Staying Focused as an Author

Many authors suffer from the greatness of their creativity, especially fiction writers. They will be in the middle of composing one manuscript that they have been working on for quite some time, and then Poof!, a MUCH more awesome idea pops into their head. They become an immediate slave to their creativity and begin fostering the new idea into something more, causing their first story to begin collecting dust. Worse yet, it most likely happens to them again and again. And in more extreme cases, their brain may be generating so many good ideas that they fail to even start on one. Does any of that sound like you or someone you know? I’ll offer some advice to help you stay focused on your project at hand.

So how does an author like this ever finish anything they’ve started? Well, it’s not easy, but no one ever said being an author was. Completing a manuscript is a long arduous process that requires self-motivation, determination, and focus. While it is possible to keep exploring every idea of your imagination, then you’ll be stuck with writing multiple books at once – which is a less than ideal situation. It’ll become a chore to remember the details and nuances of each of your works-in-progress. It’ll also most certainly degrade the quality of your work. Plus, if you are serious about becoming published, you will already be overwhelmed. One author described the publishing life as, “You will be marketing and promoting book 1, while editing book 2, while writing book 3.” Staying focused and concentrated on one book at a time is key to success. “But I want to have multiple completed manuscripts to increase my chances of getting published,” you say. Well, as someone that has tried multiple business ventures simultaneously in hopes that one gets traction, the reality is that it forces you to spread yourself too thin. Instead of having one great book/idea/business, now you have many crappy ones that don’t go anywhere. Pour all your energy and love into one book and success will follow.

If you are just overflowing with ideas and are having trouble just getting started, this is what I suggest:  Write down all of your ideas in short summary paragraphs. Compare them all to each other. Separate them by judging your own ideas so that you now have your “A-List” ideas and your “B-List”. Grade them using whatever criteria is important to you, for example, maybe one is better than the other simply because it would be more fun to write, or one idea could be made into a series, or perhaps one is more “commercial/salable” then the rest. The choice is up to you, but whether you think writing is an art form and shouldn’t be judged on it’s ability to sell, the bottom line that every author must recognize is that we are entertainers, and as such, we must please our audience. As entertainers, you have decided to choose a life of servitude, to create stories that are designed to captivate the imagination of the masses. And if you don’t judge your ideas that way, literary agents and publishers will. So now, looking at your A-List, most likely you have just honed your creative mind to concentrate around 1 or 2 (3 tops) best ideas. Pick one, then create realistic goals/milestones/deadlines for yourself and post it up all around your desk. Whenever you feel yourself getting distracted, look at your goals – they will keep you on a path toward success.

If you are a person that has no problem getting started on a manuscript, but gets ideas right in the middle of your novel, here’s what I do: I write down every new idea in a single document so they are never forgotten – I call that document my “bag of tricks.” Because I write in the fantasy genre (and because I am writing a series), many things can happen in my world. Whenever I have lost my muse/creativity, sometimes I will dig out an idea from my bag of tricks. It will help me create a scene, introduce a new character, or allows me to insert a minor conflict, etc.

While it seems like the mind can be working against you, you should never stop your mind from conjuring up new ideas. Find a way to work with it, to leverage your creativity while staying focused. You must create your own method or process toward completing your novel. Use my processes above if they seem right for you, but be sure you take steps to manage yourself, to corral your creativity, to focus your efforts. Feel free to offer any suggestions of your own in the comments section below.

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Awesome Apps for Authors

Technology has been the greatest enabler for authors. It has drastically improved productivity when going from typewriters to the personal PC, and now with Amazon’s CreateSpace plus the advent of e-readers, it has never been easier for an author to publish their work. There is no doubt that technology has made the life of all authors easier, but what about being more organized? Below, I’ve compiled a list of some software and iPad/iPhone apps that can do just that.

  • Name Dice for iPad/iPhone, by Thinkamingo. If your creativity is fleeting, then this free random name generator can help you come up with a character name on the spot.
  • Final Draft Writer by Final Draft, Inc. This is the premier composition software for screenwriters, and the iPad app is available for $49.99. Personally, I don’t know how anyone can be as productive on an iPad as they can on a laptop/PC with a full operating system, but I know Final Draft 8 software is available for $249.95 on PC and Mac as well.
  • iBookWriterLite for iPad, by AgileBoard.com. This free app allows you to compose your story and then instantly publish your work to various self-pub markets once complete.
  • Subscribe to Writing Magazine on the iPad. Filled with useful articles for fiction, short story and poetry topics. $20.99 for 6 month subscription or $39.99 for a 12 month subscription.
  • My Writing for iPad, by 21×20 Media, Inc. This free app helps you keep track of all your published works.
  • Writer’s App for iPad, by Thomas Sillmann. For only $0.99, this app gives you a book composition/organization tool. You can track your synopsis, Premise, Plot, Chapters, Characters (bio, description, etc), Places, and Notes for your novel. I, for one, would have loved a character-tracker app during my first novel!
  • Literary Agents and Publishers Database for iPhone/iPad, by BookCaps. It’s a free app that lists agents and publishers based on Genre. This might be handy for the iPad, but I still prefer queryagent.com for their database and submission tracking system.
  • Manuscript for iPad by Black Mana Studios. This app costs $6.99 and takes you from pitch to a publication-ready document in 4 steps.
  • Total Recall for iPhone/iPad by Zyense. This free app lets you organize your thoughts via mindmapping. It is a great tool for any author that likes to visualize the story or see character relationships and motivations. Great for outlining your novel, as I previously mentioned here.

For those of you that have found other useful apps or software, please feel free to share! Leave a comment below! I personally used Microsoft Skydrive to write my novel. Not only that, with Skydrive, you can edit your documents right in the web browser. I found this extremely useful so that I can work on my book from anywhere, and I prevent the risk of data loss by saving it in the cloud.

NaNoWriMo

How better to start my first blog post in November than to share my experience joining NaNoWriMo?! National Novel Writing Month is the talk of the town, and it sets a great goal for any author of writing 50,000 words in one month. Now, that is a bit steep for me given my current situation of a full time job, grad school at night (plus homework), and my wife is due to give birth to our second daughter in a matter of days. With all that on my plate, my participation would be minimal, at best. But, even with such a large goal of 50,000 words, I realized that joining the movement couldn’t hurt. After all, it’s free!

After signing up at www.NaNoWriMo.org I began filling out my profile. They even allowed me to claim participation in NaNoWriMo for previous years, so I logged THE SOUL SMITH as my composition for 2011. They asked for my synopsis, a sample of my work, and the book cover, all of which I copied over from my website. Then it asked me the same questions for the book I plan on writing for the 2012 NaNoWriMo. Fortunately, I knew I would be writing THE CHROMIUM SMITH, book 2 of my fantasy series. However, I found that the simple, yet complex question of asking for the synopsis of my unwritten book was profound. Trying to convert the story concept from my head into words really helped shape my character motivations, and I found this simple exercise as a very helpful tool for planning my novel.

Another benefit of joining NaNoWriMo.org are the forums and Regions which help you connect with other local authors. I have already found fellow SDSU students to meet up with and organize write-ins, etc. Connecting with other writers keeps you motivated, and it’s not just on the forum boards either. The authors I follow on Facebook and Twitter are constantly asking for everyone’s current word count. The peer pressure keeps you motivated toward writing more.

In addition, the website has a Word Tracker tool (shown below), that helps you visualize your progress and easily calculate your daily writing average to help you meet the goal of 50,000 words.

Upon becoming a fresh, new member of NaNoWriMo, they shared a few tips toward achieving the 50,000 word goal. For those of you that do not have a plan in place, or a story concept in mind, I’ve written a brief summary of their main points below:

  1. Just wing it. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Write every day and soon enough, a story will appear.
  2. Do not edit, just write. Get your 50,000 words on the page and use the rest of the year to edit it.
  3. Tell people that you’re writing a novel. Sure enough, they’ll ask you about your progress. Use that peer pressure of “not wanting to look like a failure in front of your friends” as something to motivate you to keep writing.
  4. It’s okay to feel the urge to quit; just know that it gets easier as time goes on.

I am Composing a Short Story!

If you have read my previous post, you should know that my bio/resume as an author is pretty non-existent. I wrote a 100,000 word manuscript, and that’s about it. But composing a short story isn’t just to boost my resume as an author, it’s to prove that my writing and my story are good enough. So last night, I began composing my first short story.

My story is set in the world of Thornwall that I have created for my novel. It even involves some of my favorite characters from it too, set before the events of my novel take place. I have chosen this route for many reasons:

1) Leverage. I have already dedicated a lot of time into creating this world, so showing other aspects of it through a short story is always a plus.

2) Recognition. When this short story becomes published (and hopefully wins a contest or two) then it gives credit to THE SOUL SMITH. It is a statement that my characters, my writing, and the fantasy elements of my world are worthy of an agent’s attention.

3) Fans. Any fans of my novel will love to be rewarded with a short tale that involves some of the characters; where they came from, how they met, etc. None of this would be possible without a readership, so doing everything I can to engage them is important.

4) Marketing. My name and readership will grow if my story is published and/or wins a contest. Once posted on my website, I can drive more traffic there, get more online followers, etc. Being “publishing ready” is important to agents. Additionally, I could throw in a tag line at the end to say something like, “Do you crave more? Be sure to read Adrian V. Diglio’s novel: THE SOUL SMITH”.

5) Characters. These were some of my favorite characters from my novel and I wanted to give them the spotlight.

6) SFWA Associate Membership. After getting one short story sold, I can become an associate member and therefor further my author resume/bio.

So here is my plan. I will submit my writing to Critters Writer’s Workshop to obtain additional critique. (By the way, I am blown away at the membership they have. They have Nebula Award winning authors, and presidents of SFWA, it’s insane!) Then I plan on submitting to fantasy magazines like Light Speed that pay you if they publish your short story. Sure, they have to accept your submission, but I am confidant. They pay you 5 cents a word and they prefer stories that hang around 5,000 words in length. That’s $250 and publishing credit! I would additionally try submitting to these other places that buy short stories: Llist provided by SFWA.  With money like that I will use to pay the entry fees for submitting the same short story to multiple writing contests. At my first glance, I noticed that short story contests have an entry fee anywhere from $10-$40, but you usually get a magazine subscription or something as part of it. If my short story wins… then the prize money will be money in my pocket, plus bragging rights for me! The prize money for winning a contest is usually $250 – $1,000. That’s not why I’m doing this, but it would be a nice bonus.

That’s my plan anyways. We will see how well it is executed. Though, I think this is the path to success that any new author of fiction should take.