Monthly Archives: September 2013

Other’s Writing Habits

A few months ago, I went to a writer’s conference and heard a repeat of a conversation I’ve heard many times when writers are congregating. First one writer begins by telling about his or her writing habits. Then others follow by going over theirs.  In this instance, it was an author who’s published over 300 articles and 30 books. He uses writing habits he learned forty years ago from another writer. How does he do it?

He has nine boxes on his desk. For some reason, he writes on no more or fewer projects at once. As he gathers notes on any project, he puts them into the respective folders. After he has collected a critical mass of notes, I’m not sure if he decides that by weight or volume, he writes his notes in one file in longhand.

After that, he takes out his scissors and cuts the sentences into strips. Then he arranges the strips into a story and pastes the strips onto other sheets of paper. From there, he writes his story in ink, longhand again. That’s what he takes to his publishers.

He is so well known that he is often called by publishers who are in need of articles or books. He delivers what he promises and he is always on time. He put four children through college using his time tested practices.

His description of his writing habits brought on a chorus of comments from others about their ‘time tested’ writing habits. Many writer’s habits were the exact opposite of other’s habits.

His process works for him, but it is not likely too many people would want to use it today. He doesn’t touch a computer throughout his steps. And, there are many types of software that accomplish the steps he does by hand.

I once had a ‘new’ writer ask me about my habits. I begin by writing a broad outline on a whiteboard in my office. I divide the board into six rectangles and write a brief topical outline in the spaces. Usually the first rectangle is the beginning of the story, the next three or four are the middle, and the last one or two, the conclusion.

After that, I make a broader topical outline and begin to develop my characters. As I’m doing that, I look for pictures on the Internet that resemble what I have in mind for the characters, locations, and scenes.

A few weeks later he was talking to me and very apologetically admitted he had begun a story, but he had seven rectangles instead of six. He had taken my habit and made it into a literal rule which he had violated.

I told him I would have more rectangles if I had a bigger whiteboard.

So, what’s the moral of this story? For me, it’s okay to steal what you can from what others tell you about their writing habits, but only if they work for you. Otherwise, your habits are as good as anyone else’s habits.

When the Muse is Hiding: What to do if you sit down to write and nothing comes

Most of the time when I sit down to write, it comes easy, but not always. What does one do when writing doesn’t come easy?

The first thing to come to peace with is that it happens to everyone, literally everyone. There is no writer, from Tolstoy to Hemmingway, from Conrad to Virginia Woolf who hasn’t experienced the momentary inability to produce.

Here are three suggestions for dealing with that eventuality. First, keep notes about your ideas. In the past a pocket-sized notebook was suggested. Today, it is more likely you will have a tablet or phone with you for taking notes. Whenever I take a vacation, I revert to carrying a moleskine notebook, or similar product.

On a daily basis, I have an electronic app called ‘notes’ I use to jot down ideas I have while I’m not at my writing desk. I also carry a copy of the latest piece I’ve been working on, so if I have an idea, I can look at my story and see how it fits.

When traveling, I like to stop my writing entirely and concentrate on ideas for future stories.

When my well runs dry, I look back at notes, either my electronic notes or my handwritten notes and start writing about something I’ve jotted down. Usually I forget after a few minutes that I felt stuck.

The second technique I use is to do something else besides write for a while. It really doesn’t matter what I’m doing as long as I am not writing on purpose. I experience a building tension about wanting to get back to writing the longer I’m away from it. After a while, I feel like I must write something.

Finally, I have a related set of techniques that get me started. I might read back through a project, then begin editing. After a time, I find myself writing. I may start a new project in the middle or the end, changing where I start gives me a fresh perspective. Finally, I may write down everything I can think of about my subject, put that on (electronic) 3X5 cards and begin to sort them. After a while, a story emerges, sometimes it is enough of a story that I am off and running with a new project.

So, for me, being stuck is a way of circling my work while using techniques to keep me productive.

 

Kindness of Artists

I recently began to think about writing a book on ministers gone astray. No, I’m not a minister and I haven’t gone astray. I am what they call a PK, a preacher’s kid.

When I was growing up, I heard many stories from my father and other ministers about their colleagues who ‘drifted from the path.’ As a social worker and a sociologist, I always thought I would like to write a story about that, not one that was an exposé, but one that looked at the crisis of family in a non-salacious way.

I met a writer last weekend who wrote a story about minister’s wives. Her work reminded me of my idea and I began to think anew about that as a writing project.

I began looking on the Internet for a public domain picture that dealt with the matter. In the back of my mind Matthew 18:6 emerged: “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

After searching for a while, I found an apt depiction of a  man at the bottom of the sea with a millstone about his neck. The drawing was by an artist named Loren Ries. On a whim I contacted her and told her about my project, being careful to explain it was in its infancy. Then I asked the Big Dramatic Question: “May I use your picture?”

Here’s my exact request:

“I’m a writer considering a book about a minister who is filled with sin. He is physically abusive with boys and sexually abusive with girls. The story will be about one his gradual exposure in the community where he lives, the division caused by people who believe in him vs. those who don’t, and the eventual outing of him by (I haven’t decided who it will be yet). I’ve been looking for a picture of a man with, you guessed it, a millstone around his neck. You have one that I admire and could be used as a book cover. What would it take for me to be able to use it? I don’t have a lot of published works yet. You can look at my work by Googling “Anthem I Roger W. Manning.” A chapter is available there for you to read.”

She very kindly granted me permission to use the picture I liked so much on my future book, while retaining rights. She also asked for artist’s credit in the book, and a shout out on Facebook. I added a post on my blog to the deal. So, as part of my payment to Loren, I’m thanking her for giving me permission to use her work as a book cover. You can look at her work on her website: Loren Ries Art.
Thanks again Loren for your kindness.

 

Much to my surprise

Farmer’s Market

I went to a Farmer’s Market yesterday to sell books. Odd place it seems to sell books, but it was Author’s Day at the Market.

The market has been going on for years and some time ago they began to invite local artists and craftspeople of all kinds. They consider writers as being in that group. So, there were around ten writers selling their wares. They ranged from cook books to westerns, and romance to true stories.

I did sell a few books, but perhaps more importantly, I met some fellow writers and exchanged notes about things in general. Some of us have tried traditional publishing with little success. As one experienced writer puts it, “I was writing the books and they were making the profits.”

I picked up a few of their books and read a few pages. The work was consistently good, but not something I would write. Each one was in a genre that’s alien to me. (Pun intended as my choice of genre is science fiction and fantasy.)

Everyone was interested in the local writer’s group. I was the one, it seemed that had the phone numbers and emails of the contacts. So, everyone who wanted those came to me.

Last April, our local writer’s  group had 4 people attend. Earlier this month about thirteen attended. I am guessing that the next meeting will have around twenty people.

Long live the Farmer’s Market.

NaNoWriMo

I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo once again. Haven’t heard of it? It’s the National Novel Writing Month that takes place every November. During that month, you write a novel of at least 50,000 words.

Piece of cake you say? Do you have school, work, family? Do you want to visit family or friends at Thanksgiving. There will be other demands on your time.

This year, I’m going to make it easier on myself. I’ll have a detailed outline to work from. Last year it was seat of pants writing. I didn’t do badly though, I won by the 26th.

My novel is Red Maslem and the Pilots of Anzu. I haven’t gone back and edited it, but that’s not an issue with me. I did write a novel in a month. After that, I wrote a 577 page book in December, then between January and March of 2013, I wrote two more books.

I’ve published two books on Kindle and one on CreateSpace, in between everything else I have to do. I hope to have the third one edited and available this fall.

I want to have the one I write this November to be of high enough quality to be published commercially. I’ll vet it with agents after I write it instead of going straight to Kindle Publications.

How to Write a book that’s over 500 Pages. Sort of.

While I was at the Midland writer’s meeting last Saturday, one of new writers asked me how I was so prolific. After I got a good laugh out of that, I realized that from his point of view, I was prolific. I have three books that are over 500 pages each. I wrote them from December of 2012 to April of 2013.  Sort of.

I told him you start on page one and don’t stop until you’re over 500 pages. And that’s correct. Sort of.

I was in the NaWriNoMo competition last November. After that, I decided I’d had so much fun writing a 50,000+ words in a month, I’d take the short stories I’d been working on, put them into collections and publish. Turns out I had three books of 500+ pages. Then came the editing, the conversion to Kindle’s format, conversion to CreateSpace and marketing. It was easy. Sort of.

My stories are typically around 5000 words. It takes me about three days to turn out a story, if I work straight through on it.  That’s around 1700 words a day. I seldom work straight through, unless I’m doing something like NaWriNoMo. So, I may take a week or so to write a 5000 word story. Piece of cake. Sort of.

I think it really helped for me to compete in NaWriNoMo. It gave me a sense of what it takes to put a book together. It gave me a sense of how much has to go into writing something of small book length. After a few days of rest from the competition, I was ready for the next project, writing my collections of short stories. My wife heartily went along with my new project. Sort of.

How Times Change

Yesterday, my problems with WordPress were fixed. Today, I went to a writers meeting. It was refreshing to talk with others who have problems and joys similar to mine. Even those of us who like to talk about our books and characters are fun to listen to, up to a point.

Most of the people there were would be writers. What I mean by that is only a few have finished a story and sent it to a publisher, much less been published. Nonetheless, even writers who have never finished have the muse. They want to write.

The continuum of types of writers at the meeting goes something like this:

1. Those who don’t want to be writers;

2. those who want to write, but never have;

3. those who have written, but have never completed a story;

4. those who have completed stories, but have never submitted one for publication;

5. those who have completed and submitted stories, but have never had one published;

6. those who have completed and submitted stories, and have had one published, but not paid for;

7. those who have completed and submitted stories,  have one published, and have been paid;

8. those who have completed and submitted stories, have more than one published, and have been paid;

9. those who have self-published books; people who have had books published through a publisher.

10. those who make a living getting their works published – authors and writers.

(my continuum may not be perfect)

So, there we were all in one room talking about things we like to talk about – at least some of us were talking. A few were very new to writing and said nothing at all. Or, they may have been more reserved than the rest of us.

The point was to meet with like-minded people and talk about a subject we have in common. One even took the opportunity to pass out samples of his writing for the group to discuss. After passing out his writing, he talked about his history in drugs, therapy, his manic depression and low self esteem. No one commented on his writing.

That leads to a good point about writer’s groups. In my humble opinion, one should never throw out one’s writing to be critiqued without the group having critique rules.  If you Google “guidelines for writers critique groups,” you will find dozens of examples of guidelines.

Throwing out your writing to an unknown group to be critiques is like walking among lions, fraught with danger. It is much safer, but not entirely safe, to give your writing to a group that has agreed upon guidelines.  More on that later.

Stumbled on Some Information in SEO that may help

Still trying to find the problem with my blog. I’m beginning my fourth month with the same problem. It started small and grew until I have no contact with users.

Today I looked at SEO and found I had two files conflicting with each other. I told SEO to resolve the problem as if I knew what I was doing and also told it to contact Bing and Google.

Will that help? Donno. Right now I’m doing the troubleshooting equivalent of jiggling the handle on the toilet to fix it. Not very skillful, not very knowledgeable, but sometimes works.