Leveling the Playing Field

True Love

There isn’t much that I love more than stopping in my tracks when I notice a new book from a favorite author. When we touch, sparks fly. I flap the pages in the book, letting the gentle wind brush my face as I inhale the new book scent.

I love books.

I love beautiful covers that capture my interest. I love reading the endorsements from other authors or publications saying, “Read this book!” Of course they pull me in. And of course, I do read the book.

Reflection

I recently stopped to think about this love that I have of books. I finished two books on my Kindle in the recent past: one by a well established author and one by a lesser known author. I read the description of the books on Amazon, clicked “Buy Now”, and then dove right into the story when it arrived on my screen. 

I didn’t turn the e-ink screen pages back so I could see the colorful cover art (it wouldn’t be there anyway). I didn’t read any of the endorsements or praise for the book. Nor did I read the forward by the author. 

It wasn’t until after I finished these books that I realized the journey I shared with them and how it differed from other books I’ve enjoyed over the years. I was in it for the story. 

Story and Leveling the Playing Field

It’s always about the story. Or, it should be. It shouldn’t matter how fancy, colorful, or highly praised a book is on its cover. What matters is the story that lies on the printed page. That’s what holds the reader’s attention and that’s what keeps the reader turning page after page. 

I think e-readers have seriously leveled the playing field. When most of us download a new ebook, it opens directly to page one, where the story begins. Most of us don’t flip to the cover because we know it doesn’t really matter–it’s just gonna be a black and white screen. Boring. Instead, we go right for the story. That’s why we bought the book in the first place. 

Everyone and their dog seems to be publishing books these days. They make it look so easy. Within seconds I can have a book from Stephen King or Shirley Jackson on my Kindle as well as a book from my neighbor. But once that book arrives, they pretty much all look the same (except for a few with serious formatting issues). It’s that sameness that levels the playing field. 

When I’m reading a DTB book and I notice I’m getting a little lost, it only takes me a second to flip back to the cover and remind myself of what drew me to the book in the first place. I can’t do that with a book on my Kindle because it’s not worth the effort for a black and white image. When I get bored reading a DTB, I can flip to the blurb on the back and remind myself that other people liked this book so I should, too. Can’t do that with my Kindle.

Bottom line, it’s the story that keeps people going. E-readers have upped the ante. Stories have to be even better than what’s been acceptable in the past if writers want people to continue to read their work. With so many choices, and such cheap prices, if writers don’t grab readers right away they will move on to the next book in line on their e-reader. 

Fire

My Kindle Fire arrived not too long ago and is my new best friend. The Fire has added the color element in a nice way. It’s also faster for me to travel throughout my book. But, my bottom line hasn’t changed. The story is what keeps me swiping my finger across the screen to turn the page. 

Story. Period. 

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year when writers everywhere are hunched over their keyboard typing away, cranking out 1,667 words a day, to meet the deadline of writing the first draft of a novel by the end of November. 50,000 words in order to “win”. 

I decided months ago that I was gonna go for it this year. What do I have to lose? I even knew the project I wanted to work on. I got the idea while walking my dog one day when I was smacked in the face with this overwhelming image that I had to put on paper. I rushed inside and took notes on what I saw so that I wouldn’t forget it. At the time, I was knee-deep in revising the-novel-that-now-has-a-title. I couldn’t let go of the current project, but I didn’t want to let go of the idea stomping around in my head keeping me up at night. The writer’s curse I suppose. It’s a good thing … most days. 

So, I saved the notes and kept my project tucked away in a little drawer in my head. I promised it, and myself, that we would meet again real soon. 

MeNoWri

The two weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo should have been spent getting my head in focus and thinking more about that idea resting in the drawer. Instead, I was working on report cards and having parent-teacher conferences. Each night I was exhausted and my brain was numb. No thinking or planning for me. 

The first week of November was restless, I had an observation at work, and yesterday I got rear-ended by a teenager. I had my whole afternoon free and ready to be spent writing to make a serious attempt to catch up. Instead, I was frazzled, had a headache, and kept hearing the boom from when he hit me. 

Life Happens

Such is life … stuff happens. We can plan for the next few hours, but who knows what they’ll actually bring. Work creeps in, we have sleepless nights, and we have car accidents that seriously interrupt our writing. 

I’m going to keep moving forward though. I set a goal to take this challenge and I’m not giving up just yet. 

My idea is out of the drawer and I’m breathing some life into it. I sat this morning (with a sore neck and headache) and managed to get out over 2,000 words. Not much, but the day isn’t over. Truthfully, 1,667 words a day isn’t enough. Most say to shoot for at least 2,000 words a day to ensure that you’re on track because you never know when life hits. Don’t forget Thanksgiving; not sure how much writing will get done that day. We’ll see. 

Less than 48,000 words to go …

 

I love you, Twitter … Let me count the ways

Early Memories

One of my earliest favorite authors was Beverly Cleary, and I read everything she wrote before I turned eight years old. Seriously. I remember our school librarian (yes, they were called librarians back then) let us write a letter to our favorite author. She researched the addresses and provided everything we needed (including stamps) and we were off. I, of course, picked Ms. Cleary. I never got a reply; I don’t even know if she got my letter. Despite this, I took great pride in being able to personally connect with an author. We connect with authors all the time when we embark on their journey and revel in the world they have created for us … that goes without saying. But to be able to thank an author and express sincere appreciation for what they have given us is priceless. 

Times Have Changed

I’m sure it’s possible to hand write a personal letter to one’s favorite author. I haven’t done this since I was a little kid in Maine, but I’m sure it can be done. But why would I do this when I have social media? 

One of the reasons I joined Twitter was so that I could connect to other writers. At the time, I meant writers more like me (unpublished, finally getting serious, newbies). I suppose I just didn’t realize how easily Twitter connects us to people (and on such a personal level). I can check Twitter and see what my favorite authors are up to (and most of them update frequently if not obsessively). Not only that, I have the capability to affect their world, albeit small, as they have mine by communicating with them with comments, replies, articles, etc. Wow!

 Not too long ago I Tweeted R.L. Stine. I remember diving into his books about the time that I finished off Beverly Cleary’s books. I had found my true interest … fear. I remember that I read everything by Stine that I could get my hands on. 

What prompted the thank you? Before I Tweeted him, I finished an interview in the latest Writer’s Digest that was about him. While reading about his writing and books, I thought back to my experience with his words and the affect that he had on me and my love of fear. Instead of hand writing a letter, I was able to share my message, all 140 characters but still, via Twitter. After I sent it, I didn’t have to wonder if he got it because I know he did. He may or may not reply, but that’s okay. I expressed my thank you and it was so easy to do. 

Words of Wisdom

Another reason I love Twitter is the daily advice I get from the writers I follow. They don’t direct this advice toward me, nor do they even label it advice. They are simply sharing tidbits from their life that end up having a huge effect on me. 

For example, several months ago I was having a crappy writing day. I logged onto Twitter and saw this Tweet from Judy Blume: “Only problem with reading a really good book when you’re trying to write one – it leaves you sure you should burn your pathetic attempt.”

Okay, probably doesn’t sound like advice, and maybe advice is the wrong word for this particular Tweet; however, I think you still get my point. These writers, no matter how famous, are still people. They still have to go through the same, at times, mundane tasks. They still have to spend lengthy amounts of time shuffling through words, picking out the gems, and chucking the junk just to unearth a great story. 

Just reading that Judy Blume doubted her work for a moment totally put things in perspective for me. Okay, I guess that’s the word I wanted earlier. I love the perspective that Twitter gives me. 

And Advice

I gotta go back to advice, though. I do get great words of advice and writing quotes from Writer’s Relief as well as some of the publishing houses. 

Here’s a quote I Retweeted last week: 

 

~“When I thought I couldn’t go on, I forced myself to keep going. My success is based on persistence, not luck.” – Estee Lauder

 

Back to R.L. Stine

Seriously though, if you had asked me when I was ten years old if I would ever be “following” R.L. Stine and would I ever “Tweet” him to say thank you, I would have looked at you like, well, you were a creature from one of his books. What a funny time we live in these days. 

I need to go check Twitter now and see what’s going on …

Killing a Small Tree

The Time Has Come

As I type this, my printer is buzzing away churning out page after page of my draft. Between the buzzes I hear small sighs of relief as I’ve finally given my printer something to do. It’s been working overtime since Friday night, but that’s okay. It’s for a good reason. 

I feel pretty good about the state of my novel, and the time has come to open the door to a select few readers. I knew this day was coming, and I also knew that it would be an expensive day. I’ve spent too much time calculating the cost of printing copies at a copy center versus doing it at home. I finally settled on just printing at home because, believe it or not, it’s cheaper than having it done at a copy center. That shocked me, too!

The downside, I have to sit at home because it takes about an hour to print one copy. I have to be nearby in case my printer yells out to me, “Out of paper!” (my paper tray holds less than 100 sheets) Suffice it to say, I’ve gotten a lot of small projects done this weekend since I’ve been homebound and not clicking away on my keyboard.

Anxiety and Excitement

My body bounces back and forth between feeling anxious and excited about finally having people read my work. This is a huge project for me. Clearly it’s also important to me, and I think I have something of worth otherwise I’d just keep it to myself. 

I have a good mix of first readers for my novel. I have two male readers, three YAs, and two adult females. I gave away a copy to my first reader yesterday and it felt very strange. That ping pong match between anxiety and excitement was very much alive at first and then excitement took over–I’m really doing this!

Trees and Forests

I’ve spent the last few months looing so closely at the trees, every detail, that it’s time to really step back and look at the forest. I got some time to do that when I picked up my manuscript, cleaned off two years worth of dust, and then reread it. Since then I’ve been hunched over looking at pine needles. It’s been difficult to step back and look at the big picture no matter how hard I try. 

Are there gaps in the story? Did I somehow inadvertently drop a character? Do events line up? Some pieces were intentionally left ambiguous because the story isn’t over.

I’m looking forward to hearing the feedback.

What now?

Now I want to work on some short story writing. I want to focus my mind on something completely different and much shorter. I have some stories that I started over the past few months that got dropped because of the novel. I’ve also had ideas pop into my head, and I want to give them some attention. The first story I’m going to revisit involves cockroaches … lots and lots of cockroaches. 

Buzz!

My printer is out of paper …

Dragon*Con

If you’ve never been to Dragon*Con before, you must go. Run, don’t walk, to the convention next Labor Day weekend. Why? It’s only the biggest convention for science fiction/fantasy fans ever! In my dream world every weekend would be Dragon*Con. I’ve been told many times over the past two weeks that I’m a nerd, or a geek, because I love Dragon*Con. What these people don’t realize is I take that as a compliment. 

Now, I’m not one of those brainiac scientists, or even computer techies, who are advancing life on this planet as we know it. But seriously people, what would our world be like if it wasn’t for the true geeks, as you call them? It’s not the people who are watching reality TV every night that are making changes for the better. Hate to break it to ya. 

So, when I go to things such as Dragon*Con, I wave my mini geek flag proudly and hope that someone inducts me into the geek club. At a minimum, maybe they won’t mind my presence while I absorb all that I can to take back to my lair and eventually do something with. And, did I get a lot of stuff this weekend!

First of all, I must say that I was quickly disheartened at my first panel on Saturday morning. I won’t name the panel that I attended, but this very popular TV series lost my respect and I don’t feel inclined to finish watching the series at this point. The actors spent almost the whole time on their cell phones Tweeting, and who knows what else, instead of paying attention to their fans. Yep, the fans who stood in line to get their Dragon*Con pass, who paid nearly $100 for the pass, stood in line for the panel, and some even stood in line for the Q&A section. You can’t put your cell phone away for one hour to show some gratitude to your fans? Really?

At any rate, the rest of my weekend was fabulous! What I experienced after this bummer of a panel totally surpassed my expectations. I took away so many encouraging thoughts, advice, and stories from artists, actors, and authors that my bucket is now overflowing. 

Some highlights … 

I really enjoyed listening to Mary Robinette Kowal at the “Writing Short Fiction” panel. She is the Vice-President of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (an organization I am not a member of … yet). There was a great debate in this session of whether or not writers use a different set of skills to write short fiction vs. long fiction. She was adamant that the skills are the same, but it comes down to economy of words. All panelists brought up excellent points and the jury is still out in my mind. I know that I struggle immensely with writing short fiction, but I intend to rise to the occasion and improve my short story writing skills. Her greatest words of advice, “Write, submit, rinse and repeat.” The biggest hang-up for writers is not finishing the story and then not submitting it. So, once again, “Write, submit, rinse and repeat.” I also got a lovely little flag that I stuck to my Dragon*Con badge that says, “I am all out of excuses.”

I am, too. 

The other session that I loved was the “New York Times Bestselling Authors Tell All.” The panelists were Kevin Anderson, Terry Brooks, Charlaine Harris, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jonathan Maberry, and Nancy Knight as the moderator. These authors were true professionals. Nancy did an excellent job moderating the panel by leading the authors in a discussion that was so well thought out and applicable to writers who are starting out. The authors seemed open to putting it all on the table.

Guess what they spend their time doing? Writing. 

The life of a NYT bestselling author isn’t all fame and glam. They get up in the morning, spend normal work hours writing, and then they have to promote their books. They also have lives outside of writing. Don’t forget families, too. The biggest motivator for all of them seemed to be a paycheck, which you can’t blame them for that. NYT bestselling authors have bills to pay like the rest of us. 

One point they made that really popped out at me was how important it is to set the precedent that those around a writer respect writing time. Just because someone works from home, they are still working. Even if you catch the writer staring off into space, they are still working. It takes time to get into that writing zone and unnecessary distractions can quickly take a writer out of it, which leads to them having to spend more time trying to get into that place again. 

Best words of advice … write, write, get honest feedback, write, and write some more. 

I’m now going to wave my little geek flag as I head off to do as I was told … write. 

Goals and Time

Or should it read Time for Goals?

The school bell has rung and it’s back to work for me. And really, that’s all fine and dandy. What is looming over my head, though, is mass amounts of fear. Fear that my day job will take over my night job. Fear that I won’t get enough sleep. Fear that I’ll hate myself months from now when I look back and reflect on how little writing I’ve been able to accomplish. 

I’ve always been a goal setter. I like seeing the end and having something to work towards all while enjoying the journey (of course enjoying the journey, that’s what it’s all about, right?). But then I read other blogs about not setting goals and just going with the flow all the live long day. Hmm. What is a person to do? 

I fear that if I don’t set writing goals for while I’m back to working full-time that I’ll simply never accomplish a thing. 

Once those goals are set, when do I actually do the writing? Once I’ve cut the cord and made it back home, had dinner, spent time with the pooch, and gotten work out of my system I’m ready for bed. So, do I force myself to burn the midnight oil and write anyway at the time of day when my heart just isn’t into it. Or, do I rise around 4am and write what I can before having to rush off to work? 

I’ve read many strategies of how to balance a writing life along with a full-time job. Some very successful writers had to rise long before the rest of the world to get in their creative time before heading off to work. 

If they did it, I suppose I can, too. I want to be able to write when my mind is fresh and untouched by the world. To be able to go from the dream world to my own writing world is ideal. It takes too much effort some evenings to try to pry off the expectations of society in an attempt to get back to myself so I can write. Honestly, some days I just don’t have it in me. 

So, that’s the plan. I’m going to try to rise super early during the work week so I can write. It makes sense, really, since I seem to be naturally waking between 3 and 4 a.m. anyway. 

I didn’t accomplish much writing this week and I noticed a slight layer of dust collecting on the novel-whose-title-keeps-changing. Unacceptable. I’ve reacquainted myself with my story over the weekend and feel that I’m back on a roll. If I keep up the pace I had this weekend I should be able to finish my second draft by the end of the week. 

Time to go set my alarm for tomorrow. No excuses. 4 a.m.

Blogging – What’s in it for me?

The other day I read a blog post by another writer entitled “Author Blogging: You’re Doing it Wrong” and it got me thinking. The author shared her own thoughts about an “author platform” and how blogging isn’t the best way for a fiction writer to sell books. She claims the real benefits are networking with other writers and honing your craft. 

I think she’s right. 

I thought about this whole idea of blogging and why exactly I did jump on the bandwagon. When the-novel-whose-title-keeps-changing is finally finished, is this blog really going to help me sell it? No, probably not. Especially with only two followers. (Thanks, Mom!) 

It is time consuming. There’s time spent thinking about a blog post. Time to actually write the post. Read over it and edit it. Let it sit for a bit. Read and edit it again. Let it sit for a bit. Do it all over again. And then finally click that magical button–Publish. 

So, what’s in this for me?

Accountability – This is probably number one. Taking that leap of faith and declaring to the world that I want to make a go of this holds me accountable for putting my work where my mouth is. Talking casually with a friend about someday finishing that novel is different from posting publicly to the world, “Hey, I’m finishing up the novel I wrote a while back and I want to publish it”.

Networking – I completely agree with her about this. I love connecting with other writers and hearing their advice. We writers spend so much time alone in our own heads that it’s nice to connect with others in a similar boat if only to remind ourselves that we’re really not alone after all. There’s someone else out there who gets it.

Craft – By diving into any type of writing (novel, short stories, journal entries, blogging, etc) I am honing my craft. I am getting more experience, continuing to find my voice, and always stretching myself a bit further.  

In the end, I might not sell a lot of books because of my blog … and that’s okay (for now). This is my journey and blogging is one way of making me step out of my comfort zone. 

Time to let this sit for a bit …