Category Archives: Self-Motivation

Research Until Your Fingers Bleed

This month the Fictorians are focusing on posts about what we, as authors, believe sets our work apart, or at least, what we believe makes our writing more authentic and compelling. In other words, what is our “special sauce?”

I’d like to think there is more than one thing that I do which gives my writing authenticity and makes it worth reading, but there is one thing I have done that seems to surprise most people.

My first epic fantasy series is set in a stone age culture, and the protagonist is in training to become a “flint-knapper” which is a person who creates stone tools. In fact, one of those stone tools, a knife, is one of the most important artifacts in the story. His skill with a bow is also critical to the story line.

When I started writing the story, I rapidly came to realize that I was having trouble writing scenes that revolved around stone age technology. I wanted to bring the reader into those scenes. I wanted those scenes to reveal the protagonist’s persistence, his struggle to master his craft, and eventually his talent and pride in creating the tools that his village needed to survive.

So I did “research.” I searched for every article or paper I could find on the ancient art of flint-knapping. I watched videos. I purchased stone arrowheads and spearheads at flea markets. Like these:

But even after that, I never really felt like my scenes reached that level of authenticity I wanted.

So I set out to learn flint-knapping myself. Luckily there was a little shop on my way home from work that sold rocks. So one day I stopped in and looked around. I got to talking with the owner, and eventually told him that I was an aspiring author who wanted to learn flint-knapping. His eyes lit up, and an hour later I left the store with a cloth sack filled with about twenty pounds of rocks. It turns out that making stone tools requires different kinds of rocks, plus some other tools, like antler tines or something similar. It looked sorta like this:

Then I set to work. I spent an hour or so after work and on weekends for weeks, bashing rocks together on my patio. It was a slow, painful and painstaking process, just to learn how to strike a blank with a hammerstone in the proper way to break off a suitable chunk of obsidian to START to make an arrowhead or spearpoint. And learning that took a toll on my fingers and thighs. Eventally I got some thick pieces of leather to protect my thighs and clothes, but there was really nothing you could do to protect your hands and fingers. If you wanted to make stone tools, especially arrowheads, spearpoints or knives, you were going to cut your fingers and hands.

And the cuts were not simple scrapes or splinters. Obsidian has been used to create scalpels for eye surgery because the result of a well-aimed blow will create an edge that is, literally, sharper than a razor. So those cuts bled copiously. My leather thigh protectors were soon stained with blood. This is a pretty good example of what that looked like:

I won’t pretend that I ever mastered the art of flint-knapping, but I did get decent enough to be able to make functional tools. But more importantly, I learned enough that when I returned to those scenes, the writing came from a natural understanding of the mechanics of the craft, as well as the risks.

“Write what you know” they say. Well, in this case, that’s what I decided to do. And I think it paid off in spades.

So, my fellow authors, when you need to learn something to make your story believable, research it, baby! Research until your fingers bleed!

Mine did.

(No, I didn’t make this. But this is what the knife in the book is modeled on. This was made by a professional flint-knapper, and is an example of what a skilled artisan can do with stone. My wife and daughter had the sheath custom-made for the knife. It’s a pretty cool combo.)

Starting a Web Presence

Guest Post by Noah & Gigi Ward

My wife, Gigi, and I have been writing for several years. Until recently we had no presence on the internet at all, despite all of our friends in the field telling us we needed one. Gigi and I are luddites to the point where she killed a microwave by using it as a kitchen timer while baking and I can’t set the clock on the new one.

This is what it looks like in the administration section of our new website.

Thanks to a friend and fellow author, we just started an author website. He’s going to be tweaking and fixing things we break, and he will be hosting the website for us. That was the actual reason why we decided to give in and get a web presence.

One thing I had to do was to get the website name (my friend says it’s called a URL for Uniform Resource Locator). I was disappointed to find the website name I wanted for myself was already taken for “.com”, which is the most common. Then I got excited that “.net” was available, so I bought it immediately.

That’s the first lesson to learn here. Don’t jump on things without thinking them through. I now owned noahward.net when I should have went with NoahAndGigiWard.net (or .com, which was available). Gigi does not want her own website and swore she would never do anything with it, so she decided that I should add her to mine. Despite my technical friend urging her to get a second website, she kept refusing until she told him if he asked again she would never bake him any more cookies. He finally relented. Gigi is the world’s best baker.

Gigi and I both have accounts on the new website, but I don’t know what to do once I get in. My friend then set up something called mail-to-post, where I can just send an email to a special address and it magically appears on the website. I’m still awed by how the internet functions. I’m also terrified.

Now my website runs all by itself, including performing updates and tweaks all on its own. My friend will keep an eye on the innards. If you’ve been avoiding getting your own website, ask around until you find someone trustworthy to help you set it up. You can also learn how to do it, which is something I plan on trying to do this year. My first 2017 resolution. The second is to cut back on smoking cigars. The third is to cut back on overusing adverbs. We will see how things go as the year progresses.

There are other options, including getting some totally free places to start a web presence. If we didn’t have a friend to administer the website and host it for us, we would have gone with one of the free places to set up our web presence. All of them put their logo on your website; some can be obnoxious about where they place it.

  • Sitebuilder.com. Similar to Websitebuilder.com, their designs were better organized.
  • Sitey.com. This one touted getting a mobile site for people with better eyesight than ours to read on their smart phones.
  • Weebly.com. Their added bonus was the ability to create a store. We seriously considered hosting here but realized we would have to individually package and ship books ourselves. We decided to leave it to the bookstores since they know what they’re doing.
  • WordPress.com. Totally free with a system that makes it easy (or at least easier) for luddites like us to create a place in the sun.
  • Websitebuilder.com. This place had some nice looking designs and their administrative pages allowed users to just drag and drop things until they were happy with the results.
  • Wix.com. Another free place similar to WordPress.com. It seemed a bit more flashy to set things up.

With enough cajoling, even technophobes like Gigi and I can be convinced to get a place of our own. Now you have no excuses. If we can do it, so can you.

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.

Reframing Failure

A few years back, I had a conversation about horses that changed how I viewed my writing career. A dear friend of mine was telling me a story about when she was teaching her son how to ride a horse. She had grown up on a West Texas ranch and wanted to pass that legacy on to the next generation. One day he was thrown by the animal and landed hard. My friend went to her son to ensure that he hadn’t been seriously hurt. Once she had confirmed that he would be okay, she stood over him in the dust and heat of the Texan summer. Her boy was on the verge of tears, but she didn’t try to sooth him. Instead, she told him that he needed to choose if he really wanted to know how to ride. If he didn’t, he could sit and cry, and that would be fine. But “cowboys don’t cry,” and if he really wanted that life he would need to show her how tough he really was. He’d need to stand up and go show that animal that he wasn’t afraid of it. He needed to take back his power, right now or not at all.

There’s a reason that the phrase “get back in the saddle” is a cliché for starting again after a failure. If you’ve never ridden a horse, you can’t know what it feels like to have a thousand pounds of animal underneath you. To feel the shifting of muscle and sway of the saddle as your mount walks. Or know the sensation of speed and power as the horse runs. As a rider, you are only in control as much as the mount’s training or your own skill allows you to be. All the while, you are aware that falling or being thrown can be a bone breaking, paralyzing, or mortal experience. For new riders, it’s frightening. And for good reason.

Most humans are programmed to avoid painful situations. Sometimes it’s something we’ve already experienced, and others it is simply the anticipation of harm that warns us away. While this instinct helps us survive, it doesn’t allow us to grow. We only develop as individuals if we are challenged, pushed to leave our comfort zones, and are forced to adapt. In doing so, however, we risk mental, emotional, or physical hardship. And no one gets through life unscathed.

Little did my friend know that when she told me that story, I was struggling with my own fall, just of a less literal nature. I had recently been rejected by an agent that I had queried a few weeks before. It wasn’t even a personalized rejection, but rather a form letter that was addressed to “Dear Author”. I was embarrassed, angry with myself, and ashamed of my failure. I was still lying in the dirt, hurt and wallowing. However, I needed to make a decision.

I wasn’t considering quitting writing. Storytelling was and still is my passion. I had been warned that rejection letters were inevitable and that I would need to develop a thick skin to being told “thank you, but no.” However, rejection letters have a powerful effect on us writers because they feed the part of our brain teeming with doubt. I was trying to decide what that particular rejection meant for me and my story. Did I still believe in these characters? Did I still believe that the work represented the best of my skills? Was the problem something in my query letter or my manuscript? I didn’t know and so was paralyzed by indecision.

My friend’s story reminded me that I was letting the letter have power over my actions and needed to show it, and myself, that I wasn’t afraid of it anymore.

And so, I decided to reframe my problem. Quite literally. I went to the store and spent about five dollars on a plain, black, plastic picture frame. I printed out the first page of the rejection and hung it on the wall in my office. I stepped back, looked at my framed failure, and told myself aloud that this was a step in the process. I would fail again. I would succeed. I’d hang each on my wall because I owned them, they did not own me.

In the years since, I’ve added many more black frames to my wall. However, I’ve also added a few silver frames, my wins. There aren’t many silvers in comparison to the blacks, but they would not exist at all had I not decided to move past my fear and self-pity to keep pushing myself to grow. Each time I look at that wall, I am reminded of what those failures taught me, and that I have persevered. Despite the failures, I am still writing, still submitting, and still growing. With enough hard work and determination, I will have my writing career. I just need to keep dusting myself off after each and every failure and choosing what I really want.