To Blog or Not to Blog…Does it matter as long as a writer writes?

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image: Graphics1796

So you’ve taken the first steps toward writing a novel. Congratulations! Holy carpel tunnel, what an undertaking!

Aside from a novella pubbed with a small house, and a self pubbed short story, I’m new to the journey of writing longer bodies of work. With a couple of novels closing in on completion, I thought it’d be a good idea to revisit the notion of blogging before your novel is finished.

So why blog at all? Why have a website before the writing is ready?

To answer, let’s measure some good points and limitations of blogging as a fiction writer, because if you’re like me-already writing every night-you need good reason to write some more!

Do you really need a blog or website?  I’m tempted to answer, “Hell Yes,” but that’s a short answer for a long journey. Asking two questions can help determine if having a blog or website is right for you:

  • Am I writing for myself or an audience?
  • What do I want the blog to do for me or my intended audience?

Well, consider what you are writing for.

If time spent at your keyboard produces content intended for just you or your friends and family: It is a closed circle of reader ship. In this case you’re probably fine without a blog unless you want to use it as a meeting place to share writing efforts. However, a blog is a great way to venture into new territory as a writer as well as learning time management.

A FEW TIPS

  • Get a timer. Dedicate a specific amount of time to your goal of writing daily, and don’t move from the keyboard until your designated time is up!
  • Explore other blogs for inspiration to hit the keys more often.
  • Link and share your thoughts and experiences with others beyond your current circle. Lots of friendly bloggers would enjoy reading your stuff…just enjoy theirs, comment and invite them to visit yours!

If you are a fiction writer, with an eye on publication: Whether you want to submit a 7,000 word short story for a magazine or anthology, or a George Martin-esque length novel, you want to begin building a name, a platform to launch your work and your presence. One of the simplest ways  is creating a public blog. As with a personal blog, a public blog can help you get into the habit of writing every day, as well as discovering an enormous community of online interaction and support for mutual interests and efforts.

When marketing my book *Stealing Time  I blogged and interacted with a lot of people. It didn’t feel like marketing, but a direct result of blogging vs not blogging was more book sales. *published under a nom-de-plume 2012 by Musa Publishing

A fiction author who blogs on a website and participates in bloghops and giveaways builds both brand and sales. Bonus: It’s fun!

  • A blog or website offers exposure. Your blog combined with email subscriptions is the marketing tool for your name.
  • Write a blogpost-geared idea every few days even if you’re not ready to post yet.
  • Once a week choose one of those ideas and expand it to around 50o words and you’ll have built a blogpost.
  • Balance Writing Goals: Hit your daily fiction writing goal first, then work in thirty minutes for your blogging goals. A timer helps.
  • Share what other writers and bloggers are doing that intrigues you. Post a link to their content from your site.
  • Build your blog audience through an email list; an email subscription button can make it easy for them to take action.
  • Consider creating a free newsletter to offer visitors who subscribe to your blog. ‘Cause giving back is beautiful. And you’ve learned so much from their blogs and input, too!
  • PS If you’re looking for my subscribe button, I’m in process of figuring how to add it and learn how it works using Mail Chimp. There is a Mail Chimp plug in, I believe, for WordPress that allows people to subscribe, and if I understand it right, maybe triggers a news letter message? I’ll tell you how this works in a post next week!

So. Now you are a blogger who aspires to submit fiction work for publication. Here’s the catch: You haven’t typed a short story in weeks. You have penned no poetry, and the deadline to submit it cannot be seen from your rear view mirror. Oh, and what about your manuscript? What manuscript? You’ve been so busy interacting and tapping away at the keys for your various social media sites that you forgot your original purpose.

WRITING

Blogging is a fantastic social/marketing tool. But best of all? It sucks your time away and you won’t even see it happening. Don’t let it be your master. Let it serve you while you write and serve others.

Unplug and WRITE.

Manage your social media time and don’t let it become a timesuck. Narrow your focus to one or two blogposts per week until your writing goals are completed. Your time will free up for finishing that 300 page doozy stewing in your brain. Hit the keyboard with an eye to target that submission deadline, or create an imaginary deadline because the person who submits is ahead of the pack.

Then consider blogging again.

If your brain needs a change of pace from the current WIP (Work in Progress) but you still want to write every day, that’s a perfect excuse to blog.

My own MS in progress is just past 150K words, earning me a late salmon supper and a bit of time to update this blogpost. Oh…and coffee. The writing is delicious when spiked with liquid roast-heaven in a cup.

Cheers!

Kate Dancey

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Writers up! Stir up a plot with Kate Dancey

July-September 1941, Gross

Photo Credit~Anthony Gross 1941

Hey there, neighbor!

One week from my last post and I’m now seven fat chapters into my new novel. I  rewrote it from page one all this past week and it is much better developed with lots of new characters. Best part is, I know where my characters, whether bad or good, came from and where they are going, and what will happen when they get there. I have a subplot of a love story simmering nicely, a couple of comic relief characters, some truly scary moments for the protagonist where she is pushed to the sharp point of endurance mentally and physically, and she’s made some new friends along the way.

Save the Cat method of story telling using note cards and beat-sheet style of outlining to plot before writing truly freed up my mind and allowed for much more depth of story than my original, so the couple of weeks of writing time “lost” in plotting turned out to be a terrific gain.

This is very exciting, and thus far a fruitful venture in writing, and I hope you are pounding away at your keyboard and finding success, too! Did you purchase Save the Cat, yet? I promise I gain nothing from plugging the book. In fact, it’s brilliant author, Blake Snyder, passed on from this world, but he left a legacy of writing tips to his scribbling fans. I’m so pleased to be able to point the way to his book; just following his advice of giving back. So, yeah, I have two of his books, now, and Save the Cat Strikes Back is the perfect companion book to the first. Whenever I’m stuck, I just look to my STC note cards, pay attention to the storyboard, and write to the beats. Yeah baby! The long and short of it? Plotting with note cards and storyboard  is lump free delicious gravy for your word-count. I’m adding characters more easily, dropping them in just the right place ahead of time so that I can stir up some trouble with them later, and boy is it fun disrupting my protagonists life.

Too mean, you say? No it isn’t. One of the secrets to great plotting is telling how your character goes from being, say, a clumsy, allergy ridden and isolated lab biologist who spends her spare time building allergy-free, self-sustaining miniature gardens, to an environmentalist group leader selected as part of a crucial biosphere mission to spruce up planet Mars. You really want to set a lot of obstacles in your protagonists way, physically and mentally or spiritually if your character is going to experience growth. Just like I had to go back, regroup and stop writing the manuscript for a while to learn about plotting with a storyboard before continuing on. It was hard, but I did it (hey, even an writer can arc) and you can, too! The more hardships you shovel onto your protagonist, the more awful your antagonist, the more crap you pile on all of them equals a better story. The plot is carried forward with the arc of the character, and you as an author benefit from knowing exactly where each growth-spurt will occur. All from a little restructuring.

Now, if you aren’t sure about note card outlining, ala Save the Cat, here’s a great site from Rune Lords author David Farland‘s Author Advisory Conference Calls where a variety of authors speak about methods they use to achieve writing success. In this particular clip,  New York Times bestselling author Aprilynne Pike discusses her number line method to keep the story purring along, and your plot on track. Mr. Farland tirelessly devotes time to teaching aspiring authors how to launch themselves into the happy business of becoming first time novelists, as do the successful authors who lend their time to his programs.

David Farland’s Authors Advisory Conference Calls

Learn about how the pro’s do it, apply the methods to your own writing, and enjoy the experience of seeing your word count and character arc rise to new heights!

I’m at 25K words now. Not too shabby.

Cheers and Happy Writing!

Kate Dancey

Write that novel! Spring into step with Kate Dancey

CopyIMGP5a *peeps over fence*

Hey, neighbor! Spring is here; time to regroup, rethink and re-engage with the world on a fresh  trajectory in writing! Care to join me?

To celebrate Spring I’ve got a new website–glad you could make it–where I’m working on a new project and noting what it will take to complete a full length novel, then shop it out to agents and Get. It. Pubbed. Along the way I thought it’d be nice to share lessons learned in the process–and a few tricks I gleaned while learning what gets a reader to lose themselves between the covers…of books! The sweet stuff of life, comes when the writing is fun!

Have I done this before? Yes and no. I published a short story through a small, but traditional house. It’s 15,000 words and was submitted after lots of research to avoid the pitfalls of the Dumps Monsters kind (damned unscrupulous malicious publishing scammers–yes I coined that phrase; my article about those ugly folk is here) and without an agent. I got lucky. Got an offer, did a happy dance, and accepted–after reading the entire contract–which I hope you will, too, when you get the opportunity. In November 2012, I had my first signing with a book-club in Los Angeles. Pretty neat! But it isn’t a novel length endeavor, and I’m up for that challenge.

I began writing my current novel about a month ago, and I was zipping right along at the keys when things started to feel disconnected. Not enough characters, not enough plot, zero subplot, and a poor crooked spine on my novel. My poor seedling ideas had fallen sick and sagging.

There I was,covered with blight at only 3 scraggly chapters in. Not much to show for all my ideas you say? Fair enough.

I had to put aside my notions of story-telling, though I’m quite the pantser (term for a writer who writes by the seat of their pants instead of planning every step) and learn how to better craft a beginning, middle and end. More importantly, my readers deserve to know what happens in between those points, and want them presented in a logical order, but with surprises and turns at the write places that move the tale along. So, I stopped pantsing in order to plot it out. Now don’t get me wrong; I still pants it, but I can tell you from personal experience that the plotting process is worth learning, and it works like a dream. You can veer from it and enjoy a good, long pantsing session, as long as it flows along with the plot points and moves the story forward.

We’ll start with the beginning and end. How? Because they should be opposites. Your protagonist, villains, and all their entourage should arc (how a character grows and learns on a spiritual level is known as a character arc), and the image you leave them with on the last page should reflect that a change has occurred in their world. Who would bother reading a book if everything stays the same? Your audience experiences your story from point A to Z because things happen, and the more a situation alters…the better the story.

I employed lessons from a screenwriter’s guide, Blake Snyder‘s Save the Cat–which you should rush out and purchase today if you are an aspiring novelist, and which I will introduce to you here. I also hooked up with some fine folk at NANOWRIMO,  which we will discuss in future.

Why a book about screen writing? Because it helps you to learn how to break a story down into 3 sections, making it easier to handle, then it breaks  into 15 beats, and finally, 10 note cards per section that you use as a guide to craft a plot with no holes in it. In the STC method you have the ability to see how your character and his buddies arc and you can tell pretty quickly using the story board where the plot is wilting. Did I mention they have online pointers for free as companions to the book? Brilliant!

Now, I have my fifteen beats laid out on a storyboard so I can keep my spine straight, and my ideas growing are strongly toward the sun. I know what happens, when, and where, right up to how it ends…and on into the plot for book 2, and the beginning structure of book 3–all because I germinated those ideas in book 1. Got it? Go get it.

With the storyboard and beat sheet to guide me, I allowed myself to return back to writing this week, planting words in earnest. I’ve managed to include many original ideas, and reserve some seeds for future writing–planning ahead is an excellent practice and a lesson only recently learned! Agents love it when you have not one, but two books ready to go! So, I’m going full speed ahead with my tale about Native American Shamanism, old world tree spirits, water sprites, Traditional Paganism, and one lone practitioner who inherits some haunted acreage. It’s been fun writing her story, and when it’s published, I have high hopes that you will enjoy it, too.

I’ll stop to report my progress here from time to time, and give you tips and links on how to get that novel written! Then feel free to come along for the big blooming show as I shop it and get my agent. Spring into action with me and lets help this neighborhood garden produce lots of great stories. Oh, and NANOWRIMO summer camp begins in April!

Woot!

Ready? Spring for those words, and remember to Save the Cat!

Kate Dancey

March 22, 2013

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When your first work isn’t your best work, hone your writing as you go.

Floating Donut by Scarce at Wikimedia Commons

Hi there, Readers.

Have you ever hit the send button to submit your work, but then only moments after uttered a Homer Simpsonesque, “Doh! What have I done?”

Few authors will admit it, but I’m going to be honest here, trot out on a limb and present my “Doh!” moment for your perusal. It comes with highs and lows of what worked and what didn’t.

After sending my MS off to the publisher I realized that things were missed here, could have been structured better there. Timeframe might have been made clearer, etc.. Not to mention that my story strayed from the style of conventional books on the subject. I took a risk writing my novella, Stealing Time, in a non-traditional fashion, and wasn’t sure it would play out.

Formulaic lessons of writing generally call for a tidy wind-up in true Spielberg style; hero leading everyone safely over the top of the mountain, sun caressing shoulders, planes flying past in salute, and everyone beaming smiles down on a shining end.

Well, I didn’t want that.

My original goal in writing Stealing Time was to craft it with content and ending that you might find in the comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the original Watchmen. Their work left much to the imagination, some things hidden and simply not explained, and therefore open to delightful speculation.  A current example of the cliff-hanger style I wanted to replicate is Dirke Tiede’s manga-styled, Paradigm Shift. The author keeps me anxious to grab the next copy to see how it ends–or begins–come to think of it. Consider adding his series to your shelves.

But I digress; the desire to write in a way that was familiar to me as a reader, was harder to create as an author. I  ploughed my way inexpertly and inelegantly through my manuscript with plenty of “Doh!” moments. And yes, comments after publication on Amazon reflect those mistakes. Fortunately, most folk who read it liked it, but more importantly, they voiced complaints. What readers had to say provided a place to start in terms of improving my writing, even if it was after publication. So, what did I learn from the “Doh!” factor?

I practiced my art, writing to their demands to bring them an improved experience in the sequel. The readers  became my guides in bringing secondary characters into play, having them better developed, digging deeper into the plot, etc.. But, stubborn to the last, I kept true to my original vision, tried various techniques to explain just enough but not too much, because I remembered something else that shone through those reader comments.

Most of them wanted more.

Though my fledgling novel had holes in it, my goal to create a cliffhanger, something I haven’t often come across, succeeded because my readers liked it. It drove them crazy that it ended where it did. They were startled that not everyone had been saved, that questions went unanswered, that the plot thickened only to come to an end. The outcome? Mistakes of my first book were balanced by its success of keeping the readers engaged, turning the pages, and wanting more.

My point is, your early efforts might not be your Magnum Opus. Perhaps they fly in the face of traditional thought or style. Whatever your personal experience, consider a few questions: Can you know what your best work is if you haven’t yet written it? Moreover, how can a work with mistakes possibly be a success? By all means edit, and edit voraciously, but until you risk sending your book out into the world, how can you know if it will fly with your readers?

The answer lies in how you perceive success, and I have a theory that every book has an audience anxious to turn its pages, even through “Homer” moments.

*If a reads your work, even leaves a negative comment, if they point out where the author lost them, you have a map for your next efforts to impress Mr. Tough-Reader. That leads to working harder and smarter, which leads to higher knowledge and better acceptance from a tough audience.

*When a person takes the time to read your work and leave a comment, even if the comments are mixed, consider how many other books they might have read, and perhaps not commented upon. A great or mediocre response to your book means it is worthwhile to that reader, and their comments are an open invitation to hone your skills and delight them further in future.

*Finally, a book’s influence can be measured by what a reader takes with them when the last page is turned. You may not consider it your greatest achievement, but someone else may have an entirely different opinion. One of my favorite comments for Stealing Time, though not written on Amazon, was relayed to me through a bookclub. The reader said, “It angered me that it ended.” What a great compliment! Why so great? Because it touched off an emotional connect to the story and the characters and left him wanting more.

That’s more than enough encouragement for me to continue pounding the keys.

Write to Pub Wednesday: Too busy to write? Roll with it for inspiration.

Do you ever feel that there isn’t enough time in the day to create, write, edit and tend to all of the people and responsibilities in your life?  Granted family comes first, and your friends do need your attention, but perhaps you procrastinate over writing because going for a drink with a pal calls to you louder than your manuscript revisions. Maybe your plot has pockmarks, akin to the holes I found in my story this week; but sorting old clothes or making the house look spotless, or doing homework with young Billy keeps you from focusing on your work in progress, and you feel you just can’t think. Has your creativity become lost in the noise of living?

Should we, as writers become removed from family, friends and necessary activities in order to get spark back into the story?

Not necessarily. Instead of trying to absent yourself from living your life,try to just go along with the flow and draw from the din of living the energy for your theme.

I had a lot to balance this week, and a ton of writing to accomplish, but felt my creativity dragging in the face of the mountain of work ahead of me that had nothing to do with writing. I thought, how am I going to have energy to create if by the time I can be alone with my thoughts, my head aches from the spin cycle? How to go about scribbling, yet include people, chores and activities between writing sessions without engaging the inner hermit? What I found this busiest of days, was that activities from research to meetings, preparing dinner, taking care of chores, nurturing family, and visiting with friends could add content to my writing.  As the hot afternoon smouldered into a warm evening and finally became a welcome cool night, I found it also crept into my head as ideas for my manuscripts.

Don’t get me wrong; some days the need to schedule time away from friends and embrace the hermit-self that wants to hide with the dust rhinos under the bed, or crawl under a bush somewhere to scribble in peace must be obeyed, but there comes a day to let family know they are the most important part of your life, but you must pencil in time to focus on your thoughts and pound a rhythm to release them on the keyboard or you will explode like an unpricked potato in a hot oven. But often, because this is real life and not a fantasy where you have all day to hit the idea board, it is more of a juggling act to balance all of the demands and joys of living with the tug of your creative, writer’s soul.

Instead of fighting the loved ones and the business of your life, try my experiment.

Instead of fighting for time to think separately about my storyline, I opted to roll with it and include everyone or incorporated many of the day’s activities into the tale. Short observations and fleeting ideas went into a small notebook kept nearby for that purpose. Bits of conversation, the lavender aroma of clean laundry, the glory in the bloom of a garden flower, smell of turned dirt, and the feel of moist earth between my fingers, color of cooked marinara sauce, all fed into ideas for my manuscripts. As evening fell and I carved out a peaceful moment to enjoy a glass of wine with a friend, I felt a certain ease of spirit that had been absent while I was trying to knock down the door of creativity. By the time I was able to sit down and hit the keys, there were several pages of quick notes as fodder for the work to come to jog my memory; ideas to draw from that put a real  sense of color, liveliness and passion into my writing.

So, yes, the day was crazy busy and time for contemplating writing had to be nurtured throughout its progress, yet no one had to go without clean socks, a hot meal, or a doctor visit  just so I could think about what to write. Now I know that it is possible to store both the din and the more pleasurable for later use when the actual scribbling time, the ass-in-chair moment presents itself. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done, like a donkey with an upset cart, I’m making the cart steadier by giving it new wheels.

So just roll with it. Live it, breathe it, fell and touch your busy life and those places and fine folk, and even drags who populate it. Take note of what the day holds for you as a writer. The notebook will keep the thoughts present until you have your free time, and the results may surprise you by enriching your writing, just as all of the perceived noises have moments that enrich your life.

Cheers!

C.K. Garner

Publishing on your blog…Don’t unless you already have a copyright in place!

A friend of mine, Nishi Serrano, a featured Horror author in the Hellfire Book of Beltane Anthology (yes, that is a shameless plug for her frightening tale “Old Looshi”  in that Anthology) on occasion puts up an excerpt of her work in progress or a segment of already published material in her Blog.  When I asked her if I should do this, too, her answer was a resounding, “NO!”

She explained that the segment she crafted utilized a character for whom she already had copyright protections in place  or she wouldn’t have done it.

Putting up segments of your own already copyrighted work, is fine, as long as the publishing house you are with, you and your agent all agree on what limitations, if any should apply.

Use caution with your work, and make sure that if you put it on a public site that you own the copyright for your characters.  But be aware ,too, that some publishing houses won’t touch work that already has a copyright, including those published on a Blog or Facebook, Twitter, etc., by their own Authors.  The legalities and risks are changing somewhat with e-publishing business coming rapidly to the fore, but again, use caution and do a bit of research to protect your writing and your interest of same, to do otherwise could be a scary experience fit for a horror novel!

Can you take the Heat?

A good Critique hammers out the bumps in your manuscript!

If someone asks for a critique, or for you to go over their writing, should you?  Would you be kind or let ‘er rip and tell them what’s  not working for you? On the receiving end, how do you handle being Critiqued? Today, I read a  manuscript from an acquaintance, then related what I felt worked and what didn’t. Instantly I became public enemy #1.

In nicer words than those here, I pointed out a lack of tension causing the story to flag and my interest to wane. I tried for constructive criticism— because I want very much for my fellow writers to keep working at it and not give up– applauded parts that flowed to the concept of the tale; but mentioned disconnects between actions of the characters and the reader trying to comprehend the flow of the story. The key here is, what I took in was what the writer conveyed in their manuscript.

The writer decided I am too much of a novice to critique them and could not see the picture they conveyed. Au contraire; I was picturing Giovanni Ribisi, one of my favorite actors, in the Protagonist role, and I tried to see scenes in full realization as they stuttered past in my mind, Giovanni looking for direction. I presented a few suggestions that might improve the MS, but the writer rejected any alterations, fearing tidier segues would change it too much; if they introduced more  feeling of the place, tried to build a bit more on the characters, then it wouldn’t be their story anymore. Topping off the list of backpedaling the writer expressed they shouldn’t have to personally explain each scene for a reader to get it.

On the last gripe I agree. The writing itself should speak to me. Setting, conflict and resolution should convey to me, the Reader, what is happening in the story. Tension should keep me wanting to turn the pages to find out what happens next, and each scene should ease into the next instead of me flipping back and forth to find a connection; bringing to mind Giovanni: all apologetic, his character says, “I’m sorry, but can you point me to the nearest segue?”

I have come to the conclusion that some folks don’t really want a critique.  They want you to read their work and tell them it has points so well-formed they stab you in the eye while perusing the brilliance of their  DARLING bit of fluff, and now you must wear an eye patch and become a pirate, you are so blown by the wave of their stature.

Give me an effing break.  Better still, don’t ask for a critique if you can’t take the heat.

Here is my take on how to handle a Beta Reader‘s POV: Welcome the harsher voices, the gulls of Criticism if you will; their opinion is as valuable, perhaps more so, than the sweet voiced variety of Critique.

The best Authors and Writers, or at least my favorites, are happy to have people read and share their thoughts of the characters and settings and how these work with each scene.  Equally, they welcome the point where you fell asleep reading their  tale. This is because they want to kill that bit of needless fluff  to make it read better, and take their writing to the next level.  They crave, I crave (!) to know what interferes with the flow of the story, where the bogs are that suck away the action, when it is too candy coated and needs added complexity, or where the story has too much description and wants a good conversation between the prime characters, or even the comic relief to ease darkness, just a little, see?  A good Critique gives you possibilities.  

The best thing about encouraging your friends and acquaintances to read your work, to critique it, is that they are your first audience!  *applauds beloved Beta Readers* If you pay attention, really take their constructive criticisms to heart, you will discover that their eyes are invaluable, because they are not in your head. They are Joe Reader. If they get it, chances are your future audience will, too. If they are struggling to wrap their heads around a passage, perhaps you should revisit and make that concept clearer.

It is human nature to balk at criticism, but if we unplug from our initial negative reaction, we open ourselves to the Reader, gleaning that pearl of wisdom that makes our story have luster. So, leap into that boiling cauldron with a smile. Find some Readers to critique your work, then tell them to please, turn up the heat, you can take it. Your work will be better for it, and your naysayers will at the very least respect you for being able to swim in the deep end of the pool of magma.

Well folks, my manuscript calls…a great friend of mine red-inked the heck out of it…for which I thank her!  I’ll take the advice and change what needs tending, toss the rest…that, too is valuable. 🙂

Keep writing!

See You Around,

C.K. Garner