Monday, 11 December 2017

Weekly Update: December 3 to 9

Weekly word count: 6954

So, as those who have been following the graphs may have noticed, my first post NaNo week was not quite the same writing success as the previous ones.  Although I wrote close to 7000 words, I only made about 3000 words of progress on Judgment.

The challenge was twofold.  First, I am writing the climatic ending but as I got started, I realized that the wonderful, dramatic ending I had inside my head from the very beginning was not working out.  

That was a confidence collapser.  You'd think I'd be used to it because I tend to go through the same thing as I'm finishing up each story.  Every author has a Black Moment in the writing process when he or she is convinced that what they've written is absolute crap.  For me, that's at the end.

The second part was more personal.  I am part of several private groups and one was getting quite heated about something which a member had posted.  I know the member and know that she has a tendency to be somewhat socially awkward and doesn't express herself well.  So I suggested taking a pause from the increasingly angry posts and asking her to clarify what she meant by the comment.  I ended up facing the brunt of the anger and some very vicious attacks on my character, parenting skills and career.  Very "if you're not with us then you're against us" kind of mentality.

So here's the thing.  I will not ever be a supporter of a lynch mob, be it on line or in person.  I believe that people have the right to make mistakes without being attacked.  That doesn't mean they don't face consequences for their words or actions, but it does mean that it's important to keep dialogue open and try to keep anger out of it.  Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but I don't believe that most people are actively and deliberately evil or hateful, and that given an opportunity to be heard and be educated, then they can learn to improve.  Anger is effectively preaching to the choir, its a way to build up reactions in those who already feel much the same as the first person does.  Change comes when anger is set aside because that's the only way to convince others to join your point of view.

And before I spark a new wave of outrage, I do believe there is a place for anger.  There are things happening in the world which we should be angry about.  Anger is the emotional signal that something is wrong, and so we should pay attention to it.  But it also shuts down people's ability to listen and listening is critical to solving the problems.

I've quit the group.  I'd stayed because I thought of the people on it as my friends, although I'd found it was getting increasingly judgmental instead of helpful.  But having gone through that kind of attack, I now know they are not my friends and I don't need that kind of vitriol.

I'm not going into details both to protect the privacy of those involved and because they're really irrelevant.  It's possible to be both completely right and justified in one's point of view and also be inappropriate and wrong in how it is expressed.

On the writing side, I think I know why the ending wasn't working and now I've got a clearer picture on how to handle it.  It's still going to be a good ending to a good story and contains most of the elements I wanted.

I've got one week left before deadline.  Hopefully next week's post is that the draft is done, the editor has been contacted and things are moving forward.  Wish me luck. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Look for the Heroes

Yesterday was the anniversary for two pretty horrific events: the Halifax Explosion and the Ecole Polytechnique shooting.  Both of these events played strong roles in shaping my worldview.  

Not being a vampire or other immortal creature, I wasn't alive for the actual explosion but a fair part of my childhood was spent growing up in the Maritimes.  I remember being taken to a park and shown a massive chunk of iron that was a part of an anchor which was flung over two miles from the harbour by the force of the explosion.  I remember being told that 2000 people died and 9000 were injured, which was one fifth of the population.  The city was devastated, with two square kilometres of the city destroyed.

Then, in 1989, an armed man went into Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and shot 14 women out of a deranged sense of entitlement.  Women were taking his place at the school, weren't dating him, and had a future where he didn't.  So he walked into a classroom with a loaded weapon, separated the male and female students and proceeded to execute the women.

The explosion was the first man-made disaster I became aware of.  One ship failed to respect the harbour protocol (because they were in a hurry, because they were tired, it's not clear) and that one decision cost thousands of people their lives and health.  There was no action of theirs which contributed to their deaths or injuries and they had little to no warning that it was about to happen.  The shooting was the first time I became aware that there are people in the modern world for whom gender or skin colour or some other inherent trait is enough to earn a death sentence.  That violence can never be entirely prevented and those who use it indiscriminately can strike without apparent warning.

Both of these events shaped my view of a world which can't be entirely trusted not to drop the other shoe out from under me.  They made me aware of how prejudice, hatred and contempt can become a deadly combination and that the only defense is to speak out against it and advocate for protections and understanding.  They taught me that there are dangerous people out there, either with intent or through carelessness, and they cannot be identified as easily as the bad guys in my Saturday morning cartoons.

But they also taught me another important lesson.  To look for the heroes (or as Mr. Rogers put it "Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping").

In Halifax, telegraph dispatcher Vince Coleman stayed at his post to warn an incoming train away from the impending disaster, saving lives.  Firefighters rushed to the pier to try and put out the flames before the ship could explode, with 5 of the 6 man crew dying in the explosion.  In Montreal, Nathalie Provost confronted the gunman, trying to reason with him and ended up being shot four times, but surviving.  She not only completed her degree but encouraged other women to stay in the program and not be afraid.  Alain Perreault and Heidi Rathjen, both present during the shooting, launched a gun control petition to prevent such attacks from happening again in Canada.

These are only a few examples.  Countless other stories exist, of those who helped others to hide from the shooter, locking doors to keep him from attacking, of those who tried to evacuate children and civilians.  And the outpouring of grief and support from those who were not present, but who stepped up to support survivors.

The darkness in the world is real and cannot be denied.  Neither of these events were natural, they were the result of decisions which meant they could have been stopped or avoided.  But when they happened, there were those who stepped up and became more than expected, when those around them weren't sure what to do.  And no matter the horror, the heroes outnumber those who sought to bring darkness and they keep working long after the monsters have been slain or have given up.

Not everyone is a hero and that's okay.  There were plenty of people who went through both disasters numbly focused on their own survival or in disbelief that such events could be happening to them.  That's a very human reaction.

It's also human to look at both the numb masses and the monsters and feel overwhelmed.  As if the world is a terrible and sick place.  It's hard to argue against it, especially lately where prejudice and violence are once more openly hand in hand.

But I would also hope that we can remember the heroes.  Because no matter how bad it gets, there will always be those bringing light to banish the dark.  They deserve equal time in our memories and awareness.  And maybe they can inspire us all to be a little more heroic in our day to day lives, conquering the smaller day to day blemishes before they can grow.

Maybe it's because I'm a romance reader and writer, but no matter how dark things get, I will always cling tight to hope and my faith in both heroes and happy endings.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Weekly Update: November 26 to December 2

  Weekly word count: 10 934

My big achievement this week was completing my 50 000 word count for NaNoWriMo.  It was difficult and I really pushed myself harder than I probably should have, but it's gotten me within spitting distance of completing Judgment and made it possible to have it ready before Ad Astra in May.

And the other big highlight of the week was this month's ORWA meeting with an explosives expert from the Ottawa Police.  He had some great details about how the Tactical Squad works, including real life examples like the shooting on Parliament Hill.

I've got another two weeks before my self-imposed deadline.  Which means another two weeks of late nights.  But I'm determined to get it done.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Ink Tip: Tortoise Victories: How to Win While Writing Slow

We've all heard the story about the fast, but lazy rabbit and the steadfast and trusty tortoise.  It's one of those great early childhood morality tales about finishing what you start and not being overconfident.  But in the publishing world, it seems that it's the hares who always win and tortoises are encouraged to invest in some jet-packs to keep up with the pace.

Ready for a word sprint?
Last month, Susanna Kearsley came to speak with ORWA about how to weave multiple-story lines into a single novel.  That was fascinating, but what really connected with me was when she talked about writing slow.

She shared that she is not a fast writer.  It usually takes two years for her to publish her next book and she usually only writes a page or two at a time.  But she is still a bestseller, proving that the publish, publish, publish strategy is not the only route to success.

There are so many messages and articles out there about how to write faster.  New authors are confronted with expectations of publishing three or more books each year, sometimes as many as one each month.  The message is: if you don't have something new out, you'll disappear into the void of constantly churning content and readers will forget about you in their search for something else.

But that's not necessarily true.

Yes, it may take longer.  After all, if an author is only putting out one book every year or two, then it takes much longer to set up a backlist that fans can discover.  No matter how brilliant a writer is, if there's only one or two books available, then that is all that fans can buy, even if they are super-enthusiastic.

And yes, it is important to stay visible.  Readers have their own lives and don't just sit breathlessly by the computer waiting for announcements that their favourite authors have released a new book.  It's important to try and keep yourself in their awareness, so that they remember that they loved your book and will be excited when the countdowns begin for the next one.  Regular social media and blog posts, attending events and sharing bits from your work in progress can all keep an author from disappearing.

There are ways to make that kind of online presence easier:

- Find something you're already excited about that can be tied into your book.  Are you great in the kitchen?  Maybe do a regular recipe connected with your stories.  Do you travel a lot?  Post photos and reviews of your adventures, emphasizing the parts that inspire you to keep writing.  We all have passions and those passions usually tie into our writing, so drawing in people who share those passions means a much larger crowd of potential readers who will learn about your next book.

- Get a posting routine.  I have two monthly blog features (Ink Tip and Heroine Fix) as well as my weekly writing update.  That leaves me two blog posts each month that can be spontaneous or reflective of what's going on in my life and the world, which I find is a good balance for me.  For social media, I participate in #1LineWednesday, sharing a quote card from my previous books and a line from my work in progress.  I also share a quote about either writing or reading each Monday, a romance-inspiring song lyric on Tuesdays, and a quote about characters, superheroes, or different genres each Friday.  There's also a floater post each week, where I post a picture of a hot hero in connection to various Internet holidays (like Tell A Fairy Tale Day, February 26).  I call that one my Hero Worship post.  I still tweet and facebook about my life and my thoughts on a spontaneous basis, but these regular postings cover me when I'm swamped or uninspired or otherwise not in a social media mood.

- Schedule your social media and blog posts in advance.  Its a lot of work coming up with posts, so blocking out some time on a weekly or monthly basis makes sense.  There are plenty of programs that let you schedule things in advance (I use Hootsuite) so I can take an hour or two once a month to schedule my Hero Worship and #1LineWednesday quotes, and about a half hour each week to schedule my quotes and lyrics.

- Pictures can be good branding tools.  Humans are visual and we're far more likely to take in a picture while scrolling (thus prompting us to stop) than we are to read text.  By finding an image which you can use to mark your different kinds of posts, you can create a visual shorthand, making it easier for readers to catch the posts they're interested in.  And if you can't create a shorthand, then a picture still makes it far more likely for your post to be noticed.

The real caveat behind all publishing advice is that readers don't like being disappointed.  So if you're a slow writer, then be honest about that.  Forcing the writing process into a breakneck pace can lead to trite and repetitive stories, which readers will quickly saturate on and move on from.  Be honest about your expected deadlines (whether self- or editor-imposed) and if there are life delays, be honest about those, too.

Some writers can produce a book that readers love in an incredibly short period of time.  Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were both written in what amounts to a weekend writing blitz, according to their respective author's memoirs.  I'm in awe of authors who can produce 70 000 to 100 000 words each month, allowing them to put out well-edited and exciting books every two to three months.

Until Ms. Kearsley's lecture, I was harbouring a growing doubt about whether or not I would ever truly be able to succeed.  I am a fast writer, but I have very limited time in my life for when I can write, which makes me a slow writer in reality.  She was a welcome reminder that there are all kinds of paths which lead to being able to call oneself a successful author.  It's a matter of stubbornly sticking to it, even in the times that we doubt ourselves and our talent.  The lesson of the tortoise and the hare isn't about their relative speeds, it's about who never gives up.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Weekly Update: November 19 to 25

 Weekly word count: 14 122

With only a few days left to go in NaNoWriMo, I'm feeling pretty good about my progress.  If I can keep up this kind of pace, then I think I've got a good chance at being able to get my companion series manuscript ready to pitch for July.  (I also really need to figure out a title for it.)

As you can see, I was struggling with writing on Wednesday and Thursday.  I've been fighting a nasty cold and decided to get some sleep rather than pushing myself to stay up late.  It was a difficult decision for me.  I was fighting some depression and was thinking that if I didn't stay up to write, there was no way that I could achieve my NaNo goal.  But I was also falling asleep at my keyboard, so I decided to choose my health.

The next day I was in a more reasonable frame of mind.  And the extra sleep helped my creativity so that I was able to write more than I think I would have been able to if I'd pushed myself.  Lesson learned.

I took a look at my outline and decided to up the estimated final word total to 125 000.  I'm almost at 100 000 words and there's between six and eight chapters left to go.  

I've had to be careful not to conflate finishing NaNo with finishing the novel.  There's probably another 10 to 15k which will have to be written after I reach my 50 000.  So I'm going to hold off booking my edits until I have the draft complete.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I can get book 4 out and on the market before the spring conferences begin in May.

I've also started to look at what needs to happen after I get this draft done.  I need to get the second editions of the first three books ready (the only changes are to the front and back matter and changes to the tag lines for the covers) and then get them into wide distribution.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

My First Experience With NaNoWriMo

We're coming to the end of NaNoWriMo and I wanted to take some time to talk about my experience with it so far.  This is my first time participating, since I'm usually doing editing in October, November and December, and it's been a pleasant experience so far.

I was surprised to discover how effective it was to be able to enter my word count for each day.  It motivated me more than I expected, to the point that I decided to continue it with a daily graph which will appear on each weekly update and an overall progress graph to stay up on the blog.  The visual graph of total word count really kept me moving, although I wasn't a fan of the goal line (especially since I didn't get over it very often).  Even if I had a really good writing day, it was discouraging to see that I still hadn't made it over the official goal line.

I found the community to be very supportive with a lot of encouragement.  I wasn't in a position to do any of the local events here in Ottawa, but the online group was always ready with some virtual applause.  The website was confusing and non-intuitive but I gradually figured out how to add writing buddies and enter my daily counts.  

My biggest concerns were from people who were boasting that they were going to take their NaNoWriMo project and immediately publish it on Amazon as of December 1st.  Now, I'm a self-published author, so I don't have a problem with self-publishing, but it took me aback to see people who didn't think they needed an editor or even a second draft.  Some of the stories had some great ideas and those boasting were articulate and well-spoken, but there are too many first drafts clouding the waters.  I've tried gently pointing out that even brilliant bestsellers need more than one draft and editorial support, but I'm not sure how well my cautions were received.  

The hardest part has been writing every single day.  I've got a lot going on in my life and it's just not sustainable for me to find time every day.  I've ended up doing a lot of writing between 10pm and midnight, which ends up being hard when I have to get up six hours later.  But, on the positive side, it's also shown me where I can expand my writing hours, which should help in the future.

I've definitely learned a lot about my writing process and what motivates me, and for that I count it as an invaluable experience.  Will I do it again?  If November 2018 rolls around and I'm not in edits, most definitely.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Weekly Update: November 12 to 18

Weekly word count: 9200

Another good week, although I'm looking at my overall total for NaNoWriMo and thinking I'm probably not going to reach 50 000 words by November 30th.

But that's okay.  I think I've got a good shot at having the draft of Judgment ready for December 15th, which will let me start the ball rolling on editing.

Then comes the next round of projects: getting my books available on wide distribution (which is admittedly making me nervous) and working on my manuscript for book one of the companion series, which still needs a title.  Coming up with titles is always a challenge for me but luckily I've got a bunch of friends who are happy to title-storm with me.

On the plus side, there is a chance that I might not having to be writing on the night shift for much longer.  I've got a meeting with my day-job boss on Monday to talk about me going back to my usual hours, which would give me writing time in the afternoon again.

Hopefully I can keep up the pacing once November is over.  If I can do between 8000 and 10,000 words per week, then that will really help with my productivity.