Thursday, November 29, 2018

Book Titles and Some Personal Pitfalls

I often have a hard time getting started on a new manuscript without first coming up with at least a working title. Having a title makes it realer to me. I know the title of a Work in Progress (WIP) is always subject to change, but I've got to have a name for it while I'm working on it. I'm sure many other writers operate that way, too.

While my manuscript is still just a rough draft, the title can be anything. I've got one WIP  I'm calling "Lady Punisher" even though I know that will never be the final title. It simply reminds me that I intend to write a book that attempts, among other things, to gender-flip the popular Marvel comic book anti-hero, The Punisher.

The closer I get to publication, though, the more decided I become about settling on a viable title. Sometimes that title comes to me easily, and sometimes it's a frustrating process that involves making long lists of possibilities, many of which are quite bad. My first published novel was called Midnight Burning. I had submitted it to the publisher as "Midnight Sun" because the story was set in Alaska ("Land of the Midnight Sun") and featured twin siblings from Norse mythology who represented the Sun and the Moon. But alas, Stephenie Meyer (author of Twilight) had a rather notorious side project at the time called Midnight Sun in which the Twilight story was re-told from Edward's point of view.

Ultimately, my publisher and I decided we didn't want readers to draw assumptions about my novel based on Meyer's work, so we came up with a long and tedious list of alternatives before settling on the final. You'll find quite a few "Burning Midnight" titles (since Burning the Midnight Oil is a common phrase) but Midnight Burning is rather unique and original and conveys the idea I'd wanted to get across with the "Midnight Sun" idea. It also set the tone for the sequels as we decided to stick with the time-of-day themes: Arctic Dawn and Molten Dusk.

My next-to-be-released book is a YA Epic Steampunk Fantasy called Crown of Thunder (Releases next week on December 3rd! Pre-order now!). It's the third and final book in a trilogy (The Stormbourne Chronicles). I had decided on the titles before ever approaching the publisher with the first book. And when the publisher announced the series, all three titles were reported at that time: Heir of Thunder; Quest of Thunder, and Crown of Thunder.

The series documents the journey of young demi-goddess, Evie, as she grows from a naive heiress to a confident, powerful queen. The succession of titles was rather easy to determine because they demonstrated Evie's character arc. Also, "Heir of Something" is a common naming device in young adult fantasy, and I chose it intentionally to signal the genre and target audience.

But even after all the consideration I give to choosing titles, sometimes it's impossible to avoid sharing titles with other works. Just the other day, fellow ATB Blogger, Mary Fan, was discussing her latest read, a book called Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi. I'd been interested in the book, too, and while discussing it with Mary, she mentioned its upcoming sequel will be called, of all things, Crown of Thunder.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Oh well

So, it's a good thing, perhaps, that book titles can't be copyrighted, no matter how hard some authors (ahem... Cockygate) wish it were otherwise. It's actually a common thing in the publishing world for books to share titles. Without that flexibility, some of us would have run out of options for naming our books long ago.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Beavers, Bees, and Me

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
When I was in Boy Scouts we were working on a badge - I can't remember what it was, Citizenship in the Community or something like that - and our instructor posed us a question:

"When you have a project that needs to be done, who do you give it to?  The busiest person or the least busy person?"

As an adult reading this, you probably already know the answer, or at least have sussed out that it's a trick question.  Being twelve or thereabouts at the time, we naturally all agreed that the least busy person would have the time to handle whatever project you gave them to do.

"Wrong," our instructor explained, "it's unfair, but if you want it to get done, you give your project to the busiest person.  The least busy person isn't lacking in work, he's just not doing it.  The busiest person has figured out how to prioritize his work, so if you give it to him it'll actually get done.  If you give it to the least busy person, it'll just sit on his desk."

That's always stuck with me, but until recently I had never thought of myself as the busy person in that metaphor.  This past month, though?  I get it.  You could probably hand me the blueprints for an international space station and I'd figure out a way to get it done in my ever-dwindling spare time.

Here's what I've been up to since last you heard from me on October 29th:

1.)  Boring Day Job Project #1

Lest you think everything in my life is fun and games, I will bookend this list with just two of the notable issues that have come up for me at work.  The first, as briefly as possible, is that the bank we were working with for the last ten years lost the contract to work with us.  So, the short term nightmarescape of that is that I've spent the last month trying to oversee this horrifying bank changeover while making sure that no one is wanting for the supplies and equipment we provide them.  The long term horror is only just beginning.  The details would bore you to tears, but trust me, it's been awful.

2.)  Editing SKINWRAPPER

Earlier this year I had the good fortune to sell the Italian language rights for THE HEMATOPHAGES to Dunwich Edizioni.  In addition to that deal, Dunwich asked me for a marketing tool, either a short story or a novella, preferably in the HEMATOPHAGES universe.  Those of you who have read it know it has a bit of a definitive ending, so I proposed a prequel novella.  I managed to just barely finish the novella at the end of October, but I've been editing it ever since.  I wouldn't normally take a month to edit 20,000 words, but I've been interrupted by...  

3.)  NaNoWriMo!

Oh my God, has this been taking up my time.  I've even had to put the SKINWRAPPER edits which are on a soft deadline on the back burner for this.  So, normally I write a whole post analyzing my NaNo stats, but this year I'll be brief.  This is the closest I've ever come (I think) to my much dreamt about NaNoWriFoNi, in which I theoretically would finish 50,000 words in two weeks.  This year I finished on the 20th, which is still quite early for me.  It may actually have been a net positive to have SKINWRAPPER hanging over my head, because I consistently put in 3000-word days, and only once failed to meet par of 1667 words.  Every day I was trying to plow through so I could get some editing in.

Overall that means I was averaging about 2500 words a day for the days I was writing.  (This picture, which I pulled today, shows the average as though I were still writing.)

How about you?  How's your NaNo going?  Almost done?

3.)  Chessiecon

One of the reasons I always endeavor to finish NaNo at least a few days early is that Chessiecon comes at the end of November.  This year I appeared on ten (!) panels over the course of the weekend and at the mass signing.  The panels were such a whirlwind I'm having trouble distinguishing them in my mind now, but hopefully I got a fair amount of good advice out there to aspiring authors.  I also had the unique opportunity to have lunch/dinner with the legendary Scott Edelman, where he interviewed me for his podcast "Eating the Fantastic."  I think this came out splendidly and I'm really looking forward to sharing it with you guys.

5.)  Boring Day Job Project #2

Ugh.  The reason I bookended these two, although they've taken up a great deal of my time, is that they're terribly dull.  Next week I have an inspection.  No, not just an inspection, the inspection.  The massive inspection that only occurs every eighteen months.  So all month I have been pulling samples and trying to get people to update their training and complete the various dribs and drabs that should all have been done already.  This week is the final nose-to-the-grindstone ordeal.  Wish me luck!

What about you?  What have you been up to lately?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Art of Revision

By Cheryl Oreglia

What's behind me does not matter? I call bullshit. I'm looking in the rearview mirror of life and all I see are ghosts. I realize it's morbid, and this is supposed to be a holiday piece, but I have no idea how to get there. At first glance there is this annoying tug at my heart, okay it's more of a slam to the ground, knock the air out of my lungs kind of feeling, but I'm still conscious damn it. I come from hardy stock.

How is it possible that most of the people from my earliest memories are gone. Out. Away. Not lost, but departed, and their memory haunts me, as if noticing a hooded character in the backseat of your car, after driving for thirty minutes, in the dark. I want to slam on the brakes and run. Is anyone with me?

I've been forced to become a revisionist, a person with a revised attitude to a previously accepted situation, or point of view, and let me just say it's not my forte. The ability to revise is developmental, as if a child who learns the person playing next to them has the exact toy they want, they grab it away, and are rewarded by a satisfying howl. It's the howler who is forced to revise, as their situation has shifted, and the adjustment can be a retched experience. We are not particularly good at this until some time later in life, possibly in our mid-fifties, when it becomes an essential skill. Are you feeling the good cheer yet? No, good, then you're with me. 
“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.” Henry Green
This skill is not natural to me (nor is it moral) or fruitful I might add. Holidays are supposed to be set in stone, the table decorations come down from the rafters year after year, a little worst for the wear, but perfectly serviceable, the meal is fossilized, passed down from the pilgrims I believe (especially the crab fondue). We all have our spots at the table, except for an unexpected cousin, uncle, or friend who ends up at the auxiliary table, set up in the family room for the noisy group. I never considered revising a single thing. The same thinking, I might add, could be applied to my life.

When I'm working on a blog I sometimes find it difficult to get to the gist of the story, the pivotal moment, the climax. So I write, keep my fingers busy, while my mind searches for material in the medley of words. I'm not sure from whence I'm searching, snippets of pieces I've recently read, or more likely I'm appropriating someone's thoughts who is already dead. I get about ten sentences in before I start lamenting to myself. This is total shit. It's rather pathetic but as I've stated before, writing is a lonely endeavor, possibly psychotic in nature. 

So I methodically go back to the beginning, comb through the material until I'm happy, but still there is no point to the damn story, it languishes on truisms, leaving a trail on the page as if a snail working it's way across the driveway, but gets run over by my car. Not intentionally, you understand, but smashed all the same.

I keep at it, rewriting my life, expecting new results, until it happens, the unexpected, and I'm left howling in the corner over the loss. I look at the guy now holding my shiny toy, the guy with a God complex, and I start plotting my revenge. You know what I mean? I'll just live long enough for you to regret that move, or if I wait long enough you'll tire of this circumstance, and give me back what I want. My shiny red shoes. Stay with me, I'm about to bring it home, I promise. You can always skip to the end, save yourself some grief, but it's risky (that's a layered statement if there ever was one).
"Word processors make it possible for a writer to change the sentences that clearly need changing without having to retype the rest, but I believe that you can't always tell whether a sentence needs work until it rises up in revolt against your fingers as you retype it." Nora Ephron
I had to do some revisional work in 1983, the year I married. We were supposed to exchange vows in October, but that date got highjacked by our good friends, who secured some highly desired mansion for their wedding reception on the same date, and since my fiancé was in their wedding, we took the next available date for the church we wanted, and ended up wedded in late November, which landed us in Puerto Vallarta for our first Thanksgiving together. And by the way they don't celebrate the Indians and the Pilgrims in Mexico the way we do. That was a shocker.

This year, thirty-five years later, my husband is transporting me to Spain for Thanksgiving. Yes he is. This is due to a massive revision in my life which I have avoided as if the plague. I have a daughter, son, and three grandchildren celebrating Thanksgiving in Utah, another daughter slicing turkey with her beau in Boston, a son gathering with expats in Australia, and the youngest son I'm dragging with me come hell or high water. I've been madly revising my expectations of this holiday for weeks but I have no context as I've never been to Spain. With the slight advantage of age I realize I have more choices than I had in my twenties, when Thanksgiving in Mexico seemed noticeably off course, but now my children are scattered across the globe, and although new areas have opened up for me, I don't have to like it. Do I?

As a professional revisionist I'm assaulted by questions at night. What should I have done? What could I have done differently? If I had the chance to do it over again what would I change? Nora Ephron says, these are not only the questions that keep me awake but led me into fiction, which at the very least is a chance to rework the events in my life so that I have the illusion of being the intelligence at the center of it, simultaneously managing to slip in all the lines that occurred to me later. She says fiction is the ultimate shot at revision.  
“I've found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.” Don Roff
As I glance back in the rearview mirror, I'm not only reminded of all that has gone before me, but I'm forced to look forward through the windshield, albeit cracked in a few spots, I see a future (hazy from all the smoke in California), one that patiently awaits my revisions. Mirrors have a way of distorting images, things might appear closer than they are in reality, and that can be frightening. I exhort myself not to spend too much time thinking about how I might clarify this situation while life snatches up my favorite toys. 

The truth is I hope I'm somewhere in the middle of the road, because the older I get the more I don't want it to end, a road block or two is fine, but no sharp turns. What's behind me ends up being of great importance, it's the mold that shapes my future, the grist from which I've emerged. I'm holding tight to the idea, as long as I'm working on the beginning of this piece, the end remains unclaimed. 

Happy Thanksgiving from afar, here's to tamales, black beans, salsa, and an auxiliary table for the unexpected. 

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Seriously, Invest Time on Twitter

Okay, so in case you missed it, I have a new book out. If you're into horror and crime, please check out Coyote Songs. Now, like most indie writers, I have no machine behind me. I don't have an agent, a PR person, or a big press with money to spend on marketing. What I do have is Twitter. Yeah, I know it doesn't sound like much, but if you pay attention and put the time in, Twitter can be an excellent tool that could help you put your work in front of readers. Here are a few things you should do and/or keep in mind:

1. Twitter is unique 

Twitter's timeline is faster than any other. Things fly by and it's easy to miss a lot of things. That said, this also works in your favor because sharing a link twice per day on Facebook is different than sharing it four times on Twitter. The platforms operate differently, and that means that content on Twitter can be repeated without making people angry of boring them with the same content.

2. Retweets > shares 

I won't write a dissertation here on how Facebook strangles Amazon links unless you're paying to have them in front of users. What I will say is that Twitter doesn't seem to do that. Also, I don't have exact numbers, but if you compare the number of times people share a post of yours on other social media platforms and then look at the number of retweets you regularly get, the power of Twitter will become obvious. A single click. That's all it takes. In fact, I offer retweets every single week. I love doing it. You have a new book out? Let me retweet it. It takes less than a second and it lets me put books in front of eyes. If those people dig what they see and decided to do the same...well, that leads to number three.

3. The potential for organic growth is amazing 

I'm not saying you will go viral every week, but tweets have a tendency to get around more than posts on other platforms. Be witty, be funny, be engaging. Hell, in my case, I'm even political and inappropriate most of the time. Go ahead and call it pat of my brand if you're into that sort of thing. The point is that the ease with which folks can share your content on Twitter is almost unparalleled. Once something takes off, it grows exponentially and feeds on every retweet. There is no secret to this or a magic trick you can do, but the potential is there. Furthermore, content that has nothing to do with your book is the type of content that will get shared the most. That's just the nature of the beast. However, this gets you in front of people's eyes. This gets you seen and known. You get new followers. Users click on your name and go see your timeline. And the best part of it? It costs you absolutely nothing.

4. It's fun, not work

Writers with new books out are encouraged to write blog posts and do interviews, but at times (especially if you have one of two days jobs, kids, deadlines, and other responsibilities) this can feel like work. Twitter doesn't. It's right there on your phone and you can share words, links, photos, videos, and content from whoever you want throughout the day. It's fun, very interactive if you want it to be that way, and easy to do. 

5. It helps you build community 

Twitter is about community. It's about following others and sharing content yourself. It's about strengthening the writers around you and helping others because, although Dagon doesn't care about such small matters, a rising tide lifts all boats.

6. It's free

Yes, I know I mentioned it already, but it needs to be said again: it's free. There are too many predatory "review" sites charging authors for reviews (note: NEVER pay for a review). You can get on podcasts and blogs and websites, but you probably won't be able to do that every day. On the other hand, you can probably find scattered minutes throughout your day to be active on Twitter. Talk to people. Interact. Build your platform. Share a wide array of content. The time you will invest will feel like nothing compared to the benefits of learning how to use this tool. Now go and do it!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

NaNo Halfway Mark, FOMO and Why I Don't Join In

Today is November 15, which is the halfway point of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Who's participating???

(In case you've stumbled across this blog and have no idea what NaNo is - the basic premise is that you write 50K of your novel in a month. 50K isn't necessarily a full novel, but it's usually a really solid start and decent length for a first draft.)

If you are participating, in theory you're halfway through your novel. You've outlined it, of course, and this may be the time when it's veering from the outline and you're not sure where the story's going all of a sudden. If you're in the US, Thanksgiving next week looms large and even if you just plan on getting a turkey sandwich from Subway, you've still got Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday to distract you. 

In other words, unless you're committed, this is when you falter.

Which is one of the reasons why I don't participate.

For me, starting NaNo at the beginning of November is never the problem. It's keeping going through the end of the moth - through Thanksgiving and the start of Christmas preparation. Stockpiling those words in anticipation of days off never seems to happen and then suddenly it's the Sunday after Thanksgiving and I'm 6K behind. 

And about that daily word count goal. To reach 50K words in November, participants need to write 1667 words per day. That's about 6 pages, give or take. Not a lot. Not even a whole chapter in most cases. But Every. Single. Day.

Which is reason #2 I don't participate.

I normally don't write on the weekends. Could I do it for a month? Sure. But do I want to? That's the harder question and, based on the times I tried to NaNo in the past, the answer was a resounding no. I tried to stockpile words during the week but it seemed like the more I stressed about making my word count goal, the less the words would flow.

Which is reason #3 - and the biggest reason - I don't participate.

For me, having a daily word count goal works the exact opposite way it's supposed to. I look at the number of words I'm "supposed to" write and...I freeze. I'm lucky if I get 1/10th of those words in. And they're not good words. They're words to get something down on the page. Writing my last book I discovered sprints and THAT was magic for me. But daily word count goals, not so much.

That's not to say I don't look at the communities on social media talking about NaNo and not feel like I'm missing out. I do! I am! There are many amazing people who do NaNo every year and the peer cheerleading is so supportive. The FOMO is real! 

But I've also been writing long enough that I have a pretty good idea of what works for me and what doesn't. For me, NaNo is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If this is your first NaNo and you're feeling that way, too, don't despair. It could be that you're not a NaNo type of person. But - and this is an important but - it doesn't make you any less of a writer. Not one little bit.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Sequel Jitters

A post by Mary Fan
Last month, I put the finishing touches on WAYWARD STARS, the sequel to my YA sci-fi novel STARSWEPT, and sent advance copies off to bloggers and reviewers. And I’ve been spinning like a top ever since. One might think that sending out a sequel would be less nervousness-inducing, since the people who requested it presumably read and liked the first book (enough to want to find out what happens next, at least), and they’re already familiar with the world and the characters. So you’re basically giving your book to a crowd that’s already primed to like it.

On the other hand, the ghost of expectations is a terrifying thing. When I sent out the first book, it was a whole new thing for readers to discover, and though I was somewhat jittery, it felt different. It was “will they like this new thing I created?” With the sequel, on the other hand, I felt like I owed the people who’d stuck with me. And the nervousness became, “Is this good enough compared to the first book?”

A big part of the nervousness was due to the fact that WAYWARD STARS has a dramatically different tone from STARSWEPT. I like to think of it as being similar to how the bright optimism of the first STAR WARS movie, A NEW HOPE, gave way to the somber contemplation of its sequel, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. But of course, EMPIRE is legendary for a reason—not every sequel can pull it off. And I’ve been disappointed by enough crappy sequels to know how when they go wrong, they go REALLY wrong. Not only are they bad continuations, but they can actually ruin the first installment in one’s mind.

I didn’t mean to take my sequel in a more somber direction. Actually, when I conceived it, I was determined not to do that. When it comes to YA speculative fiction, the tone and general directions of series tend to follow a certain trajectory. Book 1: Clueless main character in a fascinating new world, discovering its (often dark, terrible) secrets alongside the reader, gets some fluffy, fun scenes but is slowly disillusioned. Book 2: Deal with the fallout from said (dark, terrible) secrets. No more fluffy fun. Book 3: Rise up and win the day, usually at great cost.

This isn’t a formula; this is basic story structure at play. It’s what we, at least in the Western storytelling culture, are primed to expect.

As a reader, I’m sometimes bummed out by Book 2 because I miss the fluffy fun of Book 1. So I was hoping, with WAYWARD STARS, to keep the fluff of STARSWEPT—with a focus on the competitive performing arts school stuff, as opposed to the sci-fi dystopia stuff. I had this whole concept for how I was going to do that, how I was going to spare my characters the gloom of a somber sequel. And… it didn’t work. Not at all. Not even a little bit. Because the fact is, this was a sci-fi dystopia against the backdrop of a performing arts school, not the other way around.

I had a lot of trouble writing WAYWARD STARS—so much that I wound up pantsing the entire second half because every time I tried to outline it, things just didn’t come together. I think it was because I kept trying to force it in one direction when the story wanted to go in another, and by pantsing, I was just going with the flow instead of trying to plan out contrived storylines.

Would readers accept the direction this sequel went in? Or would they be disappointed that it’s so different from the first book? Jitter, jitter, jitter.
It probably didn’t help that WAYWARD STARS is only the second Book 2 I’ve written, and, in a way, the first true continuation (with my Jane Colt space adventure trilogy, the books are more episodic). Though come to think of it, with the second Jane Colt book, I had a similar problem where I tried to force the sequel in one direction (even getting 30k words into 2 separate drafts) before realizing that the real story started in what was Chapter 15 or so in the outline. Maybe the lesson here is that I’ve got to stop trying to force my sequels.

Anyway, I’m happy with the version of WAYWARD STARS that eventually emerged, even though it wasn’t the book I originally imagined. And that’s good enough for me.

Have you written a sequel? Was it a continuation, or an episode? And were you jittery about it, or did it feel easier because it wasn't completely new?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The 'Write' Fit: Writers, personality, and process

Eek! I screwed up, hence why this post is coming to you late. It's two days post Election Day and my brain is entirely elsewhere. So I apologize. Also we had another mass shooting and my anxiety is through the roof, but I'm here. Because if it's one thing I hate, it's not showing up when I'm supposed to.
So Carrie's bullet journal post reminded me of something I wanted to write about. In Carrie's post she discussed how list-making helps her stay on track. It keeps her organized and focused. And I admire Carrie greatly because I always wanted to be the person who was organized. But you know what doesn't help me in the slightest? List making. Clearly, Carrie and I have two different personality types.

A year ago, hell, six months ago, I would've read about bullet journals and I'd have gone online to buy a fancy journal. I would've gotten excited about making lists, assuming that this system of organization would change my whole life. And then, I'd make a list only to freaking forget about it the very next day. And then I'd feel like garbage. Because as I've learned, I'm not a detail-oriented list maker. Carrie is. Kim is not.

You see over the summer, on the recommendation of several author friends, I took a class called Writer Better Faster. And despite the pithy title, this class is way more than simply learning one process to write better faster. This class, taught by the smart AF Becca Syme, doesn't instruct authors in some one-size-fits-all writing process. It teaches authors about themselves through personality and strength assessments to see what writing strategies will help them specifically. It is an eye-opener.

Most people have heard of the Myers-Briggs personality test. I don't want to get into the science on it, because I get overwhelmed with the details, but it basically boils us down into 16 personality types. (If you want to take a free test, you can google it, or you can click here). I took this test as part of the class, and I'm an ENFP. To be succinct, I'm an Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving.

So what does that have to do with writing? For example, I'm an extrovert (big surprise to anyone who knows me). I need to talk. And when I get stuck on a plot problem, I need to talk about it aloud with either another person, or to the wall. But either way, I need to verbalize my thought process. A mystery plot that I've brought to a convoluted halt? I need to tell my dog about it. Whereas an introvert needs quiet time to work it out internally, I need to break down things out loud.

I also discovered that one of my greatest strengths is adaptability. I can go with the flow. Plotting mysteries isn't something best left to pantsing, but as long as I know the killer and crime, I can find feel my way there. For so long, I have beaten myself up over having to rewrite my books at the 50K-word mark. Except this is something I've learned to accept is part of my process. It's not always efficient, but I get a better book when I've felt out the story.

Other things I've learned about myself:

I am not detail-oriented. I am a big picture kinda girl. This means that when I plot a mystery, I can nail down big plot turns, but small clues go by the wayside. On revision, I then need to insert those clues into the manuscript. A far easier task when the story is already done.

I work better in the morning. The early morning. When no one is awake and the coffee is all mine.

I can't do spreadsheets, and there is no point in keeping track of word counts.

And....I can't have the internet up while working. It has to be off. I can focus for chunks at a time if I'm in the zone. I often work at the library and don't request internet usage.

Also, I need quiet. Like a monastery quiet.

Perhaps you're thinking why would someone need a class to learn these things about themselves? Granted, I am oversimplifying a very nuanced approach to writing. But we assume so much about ourselves and then we read all these craft books that tell us, 'this is how you do it.' What works for some, doesn't work for others.

Anyway, if you can't afford to take a class, I suggest trying some of these online tests. See what they say. Then determine if you're setting yourself up for failure by trying to conform to a process that won't work for your brain.

Carrie's bullet journal keeps her focused. A 5am wake-up writing time works for me. What might work for you?

Monday, November 5, 2018

Getting Organized

Remember this post back in April? The one where I said I’d be done with my current WIP by the end of May? You may not be surprised to hear I didn’t make that goal. And exactly what I feared would happen did—we’re almost to the end of the year and I’m still not done.


There’s a whole host of reasons it’s still hanging over me, but the bottom line is I haven’t made it a priority. In fact, I haven’t made my writing a priority. Outside of my regular posts here on Across the Board, I can’t remember the last time I posted to my personal blog. And that’s okay because I quit my very well paid, secure job to spend time with my daughter and run our household. Writing was supposed to be the thing that kept me busy when I had nothing else to do. Well, the last few years I’ve had a lot of other things to focus on. Writing got pushed to the background.

Now I’m ready to bring it back to the front. I was ready in April, but what I quickly learned was that it had been so long since writing was my focus I didn’t know how to get organized around it.

Recently, my daughter started talking about bullet journals. She was annoying me with trying to find her a very specific kind of journal, so I finally Googled what this bullet journaling was all about. Here’s a link to the basic concept if you’re not familiar.

During my research, I got to thinking I could use this system for my writing, so I narrowed my research. The result was lots and lots of links out there with suggestions and tips on how to use bullet journals specifically for writing. There’s a short list at the bottom of this post, but if you’re interested I encourage you to do some of your own research. For example, you might want to research bullet journals for your specific genre. And for those of you doing NaNoWriMo, there are even layouts to help you organize your month of frenzied writing.

Over the weekend I ordered our journals (her’s will be a Christmas gift) and I started to brainstorm what I’d put in my writing journal. Below is what I’ve come up with so far. This may change once I get into the journal, but I like having an idea of where I’m going to start.

- 2019 Goals
- 2019 Memory Bank
- Habit Tracker (writing/editing/exercise)
- Word Counts
- Reading Challenges (yearly/quarterly)
- To Be Read (monthly)
- Book Ideas
- Blogging (dates/topics)
- Collections: one for each book to include plot outline, characters, setting, beta/critique group feedback, plot holes, ideas, titles, cover ideas, etc.
- Book Promotion
- Querying and Submissions

I’m already tracking some of this, but it’s all in separate locations such as Word files, printouts, Excel files, and notebooks. One of the standard items in a bullet journal I dont plan to incorporate is the monthly/weekly calendar. I have another calendar I use that Ill keep. That calendar gets bogged down with all my mom/home responsibilities and I don't want to mix all that in with my writing life. Thats how I let it get to the back burner in the first place.

I’m hoping that having a specific bullet journal for my writing will keep it in front of me and help me make it a priority. And besides, Im addicted to journals (remember this post?), so I loved having a reason to buy yet another one. I’m planning now so I can be ready to hit 2019 running. Ill update you in a later post once Ive been using it for a while. I should note that if you do some research on bullet journals youll find that some can be really creative and involved. I plan to start simple. I dont need this to be yet another distraction to my writing by spending all my time creating ornate pages...

Oh—and Im getting a new laptop soon. I really will have NO excuses for not getting back to a regular writing schedule. Its time to make it my job again, and not just my hobby.

Have any of you used a bullet journal for your writing? If so, what has worked for you? Any tips or advice?

Helpful links:

~ Carrie

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Dystopian Reminder of the Importance of Voting
I'll confess that internally, I'm probably smug about a lot of the things I do, but I have the sense to keep my smugness to myself. But in this instance, I'm going to let my self-satisfaction shine brightly.

I voted early last week and I'm proud of it.

I think all Americans should vote early too. But if you're a procrastinator (which I usually am) then at least get out and vote on Tuesday, November 6th, which is the official and final day to vote in these mid-term elections.

Voting, if you can't tell, is something I'm passionate about. I think it's a right too many people take for granted. So in that line of thought, I put together my top ten list of dystopian novels to remind us of what the world looks like when democracy ceases to exist. Miriam Webster's definition of dystopia is: 

an imaginary place where people are unhappy and usually afraid because they are not treated fairly

It's not such a stretch, anymore, to think of a dystopia being real and not so "imaginary". We don't want to live in that world, and one of the best, easiest, and cheapest ways to fight against that reality is to get out and vote.

#10 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.

#9 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Hundreds of years in the future, the World Controllers have created an ideal civilization. Its members, shaped by genetic engineering and behavioral conditioning, are productive and content in roles they have been assigned at conception. Government-sanctioned drugs and recreational sex ensure that everyone is a happy, unquestioning consumer; messy emotions have been anesthetized and private attachments are considered obscene. Only Bernard Marx is discontented, developing an unnatural desire for solitude and a distaste for compulsory promiscuity. When he brings back a young man from one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old unenlightened ways still continue, he unleashes a dramatic clash of cultures that will force him to consider whether freedom, dignity, and individuality are worth suffering for.

#8 Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

Player Piano is set in the near future, after a third world war. While most Americans were fighting overseas, the nation's managers and engineers faced a depleted workforce and responded by developing ingenious automated systems that allowed the factories to operate with only a few workers. The widespread mechanization creates conflict between the wealthy upper class, the engineers and managers, who keep society running, and the lower class, whose skills and purpose in society have been replaced by machines.
The bifurcation of the population is represented by the division of Ilium, New York into "The Homestead," where every person not a manager or an engineer lives, and the other side of the river, where all the engineers and the managers live.

#7 We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

We is set into the far-flung future well after a war that had lasted two-hundred years.
D-503 lives in the One State, a lone city constructed almost entirely of glass so that the State can keep an eye on the citizens at all times.
Life is organized by the hour in order to maximum proficiency and maximum output from every inhabitant. People walk in step with each other and wear identical clothing with badges with their numbers/names for easy identification by the States agents.
'I' is not allowed. Only 'We' exists.
People do not have names, they have a serial number.
A permit is needed for times to have intimate relationships in order to lower the shades on the glass buildings the city is composed of.
There is total surveillance of every person.

While the final work to put the One State not only as an Earthbound government but to make it an interstellar one as well, D-503 begins to live a life of rebellion and secrets.
He is in a fight against time as the One State has developed a procedure to eliminate Imagination in order to make all the people of the One State more efficient and less distracted.

#6 When she Woke by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke, tells the story of a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed—their skin color is genetically altered to match the class of their crimes—and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder.

In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.

 #5 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

#4 Never Let Me Go by Kazo Ishiguro

Human clones are created so that they can donate their organs as young adults. The novel follows the life story of Kathy, a clone who is raised at a boarding school for future “donors.”

#3 Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, war, and chronic shortages of water, gasoline, and more. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is facing apocalypse. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

#2 Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...

#1 1984 by George Orwell

"The novel is set in an imaginary future world that is dominated by three perpetually warring totalitarian police states. The book's hero, Winston Smith, is a minor party functionary in one of these states. His longing for truth and decency leads him to secretly rebel against the government. Smith has a love affair with a like-minded woman, but they are both arrested by the Thought Police. The ensuing imprisonment, torture, and reeducation of Smith are intended not merely to break him physically or make him submit but to root out his independent mental existence and his spiritual dignity. Orwell's warning of the dangers of totalitarianism made a deep impression on his contemporaries and upon subsequent readers, and the book's title and many of its coinages, such as NEWSPEAK, became bywords for modern political abuses." -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
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