Tag Archive | writing tools

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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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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The following story is a cautionary tale. It’s a cringe-worthy true story that is basically me offering advice about writing couched in telling tales on myself. There are a few morals to this story. One is “Do your research before you start writing.” The other is “Follow your writer’s heart.” Here it is.

11-26-13 © vsurkov | istockphoto.com

11-26-13 © vsurkov | istockphoto.com

So. Historical Romance and Science Fiction, right? Those are the things I write. I love all of it. I particularly love the stories that have been rolling around in my mind for years now. This summer I finally published the first two books in my Grace’s Moon sci-fi series. Yay! I’ve had those stories in me for years. I actually have a major portion of the entire history of that world in my head. Fun stuff.

This month I’ve been writing the third book in the series. It involves the children of the main characters from the first two books, particularly Grace’s son, Grayson (see what I did there?). A major focal point of the third book—in fact, the central object and plot device that provides the core of the action, the climax of the book, and all of the intent from the beginning of the story through to the last word—is the discovery and rescue of a massive spaceship that has sunk to the bottom of a lake.

Okay, so giant spaceship (capable of transporting a thousand people), a great big lake, and people trapped but still alive in the ship eighteen years after it sank. Very cool, right?

Aaaaand this is why you should do your research before you start writing a book. When I got to about 65,000 words of what was shaping up to be a 75,000 first draft, while Grayson and his buddies were devising and carrying out all sorts of plans to dive to the ship and discover the keys to a lot of plot threads and motivators, it dawned on me that I should probably Google the question “How deep can you dive without any equipment?”

The answer? Your average human who has not trained as a diver can only go down about 15 feet before the pressure becomes painful. (Although the record for free diving is about 600 feet, which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it) Translation? There is no way my characters could dive deep enough to reach, let alone rescue, a submerged spaceship. And there is no way I could place the ship in a shallow location without bringing up questions of why its inhabitants haven’t tried to get out on their own.

So basically, I have to not only rewrite almost the entire book, I have to reconceptualize just about everything about the external plot in order to make it work. I’m working on it. I’ve got a few vague ideas, but this opened a giant can of worms for me.

Research is one of the most fun parts of writing, but as I’ve just learned, the time to research technical questions that you know you’re going to run into is before you start. Now, I knew that you can’t dive particularly deep without equipment. The thing is, I didn’t realize it was THAT hard to dive. But when you’re researching, sometimes it’s hard to grasp what you don’t know that you don’t know. I’m beginning to think I (you?) need to create a spreadsheet or a list of possible technical questions that I have before I start the drafting process.

And now we come to the second moral of the story.

Now, I hate it when things that people have told me for years turn out to be true. I want to be iconoclastic and buck the system so badly. Maybe it’s hubris, but there’s that part of me that wants to be the exception to the rule. In this case, it’s all about the challenges and pitfalls of writing outside of your genre.

10-25-11 © John_Brueske | istockphoto.com

10-25-11 © John_Brueske | istockphoto.com

So as I finished publishing Saving Grace and Fallen from Grace and geared up to write book three, something unexpected and wonderful happened to me. I met a bunch of really great fellow western historical romance writers. Not just met them, I was accepted into the fold of both writers and superfans of the subgenre. I’m actually going to be part of a box set called Wild Western Women this fall! (You heard it first here!) I am totally in the western historical romance zone right now. And I had a miraculous brain-flash for a series set along the Oregon Trail in the midst of all this. We’re talking a half dozen specific romance stories and subsequent characters showing up in my head at the same time singing halleluiah.

At the same time that my sci-fi story was experiencing utter breakdown.

My heart said, “Hey, let’s set the sci-fi aside for a few months and work on this really cool western historical idea!” My head replied, “Dude, that sounds a little too much like quitting for my comfort.” But then my heart said, “You’re supposed to write what you love, though, right?” And my stubborn head said, “I love Grace’s Moon too.” And my heart countered with, “Yes, but your fans are primarily in historical romance, you are hot in historical romance right now, and odds are that you’ll sell more historical romance than you will sci-fi.”

I asked some friends, writers and non-writers. The response was pretty much unanimous. Set the sci-fi aside and work on the western historical romance. Listen to your heart.”

So what have I learned from this nails-on-the-chalkboard painful reversal of the momentum I’ve been trying to build all summer? What advice can I share coming out of the situation? Write the books you want to write, but put things into perspective as you write. If your goal is to publish the books you’ve always wanted to publish without any care for reception or income, then work on whatever feels right. If you want to write for both yourself and the readers you already have and/or if you’re hoping to generate income from your writing, consider directing your efforts to the tastes of the fans you’ve developed.

And above all else, strike while the iron is hot. If someone hands you a hot iron, you’d be a fool not to strike it.

So write on! (But research first) And don’t make the same mistakes I did.


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Quantity of Success

elevator to successThere have been a whole bunch of really great articles about the capacity for success in self-publishing that exists these days, including this cool one from Yahoo! Finance yesterday. I love hearing about other self-publishing authors who are doing ridiculously well. I love seeing my fellow writers achieve amazing things. My friend Sandra Owens’s new book Crazy for Her is on the Amazon Top 10 of all books right now!  It’s a really exciting time to be a part of the publishing world, let me tell you, especially with friends who are bestsellers and shooting stars.

Meanwhile, back on earth, I’m having a completely pitiful summer of sales. Absolutely nothing is working for me. Ah, the joys of how the other half lives! And while, yes, I do get depressed about the volume of suckage at this stage of my publishing life, and yes, I am a teensy bit jealous when I start comparing myself, I also know that this is just the beginning of the beginning for me.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing, one thing that I really wish wasn’t true, but sadly it is, it’s that size matters. And by size I mean quantity. I’ve heard authors like Courtney Milan and Bella Andre and any number of other bestsellers say that it takes a lot of books in publication before the magic starts to happen. There seem to be certain magic numbers for people, 5-6, 9-10. Numbers like that. I think there’s something to that.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Billy Joel this week. Some of my coworkers went to a Billy Joel concert over the weekend and came back to the office full of rave reviews. A few desks down from me, the conversation started to fly with song titles that sparked bundles of remembered music and lyrics in my mind. That in turn brought my entire childhood pouring to the surface.

Being the research nerd that I am, I immediately had to go online and read Billy Joel’s entire life history. I learned something (obvious) that I didn’t know that kind of changed my world as a published writer. “Piano Man”, Joel’s first super hit, was released in 1973. Guess when he first started recording and making records? 1965. Now, I may not be good at math, but I can subtract to discover that it took 8 years for that first big hit to hit. That was 8 years of playing clubs, finding the right bandmates, trying things that didn’t work, writing songs, and never, ever giving up. And while the first hit came in 1973, the Billy Joel songs that stick in my heart and the ones I consider his best work didn’t come out until the late 80s. That’s at least 10 more years. That’s twenty years of hard work before Billy Joel recorded my favorite of his songs!

tire slashIt wasn’t just him either. I have this little obsession with Davie Bowie these days too. And Bowie worked and recorded and switched up bands and tried new things and failed and failed and FAILED before he finally succeeded. And boy did he succeed! So much so that he’s been in my dreams twice in the last few weeks…once as an oncologist, but that’s a long story.

The point is, there is a universal truth to every creative effort, every effort of any kind. It takes a lot of hard work to be an overnight success. YEARS of hard work. The more I learn about the publishing industry, the more I’m convinced that, really, anyone who wants to succeed at it CAN succeed, as long as they’re willing to put in the work that their individual career path needs for them to succeed.

Part of that is quantity. You have to write a lot of songs before you write “Piano Man”. You have to write a lot of books before you write the bestseller. And yes, even those people who hit the lists with their “first book” have actually written book after book after book that never saw the light of day. I started writing when I was ten. I can’t tell you how many novels I started but never finished before I finally cracked the code and finished one. And the number of novels I finished before I started publishing? Lots.

It’s two things, as far as I can see. First, it’s that old “it takes ten thousand hours of practice at something before you can master it” rule of thumb. I firmly, FIRMLY believe that to be true. Quantity of time is as important as quantity of output. Second, it’s the inescapable truth that right now in the genre fiction publishing world, series are king. Readers want ‘em, writers need to write ‘em. A series is not one book. A series isn’t even two books or three books, honestly. A series is a lot of books about the same characters and their relatives and their friends and their community. Series. Word.

So am I upset that this has been the summer of suck for my book sales? Okay, yeah, a little. Am I giving up and going home? Not on your life! I’m looking for the combination that works. I believe in my books. I know they’re good. I know all of the ones I have yet to write, have yet to even dream up are good. I just don’t know which one is “Piano Man” yet. But when I do know, oh boy, you’ll know it too!

Don’t give up. Ever.


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