I’m back! But will I finish before GRRM?

“F you Adrian.” – Angry George R. R. Martin

I’m back! And it’s 2019! My last blog post was in 2017 (how embarrassing!), but I’m digging in and writing again! I’m back to work on my sequel, The Chromium Smith (Book 2 of The Blacksmiths fantasy series). I left off on Chapter 12 after some serious plot challenges mixed with writer’s block. Well, after discovering some old notes I had forgotten about, I realized that I had solved my own plot hole and got back to it!

So why the big delay in progress on the sequel? Other than getting stone walled by my own plot, I got seriously distracted with life. I had a new baby (baby Adelyn, born on Halloween of all days!), got a new job, had to move to a new state, a new house, and of course, got distracted with other forms of entertainment (TV, games, etc.). But with the discovery of my notes and removal of a hobby that was capitalizing my time, I found my renewed vigor in storytelling!

And, with a new year comes new goals. I gave my website a much needed face lift and then organized my notes. (There’s nothing worse than writing with notes that are not structured in any way). I then began going through Chapters 1 – 11, finding moments that needed revisions to address my plot issue, and then got back to work on Chapter 12. I’m feeling good about it, but I’m sure I need to shake off my rustiness. I may also need to completely reread all Chapters just to familiarize myself again, but progress is being made!

So the big question: Will book 2, The Chromium Smith, be done before The Winds of Winter by George R. R. Martin is released? Only time will tell.

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A New Breath of Life for Serial Novels

A good friend of mine introduced me to a website called http://www.jukepopserials.com, a place that brings writers and readers together to enjoy the once popular publishing format of the serial novel. Made famous in 1836 by Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, a serial novel is (generally speaking) the controlled release of a chapter/installment at a time to the public. This is predominately performed during the composition phase where the writer finishes a chapter and publishes it, finishes another chapter and publishes it, as opposed to completing an entire novel and releasing it a chapter at a time. Often times, the readers provide feedback to the author. Charles Dickens was known to factor in that feedback when writing his subsequent installments.

JukePop Serials is bringing it back. They curate stories from around the world, one chapter at a time. They are available on the web, and on Android and Apple mobile devices. The readers get to vote on their favorite serials, and the top serials with the most votes get awarded money from the website on a monthly basis, and voting is what keeps the serials alive.

But before an author’s or writer’s first serial installment can be published on their site, it must first be approved in a very similar manner that you would submit to a magazine. Per their submissions page, they are currently accepting these genres: Adventure, American Gothic, Chick Lit, Crime, Cross-Genre, Dystopian, Fantasy, Horror, Modern Romance, Mystery, Paranormal, Sci Fi, Sci Fi Western, Slipstream, Steampunk, Superhero, Thriller, and Young Adult (plus any new genre that you may have invented). If your serial start is accepted, JukePop Serials pays up to 2 cents per word for up to 3,500 words. After which, an author becomes eligible for the monthly cash awards based on votes.

This is a very innovative way to leverage the technology of today to breath life into an old idea. As readers now have a streamlined method of connecting with the author and providing feedback, it builds upon that bond between the author and the reader. I think JukePop Serials will be a very successful site which I hope to publish on some day.

Shifting Focus and Changing Plans

For most authors in search of traditional publishing, it is only after diving into the deep end head first that you realize that you can barely tred water among all the other authors in the pool. It is only then that you might decide to take a step back and survey the landscape so that you can find a more likely path. In my case, that’s exactly what happened, and now I’m changing course toward calmer waters. It’s not the shortest journey, but it’s become more apparent to me now more than ever that an author must have patience and, in my opinion, layout a series of stepping-stone goals.

It has been my goal to get my novel published. However, the path that I chose to get there was to submit to literary agents (the gatekeepers to the publishing industry). My reasoning was that I knew they could educate me on the process, negotiate for a fair deal (so I would know whether I am being taken advantage of), and sell my manuscript better than I could. However, submitting to literary agents as a new author is like trying to take a shortcut in the publishing world. Literary agents generally look to get their clients that highly desired hardcover deal which is not often achieved by first time authors.

So it is time that I “start small” and choose the other path. I’m going to submit directly to some of the smaller, more focused publishing houses that usually deal with paperback and ebook deals. This was somewhat difficult for me to wrap my mind around as any self published author can achieve those same things via Amazon’s Create Space or other similar venues. However, a publishing house does more than just publish. It’s the editing, the marketing, the recognition amongst the consumers of a quality product, the brick-and-mortor store distribution, and the commitment of a team that is involved in your success as much as you are.

I feel that now, with my short story published, my query letter will exhibit more confidence, and with my progress into book two, it’ll demonstrate my dedication. If successful, I’ll have to negotiate the terms of my own deal and manage my own career, but it’s all about the journey, and it will all be worth it in the end.

Tips for Writing a Novel While Working a Full-Time Job

The largest and most critical issue that impacts one’s ability to write a novel is time. So when you hold down a full-time job and have a family, making your commitment to writing can be difficult to say the least. In addition, we all know that both reading and writing every day increases our skill, however, what if you don’t have time to do both? In my case, I work on average 45-50 hours a week, I go to grad school at night two days a week, I have homework, tests to study for, projects and research papers, plus I have a wife and two little girls. There isn’t time to both read and write in a single day; I must choose one or the other. So I’ve come up with some helpful tips to share with others about how I’ve found the time to write a novel.

First, wanting to write a novel requires raising it up on your list of priorities. Trying to find time to write everyday will be especially challenging if it has to compete with all the other activities and past-times that you would rather do. If that isn’t enough, try asking yourself, “What are you willing to sacrifice to be able to do all the things that you want to do in a day?” For me, I sacrifice sleep. I only do 6 hours a night.

Second, do everything you can to mobilize your writing. I use the free CloudOn app on my iPad to edit Microsoft Office docs that I keep in Dropbox/SkyDrive. I also made the move to a Windows Phone because it has Microsoft Office built in, and can edit docs stored in SkyDrive. All of these things have helped me to capture my thoughts as soon as I have them, and allow me to utilize any downtime (like waiting in a doctors office) toward making progress on my novel. Alternatively, if mobilizing your writing isn’t for you, then bring a book with you wherever you go (digital or print) and use the downtime throughout your day to read as much as possible.

Third, set a realistic expectation for yourself. Think about how much you should be writing a month. Do you know what your average word count is for your chapters? Do you know what your estimated word count for your novel is? 50,000? 70,000? 100,000? Try to do the math so that you can finish your novel within a year or less.

Words Per Year Goal Words Per Month Words Per Week Words Per Day
60,000 5000.0 1153.8 164.4
70,000 5833.3 1346.2 191.8
80,000 6666.7 1538.5 219.2
90,000 7500.0 1730.8 246.6
100,000 8333.3 1923.1 274.0

Fourth, just write. Don’t self-edit until the end. Get the words onto the page so that you can flush out the entire story. Save editing and revisions for later.

Here’s a Writer’s Digest article that adds some other suggestions: 5 Ways to Maximize Your Time  

Creating a Believable Hero

Within the massive umbrella of the fiction genre, many authors choose to tell the tale of the adventures of some incredible hero. That hero could be incredible for many various reasons and is also the perfect person to overcome the conflict at hand, but they don’t always exhibit the fundamental qualities of a leader. Is every hero a leader? No. But does every hero lead?

The crux of that question is what I want to explore here. In a vast majority of fiction novels that involve the protagonist as a “hero”, the hero is always thrust into greatness – despite their initial hesitancy. They either already have the power or are given the power to be triumphant and save the day, but despite all that, they are not a leader by any stretch of the word. Sure, they may have followers throughout the novel, but it is not because of their innate leadership skill; it is because of the power they wield. It is the circumstance of great responsibility that they find themselves in which forces them to do what they think is right (usually after being coerced by peer pressure) despite wishing they weren’t involved at all.

Now, while it is an interesting dynamic to show how a hero has matured as a result of the quest/adventure (such as a coming of age story), the character still only holds Legitimate power, when they should have Referent and/or Expert power to be a successful leader. (More on the 5 different types of power Here). In my opinion, this “regular person as a hero” is a paradox that is found over and over again throughout stories that even date back to myth and legend (of which I wrote about here: The Hero with a 1,000 Faces).

What about the hero that forges his own destiny? That grabs life by the horns? That has worked all his/her life for this one moment? Sadly, we don’t see many stories of heroes like that. In fact, don’t those seem like traits usually found in the villains of our novels? Why does our culture craft stories that reward the unprepared and unmotivated hero, yet thwart the dedicated, scheming villain? I’m not saying the villain should win; I’m saying the roles should be reversed. A hero – that is also a leader – should have prepared his/her whole life for the quest that is laid before them. This hero would have a powerful influence over his/her followers and would likely change the entire dynamic of the story. Instead of a one-in-a-million success story, the reader will be on the edge of a potential tragedy, where the heroes’ entire purpose in life might all be for naught if he/she does not succeed.

Every author should, at the very least, do some minimal amount of research when engrossing themselves into the role of their hero/heroin. I am currently reading The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell to understand the characteristics that a true leader should exhibit. To name just a few:

  • Unselfishness
  • Vision
  • Influential
  • Willing to Sacrifice
  • Self-Discipline
  • A Planner
  • Respect
  • Intuition

While my first novel depicts a classic coming-of-age story, my second book is going down this path of depicting a main character that is both a leader and a hero. Now, you might be asking, “Should every hero be a leader?” I think that is something that only you can decide.

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.

Tips to Break Through Writer’s Block

Every writer will undoubtedly struggle with writer’s block throughout their career. It is something that we all face and I hope to help you through it, especially after just going through it myself. But is it really writer’s block that you are experiencing? Writer’s block is described as an inability to write, but that could be a side effect of something else that is easier to address, especially when it could be the root of the problem.

Have you lost your motivation? Have you lost your muse? Is your desire to write temporarily fading away? Has your creativity slipped through your fingers? Or, have you become too easily distracted? If any of the above are true, I hope to offer some winning methods to help you overcome your temporary lull of activity.

  1. MotivationAre you having trouble taking the first step toward writing a new novel? Or are you having trouble staying motivated while writing? Do you find yourself thinking that your story is losing its luster? Did you get a bad review? Is the lengthy publishing process dragging you down? Did you receive one too many rejection letters? These are just a few of the reasons that could negatively affect the human condition and cause a loss of motivation. Fortunately, there are many ways to positively affect the human condition as well. Try talking about your novel and use peer pressure to your advantage. Once everyone knows you are writing, they’ll begin asking you about it. Don’t let them down (but more importantly, don’t let yourself down). I’ve found renewed enthusiasm every time someone asks me how it’s going, or if they can read my book yet.
  2. Finding your Muse – A muse is a source of inspiration for your creative work. You need to reflect on where you have received your inspiration before and revisit those things. I often find inspiration on hikes. Something about the fresh experience of being outside in the wilderness enables me to better describe my characters as they travel. Perhaps you can do something similar. Read a new book from your favorite author. Watch a movie that’s in your book’s genre. Or listen to music (this one works for me, but only when I listen to my type of music. The creativity doesn’t flow for me when my wife is in control of the car radio).
  3. Desire to Write – When it comes down to a priority list of what you want to do with your time and you find yourself constantly picking something else other than writing, I think you just need to do a little self reflection.  Regarding breaking through writer’s block, in order to increase your desire to write, you should employ some old school motivation tactics. Post up goals all around your desk – on sticky-notes, on your calendar, etc. That way every time you sit at your desk, you are constantly reminded and bombarded by the goals that you had set for yourself. It should be a reminder of who you were at the moment you began your journey of writing your novel and that’s the person that you don’t want to let down.
  4. Creativity Slipping Away – This is the root of writer’s block. I’ve read a great article here http://bit.ly/Y9wmda that gives 4 tips to push yourself through. Though, personally, I’ve forced myself to write even though I felt the creativity draining out of me. It is an odd thing to feel your muse/creativity come and go, but in the absence of understanding why it happens, I can only suggest that you try something different – to get out of your rhythm. Try changing your setting (like writing in a public place) or disengage your mind from the scene you are trying to write and revisit it shortly thereafter. At times when I find trouble writing a scene, I ensure that leaving my manuscript unfinished is the last thing I do before I go to sleep. The subconscious is a powerful thing. This is where the phrase, “I’ll sleep on it” came from. Your mind can continue to think through the problem even while you sleep. I can’t tell you how many times I have woken up, walked up to my computer, and found no trouble continuing to write the scene.
  5. Too Easily Distracted – I’ve read that numerous authors have trouble staying on task, whether they are distracted by a “better idea” or something completely unrelated, I have expanded this topic into its own blog post here.

I realize that this post was not as comprehensive as it could have been, so please leave a comment to share your own tips or to ask for more.