A Change of Perspective, And A Change of Course

When I first started writing it was back in the “good old days”. By that I mean it was about twenty years ago when the only paths to publishing was 1) to get an agent that could get you a good contract with one of the big boys in New York or 2) self-publish through a vanity press (at exorbitant prices) and accept all the shame that went with it.

(Seriously, it was just like this. Except without the nudity…and the rotten fruit.)

Thanks to the indie publishing pioneers that hasn’t been the case for some time but it was hard for me to rid the stigma from my mind. I know. You’d think that the second word of an easier and more profitable path came my way I’d be all over it. Not so. Working at a bookstore for so long pretty much…I hate to use the word indoctrinated but that’s pretty much what it was. When I first started working there I was told by multiple people that self-published books were poorly written books; no self respecting author would ever go that route…etc. Hearing that for a decade, including the first years of the indie-publishing movement, made it impossible for me to see it any other way. It wasn’t until I met and befriended some indie authors, and heard them talk about their successes and struggles that I finally saw how the industry had changed.

Those of you who paid attention to the title have probably figured out that this was my change of perspective. So what was my change of course? Four years ago I was still dead set on getting an agent. Now? I have no intention of querying a single one. Why? Because I’m self-publishing my first novel through the company that I will found. Yeah, that’s quite the 180 but I feel good about it. I feel that this is the right path; and thanks to my indie friends, I have a really good idea of what I need to do. Despite the stress I’m as calm and composed as Cersei before she dropped the smock and walked the walk. Granted that means that at some point I’ll be cold and shaking, wondering “why did I ever think this was a good idea” and that’s okay. It’s all going to be great!

Today Could Be That Day!

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Does anyone else think that their creative process is about as effective as trying to walk on Jell-O? Sure, you can do it, but the trip is precarious, and the outcome is iffy at best.

January is usually a time to reflect on the past year and look forward to a new beginning. Many people make goals without having an actual plan for change, while others simply don’t bother, knowing themselves well enough to understand that writing it down won’t change their daily run to the gas station for a doughnut or a soda. Or both.

I think most of us are good at spotting our big picture goals, but where we stumble is with an actual plan to get from here to there. And once we throw ourselves off the wagon, even just for a moment, the goal is then forever out of reach.

Well, I’m here to offer a different approach. Because why is it that January 1st is the only day we all feel like we should maybe change something in our lives? Or start down a new path? What about, oh I don’t know, tomorrow? Are we allowed to start over tomorrow?

Back to my creative process. I go through spurts. I can write an entire novel in a month, then I have two months where no matter how much I try, it seems that nothing will work. Not creating, not editing, not fixing, not even eating lots of chocolate in order to make everything better. Sometimes even my trusty Diet Coke fails me. I can throw hours and hours at a plotting problem, and I’ll get exactly nowhere. Then, the stars align and suddenly I’m once again a writing machine. Nothing can stand in my way as I masterfully fill all of my plot holes with the perfect puzzle pieces and my novel is a work of art!

And then I go back to the slums of my process to wallow while I take another few weeks to figure out how to fix the one little problem a beta reader pointed out. It’s exhausting, and it makes me feel like a total looser.

Like so many others, I need to be more healthy this year. I said this last year as well, and nothing really happened except me feeling guilty about nothing happening.

I once heard a brilliant mantra that I’m sure this man stole from someone famous. “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

I’m not going to lose weight if I don’t modify my diet. My writing process isn’t going to get smoother unless I change something. And instead of saying I’m going to put out five books this year, I’m going to take things day by day.

If today fails in the writing department, then I get up and start again tomorrow. I decide to jot down fifteen ways that won’t work with my plot, or ten horrible ways to fix the problem that involve ninja monkeys. My goal is to have a goal each day—something more than “I will fix this!” or maybe get some Sonic for lunch. No, instead I’m going to take a moment each night before I go to bed and decide how I will tackle my problems the next day.

Starting over is difficult under any circumstances, but each day can be a new chance at success. Don’t waste it! Decide tonight how you will approach your problem tomorrow, and at least you will be moving forward, not lying on the treadmill as it unceremoniously dumps you back on the ground at the end of the belt.

Getting Started with Organizing Your Projects

Like most of the authors I know, I’m not a naturally organized person. Sometimes it’s a struggle to force myself to get the major plot points or non-fiction chapters mapped out before I start on a new project. After installing a giant electronic whiteboard I picked up on CraigsList, I was able to see the value of the visual cues and mind-mapping when hashing out a new project.

When it comes to my writing laptop, appropriately named “Novel Factory”, I tended to start writing and just dump everything into the My Documents folder. When I set a project aside for a while, I sometimes have a problem locating where I put the documents, notes, and/or pictures. That’s why I created an organized area for projects.

The first step was to create a home for my projects. This is a set of nested folders so I know where things are located. In My Documents (I use Windows for this example), I have a folder called !Master Project Files. I place an exclamation point at the beginning of this folder name to make sure it appears at the top of the listing.

I have enough projects where I had to add in a layer between the Master folder and the project names.

Here is my main overall folder structure:

  • !Master Project Files
    • Fiction
      • Science Fiction
      • Cyberpunk
      • Fantasy
      • Horror
      • Western
      • Graphic Novels
    • Non-Fiction
      • Cookbooks
      • Author’s Handbook Series
      • One-Offs
    • Poetry
      • !Poem Superstore
      • Chapbooks
    • Collections
      • !Short Story Superstore
    • Anthologies
      • Original (Add in Submissions and Contracts folders to each Project)
      • For Other Publishers (Add in Submissions and Contracts folders to each Project)

The “Superstores” are short stories and poems that have been published elsewhere or are original unpublished works that are available to put into a new collection or chapbook. When I complete a short work or poem, I make sure to put a copy in the Superstores.

For each project, I copy the below generic project folder structure and rename it to the title of my new project. Inside some of these folders are appropriate files. For example, in the Word folder, I have a generic Word document set up with my preferences (font, margins, etc.), whereas in the Research folders I have a simple text document ready to accept notes and URLs. In the Final folders, I have documents that have my set publishing templates for interiors and covers. Note that I have a folder called Graveyard. I never throw away (delete) anything. If I cut something, such as a scene or a whole story arc out of a book, I paste it to text documents and place them in the graveyard. I can use these later on to develop short stories, to generate ideas for a series, or to use the words for marketing. Sometimes I file off the serial numbers and reuse them in other books.

Here’s my individual project folder structure:

  • Project Name (Rename Me)
    • Manuscript
      • Word
      • Text
      • Scrivener
    • Images
      • Cover Ideas
      • Characters
      • Places
      • Objects
    • Research
      • Concepts
      • Scientific
    • Characters
    • Tropes
    • Marketing
      • Ideas
      • Ads
      • SWOT
    • Final
      • Print
        • Interior
        • Cover
      • eBook
        • Interior
        • Cover
      • Audio
        • Notes
        • Script
    • Graveyard

When I have a new project, I copy the “Project Name” folder and its contents and place it in the appropriate genre master folder. Then I rename it to the book title. Now I can find all of my information for any project in one location (three, if you count the backup on my server and the copy linked and auto-uploaded to my commercial Dropbox account.)

Hopefully this will inspire you to create a better organized virtual home for your darlings. Have a happy, prosperous, and productive 2017!


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

First steps

Beginnings are a mix of excitement and fear for me. The beginning of something is the point where all the options are open and all the possibilities still on the table. New book, new house, new job. Whatever the ‘new’ thing is, that first moment is filled with options. Then you start making choices, and with each choice you set yourself down a path. Doors open, doors close. The wide open space becomes more linear.

As they say, watch that first step- -it’s a doozy.

I find myself at several of those first steps as we enter 2017, each of them filled with that same mixture I described above. For starters, I am having my work professionally edited for the first time. I am about three years into writing and have submitted a few short stories to magazines but this is the first time I have let a professional see my novel length work. We’re two weeks into the manuscript being in his hands and he hasn’t sent me that email I always imagine at 3am – you know the one that says “Dave, you really shouldn’t be doing this.” When the sun’s up I know that email is not coming, but 3am is a different story.

Never having been through this before, it will be opening a world of new possibilities when I double click that attachment and open up his edits. I’m sure my ego will take a few hits during the process, but I’m also sure there’s opportunity there for me to become a much better writer. Within a few weeks I’ll have his edits back and I will be starting another new beginning: my first real novel revision.

In the interim, I’m standing at another first step: the start of a new story. I need to keep working as there is no value in me twiddling my thumbs while waiting for those edits to come back. Thus I’m starting my prep work on a new novel in a new world, thinking about all those blank spaces and faces that will take shape in the weeks to come. That’s always a very fun part of the process for me.

The most important threshold I’m crossing though is one of intent. Prior to this year, the focus of my work was primarily about building my skills as a writer. I chose projects more for the growth opportunities they afforded than any publishing potential they might have. I was looking for exercises and challenges, ways that I could find my voice and build my writer’s muscles. In short, I’ve been working out.

This year is about putting those muscles to work. My primary goal for the next twelve months is to be working on stories that I intend to publish in some way. I also now will be choosing my projects based on how likely they are to achieve that goal for me. For example, the more traditional fantasy novel might get the nod over that more experimental novella I’ve been tinkering with. I still won’t work on anything that doesn’t excite me but as I have an embarrassment of riches where story ideas are concerned, it’s now important I choose the ones that are the best use of my time.

What have I learned from this reflection of beginnings? I suppose that they are the thresholds we cross that unlock the opportunities for us in the future. You have to start with that blank page or first day of the new project if you are ever to reach the end, when all the choices have been made and questions have been answered.

Then you begin again.

See you next time!