Thursday, June 28, 2012

Keeping It All Together: Organization Tips for Writers – Part II

Well, after springing my laptop from the hospital (geek squad), I am finally able to post the second section of this post.  In the first part, we focused on Initiation – which serves as the launch for your project.
In this portion, we will cover Planning and Execution.
Step 2: Planning
This may require a little practice before diving right in.  You’ll find that it will become easier  over time, much like your writing, and you will kind of know better in advance what’s needed down the road.
Think about things like:
·         Time – So, we said that our hypothetical project will require us to write 2709 words a week.  When are you going to do that? All in one day – Saturday morning in your writing cave? That may not be realistic if you have a touchy muse that usually shows up at midnight.  Set a realistic time schedule for your writing and then stick to that. No matter what happens.  This will work better is you consider everything that you have to do in a day first and select the least busy time.
·         Research – I don’t know of any author that doesn’t do research.  With that in mind, time should be allotted for you to accomplish this task in your project.  Will all of your research be internet based, or will you actually have to travel to another location?  Do you need to do a ride along with a cop for your crime thriller?  If your locale is fictional, make time to draft a map of your hero and heroine’s town/country/world.  This is exceptionally useful for series.  Trust me, your readers want you to paint a vivid picture, and adequate research will help you do just that.
·         Risks – What could and will likely go wrong over the course of this project? Identify those issues and find ways to mitigate that risk.  For instance, if you are taking a month long workshop later in the year and that happens to be around the time that you plan to edit, you may need to widen the amount of time allotted for the editing tasks in the event that you have vast amounts of homework.
·         Submissions– What is the lead-time for submitting the first three chapters to a publisher or agent? When would you like to do this? After the first session of edits? Consider also that you may not want to submit an incomplete manuscript, so don’t make it too early in the life of the project.
In this stage, you will want to firm up that commitment that you are making to yourself in this endeavor.  All of the tasks should have a time bound deliverable on them.  The most difficulty is presented in meeting them.  If you have timeline issues, admit that to yourself and make sure that you identify that by giving yourself enough rope so that one missed deadline doesn’t compromise the whole project.

Incorporate all of these identified tasks and issues/risks into the earlier project plan.  In step 1, you have clearly stated what you want to happen overall.  This section should include all the steps necessary to accomplish the overall goals. 
Step 3: Execution
Here, we focus on the final steps before publication or acceptance by a publisher.  This step takes into consideration that you have completed your novel, on time or perhaps even earlier depending on how diligent you are.  You will still need to plan for these action items.  You may want to think about a few of them prior to completion of the novel, but they absolutely must be accomplished by the time you publish.  Following submission, you will need something to do while waiting to hear back from all those editors and publishers that are reviewing your manuscript.
You have probably heard all of this in the past, considering you most likely found your way here by some social networking site or through another author friend’s referral.  I’ll list them again because it never hurts to revisit good information.
1.       Establish a presence on the internet: Beyond just Twitter and Facebook, have you joined a local chapter of RWA or an author website such as Savvy Authors?  You probably aren’t surprised that networking in the author community is extremely important.  Not only do you stand a chance to learn something from the people that you encounter, it also lends to your online presence.  This is a necessity, especially now days when publishers ask you to include your social networking URLs in your query.  While establishing your presence, be sure to consider the following:
a.       Always be pleasant and approachable.
b.      Dedicate time for networking, even if it’s only ten minutes a day.
c.       Don’t spam! People hate that. Make sure that every link that you post has some value to not only you, but others as well.
d.      Don’t beg or appear desperate for people to read your blog or follow you.  If you are relevant, pleasant and personable, people will eventually stop by your blog and follow/like you.
e.      Don’t email or direct message people your entire backlist.  If they have just followed you,  they don’t know you to want your book.
f.        Build relationships, not followers. Be sure to get to know the person for who they are and not as simply as another person to add to your list.  It will come through in your communications with them.
2.       Blogging is another good way to build your brand.  It gives people an opportunity to see who you are and to hear your voice.  It doesn’t have to be ten page long posts.  Most people like to read about 600 words per post.  Obviously, I’m slightly over that mark in this one.
3.       Set up a website that looks professional. It should represent your sense of style and how you want to be seen by your audience.   If you write for more than one genre, perhaps you would want more than one website. Be sure to include the varied ways to obtain your books. Be sure to link it to your Twitter, FaceBook and Blog sites.
4.       Finally, consider new ways to market your work.  There are apps that you can set up for mobile devices and many other new ideas that you may find fits into your brand concept.
Just like in the other portions of your plan, be sure to set up ample time for any and all tools that you decide to employ. 
Of course, none of this means anything if you don’t follow the schedules that you’ve set in this plan.  You have to dedicate the time if you intend to be successful.  This is simply a way of organizing it so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. 
My best advice is that you should set aside an hour or two each day, which are dedicated to getting your work done, regardless of what section that you happen to be on at the time.
Once you have a clear path of what needs to be accomplished, you’ll feel as if you have more time and you will be able to fit in some of the other more fun things that you may be missing without organization.
I hope this helps you as much as it did me.  I’m still new to it but I do feel like I have a better handle on my writing career than before.
Feel free to leave me questions or comments here.
Until next time, take care of yourself.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Keeping It All Together - Organizational Tips for Writers

One of the most difficult things that I have had to contend with since becoming a ‘nearly’ published author is juggling both my careers, dealing with a college aged daughter, a mate, a pubescent young man, and all of this blogging/tweeting/Facebooking/marketing madness is finding the time to fit it all in.  I sat down last month to think about creating a successful career as an author, and the implications that would-be success would have on my daily life.  Realistically, I don’t think that I will be able to walk away my day job anytime soon.  With the ever-changing world of publishing and your prosperity as an author depending on how much positive ‘noise’ can be generated about the project and the sheer strength of your backlist, lots of time and work must be dedicated to the promotion of your author brand.  That means that I will have to continue this hectic merry-go-round of marketing, blogging, social networking, and of course, writing if I ever hope to one day become the next Nora Roberts or J.R. Ward.
What does that mean for me, and more importantly, you?  It means that we will have to become more organized as authors, carefully planning our days so that we can attain a positive work/life balance and maximize efficiency.  With two kids, two jobs and all the ups, downs and changes that accompany them – we have to learn how to work smarter.  Sounds cliché, I know, but truer words have never been spoken.
Fortunately, I have worked on many a project during my day job and along the way have picked up a thing or three.  To help explain and provide realistic tips that can be easily employed in daily tasks, I have broken this out into three sections: Initiation, Planning, and Execution.  Whether you set up an Excel worksheet, utilize a notes organization system or simply set up a Word document to keep track of all these items is completely up to you.  Just make sure that it is a system that you will refer to often. When I say often I mean daily – hourly – and if needed, every thirty minutes. That may be a slight exxageration, but you have no idea how much of a procrastinator that I can be.
Step 1: Initiation
Let us look at building a house.  Any contractor will tell you that a new house is only as good as its foundation.  Why would anything else be different? We prepare for everything in the world that is important to us, and you have to take your novel just as seriously.
Start by writing your storyline.  I am aware that some of you may be a pantser vs. a plotter but you can still note the general theme of your story, the main characters, what’s important to them as a character and the location of your story.  For you plotters, this is right up your alley.  Take your time and really explore your character.  Maybe do an interview with them from the standpoint of a therapist (someone gave me that really great idea and it helped a lot in character development).
Next, determine how long story to be, in terms of word count.  If you don’t know, there’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a fictitious goal.  One of the things that I like to do is figure out what publishing house I am submitting to and read their current submission calls.  Even if I don’t end up submitting to that publisher, this practice gives me a good starting point.
Make a list of all the agents and publishers that you are interested in submitting your MS to for consideration.  Also, add any editors that you know of who work at each publishing house, so that you may address them directly when submitting.
You should also draft out a timeline for completion of the project.  This is directly dependent on whether you have a time imposed by a third party or if you are simply working towards your own specific drop dead date.  For instance, if I want to finish a 65K word work by December 31st and I am starting this project on July 1st, I will need to complete a total of 2709 words a week (65000/24 weeks = 2708.3333).  These timelines will serve as your project goals, with the deliverable being a finished novel.
Be sure to add in the important milestones for your project.  Perhaps you want to review your work during week 12, which would be the halfway mark in the aforementioned timeline. Maybe you want to query an editor or agent with a book proposal during that time, since you would know by that time whether or not the story still fits the needs of the originally targeted publisher or agent.  Perhaps you want to begin editing at week 18 or forward your work to your critique group.  These milestones are a good way to determine if you will meet your goals or if the project is in jeopardy.
When thinking of your overall project goals, be sure that all of them are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.  I’ll go a little more in-depth on each of these.  Each task or goal should be specific – meaning that you should not say “I am going to write 10 books by the end of the year.” Instead, you would want to figure out exactly what types of books you are interested in writing for the year – “I will write 1 paranormal romance, full length and 1 short story by 12/31…” and work exclusively on those.  Measurable goals, meaning that you should be able to measure your progress made towards completion of each project.  This should be easy since we all seem to track our word count.  Your goals should be Attainable – don’t tell plan to write Gone With The Wind in two weeks, if you know that it takes you four months to write a blog post.  Set Realistic goals; don’t add unnecessary stress in your life. Don’t overdo it with tasks and milestones that are outside of your capabilities and will only serve to make you feel overwhelmed.  Finally, time bound goals give you something to shoot for in the grand scheme of things.  Give yourself enough time to complete your goals, and the project as a whole, without adding undue pressure.
To recap, the initiation stage of your project should entail drafting the following:
·         Working Title,
·         Character(s) and any tool to develop those characters,
·         Prospective Editors/Agents that would be interested in this work,
·         Project Timeline, and
·         Project Milestones
For those of you who currently work in or have worked in Corporate America, you may recognize this as the beginning phase of a project plan. 
Please watch for Wednesday’s post, which will contain Steps 2 (Planning) and 3 (Execution).
Feel free to ask me questions either here or on Twitter.
Thanks and see you tomorrow!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ex-Husbands - The Things They Leave Behind

Hello Everyone!

I don't think I had an opportunity to share that I am a divorcee.  No, no. Don't be sad for me.  I happily traded him in for a new, happier life.  With that being said, there were a few things that he left with me that make it all worth it.  The first are my children.  They are darling and I wouldn't trade them for a million golden coins.

The next is, well, slightly more intangible.  It was a deep appreciation for the God of Thunder! Thor and his world became a part of mine. Everything from comic books to collectibles, I have been hooked for the last decade on this gentle giant, who at times can be a bit naive.

As with any of my heroes, I worry about the on-screen translation of this literary masterpiece. Ahem... masterfully conceived, that is.  Who would play him? How would this person manage to become the God, and godly mannerisms, of all that is Thor?

Well, hells bells! Hollywood responded with Chris Hemsworth. Oh ho ho! No problem there.
And who would be the the Heimdall - Guardian of the Worlds?? 
Are you serious? I almost passed out with the vapors! Blame my southern genes.

Anyway, this post is not merely about my fascination with the cast of Thor. It is about, more importantly, the upcoming release of Thor 2!  I am sure that you all know by know that it is coming out November 8, 2013. 

When I heard, I had a billion questions. Would Natalie Portman return? Will I see Idris and Chris onscreen, together, again? As much as my heart desires, YES! It shall be!
I am happy to inform you that all the faves from Thor will return, at least according to the authority, IMDB.  I'm not sure why we needed to see Chris Hemsworth with his shirt off for this post, but let's just see if it helps to peek at all that again...

Ummm... that answers that! At least it helped me.

In closing, there are too many months between now and the Thor 2 release.  I am just content in knowing that one day, we (Chris and Idris and I) shall be together in cinematic bliss once again.  Until then, scroll back up and take a look a that swimsuit!

And to my ex-husband, Thanks for Everything!


Monday, June 18, 2012

Prologue - Zombie Gunner

As you may be aware, this much we participate in JuNoWriMo (June Novel Writing Month).  I have created a mountainous pile of work, some good, some bad and some maybe worse than bad.  In my fervor to complete 50,000 words this month, one particular story stuck.  And today, I decided that I should share with you all a select portion of my WIP.  It's interesting, since I never get the opportunity to write paranormal romance, and have never even attempted urban fantasy in this way before. 
In this post, you will find the start, the prologue actually, of Zombie Gunner (working title) and I sincerely hope that you love it as much as I do.  But, even if you don't be sure to tell me why. I believe that the best way to grow is to solicit the advice of the community.

And without further delay, meet Mena Blakely - Zombie Gunner.

Enjoy and I look forward to hearing from you.


Congressional Hearings
Washington, D.C.
March 2012

            In an effort to save humanity from death and destruction, I, Mena Blakely, make it a personal mission to slay the diabolical zombie, eradicating them from existence.

            My name is Mena Blakely and I am here today to give you a warning…

            Fuck that shit. I am Mena Blakely. Whether you want to believe it or not, whether you take heed to my warning or if you simply file this in the shitter, there are zombies out there. I fucking kill them. You may not want to think about it, but they are out there - among us. Some of them are our next door neighbors. We go to school with them. We eat, work and play with them.  They are here. They will kill you.

That was the speech from two years ago at the Congressional Hearings.  It was on the rampant, murderous killing spree that had taken place in the small town of Settlers, Missouri, where it was presumed that my father killed over half the town after they were exposed to the mutagen virus that he created, unknowingly of course, called Teron VI. The year that I went from being a waitress at the local pizza restaurant to the angry, nail biting, fuchsia haired murderer that you see before you. 

Back then, the zombies were dumb. They posed as normal and then when they gained access to a poor, unsuspecting person in the elevator, they would pounce.  These days, they are calculating. They know how to camouflage themselves, how to blend in and how to harvest humans.

In those two years after I was laughed off Capital Hill, I became the leader of a government operative team called Hub Z.  There are just four of us. We don’t answer to calls from the White House or the POTUS. We don’t really answer to anyone. I prefer it that way. 

You may wonder how I was the first to find out about zombies. Well, technically my father was the first to find out. He was trying to cure cancer.  He ended up creating one. The one that killed him.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Place of Peace

Today, I spent some time pruning my garden.  There are times when writers must clear the clutter that plagues the psyche, which is where creativity dwells.
In order to get there, to the point where all your creativity can stretch it's proverbial legs, it becomes necessary to identify a place of peace. 

On the backside of the Troy (MI) Aquatic Center, there is a large natural trail that I sit in front of, and occasionally wander into, in order to get to that point.  After a thousand and one issues today between home and work, I found it necessary to go there and empty out my emotional baggage. It was calm, peaceful and serene. I enjoyed it immensely.  For an hour and a half, I sat barefoot in my truck with my legs kicked up enjoying the scenery and a Slurpee.

I would strongly suggest that you head to your special place today and get the emotional calm that you need in order to write the next best seller!

Have a great day, everyone.