Limit your writing to increase your writing

Greetings to all in the virtualverse! I hope you came through the holidays unscathed and ten pounds heavier, just like me. The family had a great time and we even got us some snow, so all in all a wonderful experience.

Today I’m going to talk a bit about my experience with writing itself – the act of sitting at the keyboard clacking away. If you’ve perused the other sections of my site you’ll have seen that I mentioned my hectic life/work schedule. I have two day jobs and my home life is often inundated with helping my wife keep our…shall we say enthusiastic…children in line. Finding the time to write is often a challenge for me at this stage in life, something that’s especially frustrating when the gears are turning and all I want is a good few hours to dive into my head and just let the juices flow.

I consider myself a very “organic” writer. What I mean by this is that I don’t plan things out very much in advance, nor do I do any kind of formal outline except in rare circumstances. I often just let the story pour out and form itself as it goes. Sometimes I have basic ideas of what I want to happen, and if I feel the need I’ll put down a few bullet points in Word to keep the sequence of events clear to me, but otherwise it just builds and I make corrections later as I need to. Admittedly, this isn’t the most efficient way to craft a tale, but I find that for my particular style it gives me a much better feeling of my stories overall. I’m generally all about the feel of my stories…the emotional response that I have to them as a whole. If the work gets my blood pumping as a reader and gives me good chills, I know I’ve hit the mark.

In my earlier years this process was so organic that I couldn’t even do it on any kind of set schedule. If the gears weren’t turning, then nothing was going to get written, but once inspiration hit I had to get it out as quickly as possible. In addition, if anything happened to distract me, I was done. Sure, I could be as productive as possible while I rode the log down the waterfall, but if anything came by to interrupt my journey there was no way I could just get back on and continue where I left off.

This changed as life progressed and I found myself with less free time to spare for my moments of authorial enlightenment. I mentioned in the background page for Caeli that the story was written every day in twenty minute chunks, and to be honest I think this setup helped me immensely. Remember, the brain is akin to a muscle, and just like the rest of our bodies there is a kind of memory within the tissue. When we do actions repeatedly, the body remembers, performing the task more efficiently over time and even going so far as to save it as a kind of reflex. Surgeons have this with using a scalpel, and authors have this with the way in which we write.

If you find yourself having trouble getting into the groove consistently when you sit in front of the keyboard, try this as an experiment: Set a timer and give yourself only a small window in which to produce something, say thirty minutes. Dedicate yourself to this time frame – even if you feel the motivation to go on, don’t. Stop yourself, and then pick up where you left off the next time. You very well may find that in no time at all you are producing much tighter narrative, without the need to “warm up the engine”, so to speak.


On Publishing, Patience, and Persistance

For my first post on this site (and, incidentally, my first blog post ever. I know, right?), I decided to share some of my insights and experiences on the process of getting published.

I’ve been writing for the past 15+ years, most of which has been spent on my novel Solaea. As I mentioned in the background section for Caeli and the About page, there are two main reasons this has taken me so long:

1. My lack of training and experience, which resulted in me having to do some major rewrites over the years. Not an easy thing, especially as the book got longer, I assure you. Sometimes I rewrote because of plot holes I discovered, while other times I did it because my writing skills had naturally improved and I saw ways to strengthen the narrative.

2. My tendency to feel unsatisfied with the finished product. I can’t tell you how many times I looked over the “final draft” and found things to change, be it minor or major. I fell into that classic trap painters often experience, where they just keep making “corrections” to their masterpiece and never stop. They could keep layering on paint forever and ever, never finishing, and yet truly not making any improvements to the piece. At some point you just have to cut yourself off from the work and let it stand as-is, ignoring any of the warts you think might be there. This is not an easy thing to do as an artist, let me tell you. I can’t count the number of times my wife rolled her eyes at me and said “I thought the book was done.”

Regardless of my obsession, I still had the goal of getting the manuscript under contract. I did what anyone with an internet connection would do: I researched how to get published and came across a plethora of information on the topic. Unfortunately, most of it amounts to little more than this: “Look up your favorite authors to see who their agents/publishers are, hope that they are accepting submissions, send them a query letter, and pray that the stars are in alignment, pigs will fly, you’ll be asked to sell your soul, and maybe you’ll get picked up for publication. But you’ll probably fail. Good luck.”

Not very encouraging. There was the self-publishing-in-print route, but I didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on such a thing, and the seemingly endless cycle of submission, waiting, and rejection was wearing on my very quickly. I felt that every time I received a “no” I had made zero progress in my career. It wasn’t like I was getting my name out there and developing my network of contacts, and considering the time it takes to produce a body of work worthy of publication, it’s not like I could just pick from my stockpile of stories and submit something else. I was getting really, really frustrated.

All that changed not too long ago. A friend and co-worker of mine told me about his efforts to get his own book published. He had gone through an author services organization, using them to edit his manuscript, generate cover art, set up a website and social media presence, and distribute the work through online channels. He got me in contact with his representative and we discussed the process. It sounded great, but it was still going to cost me a hefty sum of money, money which I frankly didn’t have. What I had gained from our conversation, though, was invaluable. In particular, I had been clued in to the folks over at Smashwords. I did a bit more research and came to the conclusion that here was a way to get published, not only on my own terms but with no apparent barrier for entry. All I had to do was put in the work to make my book as salable as possible.

I turned to my completed manuscript for Caeli, sitting on my hard drive and doing nothing, having been rejected by contest and magazine editors alike. Looking over the piece, I decided that it was good enough to stand on its own and that it was the prime choice for me to launch my career on my own terms. I read over the Smashwords help pages, downloaded and followed their style guide, put together some cover art, and turned in my submission.

In the end, it all came down to one day of work. That was what it took for me to have a finished cover image and a manuscript formatted according to their specifications. From there everything fell into place fairly easily. Within a few days Caeli had made the Smashwords Premium Catalog, which allowed it to be distributable to all the major online retailers. I registered my domain name and began building my website. I got onto Facebook and Twitter, informing all of my friends and family about my progress. I was in charge, I was in control, and nobody could tell me no.

Which brings us to today. It has been a truly wild ride these past few weeks, and I have loved every second of it. I can now say that I am a published author and that readers have bought my work. I haven’t yet reached my goal of being able to write full-time and support myself financially with the activity, but I feel more confident than ever that I am on my way. My name is out there, my work is out there, and from here on out there is no limit to how far it can go. I know this now, I believe it, and I couldn’t be happier.

Thank you.