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Breaking the Writing Cycle

It’s been a strange and long trip lately with regards to my writing. As anyone who doesn’t solely make a living writing – and that’s most of us, no matter how successful we are (or not) – it’s hard to find the time and energy after a long day of the real world. Like Harry Chapin said in Cat’s Cradle,

…my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you…

In other words, the day to day can be overwhelming at times (even if none of the kids have the flu). And writing? It slips. It falters. It loses it’s magic after 12 hours of work and trying to make time for the kids and spouse and everything else in the adulting world.

And yet, plenty of people do it, and far more successfully than I. Feeling too exhausted to write, when I do get those few free minutes, and I’m not prattling about on this blog, I end up spending them on trying to improve the process. “Surely,” I tell myself, “the problem with my writing is that I’m not using the write tool, or the right tracking, or the right environment.” And then I tail spin in a random direction, neatly avoiding ever coming close to writing or, more importantly, completion.

At some point, this cycle becomes less about writing and more about inventing the perfect setting for the craft, and the art of writing itself loses both its joy and its appeal.

Time to fix that, no?

Now, ever since reading Douglas Smith’s Playing the Short Game, I’ve tried to adhere to the philosophy Doug espoused: put that short story out there, and keep putting it out there until it sells. I’ve had to veer a fraction – he advocates only selling to the best and never accepting less than professional rates, which is truly an admirable goal. But when all the professional paying venues have turned you down, you start sending it to the less than professional venues. The fact is, though, that the stories I’m sending out now are the same ones I sent out two years ago, because I haven’t written a new short story since leaving Virginia.

Time to end that cycle, too.

This week, I realized with no small bit of sadness that I have made more and been more successful with my short stories than with the two novels I published combined. Don’t get me wrong, I love the longer format, I enjoy being able to write the longer pieces, but they don’t seem to do as well as my shorter pieces. That doesn’t mean I plan on stopping writing novels, but I do want to spread my writing out a bit again.

When I’m fully engaged in writing – when the story is in my blood, when you can see it in the air as I exhale – I can crank stories out like mad. I want that back. The way to getting that back is not to be worrying about scripts that monitor and report my word output. It isn’t by coming up with the best suite of tools and piecing them together like a classic watchmaker.

It’s by writing.

To that end, I find myself rereading this repost from Dean Wesley Smith on his blog. This isn’t the first time I’ve read this article – I even have a copy saved in Pocket – but every time I read it I find it helps rekindle that flame just a bit. I don’t know if I’m as brave as Smith wants us to be. I don’t know if I have what it takes to trust the Heinlein rule of never self edit. But even if I can incorporate a little bit of what he suggests, so long as it is enough to help me break my self-made walls and have fun again, then that’s enough for me.

I don’t think that’s going to change the frequency of my blog updates, unfortunately, though next week there’s a small chance of a flurry of posts while I’m in San Francisco for work. But who can tell. But I do hopeĀ to share more writing updates, more frequently, as the summer ends and autumn approaches.

Next steps with my work in progress

Last night, I had some trouble sleeping. Normally, this would be a time to turn to my wife and babble at her, but since she was snoring for the first time in a week in what was hopefully going to be a good night’s sleep for her, I had only myself to rumble and mumble around with.

That was probably a mistake.

Because me, myself, and I mumbled to each other until almost midnight, and what we realized was that there is a flaw inherent in the current version of the Maiden’s Tears: it has no character. Oh, there are plenty of characters. Besides Niki, there’s Eddie, Marissa, Zhanna, Locke, Evangeline, etc. But what’s lacking to me is any sense of character. I could deal with half wooden supporting characters if that was the extent of it (deal with as in fix in editing to breathe some personality into them), but when my main character strikes even me, the author, as a bit wooden, I know there’s a problem.

I think I need to start over. That isn’t to say I need to toss what I’ve written; that would be foolish. But I also don’t intend to keep it as if it was the Holy Word inscribed from on high. The draft has faltered, I’ve identified why, and now I need to fix it. That’s going to mean a good deal of rewriting. A challenge I accept, albeit begrudgingly. I’d hoped to have this book out by this fall, but this is the kind of setback that jeopardizes that.

Also, no more late night conversations with myself. They seem to always result in extra work.

Forget the writing – how rich are you now?

Woe to they who think the path to riches lies in self-publishing. Let’s just start with that.

I blog a lot about writing here. In fact, it’s probably the one thing I talk about the most. Part of that is for accountability – not to you, but to me. Blogging about writing gives me a place to talk about something that isn’t work related, a place to remind myself why I work so hard for my free time. I talk about the stories in progress, or more recently, my attempts at publishing and getting attention for those books, but these early days there is actually a lot of floundering going on.

Some of it is all me. I’m new at this, and while I think I’m personable, I lack that personality trait that let’s me just go out there and mingle randomly. That lowers my visibility, which in turn affects sales. The big problem I’ve faced, though, is figuring out how to encourage reviews. Reviews really are the force of the lifeblood of self publishing. The more you have, positive or negative, the more likely you are to have successful sales. I encourage folks to leave reviews in whichever venue they prefer, but when it comes to sales, the Amazon review is probably the most influential for me. Oddly enough, a handful of great reviews is worse for a book than a hundred mediocre reviews.

What?

Sadly, it’s true. Amazon ranking is based in part on how well reviewed your book is. And of course like the cart and the horse, the more reviews you have, the more visibility you get, the more sales you garner, and the more reviews you get. It’s a closed loop system that I’m trying to figure out how to breach. I know it can be done, and I know a few people recently that have done it with great success.

I just haven’t figured out how I can do it.

So what’s a writer to do? Because if you haven’t figured it out yet, there are no riches on this end of the rainbow. The answer for me is pretty simple: continue to write. While I enjoy the project I’m working on, at least so far book one hasn’t really snagged the interest I’d hoped for. That’s OK. I want to finish writing this series, or at least the first trilogy of it. If sales don’t pick up for the Niki books, I’ll move on to a different series. I have plenty of them bouncing around in my head, waiting to get out.

And that’s the other lesson I have in self publishing. If the first lesson was don’t expect sales to be great early on, the second is to keep writing even if you don’t think anyone is reading you. There are plenty of reasons we write, but the chief one should be to tell a story. If that means that for now only a handful of people are going to get that story, that’s fine. Isn’t it better to have a back catalog of works to share with new readers when something does hit a nerve in the future? How many times have you read a great book and wished the author had written more that you could binge on?

And to answer the question in the title – not rich at all. I’m barely breaking even so far on my writing when you include things like ads. My goal is to break even. Of course, like anyone, my day dream is to make enough to take my spouse out to dinner every now and then, but I don’t want to be greedy.

This week I’ve been closing with a reminder thatĀ Chrysalis is currently on sale for 99 cents, and this post is no different. But to add to that, if you’re a writer that stumbled on this post, ping me on twitter (@kodermike) – kindred souls deserve company.

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