Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why Am I Writing?

First the good news:

The book isn’t done, but I can finish the first draft at a more leisurely pace during December.

Like most people who participate in NaNoWriMo, by the end of November the constant push-push-push to reach 50,000 new words written in a month has made me exhausted. If you remember, NaNo for me started in October, when I was focused on creating an outline for this book so I wouldn’t run out of scenes to write too early in the month. Or the word count.

In reality, I’d been thinking about the plot of this book long before that. I know that’s true because as I was taking the James Patterson class, I stopped reading his sample outline of Honeymoon because it sounded too much like the plot I had in mind. (As it turned out, my story was nothing like Patterson’s, but I didn’t know that because I hadn’t developed it yet.)

While I was focused on writing, a number of other things happened. I was too tired to think about promoting my novels, and sales became almost non-existent. There is some cause and effect there, but many authors have been reporting that book sales have faded as the holidays approach. Pages read for Kindle Unlimited also decreased. As did the payout per page read.

Amazon announced that because the KU subscription rate for India was so much lower than everywhere else (due to competition), they will be changing the payout rate on an individual country basis. I assure you it will not be higher in India than in the United States.

Sales of books have become dependent on the book being on sale. Or free. With paid advertising. Facebook began throttling author book promotion posts, even to groups that exist solely for authors to promote books. As a matter of fact, several authors have been prohibited from posting anything for two weeks because Facebook thought they were doing too much promotion. They will, however, let you pay them for the privilege of advertising your books to a targeted audience.

Amazon cracked down on reviews, removing those written by “friends” or by paid reviewers. They even sued 1000 reviewers who wrote reviews for payment. Back to those friends: no one is quite sure how Amazon defines a friend, but it appears as if Facebook “friends” are in that category. Since authors have been encouraged to friend readers on Facebook for years, most of us have reviews by “friends” if they’re defined that way.

Traditional publishing has discovered indie tactics, including discounting and promoting on mailing lists like BookBub and EReader News Today. Not only does that leave fewer slots for indie authors, the law of supply and demand has caused the price of advertising to rise for these venues. A thousand dollars for an ad is nothing to a major publisher. It’s impossible for most indies.

Of course, that means less money for the author.

I don’t know if I’ve ever said this on my blog or not, but my intention when I retired early was to supplement my retirement income with money from book sales. Based on history, it didn’t seem impossible to earn an extra thousand dollars a month as an indie author. Not right away, maybe, but certainly in three or four years. Many indie authors were doing this and more.

In 2012. Or, possibly, 2013. The gold rush year appears to have been 2011. The Kindle was new then and new owners wanted more content. Indie authors who could write fast or traditionally published authors who had gotten their rights back on backlist titles could put them up on Amazon and pretty much be guaranteed good sales and a good income.

My problem was I made my plans in 2012, and started my indie publishing career in 2013. The gold rush was over. By the time I published my third book a couple of months ago, the supposedly magic number where an author started to have enough visibility and a fan base to start earning money, all of that stuff I wrote about before this paragraph happened.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past three years, it’s that indies have to be nimble to be successful. They have to be creative about new ways of doing things as the old ways no longer work. They have to be willing to work long hours and take risks. Most have to write quickly and publish often. The life of an independent author is a never-ending NaNoWriMo.

And you know what? I don’t want to live that way. I missed seeing two movies I wanted to see in November because I didn’t want to take time away from my writing. There were a couple of ancillary activities around this new series that I wanted to do, but I had to make my daily word count first. Afterwards, I had no creative energy left to do those things. I haven’t been getting enough exercise and I miss my daily walks. And I’m nowhere near that thousand dollars a month.

I’ve been reading a number of blog posts by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith lately. Dean in particular has written about a whole different perspective on writing as a career. One of his blogs was titled “What’s the Point?” As you might guess, it was the discouragement felt by writers who aren’t earning enough money, who haven’t made a bestseller list, who haven’t gotten the recognition they think they should. He admitted to having felt that way himself at one point in his career. He quit writing because of it.

I’ve also been thinking “What’s the point?” I had a day job before. I don’t want that kind of job again. But I’m not going to quit writing. I’ve tried to quit before, but I’m addicted to it. I need my writing fix every few days or I start to go crazy.

But I’m going to approach writing in 2016 in a different way. I’m going to do it for the fun of it, not because I have to get another book in a series written or I’ll lose my audience. I’m going to break the rules again. I’m going to design my own covers rather than paying for them, even though “everybody knows” you need a professional cover now to sell books. Dean Wesley Smith and Hugh Howey both did all their own covers at the beginning of their indie careers. Hugh even admits his were pretty terrible. But they managed to sell books. And they didn’t go broke doing it.

I’m also going to take time to do those other things. I’m going to draw a fantasy map of my fictional town of Rainbow Ranch. I’m going to write a text adventure game to go along with “A Game of Murder.” I’m going to start working on the historical research for that time travel romantic adventure book I want to write. I’m not going to worry about my book sales or my Amazon ranking. I’m going to have fun writing stories.

In other words, I’m going to stop worrying about being a professional and call myself a hobbyist. I’m going to write for me. For fun. Because crafting good stories is fun. Worrying about sales isn’t.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

NaNoWriMo Week Three

Just a quick update this morning.

I've learned I can NOT write in a group. I'm always open to meeting other writers, so last Sunday I went to a NaNo write in at the library. The group was small, and they weren't very noisy. But just the presence of other people, not to mention the whispered conversations of two of them who were collaborating on a novel, was enough disruption to keep me from being immersed in my own story. I'm probably going to have to trash--or at least seriously rewrite--every single word I typed there.

I also learned that writing more equals writing better. Of course, I've learned that before, but it's easy to forget. With writing regularly, exercising my writer brain if you will, I go from writing flat words to having poetic little phrases just pop into my head. I love when this happens.

I've learned there's a limit to how many words I can write in a day. For me, this lies somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 words. Writing is very hard work for an activity that consists primarily of sitting in a chair and typing, with brief periods of staring out the window. It's as if my brain has a reservoir of words and once I empty that reservoir in a writing session, it needs a day (or, most likely, a night) to recharge. As a result, when there are interruptions to my writing schedule--and there are always interruptions!--I struggle to catch up.

However, I am happy to report that I am on target to meet 50,000 words by the end of November.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Prayers for Paris

I am so saddened by the attacks in Paris last night. I have no words.

NaNoWriMo Week Two

I know, I know. I was supposed to post more frequently during NaNoWriMo and keep you updated on my progress. I got off to a slow start. It was the same as I start my walks around the neighborhood, only with my brain instead of my muscles. I felt sluggish. It was hard getting in gear. I thought I’d lost my NaNo mojo.

And, just like my muscles loosen up once I get a few blocks from home, my writing muscle has loosened up in Week 2. When I sit down to write (setting a timer first), I pick up where I left off and just type. I’m not worrying about whether this story is any good or that the words aren’t beautiful or that there are bits missing. I’m just typing the story as it comes.

As usual, I’ve got lots of dialogue and little description. Yesterday I was writing a scene that takes place on the Fourth of July. My characters were having a conversation and I was just listening and typing the words they said. Then I remembered, Fourth of July. Right. There must be fireworks. So I typed in some descriptions of what kind of fireworks they were watching while they were talking.

I always add descriptive stuff on the second pass. That’s when I use Margie Lawson’s EDITS system to highlight my first draft with colors designating which kind of writing each of the words is. I use up a lot of blue marker (for dialogue) doing that. And yellow marker (for narrative). I can go a few pages without using green (description) and whole chapters without using pink (emotion). But it’s all good. By the time I’m done, there’s a better balance.

But that’s for later, probably April or May for this novel. Right now I don’t care if the whole thing is blue. I’m on target for winning on November 30th.

How is everyone else doing?

Sunday, November 01, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015

Let the insanity begin!

I am a big fan of National Novel Writing Month. If I had not discovered NaNo back in 2004, I never would have completed a novel. I would never have published a novel. I would never have retired with the goal of writing novels full time.

I’m a perfectionist. I aimed for straight As in school. When I was taking music lessons, I had to play a piece perfectly. (Not easy, since I wasn’t motivated to practice.) When I was writing computer code for a living, my programs had to be error free. Not only that, I expected users to think they were the best computer programs they’d ever used.

So when I decided it was time to write a novel, I expected it to be perfect from the get-go. The only writer I knew who had written about writing was Isaac Asimov. He famously said that writing wasn’t work because all he had to do was type very fast. I thought books came out perfect just by typing very fast.

But when I typed my stories, they’d start out okay, but it didn’t take very long for me to get frustrated because they weren’t perfect. My deathless prose was deader than a doornail. I’d get thirty or forty pages in and, because what I was writing was such dreck, I’d quit.

During National Novel Writing Month, you’re supposed to write dreck. You have one goal: write 50,000 words in thirty days. Ideally, word number 49,999 should be “The” and word number 50,000 should be “End,” but it doesn’t have to be.

All you have to do is write 1667 words for each of the thirty days in November and you’ll “win.” Now, if you don’t write on a regular basis, writing 1667 words a day is daunting. It takes hours. If you have a day job, you’ll be getting up early or staying up late to have enough time to type them. If you fall behind, you start to panic, because now you’ll have to write 2,000 or 3,000 words a day for some of those days.

You watch your word count progress and that of other participants on a thermometer bar under your name in the forums (like the one on the left side of this post), and don’t want yours to be shorter than everyone else’s.

Toward the end of the month, you may resort to desperate measures. Word wars and sprints where you type as many words as you can in short bursts along with other participants. Random elements thrown out by municipal leaders at group write-ins that have nothing to do with your story, but which you have to somehow make a part of it. Going down rabbit trails with a visit to the zoo or Mount Olympus or anything that will give you more words.

And a magical thing happens somewhere along the way. Because you’re totally focused on quantity rather than quality, because you’ve locked your inner editor in a closet for the duration, your muse takes over and starts giving you ideas that your editor would never let you think about, much less use, under normal circumstances. Your writing takes on a life of its own.

There’s nothing better than being able to upload your “masterpiece” at the end of the month and get that “Winner” badge. Okay, maybe publishing and actually having someone other than your mother read your novel is better, but that comes later.

NaNoWriMo took away all my frustration at never being able to complete a novel. I may not have written a great novel, but I’d done the impossible by finishing one. I can’t tell you how much that confidence meant to me.

So here I am, eleven years later, maybe more, ready to start another novel for NaNoWriMo. In 2013, worn out by writing my “real” novels, I decided NaNo and a fun novel, a nonsense novel, a novel that didn’t need to be perfect, was just what I needed. My muse surprised me again. What I got was something new and wonderful.

But, in order to be a successful indie author, I needed to write more books in my existing series first. So, after NaNo, I went back to my Christian mystery series.

In 2014, I again gave myself a month off and wrote a sequel to the 2013 mystery. It’s not quite as good as the first one, but it’s only a first draft. I know now I can fix those.

This year, I’ll be writing book three in this series. I spent October setting up a new Scrivener project, developing some new characters, and adding index cards for the scenes in it. I experimented with creating book covers and gathering photos on Pinterest. For the past three days, I’ve been champing at the bit to start writing. Finally, it’s November 1st!

I’m going to try to keep my word count updated so you can watch that thermometer bar grow longer. I’ll also try to make briefer posts more often on my progress. Most of all, I’m going to have fun!