance warning or inquiry to see if I was indeed the copyright owner. The title had been yanked and I was the villain!

Needless to say, this made me very angry, and I suspected it had to do with the content being migrated from Smashwords. But why would they pull an already-established title? Aveline had been on their site for over a year. Didn’t it make more sense to block the content that was coming over from Smashwords? It didn’t make any sense.

Disgusted with how I had been treated, I promptly deleted all of my uploaded documents on Scribd, opted out every single one of them on Smashwords, and wrote a scathing e-mail. The reply back was apologetic, assured me that it wouldn’t happen again, and—get this—they promptly restored my document.

But how could that be? I already deleted my account by the time the e-mail had arrived. When I checked Scribd’s site, sure enough Aveline was available for sale. But by whom? There was no longer an account associated with this product.

Argh!!!

It was obvious that Scribd hadn’t put together a basic migration plan for all of the content that was coming over from Smashwords, and they had absolutely no answer for content that existed in both places. No doubt they ticked off a lot more authors!

Even worse, I discovered that they had opted in all of my content into their subscription plan by default. Remember the old setting that enabled you to opt in each title individually? That was superseded by a new global setting.

If there’s a theme to Scribd’s operations it’s this: Even if you’ve done due diligence, anything can and will happen to your content when they upgrade their system. You need to keep a close eye on their website; otherwise, you may find yourself in an undesirable position.

Since I’ve experienced this first hand, it would my own fault if I allowed it to happen again. Sure, I could opt in my titles individually on Smashwords, but I don’t want to worry about them once they’re in Scribd’s system.

Peace of mind and security mean something to me, and if I lose a few bucks because my work isn’t in all of the venues, so be it. It’s not as if Scribd is a major player in the e-book industry, anyways (famous last words).

In spite of this, I’ve had nothing but good experiences with a little known site named Teachers Pay Teachers. Everything has been professional and I never have these types of issues there. If there’s a problem, it’s of my own doing.

I already make enough mistakes as it is, and I don’t need someone (or something) to create work for me. When you’re managing 118 titles, you’ll understand. Even small errors can take hours to correct.

And I’d rather spend that time writing. Wouldn’t you?

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Day 6: 1,157 words
Day 7: 1,102 words
Day 8: 1,643 words
Day 9: 2,057 words
Total: 11,827 words

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 8: Giving Back

I realize that I’m not supposed to look at my sales too closely, but it’s easy to get depressed when you read about other authors finding success when you’re struggling, especially when they’re making over $13,000 a month. That’s something I never did. I’d be happy with a quarter of that amount. As long as I can scrape by, I’d be happy writing all day long.

And I mean that with every fiber of my being.

(Oh boy. It’s going to take awhile to complete this paradigm shift. Can I really say that money isn’t that important?)

Before, when the money came easily, I got complacent. I convinced myself that I needed a break and was tired after all of the years working in the hotel industry and web development. Of course, that was utter nonsense. I really needed to be developing as much content as possible, especially since Amazon’s algorithm changes were just around the corner. Sure, I couldn’t have predicted that this would happen but I should never have assumed that the money would continue flowing as it did.

That is my mistake, and I paid the price for it. If I can get back to where I was, I will give it my all and publish frequently, if not every day. I want to be successful and am willing to do whatever it takes to be a full time author again. It’s a dream worth fighting for.

When I see numbers like “$13,000 in December” I no longer see it as a given that an author can repeat those numbers the following month. If she can, great. She deserves it. Things are changing so rapidly I’m surprised that she’s been able to increase her income.

And she’s certainly put in the work. Back in October when Amazon began pulling erotica titles left and right (I believe one of the offending keywords was “Daddy,” which makes me surprised my children’s book My Daddy’s Cool Car Collection wasn’t pulled), she had several profitable titles that got banned. But rather than sit and complain about it (which I would have likely done), she reworked the titles, toned down the content and got them reinstated with correspondence from Amazon.

I doubt I’d have the same reaction. In fact, I’m certain I wouldn’t. I have three titles that have been blocked by Amazon because they were in the Indonesian language and it made me absolutely furious when they were pulled and I was notified afterwards. “They don’t deserve these titles,” I said, and put them up in all the other venues. That’s right, I didn’t bother fixing them (I could have made Bilingual English and Indonesian versions to comply with their policy), and vowed to make a bunch of money with someone who actually wanted them. “I’ll show you Amazon!” I declared, but perhaps it’s time to put aside my anger and get these books back into the #1 e-book store on the planet.

Although there’s no guarantee K. Matthew will break $13,000 next month, her chances are good. Readers tend to stay active during the winter months in spite of work, school, etc. In fact, the shortest month of the year, February, was my most successful month ever, so there’s plenty of opportunity to earn a decent income post Christmas.

Everything she does seems to turn to gold, and lately, everything I’ve been doing has turned to crap. I can’t complain, though. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve published and there have been a few surprises in the international market. I’ve also jumped around a little more than was wise, following up unprofitable works rather than zeroing in on what makes money.

(Are you sure that money doesn’t matter?)

When I was first successful with children’s picture books, I followed up My Little Pet Dragon with My Crazy Pet Frog. It wasn’t exactly a sequel, but it was of the same ilk. Afterwards, I published A Little Book About You (which is free right now if you’d like a copy), Pigtastic, A Pocketful of Dinosaurs, Ninja Robot Repairmen, Happy Healthy Hearts, My Daddy’s Cool Car Collection and If I Were A Robot. In between there was a lull for these similarly themed books (by that I mean the look and feel). Taming Your Pet Monster: An Operational Guide hit a few months later, followed by The Penguin Way a month after that. I would not release another children’s book of this type until a year later with Baby Blue.

Granted, I did work on other children’s books during this time. I wrote 11 volumes of Alphabet All-Stars that has been largely unsuccessful (but personally rewarding for my son), and put out five books in the Adorable Dogs series that sell here and there and were lots of fun to do. I also did a pair of girly books (does that make me a girly man?), Aveline and The Most Beautiful Flower, but it’s obvious from the covers that they are in a different class than my popular children’s books.

Looking at it this way, it’s obvious why I haven’t been successful recently. Even if I published one children’s book per month like I was previously doing, I should see sales improve, especially if I extended the length.

As I’ve said before, I’m in this for the long haul, and I’ll keep working until I get this ship turned around.

But I do admire that I didn’t chase the money, at least not to high degree. Instead, I focused on being an artist and wrote the stories that I was interested in. Sure, I paid for it financially, but I feel good about everything I’ve written. To be quite honest, it was personally fulfilling to come up with an idea and see the finished work materialize in a matter of hours or days. Who doesn’t like to be productive and follow their instincts? It’s very liberating.

But I shouldn’t become a starving artist, especially since I’ve found success in the past. I have profitable franchises; is it too much to follow them up? Will I really be selling out by doing this? All of us need to eat, right? And many of us like to eat well. Would it be worth it to sell out a little (just a little, I promise) and reach $10,000 a month?

Ugh!

Personally, I hate to think of writing as a series of business decisions. Ideally, I should feel free to write what I want whenever I want, regardless of the financial circumstances. Actually, that’s how I became successful in the first place. I took a chance and went for it. And the person that doesn’t see the value in taking risks won’t hit the big payday.

You also shouldn’t shy away from your ideas. Don’t turn off the creative faucet because, even though you like the idea, you’re afraid that your audience will not (i.e., you won’t sell enough copies). That’s why I want to write faster. If I move quickly from project to project, I might just be able to keep up with my feeble brain and take more chances than the average writer.

But success should be followed up. That’s money left on the table. My Little Pet Dragon was a huge hit when it was first released, but I never wrote the extended children’s novel like I intended to. I was too busy chasing the next idea, and many didn’t work out.

I’m glad I took those chances, though. I really, really am. But I would have been better off mixing in sequels with new projects. At very least, it could fund all of my crazy ideas, like those fart books I rattled off.

That’s a change that I need to make this year. It’s worth my time to mix in a few projects that could result in big sales. The first two are My Little Pet Dragon Ness and Secret Agent Disco Dancer. I have the covers for each as well as a good start on the actual stories. If I work on them a little each day along with my journal, they’ll get done. That gives me a real shot at reversing my fortunes.

The relationship that authors have with readers is a fragile one. When we don’t deliver, they tune out and there are many things to distract them these days. The worse case scenario is that they never check back again, and that would be a real shame. I’ve got so much more to show them—fantastic voyages with twists and turns and characters that are out of this world. I owe it to them to finish these projects.

The truth is, you can’t just be an artist who chases the winds of creativity. You must also be a smart artist, and realize when it’s in your best interest to work on something despite your reservations. Working on a project, however commercial in nature, won’t change who you are.

Remember, the art that is produced isn’t just for you. Some consideration must be given to the reader. Do something just for them as a thank you for making you successful.

In fact, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

These sequels are love letters to all of those who gave me a chance and made me (at least briefly) a full time author.

And I’m not going to delay any longer.

Since I’ve done the most work on Secret Agent Disco Dancer, that will be the next project following The Forgetful Alien. I may be delayed while working out the kinks with this daily journal, but it’s at the top of my list—my highest priority—and I will not stop until it is done.

Give back every once in awhile. It will also pay you back in the end.

Or, simply grow a brain a follow up successful books. That works, too.

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Day 6: 1,157 words
Day 7: 1,102 words
Day 8: 1,643 words
Total: 9,770 words

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 7: New Year's Mayhem

The following was previously written on January 1, 2014, but I’ve been unable to edit it until now. Still, it seems appropriate. Enjoy!

Caca Pedo Poo-Poo

With a new year comes new possibilities. And challenges. And mayhem. And excruciating pain. And little kids pulling out your hair (what's left of it), and screaming at the top of their lungs.

That sort of thing...

Such was the scene last night. Even though 2014 was barely a minute old, a voracious mob of abandoned children thundered into my room, screaming into my ear, smacking me on the side of the head, and occasionally removing their clothes.

"Foolish children," my voice darkened. "Keep this up and I'm going to add you as a character in my book!"

"Oh yeah? Well you're a caca pedo poo-poo!" My pint-sized nephew Keyvan laughed.

"You're lucky that Christmas has already passed. Do you know what Santa does with naughty boys like you?" Sparks of fire raced through my eyes.

"Caca poo-poo!" He pointed.

"He punishes them. Perhaps he sends you a gift, a gift that looks ordinary on the outside, but is far from it." I leaned forward. "A few years back, one such child got a toy Jeep for Christmas. Although he could see something in the rear of the car, he couldn't open the back door."

"Poo-poo!" Keyvan insisted.

"When the little boy was fast asleep, the rear door opened and a tiny creature scampered into the darkness, making a home for himself in the musty, old basement. Every night, the filthy creature crawled through the ventilation ducts of the house and gazed at the naughty little boy, whispering foul things that materialized in his dreams. Nightmare after nightmare, the boy could not get any sleep, and slowly he became aware of the hideous beast lingering in his basement. When he caught a glimpse of its shadow one night, he woke up his parents and told them that a monster was living in the basement.

"Don't worry, it's probably just a mouse," said his father. "We'll call pest control in the morning." He rolled over and went back to sleep.

But if any of them knew what was living under them, they would have known that hiring an exterminator was a futile effort. Goblins live off the rodents in one's house, and more importantly, the fear in little boys’ hearts.

As the weeks went by, the little boy locked himself in his room, taped the vents shut, and secured all the windows. Still, the fiend with a face full of scars and rotten teeth carved a path to his room.

The boy cringed as he heard the creature chew through the floorboards and slip under his bed one night. He jumped up, and grabbed a baseball bat nearby. "Leave me alone!" he screamed.

The goblin snickered, his green peepers pulsing with a supernatural energy. Finally, the boy couldn't take it anymore, and charged forward swinging.

Although his bat did not find its mark, the intruder's teeth did. The goblin disappeared in the basement where he was not seen again.

Upon learning that a wild animal had bitten her son, his mother promptly took him to the hospital, forcing him to succumb to the prick of sharp, pointy needles that stabbed him like daggers.

But it did little good.

Boils began forming all over the kid's skin, even the most private parts. Though his body itched all over, he dare not scratch it, lest he be subjected to even crueler rashes that might never go away. Shortly thereafter, his hair fell out, and teeth broke off and began to rot.

It was not long before the boy ran away, now a hideous goblin searching for a new home to haunt. But all of this could have been averted if he had simply been kind to his elders.

"You're a caca, pee-pee, poo-poo booger that's farted out of a goblin!" The psychopath smacked me on the top of the head and ran away.

"Just wait until next Christmas!" I hollered.

Productivity Log

Even though this household of lunatics did not want me to jot down a single word, I still had a productive day. As I waded through an assortment of stock imagery in my archives, I came across a story that I started last year titled The Forgetful Alien and promptly vomited out 3,000 words. Yes, just like the exorcist, and no less possessed.

While writing, I took a wrong turn somewhere and was unable to resolve the ending. Still, I put in some good work, and have about three quarters of it now. Tomorrow I will go through what I've written and push through to the end. If I can just reach the finish line, I know I’ll sort out the details and eventually publish it. Finishing an idea while it's still fresh is of utmost importance.

I've also done a good job keeping up with my writing journal thus far, and now readers have a good idea of the maniacal character that I am. 2014 promises to be my most productive year yet. Now I just need to produce. Even though my goal was to write only 1,000 words a day in this journal, I already have an entry over 1,500.

Yikes! Here it comes…

Don’t be surprised to see a few 2,000-word entries in the near future. I just can’t help myself.

Ok, that's it for now. Certainly I've gone over my allotment for the day. 2014 is off to a great start. It’s time to become the writer that I always wanted to be.

Make something of yourself! Be the inspiration that others need in their lives.

--S.E. Gordon
(Kind of an author)

Simple Truths:
  • It's impossible to win with a child, no matter how clever you are.
  • Caca Pedo Poo-Poo is not a grammatically correct.
  • There’s a goblin in every child; it’s an undeniable fact.
  • Composing your thoughts in a house full of lunatics is like swimming upstream in a pair of water-dissolvable shorts.
  • Even the best children's book can be improved by adding Caca Pedo Poo-Poo.
  • If you lock yourself into a dungeon, the monsters will still find a way in.
  • Go to a land far, far away where no one can see or bother you, and you'll find your angry wife at the other end of your cell phone every five minutes.
  • In short: take advantage of those quiet moments before they slip away. Once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.
Oh yeah, and:
  • Finish an idea while it's still fresh in your head.
  • If you can reach the finish line just once, you’ll find a way to polish and publish your work.
Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Day 6: 1,157 words
Day 7: 1,102 words
Total: 8,127 words

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 6: What I Really Want

Never am I at a loss for setting ridiculous, unobtainable goals:

I want to be the most prolific author in the world.

Heck, I want to be the most prolific author in literary history!

That was my goal, at least initially. As I put in the long hours, my love of writing began to wane. Something was wrong; I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

It’s taken awhile, due to my stubborn personality and incredibly hard head, to realize what’s truly important:
  • Enjoy what you are doing.
  • Be consistent.
  • And have the freedom to write whatever you want.
If I have all of these things—personal satisfaction, productivity and freedom—does the rest really matter? As long as I can pay my bills, I’ll be fine.

Still, I would like to be more proficient at my craft.

In July 2012, I produced 21 children’s picture books in a single month. Although these books were simple in nature, the experience gave me the feeling of being a prolific writer. But there was very little writing involved. I found myself writing more for the available artwork than the actual story, and soon began questioning my purpose. Months later, when people started posting positive reviews of Aveline and Taming Your Pet Monster: An Operational Guide, I decided to revisit everything that I had produced previously. To my surprise, the quality was good, and several titles would find success just a few months later.

Though I had begun to tire of writing children’s books, I was satisfied with each and every one of them. The effort was good, even though many had been produced in a short period of time, often a single day.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have slowed down or stopped at all. I should have trusted my instincts and not doubted myself just because I was having difficulty selling. By being fixated on sales, I produced significantly less than I could have.

This time around, I won’t make the same mistake. I’ll ignore sales numbers and focus on productivity. As long as I create the best books that I am capable of, the sales will come. It’s inevitable.

And although I’ve said that I’ll take a break from children’s books to focus on my more “serious” works, I’ve had a change of heart. These books are helping children, notably my autistic seven-year-old son. All I needed was a time out, and now that I’ve had it, I’m ready to tackle the new challenges before me.

Eventually, I would like to get back to producing an original children’s book each week in addition to my normal writing. Although this appears to be a no-brainer, it’s actually a lot more difficult than it sounds. Tons of effort goes into producing children’s books, and as I get closer to the finishing one, I find that I can do little else. Sleep eludes me, and the need to finish pushes me through fatigue and exhaustion. This time, I’ll pace myself better so that I don’t burn out.

I would also like to make a significant change to my children’s books. While my picture books are typically a few hundred words (due to limited attention spans), instead I will produce stories at least 3,000 words in length. This shift from flash fiction to short stories increases the age range slightly from children 2-5 to children 3-6. A subtle, but significant difference.

Aside from publishing children’s books on a consistent basis, I’d also like to finish all of the languishing projects on my plate. For each new story I finish, I’ll alternate and wrap up a partially completed one. These all need to get out the door eventually, so now is the time to get them done.

I also need to follow up my successful works, distribute my books to all of the proper channels, and fix any errors that I come across. I would also like to focus on my website and sell directly to the reader.

But first things first. Let’s get some consistency in the writing process, starting with this journal. I will use it to chart my progress and keep myself writing every day. Even if I fall short of my goals, I will maintain this journal nonetheless.

I also need to be careful not to over commit myself while juggling friends, family and a full time job. That’s why I’m going to stagger these goals initially, and tackle them once I’m ready.

Here is an early list of my goals for 2014:
  1. Write consistently every day in your journal (minimum 1,000 words).
  2. Write one new children’s book per week starting in February (minimum 3,000 words).
  3. Finish all of your incomplete projects, alternating between old and new.
  4. Distribute all of your books to as many legitimate vendors as possible (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Omnilit, Teachers Pay Teachers, Lulu).
  5. Enjoy what you do. (That’s a must!)
  6. Strive to become a better writer by learning something new each day.
  7. Fix all problems that you encounter.
  8. Focus on productivity rather than sales or reviews.
  9. Invest time in your author store and develop original content for it.
  10. And most of all, have fun!
Although this isn’t a complete list by any means, it’s enough to get started. I also added an item or two that needs to be discussed in detail (more on that later). Of all of these, the most important is the last one.

Have fun with it, even if you never make millions of dollars off your craft. Nothing’s guaranteed, especially in this industry, so why not? Get personal fulfillment from your writing today. Money can’t be the only motivating factor, and if one truly genuinely enjoys their work, they’ll produce more content with fewer breaks.

Although I decided several years ago what I wanted to do with my life, I still need to remind myself to have fun every once in a while. Yes, it’s a business. I get that. And yes, it’s how I feed my family. But it’s more than that. My work affects people, causes positive change in the world, amuses some, helps others, and may ultimately lead to success. Don’t write aimlessly just to capitalize on a buck; otherwise, you may not want to do it anymore.

Last, I’d like to break 200 total products this year. Currently, I’m sitting at 117. It’s going to take quite a bit of effort to publish another 73 titles this year while working a full time job. And if this was my only job? Heck, I’d knock it out in three months. (Grr…)

I must step up to the plate and produce. There are no excuses. It’s now or never.

This is your path.

This is your calling.

This is what you will do every day until you die.

So get busy. There’s nothing that can stand in your way except yourself.

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Day 6: 1,157 words
Total: 7,025 words

Sunday, January 5, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 5: My Flawed Writing Process

When I first started writing seven years ago, I wasn’t sure which approach I’d take. Should I use an outline? Or should I write off-the-cuff (i.e., whatever came to mind)? Typically, I’m a slow writer, and wanted to find something that would speed me up. With the outline approach, I’d seen the joy of writing evaporate as every major decision was decided beforehand, the process marginalized by pouring a lifeless story into a ready-made cast. Besides, the best stories are designed, not thrown onto the page, right?

A short time later, I read Stephen King’s Author Note in The Green Mile, which made me realize that quite a few successful novels had been written serially. What captivated me about this process was that the writer lived for the moment, writing down what they knew at the time, and moving forward without knowledge of where the story would lead next. The process sounded exciting, and made every day a unique adventure.

Afterwards, I started practicing stream-of-consciousness exercises, where I wrote down thoughts as they came to me, focusing solely on the next few words. By taking it one sentence at a time, I found that I could put down several thousand words without difficulty, and the quality wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was quite good. With a little practice, my writing improved along with my speed.

Quickly I fell in love with panstering, or writing by the seat of your pants, but it’s far from a perfect process. At first I did it wrong, worrying about quality and rewriting everything that I’d written over and over until I was sick of it. Ultimately, editing is the where an author earns their keep, and readers are only willing to pay high prices for well-edited manuscripts.

But what exactly qualifies as “well-edited”? Is there a barometer one has to pass to meet this criteria? A certain number of rewrites? Or a certain number of times that you must reread your work until you can no longer find any errors? Surely you can’t write something of quality that comes off the top of your head!

And what if I veer off track? That happens time-to-time with panstering. More importantly, what if you don’t know that you’ve veered off track? No one wants to discover after the fact that dozens of pages, or in some cases an entire manuscript, must be tossed.

But the risk comes with the territory. If you discover that you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere, back up, throw out the offending text, and try again. It’s not worth your time to try to fix a passage that is deeply flawed or simply stinks. Try, try again! You’re creating so much content anyways that you can afford to throw out some every now and then. It’s the nature of the beast.

There does come a time when you realize that a light framework is beneficial. Think about the point that you’re trying to reach and move towards it. This simple structure should be flexible enough to throw out if you come up with a better idea along the way. Mistakes can be expensive, especially when time is used as currency. You can write more effectively and faster if you hash out a few details beforehand and it doesn’t seem to hinder the panstering process.

If all this feels unnatural, toss out your notes and write what’s in your head. There’s no right way to do this.

Personally, I’m a sucker for the freewheeling nature of panstering. It’s a system of discovery, and relies on listening more than thinking. It’s the closest thing to freedom that I’ve ever felt, and once you’ve tasted it, you’ll be hooked.

Plenty of arguments can be made for the efficiency of outlining, but I’ve seen writers plan out their books extensively beforehand only to find a very different story when they finally enter it. Sometimes the two are not conductive and new characters appear out of thin air, bringing a fresh round of analysis and doubt. Slowly the story ekes out of them, and frequently they grind to a halt, pondering over a single sentence or paragraph.

Yes, I’ve heard of writers obsessing over a sentence or paragraph for months, and I am no less the sucker for wanting my words to sound good the first time they come out of me. But writing flowery prose that dazzle and sing is fool’s gold. You’re better off aiming for clarity instead.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the aforementioned process from outline to final draft takes six months for a 100,000-word novel, and that you will not get stuck for an appreciable amount of time. If one were to write 2,500 words per day, every day, they’d finish a draft in six weeks. Every one and a half months, the author could churn out a new draft even if they didn’t know what the story was about.

“But what if I have to throw out large sections of my manuscript?” you say.

Good. It means that you’ve discovered what you want to say. Make a few notes, keep what’s working, and tell the story better, the writing process becoming a redrafting process. Notice I didn’t use the word “rewriting.” More and more I’m discovering about the ineffectiveness of rewriting chapters over and over again and instead trusting the creative side of my brain.

Writing “off-the-cuff,” can help a manuscript evolve through a series of drafts, or you can (gasp) move on to something else. Alternatively, the outlining approach produces a more mature draft from the outset, and the story is more likely to stay on a predefined course. In the end, it’s possible that a combination of both can yield effective results; what one lacks in complex structure, the other makes up for with spontaneity, energy and excitement.

As an added benefit, panstering is easy to plan out on a calendar. Every day you know exactly where you’ll be, because you have to produce or else. All you need to do is hit your word count goal for the day, and you never think too far ahead, instead focusing on the excitement of the moment.

Outlining can also produce a manuscript in a short amount of time if you’re comfortable with it. Neither process is necessarily better, and the benefits are entirely debatable. It’s up to you.

But here’s where I have a problem with the structured approach: outlining tends to insert editing into the process too soon, that’s why initial drafts take longer. Also, it seems (to me, at least) that all of the excitement is sucked right out of the project when you plan to the last detail. Something must be unaccounted for that sparks your imagination, otherwise the process is cumbersome and secretarial and the writing suffers.

Although I respect the structured approach, it’s not for me. I love watching a story materialize out of thin air and discovering fantastic gems buried deep inside of me. Since writing entails a huge investment of time and hard work, the joy of discovery is the one thing that keeps me going each day.

And enjoyment is a necessity.

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Total: 5,868 words

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 4: Early Fumblings

I used to be the type of writer that needed to write everything by hand first, confident that this approach yielded the best results. But each time I wrote something, it felt like a major undertaking. First, I'd write several pages, gloss over it, and add notes where appropriate. Second, I'd begin the arduous process of typing it all up, typically editing along the way and often extending it. Surprisingly, this step sapped the energy out of me, and I would frequently stall as I tried to think of the perfect word to put down. By the time I reached the third step, I was in full editing mode, and extensive edits were still required to whip the draft into shape.

But why is that? Didn't I write two drafts already? Why was it still a mess? That's far too much work to generate a rough draft.

It wasn't until I began journaling extensively that I was able to make the transition to the keyboard. A lot of this had to do with a variety of myths that I had conjured up, holding onto the ways of old in spite of the advantages of the new. At first, I didn't think that the quality of writing was as good when I typed directly into the computer. I also did not feel as free to jump around the page as I did by hand. When I needed to zero in on something and add a quick note, it was exceedingly easy this way.

But it was slow, much slower than typing everything up in the first place.

When I started writing these journals I was still writing by hand. It didn't take long before I realized that I was putting far too much effort into each entry and that I didn't need an elaborate process just to put my thoughts down. I just needed to open Microsoft Word and begin typing; otherwise, I was just creating work for myself.

A few months after I began journaling, I made the conscious decision to write all of my entries directly into the computer. I simply didn't have time to transcribe what I'd written, and as previously mentioned, it took a lot out of me before I got to my main work.

It would be years before I finally felt comfortable enough to solely use the computer. Writing by hand created a lot of paperwork that piled up fast and became difficult to transcribe when I added lots of notes. It was easy to be overrun with clutter, and the more I used the computer, the more I realized that my misconceptions about the process were unfounded. Some excellent work had been done without the aid of paper. This work also tended to be longer than what I'd created by hand. And when it came to quality, what I realized was this: Quality is a matter of focus, and isn't hindered by typing it into the computer. Do you want to write better? Then focus more intensely.

There are a few more methods that I'd love to try but haven't gotten around to yet. Years back, when I worked for the American Registry for Internet Numbers, I got the chance to meet a pair of transcription experts for our conference. Each used a device that connected to a standard PC, but it allowed them to use shorthand. As they pushed each key, the PC converted the shorthand notation into actual words, enabling them to keep up with some absolute motor mouths. One such lady talked so quickly, I could barely comprehend what she was saying. But these gals were good, and after two and a half days of sessions, they'd typed over 50,000 words.

My hat goes off to them. Now where can I learn to type at high speeds like that?

One reason I haven't implemented this approach is because it is cost prohibitive. These specialized devices cost, at a minimum, $5,000 and up. I also don't know shorthand. Though I could learn it, it would be awhile before it became second nature.

But the truth of the matter is that I can type at decent speeds already, and high speeds don’t necessarily correlate with increased productivity. When it comes time to shape thoughts into words, I type at a much slower speed than I am capable of. Although I've taken typing tests and hit speeds of 70-80 words per minute, I typically write between 20-30. This is composition speed, and until I make the conscious effort to improve it, it really doesn’t matter how fast I type. Still, it would be fascinating to see what speeds I could peak at. Perhaps it’s better to invest in a Dvorak or Colemak keyboard.

I've also read about prolific authors dictating entire books to their staff (Barbara Cartland was famous for this). One even employed two fulltime secretaries, who followed him around wherever he went. In the end, these authors never touched a typewriter; the only edits they performed were on typed-up manuscripts.

Then, of course, there's the age-old method of using a manual typewriter. No, a computer with its word processing software won't do. I'm talking about a device where you have to manually feed it paper. But those were the dark ages, right? How can using relic from the past increase productivity?

While it might seem cumbersome and antiquated, there are many authors who swear by it. In fact, it was the method of choice used by the pulps (ok, it was largely the only productive method available to them). When one uses a typewriter it suggests permanence, incorporating a sense of finality in their work. Many pulp writers typed up novels with few notes, following the story wherever it lead. Later, they would read over it, mark it up, and send it off to the publisher without reading it again. Rewriting simply wasn’t allowed. Although this might seem like a step back, the lack of word processing software prevents a writer from extensively editing their work and to get it right the first time.

And surprisingly it works.

For argument’s sake, were there any decent writers that came out of the pulps? Many, in fact, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Simenon. Scores of popular fiction is attributed to this era (Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Buck Rogers, etc). Since the average pulp writer typically wrote 3,000-5,000 words per day, it becomes clear that they were doing something right. Can something be learned from this process?

As for the future, who knows what it will hold? I've tried Dragon speech-to-text software in the past and it's an exercise in futility. Although it's matured, the software is very much hit-and-miss. And that doesn't cut it for high-speed writing. The computer must be able to keep up with one’s thoughts, even it makes a few mistakes here and there. But if all it's doing is recording my voice and spitting out a bad transcription in the process, what value does it serve? I'm better off typing it all up instead.

There may come a day when a sensor or microchip is able to interpret and record our thoughts, eliminating the need to type it ourselves. But I suspect it still will not eliminate the need for an author to type their work. In the end, the best way is to sit behind the keyboard and hammer away, for it will be many years before technology provides a sensible replacement.

This, indeed, is one of my many early fumblings. By focusing on speed, I’d lost sight of the talents that I already had. If a writer is able to maintain 40 words per minute, they can create 2,400 words of new content per hour. That’s 10,000 words in a little over four hours, a healthy day for any author. And 40 words per minute is a far cry from the insane speeds that some typists hit.

So if one seeks to improve their speed, why not start there? Block off a few hours and try to maintain a rate of 40 words per minute for the duration of the session. If you can do it, eventually you’ll get good at it, it won’t be any big deal for you to tap out 10,000 words per day.

Can you imagine that? That’s the equivalent of 3,650,000 words per year. And if you increased this amount slightly, from 10,000 to 11,000 words, you'd break 4,000,000! That's the equivalent of eighty 50,000-word novels! Do that for a few years and you'll easily become one of the most prolific authors in the world today—all for a mere 4-5 hours of writing per day.

Easy, right?

Consistency is what you must first focus on. Give yourself an ultimatum and become a prolific author rather than talking about it. Improve upon what you already do well, and 40 words per minute is a goal that most writers can achieve.

Sure, it will take some time to get acclimated, but the same can be said of other tasks when you first started writing. Remember the first time you wrote 1,000 words in one sitting? How about 3,000? It was difficult, right? Eventually you adjusted, and now it isn't a big deal anymore. It's the same thing with your compositional speed. You just need the practice.

And practice makes an author prolific. Guaranteed.

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Total: 4,675 words

Friday, January 3, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 3: I'm An Author, Sort Of

The label of author should be used loosely when describing me and my “work,” and perhaps I’m more of a hobbyist than a full-blown professional. As of today, I’ve published 117 different works, but don’t let the number fool you. It’s padded with foreign translations and compilations that help boost overall sales. Aside from that, the bulk of what I’ve written are children’s picture books, and I do not have a novel to my credit, only a few short stories and novelettes.

Despite this odd assortment of titles, I have found success. Back in January 2012, I sold a few thousand e-books and saw my sales skyrocket. At one point, I was making more from writing than my full time job, which prompted me to roll the dice and take a chance on this new, emerging opportunity. My contract at work was also expiring, so this seemed to be the best choice at the time.

Obviously, things did not pan out as expected. May’s earnings of $4,000 promptly became $1,600 in June. In July, I fought back voraciously, publishing another 21 titles, and getting my earnings back to $2,500, but it was obvious that the old approach was no longer working, and I would not be able to sustain myself any longer with writing alone. August came and I published a few more titles, while also widening my distribution channels. Although I made slightly more ($2,600), I braced for further reduction in royalties. When November finally ended, I could no longer break $1,000, and none of the new venues (Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo) had caught on yet.

Now I’m back to square one.

Also keep in mind that I am early in my writing career. Although I started writing back in 2006 (and I have the unfinished manuscripts to prove it), I didn’t get around to publishing (i.e., finishing) anything until October 2011. That’s when the fun began. Twelve months later, I had published 70 unique titles, primarily children’s books. My dream of being a published author had been realized to some extent.

But the honeymoon is over, and now it’s time for me to get back to the art of writing. Although writing picture books has been fun and rewarding (and paid well for a brief period), it’s time for me to finish my more serious works, notably Enura (a vampire thriller) and The Key of Neverhence (a fantasy epic). That’s not to say that I’m going to ditch children’s books altogether, but I am going to put a larger emphasis on finishing my novels.

There’s also something else that you should know about me: I am absolutely obsessed with prolific authors and their processes. Frequently I refer to Ryoki Inoue (the Guinness World Record holder for most novels published at 1,100+), Georges Simenon (a pulp fiction writer with over 500 titles to his credit) and Corin Tellado (a Spanish romance novelist who spent most of her adult life writing, and churned out over 4,000 novellas). These are my heroes. They show what can be done if one puts their mind to it. If I can have one tenth of their productivity, I will be enormously successful, and that’s another reason that I’m keeping these journals. By reminding myself of what others have accomplished, I will aspire to do more than I would otherwise. Perhaps one day I’ll join them; I just need to get organized and stay disciplined.

And publish one of my novels…

In terms of goals, I have a lot of them. My novelette The Christmas Spirit has been in development for over a year, and needs an ending. I need to get it off my plate as soon as possible so it doesn’t miss Christmas 2014. Braedyn Bunny and The Missing Eggs was supposed to be an Easter project, but after writing 2,000 words, I took a break, and never returned to it. See a pattern here?

My Little Pet Dragon Ness, Secret Agent Disco Dancer and Aveline and the Great Pumpkin Bash (all sequels) have been started but aren’t close to completion. The Key of Neverhence is a 77,000-word manuscript that needs a major rewrite, but I’ve only done about ten percent of it. Enura is 75% complete, and is probably the closest thing that I have to a completed novel, but I got sick of it, and stopped development altogether.

If there’s a theme to my backlog, it’s that I need to finish what I start. I began all of these projects for a reason. In my mind’s eye, I saw each as a success. Now is not the time to doubt, get lazy, or start new projects instead of finishing existing ones. I must clear the slate so that I can make room for another batch of half-finished projects. Isn’t that always the case?

Beyond that, there’s a million other projects that I’d like to work on. The Key of Neverhence is only the first in a series of series, some 30+ books in all. I have another line of children’s books that adds at least a dozen more titles, as well as faery literature, science fiction action adventure, horror stories, tons more fantasy novels, etc. If I want to finish any of them, I must condition myself to be more productive and less judgmental. Otherwise, these ideas are going to hang around forever and drive me crazy.

And I’m halfway there already…

Reminders for the Feeble-minded
  • Finish what you start.
  • Don’t give up on incomplete works.
  • Don’t create new projects to avoid old projects.
  • There’s a reason why you started each and every project. Identify what you saw working in your head and expand upon it.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just because you’re not thrilled about something you’ve written doesn’t mean it’s bad. Show it to someone else and get their input. You may find that with a few tweaks everything snaps into place or that there’s nothing wrong with it in the first place. As Dean Wesley Smith says, “Authors are their own worst critics.”
  • And if all else fails, open Microsoft Word and just write. It will become clearer what to do with it later.
Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Total: 3,115 words

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 2: My Current Predicament

Traffic was nonexistent this morning due to the good fortune of having New Year’s Day occur in the middle of the week. When I'm not writing, I work a full time job at a nonprofit organization near Washington, D.C.

For those who know me, I'm sure you're wondering, "Wait a minute. I thought you quit your job to become a full time author. What's going on here?"

Back in April of 2012 I did just that, but due to changes in Amazon's algorithms (which kicked in about two months later) and the marginalization of KDP Select, I saw my sales drop by 75% from June to December. Meanwhile, I doubled my catalog of products, was more active than ever in my promotional efforts, and started several new series, but it did little to stop the bleeding. My sales crashed no matter what I did.

The first thing I realized is that I had built my empire wrong. Since everything was enrolled in Amazon's KDP Select program, I was completely at their mercy. If they wanted to hide me from their customers they could do so, and there was little that I could do about it. Ultimately, when the free giveaways failed to spark anything close to the sales that I had seen just a few months before, I knew I was in big trouble and started looking for a job.

Of course, it wasn't easy finding a job this time around, even though I lived in a decent job market. The economy sucked, and although I got close on a number of occasions, I always fell short. It also didn't help that I now had a large hole in my work history and had just turned 40. Eventually I landed a job, at first for part time work and largely devoid of benefits.

There have also been some lifestyle changes as well. First, I moved out of my expensive apartment (to which I am grateful), and cut my spending significantly. I also had to get rid of a few things that I owned (again, probably a good thing), and cut down on going to many of the places that I frequented.

Still, I am grateful.

Although I feel shafted by Amazon, it's nice to get my rights back, and I've promptly put my titles in as many venues as possible. Currently I have most of my titles in Kobo and about half in most other venues. Distributing my catalog of 117 products takes time, but slowly I’m getting there.

Of all of the vendors that I'm now using, Kobo is where I've experienced the most growth. In December 2012, I went from selling 5-10 books per month to over 100, and that was without most of my most popular titles. This past Christmas was a notable improvement over the previous, but I’m still not where I want to be. Even though it takes awhile, I’ll continue publishing on as many platforms as possible until I get this thing turned around.

As I've learned the hard way, having multiple sources of income can insulate and/or curb the impact of changes that the vendors make to their websites. Having a wide range of distribution channels can also open up new possibilities and help you break out when other stores are languishing.

Take my cute little children's book Aveline, for instance. Despite being in KDP Select (a program where you pledge exclusivity for ninety days in exchange for promotional tools and the ability to earn money if your book is “borrowed”), and having the exposure of Amazon, Aveline failed miserably. During its free run, I gave away a mere 300 copies, and subsequent sales were abysmal. In my best month on Amazon, I sold a total of three copies. Although I did go back and extend the book slightly (from 3,000 to 3,500 words), the changes didn't result in a drastically different book that would have ignited sales.

But a funny thing happened when I finally put it up on Kobo. Suddenly it started selling; not much at first, but right in line with whatever Amazon was doing and perhaps a little more. Once Christmas arrived, sales exploded, outselling Amazon 35-to-1 (granted I only had thirty-five sales in Kobo that month). Although I sold in small quantities, the title benefited from a wider release, and wouldn’t have done anything if it had stayed in Amazon's dreaded KDP Select program, which now provides a fraction of the promotion that it once did.

To me this is ridiculous. Amazon had a good product on its hands, and then they abruptly killed it, most likely due to pressure from the traditional publishing industry. But it’s their product. Let them create their own competition if they like.

Starting in December 2012, Amazon added a "bonus" to the KDP Select Fund (a pot of money which is divided by the total number of borrows for the month) due to its international expansion, but it really feels like a slap in the face. Keep the money and give me back the promotion that I once had—thus the 75% of my sales—and I'd be happy to make every word I write Amazon-exclusive!

Obviously that's not going to happen, and I've been deeply affected as a result. Ultimately, my current predicament is no one else’s fault but my own. I was foolish enough to trust Amazon and put all my eggs in one basket, and did not have a well-thought-out backup plan beyond “go back to work.” I will not let this happen again, and can now see the flaws in my plan with excruciating detail.

At the end of the day, Amazon is just another vendor, just like Kobo and Barnes & Noble. Ultimately, the goal is to sell directly to the customer where I can retain 100% of the profits. (I have made inroads at this, but am still working out the kinks). That does not mean that I won't put my works on Amazon, which still accounts for a significant chunk of my sales; it just means that I won't be foolish enough to give them leverage over the other competitors. If I want to publish something exclusive, it will be on my site.

And that’s the way it should be.

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Total: 2,080 words

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 1: An Introduction Of Sorts

I must be insane. That part is certifiable. As one of my New Year's resolutions, I've decided to write about my life as it unfolds, and jot down the pearls of wisdom as I uncover them along the way. As a test run, I’ll be writing at least 1,000 words per day, every day, until I reach January 31st. If all goes well, I’ll continue through the end of the year. The goal is to write the bulk of each entry in the morning, add to it throughout the day, and edit it in the evening. At the end of the week, I'll take a gander at what I've put down, make the appropriate tweaks, shake it up real good, and promptly forget about it, focusing on the upcoming week.

No sweat, right?

By writing 1,000 words per day, I'll be producing over 350,000 words a year. Holy crap! What’s wrong with me? I almost had a heart attack when I first took out the calculator and realized what I was embarking on. If one assumes that the average page is at least 250 words, I'll be writing over 1,400 pages. That's right, a one, a four and two zeroes slapped on the end of it. Yikes!

So my first question is: Will it be even remotely intelligible? Seriously, what can I possibly say to fill up that many pages? And does a year of my life warrant 10 pages, let alone 1,000? It's not like I'm some action hero, traveling the world, chasing bad guys, cheating death and wooing beautiful, exotic women.

I'm a writer. My imagination makes up for my deficiencies.

Or so I think…

But with my quirky personality and unique talent for getting myself in trouble—typically of my own design—I suppose this could be an interesting venture; just as intriguing as watching a handyman paint a wall. As Ryoki Inoue says, "If you hit a plot snag, use dynamite."

A thermonuclear bomb might have to do.

Most likely, I'll be writing well over the allotted 1,000 words per day. In the dark ages, when I first started keeping a writing journal, I forced myself to write 500 words per day, every day for several months. After awhile, 500 words wasn’t enough space to express everything that I wanted to say. 500 words quickly became 1,000, and these days, I don't feel comfortable putting down anything less than 1,500. Ooh boy…

But no one wants to read a 2,000-page book about a struggling writer, least of all me, so I'll be sure to scale it back where I can (if I can). I tend to blab—what can I say, it runs in the family—so perhaps 2,000 pages is a bit on the low side. (Sorry, I tried to warn you!)

Most importantly, why am I doing this?

Simply because I must.

I'm a writer. I'm compelled to do this. I've tried to turn off my creative juices before, but to no avail. And the journal writing simply doesn’t seem to go away. I've ignored it for a while, even for months at a time, but it always seems to creep back. It's something that I need to do to keep me healthy, and most of all, sane (not that you'd mistake anything written here for someone with a sound mind). It helps give me distance and perspective so that I can work through problems that are bothering me. And when I keep up with my journal, I tend to be more consistent across the board, which is the name of the game for writing in general.

Journaling works for me and makes me more productive, so there's no sense in ignoring it any longer. But instead of just putting down words that no one will ever see, it’s time to do something with them, for better or worse. Who knows? I might not embarrass myself this time.

So sit back and enjoy these scribblings about my life and the nuggets of wisdom that I find, and hopefully they'll teach you what not to do. And if you're a young writer who's simply looking for some sound advice, let me save you the trouble of this long-winded rant:
  • Write every day, as often as you can. The act of doing so makes you more professional and gives you the practice that is sorely needed to write that bestseller that’s locked in you.
  • Instead of focusing on speed, focus on consistency, and learn something new about grammar each day to help you compose your thoughts better.
  • Trust yourself and enjoy what you do.
  • Don’t get stuck in the pitfall of rewriting or analysis paralysis and seek to get better by writing forward.
  • Instead of entering countless (and very subjective) writing contests, declare yourself the winner and put up your next work on Amazon.
  • Learn to become self-sufficient and develop a thick skin for those one-star reviews that inevitably roll in (trust me, every successful author has them, even yours truly).
Writers write. Authors have written. And slackers talk about writing. (It seems that I fit into the latter category more often than the first two.)

And don’t be ashamed to admit that you wrote about farts (even brilliant minds such as Benjamin Franklin wrote about such things), zombie poetry (the undead have quite a way with words, especially when they’re not trying to gnaw off your legs), and installing popcorn machines in women’s crotches (pleading the fifth on that one). Remember, this is all about free expression. Have fun with it.

Your work doesn’t have to follow the same cookie cutter mentality as everyone else. People are multi-dimensional with fascinating personalities once you get to know them. And your readers want to know you. Be brave, take chances, speak candidly where appropriate and your audience will love you even more!

All right, it’s time to wrap this up. Even now I’ve soared past the 1,000-word limit. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope that you find something of value here, whether it’s informational, inspirational or you’re just looking for a good laugh.

Now onto the nonsense otherwise called my life…

Day 1: 1,035 words
Total: 1,035 words