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Words Like Raindrops – Revisited

So I was sitting around yesterday having a really bad day, trying to recapture the feeling of something that would make me happy again. I was at work, and all around me I heard the sound of typing. Not only did it settle me, it reminded me of this blog post that I originally wrote more than three years ago. I thought I’d resurrect it today for you….

My mom, very little brother, and me

My mom, very little brother, and me

Last week in my blog about Goals, Guilt, and Writer’s Remorse I mentioned that I have a daily word count goal of 2000 words. To me that seems like a modest goal, but I had a few comments from people about how amazing it was that I could write that much in one day. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, trying to get a handle on what it is about words that allows some people to be more speedy or prolific than others. I’m sure there are a thousand different answers to that question, as many answers as there are writers, in fact. But one of the conclusions I came to involves an old fashioned skill that I was forced to learn in eight grade: typing.

To me the fascination of typing began in a deep, emotional part of my childhood. My Mom was a secretary. Old school secretary. She was also a single mother raising two kids without a lot of money. There were times when I had to hang out in her office until she could take me home or find someone to watch me. This was, of course, made a thousand times easier by the fact that she was the secretary of the elementary school that my brother and I attended. Hanging out in her office was what a bunch of kids did while waiting for their parents. I, of course, loved it. Most of all I loved and was fascinated by the sound of her typing.

My Mom typed like the wind. She typed like the rain. This was the mid-80s we’re talking about. She had one of those old electric typewriters with a ball of letters thing in it. The sharp drumming of words being struck onto paper at a thousand miles per hour filled me with a sense of peace and amazement in a world that was shifting under my feet. Sometimes I would stand where I could watch the letters spilling out through the raindrops of keystrokes just to see the miracle of words being created. As technology advanced she moved to a word processor and one of the old clicky keyboards, but somehow the magic continued. My Mom could produce words as fast as I could read them.

© Photocritical | Dreamstime.com

© Photocritical | Dreamstime.com

That was the key. I used to insist on writing all of my stories with pen in a notebook. My handwriting deteriorated the longer and faster I wrote, but I was convinced that it was the only way to keep the flow. Because I couldn’t type for beans. Well, eventually I reached the point where I knew that wasn’t going to cut it. I had to learn to type like my Mom. I had seriously old fashioned typing classes using manual typewriters that looked and smelled like they came from the 1960s when I was in eighth grade, but it wasn’t until I was in college really that I got serious about typing.

Mario taught me to type. I was working as a teacher’s aide in the special ed department of my old high school. We had a Mario typing program that we had the kids use when they had some free time. I took the discs home after school for a while and buckled down. The idea of the program was that you, as Mario, had to hit the right letters or numbers to defeat the bad mushrooms, or whatever they were, that came at you with increasing speed. At least I think that’s how it worked. I played that game for hours! And I got really good at hitting the right key without looking at the keyboard. I did not, however, learn to hit the right keys with the right fingers. To this day if a typing purist were to watch my hands while I type they would probably have a coronary. But it gets the job done.

I can now type at the speed of my thoughts. Well, maybe not that fast, but pretty close. Certainly far faster than I can write things out by hand. It comes in incredibly handy when I’m in the throes of a particularly deep scene. There are times when I start typing so fast, when the ideas and images and dialog are coming so fast, that I forget I’m even typing. I’m just creating. I also have Word set to auto-correct all of my typical stupid misspellings. So off I go, thoughts spilling out onto paper at miracle speed!

My Mom passed away ten years ago this last April after an eight year battle with breast cancer. I will never be able to type as fast as she could. But when I sit down at my computer with my relatively soft and quiet keyboard and really get going I can feel a hint of her and her rainstorm typing. The sound of my keys reminds me of her, just like the image in the mirror as I get older bears more and more of a resemblance to her. She didn’t live long enough to see my silly scribblings turn into pages and books that people actually want to buy. But I know that she’s proud of me nonetheless, sitting up in Heaven typing miracle words like raindrops.

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Goals and Schedules

TrailofHope_3DLet me tell you about my writing/publishing schedule for the next six months. I have plans. Ambitious plans. I have the second book in my Hot on the Trail series, Trail of Hope, coming out this month on the 24th. The third book, Trail of Longing, is coming out January 5th, the fourth, Trail of Dreams on February 16th. After that, I plan to start interspersing another, contemporary romance project, bringing the first book in that series out around March 23rd or 30th, then the fifth book in the Hot on the Trail series, Trail of Destiny, at the end of April, and the second book in the contemporary series at the end of May.

I hear you. You’re saying, “Are you crazy woman?” And yes, well, the answer to that is probably “Yepper!” The more important thing to look at, however, is the way I’ve set goals and given myself a schedule.

I do my best work and produce the most when I’ve squeezed myself into a time frame for production. Back in the days before I got serious about my writing and before I learned about self-publishing (and knew that was the path for me), I would just write whenever I felt like it. If inspiration struck, I would knuckle down and play with stories for however long it took to entertain myself. The problem is, I never finished anything. I’d get bored with the story at hand, especially when I got stuck, and then I’d go play the Sims or something.

The key that enabled me to switch gears from being a hobbiest to a dedicated, professional writer was getting organized. Learning in depth about the craft, particularly story structure, was the first step to knowing exactly what I wanted to put on paper. But it wasn’t until I set myself time limits for production, also known as a schedule, that I was able to really get going in the direction I wanted to go.

Nothing pushes you to finish a book like a deadline. That’s one of the reasons I love NaNoWriMo so much. NaNo forces you to work with constraints. You’d think that, as an artist, freedom would be the key to success, but actually, it’s scheduling. When you have a date by which you absolutely have to get the first draft finished—or more importantly, a date by which you absolutely have to get that polished draft to an editor who you are paying to make it even better—you get to work.

salvador-dali-melting-clocksWorking with an editor for the first time opened my eyes and changed so many things about my writing. When you’re dealing with a firm deadline set by someone else, it forces you to be highly productive. But what about when you’re trying to self-motivate to get the job done? That’s when keeping a calendar by your writing space comes in very handy. Plan out your time. Think about when you need to get things to that editor, but also when you need to hand the book off to beta-readers. Think about how much time you will need for revisions once you get your baby back from the editor. Plan for having a couple of weeks for reviewers to look at the ARC. And if you’re going to put your book up for pre-order, well, Amazon requires you to have the final version locked ten days before release. You need to plan for that too.

If this all sounds daunting and terrifying, it doesn’t have to be. All of these milestones along the way to clicking “publish” are markers that can help you plan how you should time your writing process. They can give you a sense of just how long you’ll need to complete a project. Once you know that, you can work backwards to write a schedule that will keep you honest, so to speak, as you write. It’s like NaNo on a giant scale. Once you get organized for one project, you can start layering others on top of that. We all know (or think we know) how Amazon’s discovery algorithms work, and since that means you need to have a new release every 90 days, you can now plan for that.

Secretly, my goal for 2015 is to publish a book a month… or at least every 6 weeks. I think I can do that because of this amazing new outlining technique of Patti Larsen’s I’ve adopted. Barring that the only way I’ll be able to keep on that kind of straight and narrow is by scheduling everything. The good news is, I’m already ahead of schedule.

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How Should Writers Treat Each Other?

Me with my new friend, fellow author Mary Driver-Thiel

Me with my new friend, fellow author Mary Driver-Thiel

I want to take a brief moment to talk about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately, something that’s very close to my heart. I’m not going to change the world with this one, but it’s something I feel like I have to say.

Publishing is weird, yo. Something changed this summer, and now it seems like it’s that much harder for a little old self-published historical romance writer to catch a break. I’ve heard similar things from my friends, many of whom are having a hard time where once before they weren’t. There’s been a lot of distress in the writer community.

But I’ve seen something else in the writer community lately, something I really like. I’ve seen a lot of authors coming together to help each other. This helping is far more than promoting each other on our pages or sending tweets or announcements to our followers. It goes way beyond sharing strategies for promotion or recommendations for designers and editors. That all goes on too, and it’s a great thing.

There’s another side of that too, though, if I might interrupt my own thought with another side thought. Lately I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing from authors hard hit by whatever sales slump we’re all sharing in. I’ve heard a lot of lamentations about finding new readers and whether Amazon is out to get us all or whether self-publishing is all it’s cracked up to be. This kind of worried talk makes me sad. I want to make a living off of my writing as much as the next writer. More in fact, if the minor meltdown I had at my day job last week is any indication. But sometimes I think we forget why we all started writing in the first place.

At its heart, writing is not about running small businesses. Granted, writing IS running a small business, but that’s not why we all got involved in it to begin with. Writing is a passion. It’s something we do with our hearts. We got into writing because we love it. We love the characters, the craft, the words, and we love each other.

800px-Albert_Anker_(1831-1910),_Schreibunterricht,_1865__Oil_on_canvasAt least, if we’re doing it right, we love each other.

I see a lot of authors who get top marks in helping each other out. And I’m not talking about the promo posts and guest blog appearances and all that (even though those things are nice). Nothing makes me happier than to see authors truly being each other’s biggest supporters. I’m fortunate enough to be part of a couple of overlapping circles of brilliant writers who not only give each other tips and clues when it comes to the business and craft of writing, but who are always there with a shoulder to cry on or an ear to rant at, or even someone to rejoice in success with.

THIS is how we writers should be treating each other. It’s hard enough to engage in a profession that is uncertain on its good days and cutthroat on its worst. We need to be there for each other as comrades in arms. Few people in our real worlds can understand what we do, what the dedication and the focus and the sacrifice is all about. But we understand each other because we’re in the same boat. Nothing gives me more joy than having another writer bounce ideas off of me or come to me when they’re feeling down. Just like nothing picks me up out of the mud faster than talking to another writer about the things that really move me. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to come away with more story ideas than I started with once I get started talking to a fellow writer, but that’s a good thing.

So writers, get out there and help your peers! Help them as a friend going through the same thing would help another friend. I say that there is a time to expect promotion from each other, but that time is far, far eclipsed by the time we need to just be with each other, to listen and to talk. We are all in this together, so let’s give each other the love and support we all need.

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A Pioneer Hearts Exclusive!

It’s Friday, and usually I post something about writing on Fridays, but today I’m super privileged to be a part of this absolutely wonderful group of writers who are bringing you a deal and a steal!

I’m so happy to announce the first ever Pioneer Hearts 99c Western Romance Event!

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This sale includes dozens of books for your Kindle, and a selection for your Nook or iBooks libraries, as well. And you know what else is fun? You can win some pretty snazzy prizes! Yes, that’s right, PRIZES!

Take this opportunity to discover your new favorite author….

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Want to win one of two $10 Amazon gift cards? Share our sale and follow our authors! You could also win signed books, a beautiful turquoise pendant necklace (voted a favorite by the Pioneer Hearts Readers Group!), and more! See Rafflecopter here and win!

See Nook links here

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Outlining Revisited

Girl-writing-brightSo I mentioned before that I’ve been attempting a whole new process of outlining stories as I write them. Yep. I, Merry Farmer, have been consciously changing myself into a plotter. Or at least giving it a try. I’ve been using Patti Larsen’s method of outlining to see if it can help me to write quickly and more efficiently. Well, I’ve finished the first draft of the first book I’ve completed using her method, and here are my thoughts.

When I started the process, I was skeptical. Way back in the day, I considered myself a pantser. I liked to discover my stories as they went along, writing each chapter like it was the next episode in a tv series that I was eagerly following. The other pantsers out there can appreciate this, I’m sure. Then I started thinking a little bit into the future with my stories. I would know what the endpoint was before I started and a few mile markers along the way. In between writing, I would spend a lot of time writing notes that I used as a sort of compass to figure out where I’d been and where I was going. Once I started writing like that, I called myself a ‘plantser’, because I was both plotting and pantsing.

So there I was, diving into Patti’s outlining methods. I liked the first couple of lessons okay, but I kept a skeptical distance. The worksheet was helpful for me to figure out those major points in the story that I had already incorporated into my plantsing methods. So far so good, but I wasn’t sold. Then came a lot of work. And yes, I balked. That voice in my brain kept insisting that these steps I was taking weren’t a natural part of my writing process, that trying something new was slow going. The thing is, a lot of what I was doing WAS part of my process as it has developed, it was just that Patti’s method organized things.

There were a few points in those difficult middle lessons when my writer brain’s lightbulb went off and I thought “Hey! This is a good idea!” But interspersed with those moments was harsh resistance and good old fashioned stubbornness. I don’t like to try new things. I was incredibly skeptical about the cards…especially how many of them I ended up with.

And then the magic happened. I went from the card state to the writing the outline itself stage, and suddenly an entire book flowed out from all of the tedious, hard work I’d done. That’s when I began to suspect that I might become a believer. I cracked my knuckles, wiggled my fingers over the keyboard, and then dove into the actual writing of the first draft.

488px-Adolf_Eberle_Der_gelunge_BriefMagic, my friends. MAGIC. Previously, it would take me about a month to six weeks to write a first draft. Some of my books involved me changing my mind about the plot halfway through, then needing to rewrite the first half of the book. Using Patti’s method, it took me less than three weeks to finish a 70k word first draft. And I suspect that I will spend less time revising and reworking it because I already smoothed out a lot of plot bumps in the planning process.

Sure, there are some things about my original outline that I ended up changing for one reason or another, but very few compared to the changes I would go through using my old method. I have a couple of inconsistencies to iron out that I hadn’t planned for in the beginning, but I have a lot of time left to do that before publication. In short, by outlining the book in its entirety before I started, I made the actual work of writing much easier.

I think I’m sold on this whole outlining thing. I still need to try the method on a few more books, maybe alter it a little to fit my brain and my working style, but my conclusion is that if your aim is to write faster so that you can get all of the ideas stuck in your head out before you turn 100, this is the way to do it. For me, this has revolutionized the way I write.

I’m not sure that this method or any method of outlining would work for everybody. Different brains work differently and all writers have different processes that work for them. One reason why I think this is such a good fit for me is because I already have a billion story ideas whirling around in my head and I need some way to get them out as quickly as possible. If you’re the type who has a few cherished stories that you want to love and nurture into the world in good time, this might not be the thing for you. I love it.

Have you tried any methods of outlining that work for you? If you’re a pantser, what is it about pantsing that appeals to you?

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Like what you’ve read? I love the fact that you read it! I’ve got more for you too. Sign up for my quarterly newsletter to receive special content, sneak-peeks, and treats that only subscribers are privy to. And thank you!