Friday, March 24, 2017

Week Two: #BreaktheBlock - Five Thoughts and a Map

Every writer I know has trouble writing.  --Joseph Heller

How did Week 1 go? Did you hold to your 5 minutes? Did you find a groove spot where you knew you'd accomplish it? Did you achieve 80%, 40%?  It all counts.  Even 1/7 counts because the goal is progress, not a nitpick of what you didn't do. Any progress from 0 counts. If you didn't get there for whatever reason, try again this week.  Add keeping a log of how much you accomplished or what you didn't accomplish and why. Sometimes sick child trumps everything and those things are understandable. But if you don't write it down, concrete reasons stay nebulous and, therefore, not actionable. If you met the goal, increase your time. Fifteen minutes, 500 words - your choice.

This week we're going to talk about how writers mess with our head especially when we're blocked. I have this thing. I wanna be like Nora or Stephen (as in Roberts and King.) Stephen King has said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that he tells people he writes every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and his birthday, but the truth is he writes every day. (If you haven't read his book On Writing, go, do, and absorb.) Nora does the same thing. EVERY day - thousands of words! That idea sits there and sits there working on me. It's my job. I should be like Nora. Right?

Truth is I would kill for that kind of consistency. I've been writing for 28 years and have never met that challenge. Even though I have 10 books published, several took me years to write. Me thinks it's probably time for a new challenge. My muse doesn't respond to that goal. What's the fastest I've written a novel? 5 weeks. 65,000 words. How did I do that? I'm rolling on the floor laughing at the moment because that was 3 years ago and I have no earthly idea. I'm at a point where connecting with what I used to do is not a useful exercise. Things have changed for me. Have they changed for you?  Maybe it's time for a new goal, a new standard. One that fits a delicate psyche (meaning fragile, not weak!) and a complicated life.

Remember writing is a process and most of it goes on in your head. Extreme writer self-care is important here, and I don't mean the snacking at your desk or the playing spider solitaire to relax - neither will help you write. Put a protective shell on like a turtle.

First, if someone asks you if you're writing, stay away from the complicated answers and just say yes. If they want details, say "It's too early to discuss, but I'm having fun with it." Always frame the positive. Why? Because part of self-care is to be nice to yourself.  More on this in a minute.

Second, don't solicit comments from any writing friends, family, or your bestie on how to break this thing. Don't share the depth of your despair because trust me with this. All their advice will be based on little experience, a pop-psychology orientation, or worse still, a need for you to take their advice because it'll make them feel better. Not helpful. Few people understand creativity and motivation, and even fewer have helpful advice.

Third, count everything you do in your writing process as writing. The time you spend doodling to figure out your plot?  It counts. The time you spend trying to find pictures of your scenery or your characters? It counts. The time you spend in the car talking to yourself about dialogue? It counts. The time you sit at the park observing the scenery and human activity? Count it all. Make time to do these things because these tidbits come into imaginative play when you write your book.

"Vision is always ahead of execution."  David Bayles/Ted Orland, Art and Fear

Fourth, what about the time you spend before going to sleep? Are you silently berating yourself about not writing? Stop. It. Negativity hurts. It hurts your thought process. It hurts your motivation. It hurts your heart. Just don't. We get inundated with have a positive attitude and all that, and I bet I'm not the only one that wants to say to those telling me to be positive to go bugger off. That's not what this is. Negative framing and negative words affect your subconscious. I'm not going into an in-depth explanation here because there's a very good book that will totally explain it better than I can. Go to the library, the used bookstore or Amazon and find Yvonne Oswald's book - Your Every Word Has Power.  Stop for a minute and say "I didn't" to yourself and see how you feel.  Then say "I tried" and see how you feel. Break the "I didn't" terminology and make it "I tried."

Fifth, search all sorts of places for ideas to fight writer's block, but be very careful of those that are full of quick fixes or the opposite - detailed criticism. Now I have no objection to constructive criticism, but one author I read this week suggested that writer's block isn't real - that if you have work strategies in place, you can fight the blank page by just relying on what you've always done. Hmmm. I can't tell you how vehemently I disagree. The stories are definitely in my head, and they aren't coming out my fingers by relying on what I usually did. Because my normal world was shifted by a divorce and a grandchild with autism. Falling back on what I used to do before isn't helping me because my whole life has changed. My priorities have changed. Have yours been changed by illness, depression, or the death of significant person in your life?  Are you caught up with a new relationship, a new job, moving, planning a wedding, having a baby, or getting a degree? Be kind to yourself! Constructively deal with what IS.


Mind Mapping.  Click on the mind mapping link and follow his procedure.

"It's not about making yourself get unstuck; it's about letting yourself get unstuck." Productivity Flourishing 

I would also add that it's about being emotionally ready to be unstuck. 

This block we all experience at one point or another isn't about writing, it's about feelings. Get specific about what IS - put it on paper and look at it, then cut yourself some slack. Some would say: "Isn't cutting myself some slack part of the problem?" No, it isn't the problem at all.  We'll be talking more about that next week.

I'm not going to blow good fortune your way and say there's no problems here. There are. Forward progress when you've been stopped dead is not an easy thing. I'm relearning everything I thought I knew. Analyze the messages you're sending yourself.  Is it time for change? Try this week. It's all I ask of myself, and it's all I'm asking of you.

Week One:  #BreakTheBlock - Ready, Set, Go

Friday, March 17, 2017

Week One: #BreakTheBlock - Ready, Set, Go

Do you ever look at your word count and stress?  Are you stalled in the middle of the book? Do you keep walking away from your desk because the words won't come?  Has it been so long since you've written than you're afraid you don't know how to put a good story on paper anymore?  

That's me.  Right this moment, I'm struggling out of a world of can't.  Can't make the words come, can't get an original idea if I cut open my brain, can't follow the tons of advice on writers block because it just makes me feel more lame and helpless.  If this is you too, join me for a adventure.  You know the kind.  Camping with the s'mores, the great bonfire, and the snorer in the next tent.  Let's not make this drudgery, but together we can explore and find the thrill of writing again.  It's called the #BreakTheBlock Challenge, and it starts today.  

You can take a moment if you'd like to analyze why you're suffering from Writer's Block.  For me, it's not a block of words, but a block on producing fiction words.  I took on freelance writing 4 years ago to support myself, and the necessity to make money made me put those dollar words first.  After 2 years of struggle, I realized what a horrible impact it was having on fiction writing and quit the content mill process.  Then I took on academic writing to support myself and, although I find it easier, the same thing happened. I consistently produce those words, but to my chagrin, I exhaust my supply of want to and fiction writing leaves me staring at the page. Add a few years where deaths, divorce, and drama mixed with a crazy routine and tons of responsibilities and here I sit.  Sound familiar?

write romances, and during my divorce, I found it impossible to write happily-ever-after books. WRITERS BLOCK lives.  I went back to school to earn a graphic design degree, changed to art history, owned and closed a digital publishing company that took 5 years of attention to run properly, and now I'm wanting to revive a dead fiction-writing career.  Eight books published, and I'm like a babe in the woods again.  How did I write a full novel eight different times? I don't know.  It seems like a dream except Amazon shows the results of that labor.  So, if you find my how-to sheet bring it to the campfire and show me. 

But here's one thing I did figure out during that time:

You live what you put first. Patti Ann Colt

Everybody has priorities.  There is nothing wrong if your family or your job comes first, just figure out where writing is in your priority and keep it there. Going back to school wasn't a simple decision for me.  I knew it would impact every aspect of my life, but at that moment I needed a serious change and something, gads anything, that would spark my passion. I never expected to find a different creative side, but I did, and I never expected that hands on creativity to spark my fiction writing again. What did I learned from finishing two years of school? Doing what you love is really important, and nobody else can make the changes necessary to put you where you need to be. 

You may hear other writers say "Oh, writer's block isn't real. Those are all just excuses." If you avoid saying anything about your writing career because you fear someone will say "Suck it up, cupcake," then I'm glad you are here.  I will never say those words to you. There's nothing worse than wanting to write and not being able to. We're going to talk about this more in coming lectures, but I say that this is my life and my choices are my choices.  What feels real to me, is therefore, well, real. Don't beat yourself up over how you chose to live. You don't owe anyone any explanations. If you're like me, you beat yourself up more than anyone else can anyway.  Fighting against the pileup of guilt when goals go unmet is about as non-productive as it comes. 

One caveat that's important here:  Don't come here to complain about your life.  If you're looking for real solutions, are willing to analyze the problems and are willing to try new things to figure out how to get out of what's happening with your writing, then you're in the right place.  I'm here to help, here to advise, and here to try things with you.  Explore for Solutions - that's #BreaktheBlock. 

Second caveat: I can write anything, but I don't love freelance or academic writing.  I can do it, but it doesn't spark any creativity. It's just a means to eat.  Important, yes.  I'm not arguing that, and if you're in that situation, by all means keep plowing forward.  If you have a day job and have to work hard there to keep the bills paid, kudos to you. Financial stability is important.  If you're like me, though, your next novel (or 5) is stuck in your head and you need a tweak to your lifestyle to make your novel a reality. This challenge is for you.  Don't expect massive goals and demanding changes. As I've discovered, they won't work.  
So here it is - simple and straightforward.  

This week:  

1) Write for 5 minutes every day. 

 I don't care how you accomplish this.  But don't make a big deal out of setting aside the right space and the right time.  You'll fail.  Use your computer on the sofa or in bed, put your show on pause and use your iPad, grab your iPhone at the next really long light (Please don't type while you're driving!), or pull into Sonic or your favorite coffee shop, grab a receipt off the floor, and write for five minutes in the parking lot!  Five minutes is only five minutes. It doesn't give any time for fear to build or for your internal editor to click on, and most things can be ignored for 5 minutes.  BUT you can accomplish 100-200 words in that 5 minutes. Don't believe me?  Time yourself.  I have, that's how I know.  If you can't get 100-200 words, you're thinking too hard.  Work on your novel, write about the car next to you, write a note to your spouse, or take a random word and see where it takes you.  There's hundreds of creative writing prompt choices. Find one.  

Now I know, 5 minutes seems like a really low goal.  If you're a seasoned writer, you're thinking "I can do more than that."  Yes, I'm living in your head.  Don't listen to yourself. I think that to myself all the time and it's not helpful. I also think - I can do it later.  Then later comes, and presto, the goal hasn't happened.  So set your time.  Can you meet a 5 minute promise to yourself?  I think I can.  And so can you.  

I write better first thing in the morning, but I also spend a lot of time in my car driving - another commitment I won't explain.  But if I adjust my timing and take my iPad or a CAN notebook (see how I worked CAN into a CAN'T situation), a pen, and my story notes (which are printed from a nifty program called yWriter), I can pull over a couple places along my route and set my iPhone to time a 5 minute write.  Heck, I've been stuck in DFW traffic longer than that.  Analyze your day and find those 5 minutes.  No excuses.

A habit takes a few days to settle in, so don't give up.  1400 words a week writes a full novel in 42 weeks.  If you snorted to that, tell me how long it's been since you produced a full novel and just do it!

You numbered that, you say.  Where's the #2?  


Find a book, any book and read - whether lunch hour, cooking dinner, or bedtime, spend some time with a favorite. Pay attention to the flow, the thrills of following a story again, and keep it going.  If you have to cut out a few television shows, just do it.  With Netflix, Hulu, On Demand, etc. etc., you shouldn't be a slave to sitting there. Pick your 2-3 have-to-watch-now shows and cut the rest..... and I'm saying that with The Voice just starting, Walking Dead ready to explode, and March Madness in full swing so I feel the same pain.  I love television too, but it cuts off your connection to the written word.  Find it again.

"Just write every day of your life.  Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very successful careers."  Ray Bradbury

That's all.  Take some steps today to #BreakTheBlock.  Feel free to introduce yourself and/or leave your successes or problems in the comments!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Simply Don't," Patti Said.

Good morning, writers! Patti here.  Getting back to writing after a couple years break. Well, not a break per se because it wasn't like I planned it that way.  College, grandkids, and life's chaos had me in a complicated loop there for a bit, but I'm back! While I was out, I still kept up on writing issues around the internet sphere and dealt with a bit of writer's block of my own and the mental challenge of breaking bad procrastination and overscheduling habits - but more about that in another post.

My topic for today is a pet peeve of mine, please pardon the brief rant but take the advice to heart.  My peeve is the substitutes for the word said.

Put simply it pushes my buttons to see credible bloggers pushing the idea that there is a substitute for "said." CHECK OUT THIS LIST OF SUBSTITUTES FOR SAID pops up all the time on my feed on Pinterest and backtracking those and reading what these writers want you to substitute makes me pull out my hair. I just ran into a writing book on Amazon where an author published all those words with this same directive - use these to substitute.

No, no, just no. Don't.

One of the main reasons is this:  Anything that pulls your readers attention to your writing instead of being utterly absorbed in the good stuff of your story is bad news.  But let's put some more punch behind that.

Remember back in first, second, third grade when you were learning to read?  It's a simple fact that through practice your subconscious learns to recognize the meaning of certain words but skim them without actually reading them.  Words in this category include: is, it, that, the, when, said, etc.  When your brain skips over these words, what happens?  It falls on more important parts of your story. Subbing words like exclaimed and explained for "said" tangles your reader up in your words because they have to stop and process the meaning of those words, and in some cases, they put an emotion behind them you don't intend. If you want another look at reader statistics to help you shape the how of reading, pick up The Writer's Little Helper Book by James V. Smith here.  It's full of all sorts of gems to help you get out of the way of your reader.

Second, have you read this book: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King? If you haven't, go here and get yourself a copy.  I wish someone had given me this book before I started writing.  I could have avoided a few dozen rookie mistakes, and the pain of undoing the bad habits. Pay attention to their comments on absolutely only using said for the reasons listed above and because it makes you look like a freaking rookie writer.

After I read this book (which was years and years ago), I wrote 3 chapters of a book as a test for myself.  I didn't use said once.  Why?  Because those spots are a perfect opportunity to make your characters real.  People don't sit still when they talk.  They twirl a coffee cup, toy with their food, tap the foot or fingers, rub a nose, stare around the room, flush with embarassment or anger.  Make your story real.  It's a good habit to develop, one I cultivated years ago and now it's a writing habit.  Try it. Always assess "said" in your edit process and see if you missed opportunities to bring forth some motion or feeling. Use said sparingly when you have a dialogue section that needs the "said" attached to help keep straight who is saying what. And then it's, "Shane said." And it is "Shane said" not "said Shane." Period. End of rant.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rookie Writing Camp Part II: 3 Fiction Rules for Pesky -Ly Words and Said

I'm not a big fan of the word "said."

In general conversation, its an okay word.  But in fiction writing, it's a menace. Let me back up for a minute. Have you read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King?  No, a survey box is not going to pop up, just a general question. If you've read the book, you have a clue where I'm going with this.

Here's the thing:  Dave and Renni are pretty adamant about sticking to only "said" and "asked."  I don't disagree with that, when you have to use them.  So if you've just begun your fiction writing quest, ditch commented, replied, questioned...and every other one you've been using.  They make you look like a rookie writer.  That's what their reason was.  Mine is a bit more detailed.  It goes something like this:

Do you remember memorizing sight words when you learned to read?  Do you know anything about readability?  In general, "said" and "asked" are sight words to your subconscious; your brain can read over the top of them, understand their meaning, and click into context without  interrupting the enjoyment of your story. Commented.  Exclaimed. Replied. Questioned. Challenged.  Nope, those words don't do that. They detract from your dialogue.  They pull your reader's attention from the story to the mechanics of your writing. That's bad.  Bad.  ( I heard that.  "But some of the best writers I know use those words."  Yeah, they do. To that I say, there are many ways to successfully fiction write. You can use these words and get away with it. But read the rest of this article before you decide.)

Rule Number 1:  Purge everything but "said" and "asked" from your dialogue.  

You're attempting to whine here and I know that.  You've taken that sentence:

"Let's kill John," Lola exclaimed.

and now made it:

"Let's kill John," Lola said.

But you desperately what to do something to decorate it like:

"Let's kill John," Lola said, lovingly.

I won't show you the red pen I just stabbed through your paper/computer screen on that word.  :-/

What's wrong with lovingly?

Nothing.  I adore the word "loving."

I don't adore the -ly construction.

Rule Number 2:  Search and destroy every -ly you find. Every. Single. One.

Let's put some parameters to that rule, shall we?  Obviously, there are some words that are naturally constructed with the -ly ending and they can be left alone. Adverbs are your nemesis here.  If the -ly word is attached to a "said", I can pretty much say across the board, DELETE.  If you're dialogue isn't constructed well enough to convey the meaning of that word, search for stronger verbs and play with it until it does. Further, those little -ly words are telling.  What do they tell?  Usually they tell something your dialogue has already said or they convey some movement or emotion that is better demonstrated with straight-forward action verbs and body language. This helps your characters become three-dimensional and your reader will thank you because the characters will become REAL.

Take a moment to search your current work in progress for -ly.  If you have dozens or hundreds, you're in trouble. Train your writing brain now to backspace those words as soon as they are typed.

Once again, though, we're back to how to enhance "Let's kill John," Lola said.

Could we use:  "Let's kill John," Lola said, removing a butcher knife from the drawer.

Really, there is no problem with that construction.  It reads well.  Your reader will get the point without getting stuck in your mechanics.  But as you work your way through the scene, if you do that construction over and over, you once again stick your reader in the midst of your writing mechanics. Not good.

But, what if we mix it up?

"Let's kill John." Lola removed a butcher knife from the drawer and tested the blade against her finger, drawing a bead of red, oozing blood.

I leave it to you.  Which would you rather do?

You have a ton of opportunity in these moments to present movements, visuals, sounds, tastes, smells, emotions, and body language.

You don't understand about body language?  What husband hasn't come home to a wife standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips and a frown on her face?  Does she need to deliver the speech?  If Lola's eyes gleamed and she licked the blood off her finger, what is that going to tell you?

Rule Number 3:  Whenever possible, remove the "said" and "asked" and put active construction in your sentences using movements, body language, and emotion.

Every person non-verbally conveys a message.  Few people sit still, and if they do, there's a reason. Nervous habits, casual behaviors, and common day-to-day activities bring your story from telling to showing.

As a test, take the last scene you wrote and eliminate all the speaker attributes. You're probably having heart palpitations now, because what kid didn't grow up learning to read with "said" and "asked" through the pages of their primers.  Well, how else do you expect kids to learn the mechanics of dialogue and to learn to read over the sight words without stopping?  You're a writer now, though. Move past those days. Imagine yourself in that scene. What would you be doing?  How would you be feeling?  Yes, put those in place with active -ed verbs and tell me your work isn't stronger.

If you need help, here's a few resources from my bag of tricks to get you started:

Empowering Character Emotions by Margie Lawson

Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist by Margie Lawson

The Emotion Thesaurus:  A Writer's Guide to  Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

How to Read a Person Like A Book by Gerard I. Nierenberg and Henry H. Calero

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Indie Publishing the Smart Way - Part II

The How and Where of Indie Publishing

“An indie publisher is still a publisher, the same as any traditional publisher.” Dean Wesley Smith

Amazon.  Barnes & Noble.  Smashwords.  Kobo.  iBooks.  Google.  On Demand.  Create Space.  Overdrive.  Ingram.  Sony.  Diesel.  Books on Board.  Baker & Taylor.   Did I miss any?  Yes, tons. 
E-book only?  Print, too?  What about audio books?  Gads.  Any more decisions?  Yes, tons.
Branding myself as an author?  Designing my interior?  My cover has to do what?  Is there more I need to know?  Yes, tons.
The market is expanding every day with platforms, big and small, designed to publish your indie author work.  There are also platforms that are willing to handle the distribution end of your book for you.  That means you publish one place and they do all the work.  That may sound good, but there are some pitfalls. 
What is the essential component here? 
For you to figure out what is your level of expertise.  How much time do you have available to spend on this adventure?  How much control do you want over the details? How proficient are you with technology?   Whether you have written a cookbook, a work of fiction, or non-fiction, some of the decisions facing you will be the same.  Where do you want to sell your book?  What versions will be available?  How are you going to identify yourself to your reader? 
These are only a few of the questions.  There are many, many more and some will be things you didn’t consider.  Every writer brings a different skillset to the table, experiences that can be drawn on to make this quest a success.  Even if you are a published author and have some familiarity with what it takes to bring a manuscript to fruition, or you intend to hire out, there are still decisions to be made and things to consider.
So let’s run through a few essential questions and answer segment, questions you should ask yourself before beginning the complex journey through successful indie publishing.

1.  Professional:  Is writing a hobby or a passion?  Because passion will carry you through this process.  Not that curiosity doesn’t have its own learning drive, but passion to put your work out there is going to carry you through the complicated, frustrating avalanche of information.  You are going to work hard and learn hard.  Be prepared.

2.  Physical:  How much time do you have available?  This isn’t an overnight process.  Matters not whether you approach this as a full-time endeavor or do it in your spare time around job and family concerns.  The entire process from editing to book cover production to finalizing formatting to proofreading to publishing can take many hours and hours of work.  If you think you’ll read this book one night and publish the next, uh….we’d love to tell you that, but not happening. There are steps that shouldn’t be skipped, steps which take time to do.  Decide what level of quality you want your name attached to before you begin this process.

3.  Creative:  How would you rate your level of technological savvy?  High, medium, low?  You don’t have to be a guru.  You don’t have to have a computer science degree.  But if you handwrite your manuscripts and shudder any time you have to turn on a computer, you need to assess your ability to learn this process and be honest with yourself.  There is a high learning curve here.  There are no difficult concepts, just new and varied ones. 

4.  Emotional:  Do you use more software than the internet?  Because being semi-proficient in Word, PowerPoint, knowing how to convert files to PDF, understanding technology newer than Windows 95 is essential.  Coping strategies for handling your risk-taking, diving stomach are essential.  Prepping a full manuscript for publication is not for sissies. Understanding how to manipulate unfamiliar programs and not giving up until you can deliver a product YOU are happy with – that’s the aim.

5.  Financial:  What’s your budget?  Nothing?  Hundred bucks?  A thousand bucks?  And your tolerance for spending that?  Because there is a certain amount of overhead cost that you may not see back.  Many writers don’t see a return until their third, fourth, fifth book.  There are production costs depending on how much of this you plan to do yourself, so think through your financial concerns.

If after all that soul-searching analysis you are still ready to try, congratulations and welcome to the world of indie publishing.  Pat yourself on the back, roll up your sleeves, and get to work.