April 27, 2022 - The Reset

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

While working on The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle this month, I found myself repeating a pattern. A not very satisfactory pattern. I had set up a production schedule for this book, like I usually do, by working backwards from my desired release date. I then work backwards from there, putting in dates for formatting the book, proofreading, revisions based on beta reader feedback, date to get the book to beta readers, dates to finish revisions, and finally, dates left for writing. I then calculate word count goals based on how many words I want to be in the book (usually 50-60,000) divided by the number of writing days. Most of the time, I’ll realize my schedule is too ambitious and have to change the release date and rework all the rest to give me a reasonable number of words to write each day.

What has happened every single time (except for the first books I wrote when I didn’t have the concept of deadlines) is that I almost immediately fall behind. Plotting, research, character development, and writing all take a lot longer than I planned for. I react by doing two opposite things: writing for more hours than I’m comfortable with on some days and not writing at all on others because I’m sick of spending all my time sitting at my computer. Meanwhile, other things, like blogging, writing newsletters, advertising, designing covers, etc., don’t get done either.

So at the beginning of last week, I spent significant time thinking about what I wanted from my writing. That quickly became a broader question: What do I want from my life? And, after much soul-searching and prayer, I knew what I wanted in my life was Balance. I’ve already put in 60-70 hours a week when I had a day job. I don’t really want to spend my “retirement” working that way.

That was all well and good, but I didn’t change my habits. I was still largely driven by word count goals. It was only yesterday that I realized that instead of budgeting how many words I would write every day, I would budget my time and track how many hours I spent writing. In other words, I’m going to try to use what Elana Johnson calls “time blocks.” I’ll spend two hours per day writing (which also includes planning, research, “cycling”, and whatever else goes into making a story) and when the two hours are up, I’m done with writing for the day no matter how many—or how few—words I’ve written.

I’ll next take a break, then attack a different task, like updating my website, allowing a specific amount of time for that and then, when the time is up, stop. If I’ve only completed half of what I wanted to do in that time, so be it. Because if I get hung up on finishing every task on my list no matter how long it takes, I’ll need forty-eight hour days. And at my age, time is precious.

If I do this right, instead of being behind on everything, I mean seriously behind because I haven’t even started some tasks that are past their deadline, I’ll at least have made some progress on most, if not all, of them.

So The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle probably won’t be published in June. And it will take longer for me to publish the second book in my Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. But I’m not going to worry about that for now. I’m going to try not to fume and fret over my writing and try to enjoy it again instead.

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April 14, 2022 - Writing Styles

Thursday, April 14, 2022

No, I don’t mean the style of language an author uses, although that might be an interesting topic. I do know that my Shipwreck Point Mysteries are written in a style reminiscent of the time period in which they occur (longer sentences, vocabulary choices, etc.), while my mysteries featuring Lilliana are much more casual in language and structure.

What I’m talking about is the style in which each author constructs their writing. Or they way they practice their craft.

Maybe it’s because I began seriously writing novels during National Novel Writing Month, which focuses on getting a specific word count each day, but for years that’s how I wrote my novels. I bought into the outline, write a rough first draft, revise, hand it to beta readers, revise again based on their feedback, edit for grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc., and proofread process, sometimes with multiple revisions before moving on to the next step.

But recently, I’m trying more of Dean Wesley Smith’s method of writing fiction. First of all, no outline in advance. Now, he says no planning, just start typing, but I’m not ready to do that yet. I have my victim, my primary suspect, the killer, other suspects, a motive, method, and setting for the murder before I begin. Otherwise, I haven’t got a clue how to start. But the only actual scene I probably have in my head is the “Aha!” moment when the sleuth figures out who did it. But not always.

And then I start writing the story, doing what Dean calls writing a clean first draft. In method one, where number of words in a time period is what you’re aiming for, if you need a new character, you type in XXX as a placeholder for that character’s name and keep going. It’s in the revision stage that you actually name the character and flesh out the details. In writing a clean first draft, you stop right there and figure out the name, and if you’re me, pick out a picture of what that character looks like, and maybe some basic characteristics. If you need to do some research, say as to whether a word was in use in 1895, rather than scribbling a note to check that later, you stop and look it up immediately. If you stumble over a plot hole, instead of making another note to fix the plot hole in revision, you cycle back, plug the hole, then keep writing forward.

That “cycling” is a big part of writing a clean first draft. You start each day by rereading what you wrote the day before, correcting typos, changing wording, adding some sentences or phrases to make the writing clearer, etc. If you get stuck in the story, you cycle back and find where the story went astray, fix that, add or delete as necessary, then continue where you left off.

I’m finding this method a lot more satisfying than leaving a bunch of Xs and notes and a big mess that has to be torn apart a couple of months later. I’m not getting as many words written on a daily basis as I used to, but I think they’re better words. And the class I took with Dean Wesley Smith where I tracked the time taken to do it both ways proved to me that the first way wasn’t any faster than the second. In fact, it often took longer because I’d forgotten what I’d meant to write the first time and had to figure that out before I could proceed.

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April 4, 2022 - So Many Stories, So Little Time

Monday, April 04, 2022

I used to be one of those who wondered where writers got their ideas. It seemed to me it took a lot of work to come up with something worthy of the time and effort to write it.

I still think it’s harder than the blithe statement of some authors that they have ideas all the time. I don’t. But it doesn’t take that many before you have too many to ever write the stories that go with them.

You see, an idea for a story can be just a little thing. Sometimes it’s a setting. For instance, for the past few weeks my mailbox has been filled with solicitations from Arizona non-profit organizations. There’s a special Arizona tax credit for non-profit donations, and you can take it up until filing day rather than having to give the money during the past year. One of those solicitations was from Tohono Chul Park, one of my favorite places in Tucson. And I thought it would make a perfect place for a murder. Originally, I was thinking about a story set at the Botanical Gardens, but it doesn’t have the off-the-beaten-track paths that Tohono Chul does. And as I was thinking about that story, I wished there was a way to have the murder happen at night.

Wait! There is. On one night a year, Tohono Chul is open so people can see the Night Blooming Cereus, a flower that blooms for only one night. The park is very dark at night. There are no lights on most of the paths and you’re cautioned to bring a flashlight so you can see where you’re going. And even better, the Night Blooming Cereus has another name: Queen of the Night. Doesn’t that just give you chills?

Okay, that’s all I’ve got so far, but it’s the kind of idea that even with very little else, I know I want to write.

And then this morning, I was reading through a Kickstarter campaign and trying to figure out whether I wanted to support it or not. This is another one by Dean Wesley Smith, and it’s ostensibly for the next book in his Seeders Universe series, but it’s really a way to encourage people to sign up for his classes. You see, the stretch goals also include getting classes that run for $150-$300 each for only $45 pledged to the Kickstarter. Now, I don’t write science fiction, but the class names all got me thinking that I’d like to. I used to read nothing but SF in my teens and early twenties, and it would be a change of pace from mystery. I was “this close” to donating the money, but when I tried, I couldn’t. The deadline to pledge was over the weekend. My bad.

But I’m still thinking about a science fiction series. I’ve got a bunch of Michio Kaku books, many of which I haven’t read yet, that I know will generate about a million story ideas if I open them up. I mean, how could a book with the title Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel not give you a hundred all on its own?

Which brings up one of my problems. I need to read more to branch out into science fiction or revisit that western/romance/adventure/family saga series I started a couple of years ago. Now, I love research, but I also have to keep publishing books to keep the royalties coming in. And that means writing more of what I’ve already started, not cuddling up with a library of books to read.

Anyway, I finished my words on The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle today, and now I’ve done my writing diary blog entry, so I should get to some of that reading. Until next time.

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