As I write this, it’s 23 out and feels like 14. I can hear the wind howling between the buildings. A bundled-up woman and a little white dog with a sweater are out walking. Despite the cold, that dog is still checking every telephone pole! Good time to be inside doing writing and administrative tasks like my book and story inventory.
I’ll admit it—I’ve gone from productivity system to productivity system, trying to figure out what works for me. Part of that is my crazy day job—think getting hit with a fire extinguisher all day and trying to fit a tornado through a keyhole.
Most systems are surprisingly complex, sometimes with the author’s own self-imposed complexity. Some are outdated. Try getting hit with a fire extinguisher all day and prioritize by A, B, C. Does. Not. Work.
I tried Trello as a test run for work. It does better if you have projects. Which meant it wasn’t going to be useful for work. I don’t have any projects.
But I decided to revisit it, since I’m working towards publishing a book a month. Plus I have short stories on tap to be e-published, as well as cover refreshes. I’ve previously had the inventory in a spreadsheet, but after there are so many entries, it gets cumbersome real fast and lose stories on the list.
This is from Trello’s Editorial Calendar template. Trello is like a storyboard. You can create different lists (i.e., Ready for Publishing) and drag the cards with the story from list to list.
Each card has a place for comments (mostly for collaborating with teams, but useful for making quick notes), a checklist, and the ability to add attachments. So I made the cards look spiffy with my covers.
This is my checklist, not a template from the calendar. This one’s for Golden Lies, which is at the copy editor’s (there’s a comment below the screenshot where I noted the date I sent it).
Text from the list:
Create ebook cover
Format to ebook
Publish to D2D
Publish to Amazon
Publish to Smashwords
Publish to Publishdrive
Publish to BundleRabbit
Publish to Website
Since Golden Lies’ release is dependent on the copy editor schedule, doing all this helped me identify one omnibus I could publish in February if that schedule gets thrown off.
This week, once I decided I was going to stop striving for novel-length, I looked at my mystery, changed one line at the end of a chapter and realized I was in the climax. It’s amazing how what seemed like a simple goal became so distracting!
(It’ll be in the 30K range).
What then ensued was a cycling pass over the story. I actually like cycling. It’s evolved over time for me.
Cycling is a pantser tool that’s rather difficult to explain. Writers hear it as “revising as you write,” but it’s not revision. If you write a story too thin, you add more; if you write too much, you take something out. That’s the core of cycling. It can be setting, and that’s most commonly done with cycling because it’s both easy to put too much in or leave too much out. Revision is more like going through, finding fault (sometimes erroneously), and then correcting it.
The change of the one line triggered a round of cycling for the entire story. I knew who the villain was and the story needed some additions to sneak him in.
And I’ve needed my Thinking Cat for some of these. Cats are good at that (when they aren’t knocking stuff off). A lot of the additions were more story. Most of them were a sentence or two, maybe a paragraph at the longest.
Except for three scenes. Those ran into my weak area with time. They have to be in the story because the story is about Hollywood and the victim is an actress.
Golden Retriever Muse put the scenes in much later in the story. But the scenes kept nagging at Golden Retriever Muse: “We’re in the wrong place. We’re in the wrong place.” Like that commercial where all the insurance people come out of the cornfield.
Writing Nerd does not think sequentially—my brain is more like a pinball machine. It does not like sequence. At all. When I dial a phone number sometimes, I know what the number is, I look at the numbers, and my brain’s going “I don’t like the order. I must change it!” Maybe there’s a cat up there, whacking at the pinballs.
To figure out where the scenes were actually supposed to go, I had to do a full cycle through the story. The place was obvious once I did.
It was early in the story, so I had to change scene numbers. Brain. Pinball. Bzzzz! And this was all about getting the numbers numbered right. Without goofing them up.
So it was move one scene into place, renumber it and all the ones that followed. Then repeat on all the scenes and shift them forward in their chapter folders (this is Scrivener for Windows). Then move the next scene and repeat, and the third, same thing.
Golden Retriever Muse is wagging her floofy tail now.
And very cautiously approaches goals. Everyone does them for the New Year, and I saw something in the news the other day that said they last until about January 10!
I remember several years back, I set an aggressive writing goal of write 10 books in a year—and managed do finish none that year. It was very discouraging. It was like announcing the goal immediately doomed it.
But I’m going to try again.
These goals are with a cautious note. Every time I’ve set an aggressive goal, I end up in December having accomplished none of it.
I’m going to shoot for a book release once a month (see my word count section for more on this).
Write more short stories (also see my word count goal on this).
Three major wins for me this year:
Tidying Magic accepted for X Marks the Spot. It’s pirates + tidying magic + ghosts
Alien Pizza for Monsters, Movies, and Mayhem. This is my first pro sale. Yipee! It’s aliens + pizza + movies + movie monsters.
Published Digitial Minimalism – this one has turned in my “best selling” book.
Word Count, Word Count, Word Count
Sometimes you can really get the wrong goal and lose sight of what you actually intended. I had one of those in 2019.
My goal was to learn how to write a book that hit 50K. I’ve always had problems getting stories to even this length, much less what the publishers wanted. When I was still thinking about traditional publishing, getting to 90K seemed like an impossible goal. I actually still don’t know how other writers can write so far over they have to cut 20K or more.
But this year, I wanted to put a novel exclusively on Amazon and having a longer book is a requirement for those readers.
Instead, I wound up derailing myself because I got too focused on hitting that word count and lost track of the story.
I also swore off short stories until I learned how to write longer because, in the past, when I let word count mess with me, I would procrastinate by writing short stories.
I’m going to mightily ignore the story’s word count. It is entirely possible I might simply write books that are in the novella range only. It’s also possible that the books will eventually get longer with more practice. Which I’m not getting by focusing on length.
But, cautiously, she said, I’ll track general word count numbers and try for 1,500 a day.
I’m also going to tack back to short stories, but nothing like having a once-a-week goal or so many a month. It’s just going to be when there’s an anthology call that I can write for. So there might be more than one in a month or none, depending on what’s available. A lot of them have not paid well, or been on political titles (really? I get too much of that now!), or a category I don’t fit into.
Also need to continue the cover refreshes. Might need to update the bio in all of them (good reason, but still, a lot of work).
New Releases & Upcoming
The fourth GALCOM book is first on tap. That’ll be out in January. Big space battles, aliens, lots of explosions. Adventures are so much better happening to fictional characters. 🙂
First book in the Al Travers Series. He’s a private detective in 1940s Hollywood. That’s right at the tail end of the studio system. Studios used “fixers” to keep star misbehavior out of the headlines. Perfect place for deception and crime!
Another GALCOM book about—you guessed—Giant robots!
15 Productivity Secrets for Employees
This one’s going to be a non-fiction list book. It’s inspired because there’s a gap in productivity books. Every book assumes you’re a manager or a CEO, not an employee. For me, this is a topic I know really well and no one is talking about it.
From my Writing in Public several years ago that fell off because work turned into utter chaos. So I’m going to dust it off and have a look.
Amateur Sleuth Mystery
Untitled at the moment, but set in the same time frame as Al Travers, but in Morro Bay, California (Balboa Bay in the story so I can make stuff up about the location). Main character is a war widow who solves mysteries. I’m thinking along the lines of Nancy Drew, rather than Cozy.
I’m reassessing this area of my writing. For a while I was grabbing classes that I really did need, to address skill gaps I had. I also tried to identify one thing to learn for everything I wrote.
In 2019, I only took one class this year (and wished I hadn’t spent the money), plus Superstars Writing Seminar (and very glad I did this). I also found it frustrating and stressful trying to identify something to learn for every story. My Golden Retriever Muse kept putting her feet down like a dog who didn’t want to go to the vet. Nope, nope, nope.
So 2019 marked the point where I just threw everything to the wind. I’ve done that before. This time around, I unfollowed a lot of writing blogs to cut the information flow. It wasn’t helping me to read a lot of the same topics over and over and I wasn’t finding anything that got at gaps I still have. All those gaps are things no one talks about!
I did subscribe to The Compleat Writer (their spelling, not my typo) as a monthly subscription. I figure I can wander in and pick out topics that catch my interest. I like what I’ve been seeing from Dave Farland—he’s had a lot of those little things:
Have your characters argue.
Include light in every scene
Include temporal motion (which is like looking at the house you grew up in and remembering what it looked like when you were little)
Wish List for Learning
These are all the things I wish someone would talk about and don’t:
Pacing – typically, writers talk about the length of sentences, paragraphs, scenes. All fine, but it’s only one aspect of pacing. There are at least two more that I’ve run into.
Time – This has been a surprisingly hard topic for me to work with. Things like identifying the time of day with the light or thinking
What are your goals? Anything that you have on a wishlist for learning?
Sign up for Writing Nerd’s newsletter! It comes out on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month and features links and other nerd tidbits. This week, it’s gravity-defying dogs and temporal motion.
Most of the time when I write, the adventures are just on the page. Seldom in real life are adventures that we really want.
This week, when I came home, I discovered that maintenance had to go into my walls to fix a broken pipe in the building.
Guess where the pipe was? In the Writing Cove!
(It’s a cove because coves are beautiful and open and overlook water…not that that’s the reality. It actually overlooks a busy street. But windows are important, even if the view isn’t pretty.)
The maintenance guy tore out part of the wall and ceiling and left cardboard screwed in. No water damage. Apparently, the leak was caught pretty quickly. Water was coming out of the ceiling in the basement. Someone reported it, and maintenance shut off the water until they could figure out where it was.
But it’s been disruptive. My desk was moved and is not in a place where I like it. I could move it back, but there are two more rounds of repairs to come.
I’m also one of those people who think with a bit of mess, but it’s an organized mess, which means I know where everything is. So suddenly everything is not where it was supposed to be. So my cove has been disrupted by a storm.
Maintenance came back and did the drywall. Next up is the plaster—they have to fix the kitchen, too, since it’s on the other side. They punched through it during the repairs. After the plaster, then painting and the Writing Cove can go back to normal.
It’s amazing how much I don’t like this change.
But then, it’s definitely not a good change for me.
Change—The way of life
Many years ago (and two jobs back), the company I was at had to replace their 1960s software system. It was time. The employees experienced in the programming languages of the tool were retiring or dying off, so the system was patched together as things broke.
A lot of employees who operated on the system were very upset. The old system may have been cantankerous, but they knew it. Writing Nerd suspects that the new system wasn’t very intuitive. Programmers tend to assume that once you discover the logic of the system, it’ll be easy—and that makes learning it at all a huge challenge.
The company communicated and communicated and communicated. They had a website, a newsletter, roadshows, open houses…and really, they could not overcome the single major problem the introduction of the new system created.
Fear of failure.
One woman just started crying at her desk because she was struggling so much with learning the system. Unfortunately, the tendency of learning today is to throw everything including the kitchen sink at people and expect them to somehow magically absorb it.
Basically, we’re often asked to jump into the deep end of the swimming pool. We can’t see the bottom because the waters are murky and green. Nor do we know how to swim. We’re supposed to trust that somehow all will work out for us.
Yet, change isn’t always a bad thing. The post in the Additional Reading inspired me to think more about change. We deal with change all the time.
Sometimes change is exasperating
Like when I headed to the gym and got to where I needed to make a right turn. Road closed due to police activity. I had to go around to get back to where I needed to be.
Sometimes change is overwhelming
Like the first time I got a personal rejection from a pro-rate magazine. It was such a huge acknowledgment that I was that good at writing that it blew me out of the water for six months. But it was a good change that prepared me for last week. I got my first pro acceptance.
Sometimes change is terrifying
We’re seeing this pretty much everywhere. The old ways are being disrupted and it’s happening too fast. The result has been that it’s bringing out the worst in people.
But sometimes it’s important to take a chance and step off into the unknown.
On Thanksgiving, I went to a family meal with some of my relatives. It was pretty fun and I got to pet some dogs.
Then one of my relatives pulled out his iPhone to show off a video of his daughter. She wants to be an actress. She also sings (she did not get that from our side of the family). The video was of her singing.
Her reponse? She didn’t want him to show the video. She got very upset.
I had to explain to her that you never tell you fans you don’t want them watching you. I don’t think she really got it though.
But I remember a few years back what a writer did to me…
Writers Putting Work Down
I have a fantasy trilogy that is falling apart. The viewpoint had this wonderful storytelling quality that really pulled me into the story and it was magical. When I finished the last book. I sighed, both wishing I had another book because it was so good and because it had resolved so satisfactorily.
They used to be my re-read books. Haven’t touched them in years.
Because of the writer.
One time on my blog, I wrote about the books and talked about the viewpoint. The books were in omniscient, which can feel like you’re sitting down in front of a fire as someone tells you a story.
Enter the writer, who commented on her blog. She was polite and friendly, but she said she’d learned a lot since she wrote those books.
She said she’d have done the viewpoint differently now.
She said she was going to revise those books and change the viewpoint.
The thing I really liked about the book. I don’t think she realized she’d just insulted one of her readers.
As a result, the books fell off my re-read list. I don’t remember the magical story anymore. I just remember that the writer was going to change books I liked.
Praise is a two way street
Writing Nerd gets a lot of “Thank you for your service.” The response is to smile, say, “You’re welcome,” and that’s it.
It’s hard because we’re taught that that bragging is distasteful–and it is, if you’ve heard someone brag. It isn’t about the creation or being successful; it’s about them feeling superior to everyone else.
But bragging isn’t the same thing as accepting praise. Where bragging is about just ourselves, accepting praise is about us and the person giving the praise.