Category Archives: The Writing Life

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.

Starting Over in a New Genre

My first three published books are an epic fantasy trilogy. I’m not even sure how that happened, throughout my life I’ve really been much more of a sci-fi fan than a fantasy fan. I like a lot of fantasy, to be sure, and agree with the general opinion that “Lord of the Rings” is one of the greatest works of literature of all time, so I clearly appreciate the fantasy genre, but back when I imagined myself as an author, I always envisioned myself following in the footsteps of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke. Maybe Ray Bradbury. Instead I ended up with something more like Robert E. Howard.

So now I’m moving on to a new book, and this time it’s going to be sci-fi. But after spending most of the last two years deeply immersed in a fantasy universe, I’m going to have to re-orient myself in a world governed by hard and fast physical laws.

But after some conversation with some writer friends, I’ve realized that moving into a new genre means more than just what sort of world the story is set. Also, my experience with my first epic series was that it may have veered a bit too far off the epic fantasy genre expectations for many readers. Instead of being set in a medieval world, with castles, knights, swords and sorcery, it started off in a stone-age culture, and the magic in it was unusual as well.

So, that has led me to a decision to do a bit more research about the current tastes and expectations of sci-fi. That means everything from what the book cover should look like, to what sort of blurb will draw attention to it, to the flavor of the story itself.

When I was writing “The War Chronicles” and some of my early alpha and beta readers warned me that it was bending genre expectations a bit much, my pride and ego got in the way and I, sometimes literally, scoffed at such concerns. I told myself that a good story will transcend genre expectations, and that I wanted to focus my creative talent on my story, not on conforming to people’s expectations.

After devoting years to that, and not finding a book publisher (although I did find an audio publisher) for my first series, I have decided that was probably not a great career decision. So, this time I’m going to do what I deliberately avoided last time. I’m going to research the genre, especially the top selling books in the genre, and while I’m going to have a unique story, where the story doesn’t require bending the genre expectations, I’m going to generally follow them. Just to see what happens with my next book.

Maybe that’s “selling out,” I dunno. I don’t think so. I think it’s just accounting for taste and trying to give readers what they want.

Stay tuned, we’ll see how it turns out this time.

When Crap Hits the Fan

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

There are two major rules to being a better writer: 1) read abundantly (especially in the genre that you are writing), and 2) participate in critique groups.

In 2016, both of those rules went out the window and run over by a bus. And both for the same reason. Life happens.

Five years ago, I attended a conference at my local library with other writers where were guided in the art of critiquing. The group I was a part of clicked so well, that by the end of the day we agreed to keep a good thing going. Thus, C.R.A.P. (Creative Rockstar Author People) was formed. For the next four years, we met at each other’s homes, chowing down and glorious cookie pizzas and hummus while providing feedback on each other’s works in progress. Sometimes we laughed so hard my stomach hurt for days afterwards.

The beauty of C.R.A.P. was the individuals that made up the group: Betsy was a genius at snark, voice, point of view shifts, and story mashups, Jessica was a savant at description, plot gaps, and setting, and T.J. was the grammar guru, character flaws, and the one who ensured that we did honor to our male characters. Their feedback was incalculably valuable. Our brainstorming sessions enlivening. Their friendship immeasurable. And, they provided the perfect counterbalance to another critique group which I am a part of. My writing was propelled to higher levels as a direct result of being a member of these groups.

Then 2016 happened and our worlds were tossed about on the tempest of life. We lost one member to a move across the country. Another, changed jobs and had a new baby join their family. Two of us had family members diagnosed with cancer. As for me . . . well, let’s just say that I’m the magnet for insane life complications, so we’ll just skip what happened to me last year.

As a direct result, C.R.A.P. hit the fan and we stopped meeting. We planned on Skyping our meetings in a vain attempt to keep the group intact, but each time we had to reschedule. It took many months before I realized that since, we stopped I had not written anything new, nor had I read a single book for enjoyment. I still attend the other critique group, but always arrived with previously written works that needed drastic editing help. I was in severe writing depression and this other group was my lifeline.
But I missed C.R.A.P. They had become family.

So how do you replace family? You don’t. There will always be a place on my calendar the next moment we can all get online to meet. But I needed that counterbalance. I personally needed that second stash of writers to enhance and expand on the information gained from my one remaining critique group. I felt like an orphaned writer wandering the streets of literature town begging, “Please adopt me.” But my heart wasn’t in it.

Instead, it was time to start over; start fresh. Over the last few months some of my friends have asked me what to look for in a critique group. My advice: 1) you must be open to others criticizing your babies, 2) find a group with a blend of backgrounds and writing styles, 3) your partners should inspire and improve your writing, not tear you down, and 4) it is okay to say no thank you.

A successful critique group must work well together. But how are you supposed to know that if you have never worked with these individuals before? In talking to another critique member, we agreed on a plan. We sent out notices to those individuals who’d expressed interest in being part of a new group. As part of the selection process we requested that these individuals email submissions of their works in which we would read and provide feedback on. Then, we asked them to do the same for us. Afterward, we would make a group decision. Could work as a team for the greater good? If yes, then we have a new beginning for the new year. If not, then we would utilize our Get out of jail Free card and start the process over again.

Will it work? I sure hope so. Because writing is my therapy and my critique partners my support group.

Will I give up on C.R.A.P.? Never. I will never give up on family.

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.