Tag Archives: David Carrico

Record Keeping, Part One: Not Sexy . . .

Contrary to popular belief, you as a writer don’t have to keep every single piece of paper or e-mail or e-documentation that comes your way. And you especially don’t have to keep it forever. However, just like any business owner out there, you need to have a good idea as to what kind of records you need to keep, and you need to have some idea as to how long they should be kept.

This gets down to the nitty-gritty, detailed, organized, obsessive, and—dare I say it—boooooriiiiing part of being a writer. Keeping your records updated, filed, and organized is a necessity; particularly in a profession that undergoes regular and sometimes heightened scrutiny from the taxing authorities, and also has to deal with contracts.

Get Organized

Yes, you absolutely need an organized filing system. No, it doesn’t need to be very complicated, as long as it’s logical. It can be totally paper based, or totally electronic, or both. But it has to exist, and you have to maintain it, or the risk of you getting into trouble really escalates.

You can go totally electronic: scan all your documents into digital memory, even your signed contracts. There is case law now that has established that a scan of a signed contract is just as valid a record of the agreement as the signed paper original which was scanned. And there are businesses out there that destroy their originals as soon as they are scanned. No drawers full of paper, no clouds of paper dust. But there are also disadvantages: you have to stay on top of the scanning and not let it pile up, or you never get it done; you have to keep your electronic files just as organized as you would the equivalent paper files; and you have to remember to back up all the files regularly. Daily, if you work frequently. Definitely every time you add, change, or delete data. More about that later.

You can go with all paper, but in the internet age, a hybrid combination of paper and electronic is more practical: keep your most important documents in paper, but go with electronic copies of correspondence, work notes, etc. But you still have to have an organization method, and you have to stay on top of the filing, both electronic and paper. And make sure the electronic records are backed up.

The big thing is to have a method, to be organized in a manner that works for you and is efficient. But make sure somebody else knows how you do things, because there are always those odd moments where you’re not at home and something needs to be found.

This is especially important when it comes to your financial records, since they will be the foundation of your tax filings. You can use an application such as QuickBooks, or you can just build all the revenue and expense records into a (relatively) simple spreadsheet. But you have to do it. And while you’re at it, whatever method you use, make sure it’s backed up frequently.

Myself, I organize everything by the writing project. Work notes, drafts, contracts, payments, mail (both e- and paper), everything except tax documentation gets put under the header of a project. I find it a simple yet convenient structure, because 99% of the time if I need to look something up, it’s the project name I’m going to be searching under. My tax forms and supporting documentation I organize by tax year.

Back It Up

And again I say, back everything up. If your house or office floods, or burns, or is robbed/vandalized, or is in hurricane country or tornado alley, and you’re in the middle of an IRS audit or a litigation about contract compliance when the disaster happens, just how valuable would that back-up file be to you?

Even if you like the paper records, there is good reason to scan all the important ones, such as your contracts, your tax returns, and all your current income and expense records. This will allow you to back them up in a cloud service such as Carbonite. If you don’t want to trust a cloud service, then at least copy the files to flash drives or an external hard drive and store them someplace else. That doesn’t mean in your bedroom closet, either. I mean someplace miles away from your location. If you or your spouse has a day job, take them there and bring the older ones back home.

In the words of the old platitude, don’t put your eggs all in one basket. Do something to mitigate the risk.

(Be sure to come back tomorrow for the conclusion!)

Post 500: Back to Basics

This is the 500th blog post on Fictorians. That’s a pretty amazing statistic, in some ways. I mean, the fact that a sizable group of disparate and diverse people scattered around the globe has hung together for years and remained focused on and dedicated to blogging about the craft and art and business of writing for this long says good things about the vision, commitment, and perseverance of the Fictorians. Kudos to my fellow Fictorians.

So, since I volunteered for this slot, I guess I’d best be about it. As it is a special post, I’m stepping outside the October theme.

What is the one indispensable trait of a writer? What one characteristic does every good writer possess?

He or she writes.

That is, after all, the first of Heinlein’s Rules for Writing:

Rule One: You Must Write.

I can hear the “Duh!” comments as you read that last statement. Yes, it’s kind of self-obvious that you can’t be a writer if you don’t write. And there have been multiple discussions that touched on that thought in the Fictorians pages over the last few years. But tonight I want to take that thought in a slightly different direction.

You may or may not have heard of a book entitled Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. You have probably heard of the premise of the book, though: it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.

Now I know that there are those who question that statement. For myself, the more I think about it, and the more I encounter other masters of various crafts and arts, the more I think it’s generally valid. But for the purposes of this post, let’s assume it’s a valid statement.

Ten thousand hours to mastery. 10,000 hours.

Have you ever applied that thought to writing—that it might take 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery over your craft?

Just how long is 10,000 hours? Well, let’s try to quantify it. If you write one hour a day, 10,000 hours would be reached in 27.397 years. Not months—years. (I was so surprised at that answer I did the calculation three times on two different calculators just to verify it. Believe it.)

Staggering, isn’t it?

And who wants to spend twenty-seven years learning how to do something? (Not me.)

So how do you shorten the time frame? Obviously, write more every day. So if you write two hours a day, you drop the required time down to not quite fourteen years. And if you write four hours a day, you’re now down inside seven years. And seven years, my friends, is a manageable number, an attainable goal.

“But that’s so long!” I hear someone mutter.

Is it? To attain your goal of being a professional writer, to reach out and grasp your life’s dream, is it really too long?

Ask Joshua Bell how many hours of practice he had before he became a famous violinist. Ask Emmanuel Ax how many hours of practice he put in before he became a world-famous pianist. Ask Paul McCartney how many hours of performing, how many concerts the Beatles played in their early years in Hamburg’s oblivion before they became an overnight success.

I can’t find a cite for this story, so it may be apocryphal, but knowing what I know about musicians, I believe that something like it happened. As I heard it, after a very well-known pianist gave a concert one evening, a girl walked up to him and said, “That was wonderful. The music was beautiful. I wish I could play like you do.” To which the pianist, after looking at her for a moment, replied with, “No, what you wish is that you could play like I do, without having to practice like I do.”

There is no substitute for practice. There is no substitute for learning the craft, for drilling it into your head and your hands until it evolves into mastery.

Rule One: You Must Write.

Everything else comes after that.

Promotion (in more than one sense)

Nothing serious today. I just wanted to take this Saturday opportunity to state once more that my first novel, a collaboration with Eric Flint entitled 1636: The Devil’s Opera, will be available in bookstores on Tuesday, October 1st. It’s the latest installment of the largest and longest-running alternate history series in print today, which began with Eric’s novel 1632, which was published in the year 2000.

I did Fictorian posts about the writing of 1636: The Devil’s Opera here and here. And I did a post about the publisher’s innovative e-book marketing approaches here, which mentioned the early availability of the e-book edition of the novel. So you can relax—I’m not going to rehash any of that. What I do want to mention is something else interesting that the publisher—who is Baen Books, by the way, one of the more innovative traditional publishers around, in my opinion—recently did in connection with the release of the novel.

1636: The Devil’s Opera didn’t appear out of thin air. It didn’t spring full-grown from the brow of a literary Zeus. No, the novel utilizes two different sets of characters that I had been writing stories about for and in Grantville Gazette e-magazine, and Grantville Gazette and Ring of Fire anthologies since 2004. The novel is built upon the foundation of those earlier works.

What Baen did was have me gather all of the earlier stories, do an edit for consistency and to fix continuity errors that had been identified since their original publications, and publish them as an e-book under the title 1635: Music and Murder. Twelve stories, ranging from short story to short novel in length, amassing over 200,000 words, are now available in a unified edition which was released earlier this week.

This amounts to the creation of a prequel volume to 1636: The Devil’s Opera. I didn’t think about this much at first, because I was so pumped about getting the stories out in their own volume. But it finally dawned on me that what Baen has done is create a second volume very closely related to the novel, and pitched it as an e-book at a very attractive price point of $4.95. People who are fans of my characters—and there is a sizable group of those—will buy the e-book without even thinking about it much. That’s understood. But Baen’s perception is that the readers whose first encounter with the characters is 1636: The Devil’s Opera will more than likely want to read about their earlier days in the universe, and voila, Baen just happens to have that available as well. Smooth marketing.

So what can we learn from this? Well, the big lesson is whether we are publishing in a traditional model or an independent model, when we’re getting ready to release something new, we should look at our works inventory and see if there’s anything there that we can release or re-release or otherwise promote to leverage off of the new release. If we have related works, by all means put them forward. Failing that, promote works that are thematically similar.

It would be great if the publisher will get behind it, as Baen did in this case. But even if they won’t or can’t, there’s no reason why anything we have available for indie publishing can’t be promoted.

Leverage off the new work by any means you can. Take advantage of any attention you can get. It’s just good business.

So, in closing, here they are: 1635: Music and Murder and 1636: The Devil’s Opera. Feel free to acquire one or both, and let me know how you like them, either here at Fictorians or at http://davidcarricofiction.com/.

Enjoy.

1635-Music-and-Murder-ebook smaller 1636-The-Devils-Opera-smaller

There Are Ruts…

So the theme for September’s posts is supposed to be about getting out of the rut, or taking it to the next level. Well, there are ruts, and there are ruts.

There are the ruts where the well has run dry, and the words are not flowing. Judith Tarr talks about those times here. As it happens, I know exactly what she is talking about. I’ve been there, recently; I’ve felt those feelings; I’ve known the grief. I was very fortunate to come out of it after a year and a half, but even now I have not finished recovery to where I used to be. I’m not going to rehash Judith’s article. She does a much better job of discussing the issue than I ever would. But I will say this: if you are in that place, or if you ever find yourself in that place, know that there have been good writers—some of them very good writers, indeed—who have been in that same place, and eventually came out of it. You’re not alone. And it can be done. But it will take time; it will take perseverance; and you may have to change some things about you, about your surroundings, or about the company you keep to come out of it. Your true friends will support you, but only you can make those choices and walk that walk.

I could stop there, and have an article worth posting, I think.

But I actually want to talk about another kind of rut in which we as writers can sometimes find ourselves.

Do you ever feel that you’re growing stale? I mean, have you ever stopped in the middle of writing a story or a novel and realized that you’re not having fun; that you’re not excited about what you’re doing; that as B. B. King would sing, “The thrill is gone, baby…”?

Sometimes when that happens, it’s the normal and almost inevitable result of working in the middle of a long project where you’ve dug yourself into the hole but you’re not entirely sure yet that it’s going to turn into a tunnel. And the only solution for that is to simply keep putting out the words until you get through the middle and can see the progress that’s been made. Perseverance, in other words. That’s actually one of the most important tools in our writer’s toolkits; the ability to keep plugging away at a project until it’s completed, no matter how long it takes.

But other times that may be the back of your mind saying, “Dude, this is a whole lot like the last story you wrote. Can’t you write something different?”

Now formulas and templates for writing fiction have been around for generations. Most popular children’s series during the early and middle 20th Century were very rigidly formula based. And I can point you to a few series of fantasy and science fiction even within the last generation or so that have done that. And those series have their fans, who seem to like that each new story or each new novel seems to follow predictably the outline of the previous works.

But for writers, especially writers who want to grow in their craft and strive for art, I suspect that falling into the formula rut is absolutely one of the worst things we can do. It might make us money, but we won’t continue to grow or develop as writers as long as we’re in that rut.

Have I been there? Yep. Do I have some thoughts about how to get out of the rut? Yep, and here they are:

1. Make yourself use a different narrative style. If you’re consistently a third-person limited viewpoint writer, write something in first person. Or vice-versa, as the case may be. That may shake up the way you view characters and characterization.

2. Make yourself write something with a different story construction. If your previous works have all been single-thread-of-continuity stories, try writing a story with multiple story lines running in parallel. To really challenge yourself, you should make them non-interrelating until the end. Pull that one off, and you’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment. This will also widen your thinking on plotting.

3. Make yourself write something in a different genre, or at least a different sub-genre. After writing several of what amounted to comedies of manners with romantic overtones, I actually had a friend challenge me to write something different. So after thinking about it, I started writing a series of police procedural stories. Wow, did that stretch me! Although I’m a moderate fan of mysteries and procedurals, learning to write them really taught me things about characterization and plotting that I had never considered before.

4. If you’re primarily a novelist, try writing shorter works. Challenge yourself to write something good under 5000 words. When you succeed at that, challenge yourself to write something good under 2000 words. Then try under 1000 words. That’s barebones storytelling. Every single word has to be weighed in the balance as to whether it’s really necessary to tell the story. You’ll learn discipline from that one. I have exactly one 2000 word story that I think works. I have yet to manage a 1000 word story that I think is good. I keep trying.

5. And if you’re primarily a short work author, try writing a novel. You may or may not like it, but it will force you to consider plotting and world-building issues that just don’t arise in a 7000 word story or a 12,000 word novelette.

I have a novel coming out from Baen Books on October 1, entitled 1636: The Devil’s Opera. It’s a collaboration with Eric Flint. And I’m convinced that I could never have written that story without having put myself through 2, 3, and 4 above.

You want to be a better writer? Challenge yourself to move out of your comfort zone, and write things you never imagined you’d write.