November 17, 2021 - It's Been a While

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Recently, I’ve had to make hard choices about what I’m doing with my time. In addition to working on my NaNoWriMo novel, I’ve been trying to catch up on all the videos from the recent conference as well as working on planning for next year. That hasn’t left much time for posting my progress.

I fell behind on the NaNo Novel, which is sometimes a fatal mistake. You look at how many words you’ve written and how many words you should have written by this time, and it can be discouraging. You can do one of three things. You can quit because you know you’ll never catch up. You can put in extra time to get those missing words. Or you can tell yourself that the actual number of words you’ve written doesn’t matter; what matters is getting as many words as you can reasonably write.

I’m at the option 2 point. I’m not so far behind that I can’t finish the month at 50,000 words… yet. I’ve written 25,345 words so far. I should have written 28,339. So 3,000 words behind, which I can get close to in a day if I really push myself. That would mean giving up one of my Sundays off. Or I can plan on writing approximately 2500 words each day instead of 1667. I’m trying 2500 words a day. Unless I can’t catch up, in which case, I’ll have to look closely at those Sundays.

I’m also working on the planning part. This came about because of one of those conference sessions I watched. I try to plan out every year, and after being disappointed with how many books I published this year, I want to do better in 2022. But that takes doing some analysis on my numbers for 2021 before I can even start thinking about what I’ll do next year. And 2021 isn’t over yet. Will I be able to publish the novel I’m writing now before the end of the year? So I’m looking at scheduling the rest of this year as well.

And, as always, everything takes longer than I think it will!

Needless to say, journaling my writing progress goes to the bottom of my to-do list. I’m not sure when I’ll post the next update. It all depends on how much I get done earlier in the day. But I’ll post when I can for those of you who are interested.

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November 12, 2021 - Like a Bouncing Ball

Friday, November 12, 2021

That’s what my writing progress has been like. I seem to be alternating higher than average word count days with low word count days this month. That’s the chart from my NaNoWriMo profile page at the top. I’ve got to have more high word count days than my current average if I want to “win” NaNo.

Of course, for me, the challenge isn’t to win NaNoWriMo. No, what I want to do is finish the first draft of this book so I can release it no later than mid-January.

Can you believe we’re racing into 2022 already? I’m having a hard time comprehending that. But I’ve started to think about what my goals for the new year will be. I struggled to accomplish much this year, publishing only one full-length novel. I spent almost as much time on each of the two shorter works (a novella and a short story) as I did on that novel. It was a big change from last year, when I published the first four books in the Shipwreck Point series.

I want to make 2022 more like 2020 than 2021. I’d like to publish six books: three Rainbow Ranch mysteries and three Shipwreck Point novels. But I’m not at all confident that that’s possible. Four was hard enough! I’ll have to decide soon, but if I’m honest with myself, four novels (two in each series) is probably the most I can do.

So, I downloaded a Planning & Organization Workbook put together by another presenter at this week’s writers conference, Audrey Hughey. All of the really successful authors do planning like this, which not only includes stating large goals like how many books you’re going to publish, but putting together a detailed schedule for what you want to accomplish.

Elana Johnson uses spreadsheets. Her book, Writing and Marketing Systems, is awesome. I read it this past year. Elana is a superwoman. She publishes lots of books each year primarily under two pen names. She has a third pen name, but that one’s kind of dormant now.

I loved everything about what Elana does, but I can’t envision myself ever matching her level of productivity and energy. (Note: She writes romance, and even she admitted in her presentation at the conference that every book is the same book. That’s what romance readers expect. Mystery readers want a little more originality, although the plots are formulaic.)

Audrey’s style isn’t quite as intimidating. And her workbook started with defining what success means to you. That’s a challenge in itself. I wrote something like six pages in my journal this morning trying to define that for myself. After sleeping on it, I’ll write it up in the workbook tomorrow morning. And then I’ll proceed to the next exercise.

I also really, really want to buy her planner, which this year is called The 2022 Author’s Planner. It includes not only planning your writing and publication schedule, but your marketing tasks. It also has a section for tracking business income and expenses and story ideas and all kinds of other things. Now, I already do this, but they’re in different formats—Scrivener, Quicken, Things for Mac, and even a couple of spreadsheets—which means they’re scattered in various places on my computer. They idea of having one reference for everything author related is tempting. Although I’m not sure I’d keep the planner up to date, because I really need Quicken at tax time and I’m so reliant on Things to track tasks.

But I want that planner now! And the Frixion erasable pens she recommended to write in it with.

Can I tell you a secret? Writers tend to be stationery junkies. Like quilters have their fabric stash, writers have a stationery stash. We have boxes and shelves filled with notebooks, index cards, pens and pencils, sticky notes in various sizes and colors, and sometimes washi tape. One writer I follow on YouTube has dozens and dozens of planners. She does a video every month about setting up the planners (yes, that is plural) she’s going to use to track things. Seriously.

So I’m trying to decide if I actually need her planner (and the pens!) or not. I’ve put them on my Christmas wishlist, but what if they sell out? (That happened last year.) Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is real!

Okay, I’ve babbled on long enough today. I’ll let you know what I decide in another blog post.

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November 10, 2021 - Persistence

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Yesterday turned out to be as difficult as the day before. It didn’t help that I had things on my schedule other than writing. If I’ve learned anything over the past ten years, it’s that I need to get my writing done in the morning. There are days, like today, when I can put in a second session later, but they usually include a good morning session as well.

One thing that helped today was watching a recording of a session from a writers conference that is taking place this week. The title of it was Production and Writing of a Long Series, which is what I’m hoping for with not only my Shipwreck Point Mysteries, but the new Rainbow Ranch Mysteries as well.

Ironically, the presenter immediately announced that she was going to go off script. Yes, she was going to talk some about writing a long series, because she has one, but what she was really going to talk about was what it took to be a successful author. Mostly, she focused on mindset, a word I’ve been hearing a lot of lately.

And just to catch our attention, she started out by saying she was the author of 87 books. She produces over a book a month most of the time and sells phenomenally well. While we were still trying to comprehend that, she dropped her second bombshell. It took her until book forty to be profitable.

Okay, so I’m thinking of my KDP Dashboard with its current eleven published novels and three or four short stories that has taken me almost ten years to populate, and counting on my fingers to come up with it’s going to take me another thirty years to get to that point.

Except it might not. See, Sarah Noffke told us there were several things that made a difference with that fortieth book. For one thing, she found her passion. Up until then, she’d been writing science fiction and space opera, a genre that’s popular, but she found it a slog to keep writing. For book forty, she wrote an urban fantasy novel. She loved writing in that genre, the book sold well, and suddenly she couldn’t wait to get to work each day.

But there were four other pieces to her success that all worked together. Most of all was learning to believe in herself. As she said, “What we believe will always come true.” Or, as Henry Ford put it, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Yeah, this is a hard one. It’s hard to check your sales every morning and see you’ve only sold two books. Or sometimes none. You have to learn not to tell yourself you’re a failure, but to say something positive about that. I dare you to come up with something that doesn’t sound hokey.

Another point that resonated with me was taking better care of yourself. She discovered that eating healthier and regular exercise made her feel better. I know she’s right, but I’ve been struggling with that lately. If you’re a certain type of person, when you’re down on yourself, you go for the chocolate or the potato chips or something similarly not-nutritious. You watch TV instead of going for a walk. Her enthusiasm and reaffirmation that taking care of your body would lead to an improvement in your mind encouraged me to make (another) fresh start today. And, amazingly enough, I didn’t need an afternoon nap, I wrote over 2,000 words, and didn’t feel stuck once.

There was a lot more to this presentation, and I’m going to watch it again either this evening or tomorrow and take notes. Because it’s just what I need at this point in my life.

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November 8, 2021 - Resistance

Monday, November 08, 2021

Today was a strange writing day. It wasn’t that the words came hard. Actually, they came fairly easily… once I got started.

Getting started was the hard part.

I write in what are called “sprints,” which means I set a timer for thirty minutes of writing, then when that’s up, I set a timer for a 5-10 minute break. After the break comes another thirty-minute writing sprint, etc. Well, today, each time I took a break, I really didn’t want to start writing again.

Steven Pressfield, the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, calls this resistance. He wrote a short book, The War of Art, explaining this phenomenon which is very common with writers. Long before I found his book, I remember conversations where fellow writers would ask questions such as: “Why would I rather clean the bathroom than sit at my computer and write my book?”

I mean, cleaning the bathroom ranks right up there with cleaning the oven or slopping the pigs. It’s not something you’d usually choose to do. But for some reason, there are days when anything sounds better than writing.

Once you know that you’re not a total freak and understand that this happens to almost everyone on occasion, you also know that the only way to deal with it is to tell that inner voice to shut up! and start typing. After you’ve gotten a few sentences down, it’s easier to keep going. But today, when I took another break, the whole cycle started all over again. :::sigh:::

I’m hoping tomorrow will go better, although it probably won’t. A virtual writers conference starts tomorrow, and I’ve got a full calendar of talks to watch/listen to. I wonder if I signed up for it so I wouldn’t have to write. But I can’t afford to take a week off from writing. Not if I want to “win” NaNo. Which is why I signed up for NaNoWriMo in the first place. I needed the deadline.

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November 6, 2021 - Days 3, 4, and 5

Saturday, November 06, 2021

I’m finding it hard to keep up this writing diary on a daily basis. After spending two hours split into four writing sprints, so it’s longer in real time than that, the last thing I want to do is more writing. Especially on days when it doesn’t go so well.

That describes Thursday, when I only got roughly 600 words. But they were new words, even if there weren’t many of them and even if they weren’t very good. Yesterday and today were better, with over 2,000 words each day.

I’ve found that I do best when I split my writing time into two sessions, one in the morning and one in the evening. Like my aging iPhone, my batteries don’t hold a charge as long as they used to. I need to do something in between, something that’s not writing.

I’m not sure whether I’ll write tomorrow or not. I usually make Sunday a day off because it’s good to have one day a week with no pressure. But I’d like to get ahead on my word count so that when the inevitable dry spell hits me later in the month, I’ll still stand a chance of completing 50,000 words. I’ll see what happens.

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November 3, 2021 - NaNoWriMo Day 3

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

 These are the kind of writing days I live for. After stumbling along for two days, I’m deep enough into the story to let my muse do most of the work.

I’d written a few paragraphs of the next scene yesterday, which I read this morning so I could pick up where I left off. It came to me that I’d started this scene too late, that there was something else that had to happen first. As soon as I started adding that to the beginning, Spooky, the cat showed up.

Who?

Spooky, the black cat.

You see, one of the reasons to start a new series with some of the same characters that my readers have loved in the past was to be more conscious of reader expectations for cozy mysteries. One of the things cozy readers love is a pet, preferably a cat. So this time, I introduced a black cat named Spooky early on. I even went back into my outline and stuck boxes for extra scenes that included the cat. But it’s much better when characters—human or feline—appear organically in the story.

I also found a way to include some of those character details in the new scene that I’d been attempting to jam into an earlier one. And they worked!

I used to have a note over my computer that said “See the movie.” Because when I get into a story, that’s basically what I do. The movie plays out in my head and I just type what happens. And rather than ticking off boxes for plot points or worrying whether I’ve planted a clue in the proper place, it’s sometimes good to remind myself to sit back and go along for the ride instead.

It doesn’t always happen, but the more I get involved in a story, the easier it is to get into the zone. Or, as I think of it, watch the movie.

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November 2, 2021 - NaNoWriMo Begins

After waiting eagerly for November 1st, I discovered that I was a little rusty at this writing thing. I struggled mightily on Day 1, taking a little over three hours to get just over 2,000 words. I wasn’t terribly happy about most of them, but the only way out is through (which is almost what Robert Frost said, who seems to be the originator of this expression). In other words, the only way to improve is to keep going, which is why I made myself do a second writing session on Monday to reach that 2,000 words.

It worked, because I liked the second thousand a lot better than the first. And I was rewarded with a little gem from my muse. It turns out one of the ranch hands is an expert at gun twirling. He’s the standard quirky character in a cozy mystery, but lacking for humorous dialogue for him in the first scene, I had to come up with something. (And it allowed me to watch a couple of YouTube videos of cowboys doing tricks with guns, thus avoiding some writing time.)

On Tuesday, I thought I’d do better because the next scene was plotted more thoroughly. But as I wrote, I realized I was tending to put way too much backstory in this scene. My task is to introduce all my suspects, give some indication as to why they might kill the victim, but not so much as to bore the reader. As a sure sign that I was not accomplishing this goal, I started to bore myself. Hmmm…

So I quit at 1100 words, intending to come back to the writing later, but I got caught up in the World Series game, then there was finally a new episode of The Curse of Oak Island, and I fell asleep watching TV, and… Well, you know the drill. One excuse after another.

Which is why I’m at my computer early on Wednesday. I’m 200 words behind by NaNo’s schedule, but more than that by mine, which includes Sundays off. So I need to get to the writing early this morning and put in the time to catch up.

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