Archive for April, 2011
Saturday, April 30th, 2011 by Ken Scholes
Howdy Folks! Happy Saturday!
I was just sitting down to work on my blog post when an email came across my Blackberry from a writer who heard me on David Farland’s Authors’ Advisory Conference Call talking about self awareness as the writer’s first best tool. He had a question that collided with my brain in just the right way and voila, a blog post was born!
Here’s his question:
I just heard your interview on the Author’s Advisory blog, and I found it very educational. The part that caught my interest the most was your writing speed of 1000 words an hour.
I’m a pretty slow writer myself (average of 500/hr), but I’m not happy with this speed at all. Writing time is in short supply for me, and I need to be more productive. Do you have any suggestions that can improve my writing speed?
Good question. Thanks for sending it in.
I started thinking about my Words Per Hour probably around 2005 when I hit a point in my writing life where I began taking it more seriously. If you make widgets, how you go about selling those widgets and what you sell them for is largely dependent on how many widgets you can make.
Writers make stories. And if you are a fast writer, you will have (usually) a faster learning curve and more inventory available. A person who writes a short story every week, practicing their craft and business by writing, revising and submitting is likely going to get there faster than a person who writes a short story every six months.
But more important than that, if you know how fast your story factory cranks out its product, you can forecast the future a little better. For instance, you have a very busy week and an editor asks you for a short story that they need Right Away (trust me…this happens.) If you know that you write 500 reasonably clean wph and you need a 5,000 word story, you will need to budget 10 hours to get that draft done. Factor in time to revise based on your self awareness around how quickly you do THAT piece of the job, and you can estimate how much time you need total to get that story turned around. If you have a jam-packed week full of children, dayjob, other engagements, other assignments, you’ll know whether or not you can fit it in and how better to answer the editor when s/he asks “When do you think you have something over to me?”
It also comes in handy when planning to write a novel and scheduling that into your calendar. For me, I write 1k wph at my best. If I’m going slower, there’s usually something going on — flabby writer muscles, having a cold, being distracted or rundown, etc. But I can estimate that my goal is to put in about 2k per day (or two hours) and that if my novels around 150k, I know it’ll take about 2.5 months. Factor in your conventions, life stuff or other events that may interfere and set your goal. I know my life well enough to pad that time and say 4 months. It only takes a couple of head colds or a week of sick children to throw things into utter disarray.
So how do you write faster? Well, there are some things that I think might help but ultimately, I would say that learning to write faster isn’t always what best serves you as a writer. You have a natural rhythm, whatever that is, that lines up with your own process…and it may take you years at the keyboard to figure out exactly what it is. And it’s something that will likely improve over time as you take the learning curves that come your way. But in some instances, going faster isn’t the key…writing more and writing faster aren’t the same thing. If you want 1k per day, you may land better words by setting aside two hours and letting your brain do what suits it best.
So…going faster? Okay. First…practice. I can move from a G to a D much faster now than I could when I first picked up a guitar in 1985. Why? Because I’ve been doing it for a long time. I can learn songs — and write them — much faster now, too. It was all just a matter of practicing over time.
Second, pay attention to what you’re doing as you write. Are you stopping a lot and going back to fix typos, revising as you go? Now, I know I could write faster than 1k wph if I didn’t do that. But I’m so used to writing that way…and ultimately happy with my writing speed…that I leave that alone. The trade off is that by writing the way I write, my first drafts tend to be pretty clean. But if you think you gain more by writing faster and you’re revising as you go, try cutting that out on the next story your work on…see how that goes for you. Trick your inner editor into letting your inner muse just slap down the words with a promise (or bribe) to let the inner editor have free rein as soon as the draft is written.
(Alternatively, I know some writers who edit the previous day’s work before starting up for the day and this gets them re-exposed to the story, makes the inner editor happy, and lets them write faster during the actual hour or two of writing they do.)
Third, make all of this exploration and discovery into a game. My friend Liz Coleman uses a program called Write or Die sometimes to force herself to write quickly without thinking too much. Setting a timer or having a wordcount race with a writing friend can also help. But by making it fun…letting it be a type of play…you can let yourself off the hook for taking it all too seriously. And try lots of things. Me, I work better with music and by minimizing outside distractions by wearing headphones. I also have a time of day that I work best at — early mornings — but I only know that because I tried lots of things while exploring my personal writing process.
In closing, writing more is definitely a key to success. Writing faster isn’t always. But find out what works for you, then push, stretch, learn…and most importantly: Write.
What about you? What’s your average wph and what things speed you up or slow you down?
Friday, April 29th, 2011 by Rosemary
I was so excited about getting up early for the Royal Wedding, I forgot it was Friday! But happily it gives me it gives me a chance to repost one of my favorite blogs.
Voice is something that’s hard to teach and hard to learn. It’s one of those things you just know when you get right. But here’s my thoughts on developing it.
Think about when your mom or dad told you a bedtime story. Or your camp counsellor told a ghost story at the campfire. Or when your dad told you about meeting Elvis while he was in the Army. Or your grandmother told you about the Nazi occupation of The Hague.
The storytellers probably didn’t use perfect grammar. They weren’t following any rules. If it was a good story, well told, it held your attention. If they lived the story, then the emotion in their recollection, the rate of their speech, or the way they drew out the story in some places and skipped over the boring stuff in others… or even where they skipped over the bad stuff, giving you only a hint of how bad it really was… that’s the storyteller’s voice.
When you write a story, you have a voice, too. Instead of inflection and rate of speech, you have long sentences and short ones. Your descriptions are lingering and detailed or stark and bare. You have delicate, sparkling dialogue or raw, gritty action.
Or any combination in the world.
Voice is one of the hardest things to teach. You can’t read in a book how to have a good voice. You can have a natural ‘ear’ for it, like a musician has an ear for pitch, or a ballerina may have natural grace or dexterity, but you still have to train and practice. In a way, you’re developing your ear for language, and your grace and dexterity with words.
The only way to do that is hands on. A singer with a good ear may recognize good music when she hears it, but but she still has to train her instrument.
How do you do that?
1. Write and write and write.
2. Read all different types of writing.
3. Reread a book that you love and pay attention to how the writer draws you in to the story, how she choses to handle emotional moments, action scenes, or description.
4. Experiment with different styles.
5. Mimic other writer’s voices, and see what ‘feels’ good to you.
6) Combine what you like most from what you’ve read and written into a voice that’s uniquely yours.
Thursday, April 28th, 2011 by Candace Havens
Writing is the one occupation/activity where you can have voices in your head and people don’t think you are crazy. Well, people who aren’t writers might. As my career has progressed the voices have grown louder. They began with the first book I ever wrote, which eventually became my fifth book to be published, The Demon King and I. A friend had challenged me to write the book, and I’d never done anything like that. I remember staring at my computer and that blank page for a moment, and all of the sudden people began a conversation in my head. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but I wrote it down. I could see where they were, their gestures and I was transported into their world. The voices were so strong, that I sat down and wrote that book in two weeks, while working two full-time jobs.
The next book, the voices were even louder. That book was Charmed & Dangerous. The day before I was to meet my very first big editor from a publishing house, my friend Britta Coleman (Potter Springs) and I did some role play where she pretended to an editor. She had been through it before, but I had not. I’m a person who interviews Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise without even thinking about it, but the idea of speaking with an editor gave me hives. For real. One of the questions my friend asked me during that mock pitch, was what did I have next? I stared at her dumbfounded. I’d written an entire book, wasn’t that enough? She explained that editors and agents wanted to know that you had future potential beyond what you had already done.
I left her house in a panic. I had to come up with a new idea for another book before my meeting at 9 a.m. the morning. I sat on my bed with notebook, and all of the sudden this voice said, “I’m Bronwyn.” I kid you not, that voice was so loud that I jumped up because I thought someone was in my room. Then I worried I really was going crazy. (I’d been worried about that for years. Now I don’t care.) The next thing she said, was something that changed my life forever. “I’m a witch, think bad Willow on ‘Buffy,’ but I’m a good guy. I don’t take any crap, and I can seriously kick some ass.” I wrote down everything she said. Then she told me about this crazy job she had about protecting the British Prime Minister, and falling in love with a doctor and a powerful sheik. And that is how Charmed & Dangerous was born. That next day the editor liked the pages I’d sent before the meeting and asked me to send those to another editor at the publishing house. Sure enough she asked what I was working on next, and I told her about Bronwyn. She asked me to send it to her. Of course then I had to go home and write it.
Sometimes those voices are strong from the beginning, other times, like with Dragons Prefer Blondes I get to know them better as we go along. Alex in Dragons was strong and cut throat, but very different from her sister Gillian. By the time I finished the book she was my favorite sister, and her voice still won’t shut up in my head. If a miracle happens and I get to finish that series, I have a feeling she’ll have her way in the remaining books.
For my latest book, Take Me If You Dare, it was a man talking in my head. That was a little different for me. I was expecting to write this story about a recent college grad who was stuck running her mom’s investigative firm, and she was in over her head. But when I sat down to write a proposal for the editor, Jackson popped in. He said, “Where am I?” Instantly my mind flashed to this filthy hotel room in Thailand. “I can move my legs,” he said, “at least there is that.” (That honestly freaked me out a little.) Then he let me know he’d been beat to a pulp and left in this room without any idea how he’d arrived. He told the story so fast that almost couldn’t keep up with the typing. That book is written in third person, all the rest I’d done were in first person. So it was kind of weird to have two voices, sometimes going at the same time.
You’ve read this far and you’re thinking, “Okay, chick, you really are insane.” But I promise this is how I do what I do. People always ask how I come up with these wild and inventive stories, and the truth is I cheat. My characters tell me everything. And I quite frankly hope that never stops. I will say that they can keep me up nights, and drive me crazy throughout the day. It’s funny, because the voices are almost always there when I need them. When I start a new book, they show up for work.
If you’re a writer, do you have voices in your head? I know a lot of great writers who don’t work the way I do, so how do you do it?
And if you aren’t a writer, how does your creative process work for whatever it is you do?
Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 by Sasha White
This is a hot topic as lots of writers are uploading ebooks and search for the ‘magic formula’ that will lead to succees.
Actually there is no magic formula. The most important thing is write a good book. Sometimes I feel the ebook thing is looking more and more like an agent’s in box. At least, now, readers will sort the slush out.
How low can you go? There’s always free. But one thing I’ve learned as a consultant is that many people don’t respect things they get for free. I don’t see the point of doing free, although I know some people have had great success with it. I think the time for that is past though and readers look at ‘free’ with a jaundiced eye.
Does a lower price make a difference? Here’s our experience: When we dropped price on the first book in our Atlantis series from $2.99 to .99 sales increased 10 fold. What’s more important than the price, though, is that it has been in the top 100 Science Fiction kindle books for the past six weeks.
That’s a big difference.
We also dropped the price on my latest, new novel, Chasing The Ghost to .99 and it hit the top 20 in Men’s Adventure on Amazon.
It’s not just the pricing. We’re doing other things to promote the book, particularly being active on social media, but there’s no doubt the pricing had the largest role.
When you drop pricing below $2.99, you drop from 70% royalty to 35% royalty, which kind of sucks, but even then, I’m not making that much less than I make on a sale of a mass market paperback book.
I don’t believe all eBooks should be .99 and it’s more a promotional thing than anything. Lisa Gardner hit #1 with a .99 eBook a few months ago in the NY Times. There are five more books in the Atlantis series and they’re all $2.99. All my other thrillers are also $2.99 and we’re seeing a growth in sales of all those.
Our goal, which we’re achieving is to get more readers.
On the flip side, although all our fiction is either .99 or $2.99 we released Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War at $4.99. We feel that’s a fair price for an epic book that took two years to write. Only time will tell if that pricing works. However, all follow on books in the series will be $2.99
Do any of you have experiences in pricing for ebooks?
Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 by Sasha White
I often here writers talk about ‘the sagging middle” of a story. How they struggle to get through it, some writers struggle with how to tie things up at the end. Me…it’s the beginning. The first one thousand words of a short story or five thousand of a novel kill me.
I know it’s because I have that damn internal editor inside me questioning every word I put on the page, but knowing it’s a process does not make it any easier to get through. With that in mind I’ve put together a little list of things that help me start my creative engine and get over the hump.
1) A Challenge.
While I’ll often challenge friend to write 1k in 1 hour or see who can write the most in 20 minute sprints, It’s not good to depend on others to get myself started, so I’ve been known to use Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die program, or simply hermit away and use the the Neo with no internet access.
2) Do something.
When I find myself either staring at the screen for too long, or surfing the net too much I get up and walk away from the computer and do something else.e ANything else that isn;t writing oriented. Walk around the block, do the dishes, take a shower, bakes some cookies. Getting away from the computer and DOING something often helps me focus when I do sit back down.
3) Take a nap.
Yes, this is just the opposite of number 2, but at the same time it helps. I lie down with the story idea or problem in mind, and often the solution comes to me when half away. The key to this is that I have to start writing again as soon as I wake up though, or I forget whatever it was that came to me and start thinking too hard and questioning myself again.
What do you do when you need to get past a hurdle?
Monday, April 25th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Just a brief note with a bit of news:
The nominees for this year’s Hugo Awards for science fiction were announced yesterday, and my short story “Amaryllis” is among them. This means that more people than my mom and dad liked it enough to nominate it. Woo!
I have to admit, I’m awfully excited. As someone who’s read science fiction since I was a wee small girl, “Hugo” has always meant something special.
Also — I’m really glad I still write short stories!
“Amaryllis” is online at Lightspeed magazine. The magazine and its editor, John Joseph Adams, were also nominated.
Saturday, April 23rd, 2011 by Ken Scholes
Back in my Preacher Boy days we had a term for ministers who had to work a second job. We called them bi-vocational.
Oddly enough, it’s also an apt term for most of the writers I know, too. Only we talk in terms of day-jobs and writing careers instead of being bi-vocational. And once you add that day-job to your family, relationships, friends and the rest of your life, you end up with a lot to balance along with the writing career. And usually the lion’s share of any leftover time needs to go into actually writing or there won’t be a writing career to balance.
A lot of the time, all that really gets done is the writing. Sometimes not even that gets done. And then there’s the kajillion other things that also need to be done — answering emails, reviewing copyedits and galleys, updating websites, writing blogs (heh), keeping your social media going, connecting with other writers or editors. But sometimes, the Writer Gods smile on you and you get a few activities that are more of the shiny happy authorial variety. And sometimes they stack up into One Almighty Week.
I’ve had one of those weeks and it’s been glorious. And exhausting. And completely mixed in with everything else life brings along…the good, the bad and the ugly. I thought I’d just give you all a brief snapshot.
- Telecommuted part of the day due to Lizzy’s pink eye.
- Rode 5 miles.
- Wrote not nearly enough words (for Talebones Live reading).
- Sang Lizzy and Rae to sleep.
- Rode 5.5 miles.
- Started Genreality Blog.
- Did laundry.
- Packed for Norwescon.
- Rode 5 miles.
- Kissed the wife and kids goodbye (won’t see Lizzy and Rae until Sunday afternoon.)
- Worked a half day at day-job.
- Hitched a ride north for Norwescon with a Gracious North-Traveling Soul.
- Saw Sucker Punch. Processed and discussed deep ponderings about Snyder’s intention as the storyteller.
- Heard Talebones Live was cancelled.
- Unexpected but important day-jobbery in the wee hours.
- Guest speaker in Patrick Swenson’s 8:00am high school English class — read “One Small Step.” Used excuse of a trivial question book giveaway to ask some pointed questions about what made the story a fable about the dangers of humanity’s use of exploitation and voilence to solve problems
- Hang time, stock-signings and lunch with John “J.A.” Pitts.
- Got checked in, badged, ready for the con. Met up with Jen once she made her way north.
- Had dinner with Jen, Liz Coleman and my high school friend Vicki.
- Went to my scheduled reading and read “Grief-Stepping to the Widower’s Waltz” to a good sized audience. The story was received well.
- Attended barcon and the pro party. Introduced people, met people. Sold a yet-to-be-written bit of flash fiction to KC Ball for $50 and a chair at the bar that didn’t actually belong to her. Drank. Bed.
And of course, that brings us to today. Saturday. Here’s my to-do list so far:
- Finish and post Genreality Blog (check!)
- High protein breakfast (check!)
- 10am panel on creating your own mythos with brilliant co-panelists.
- 11am panel on old plots and new narrative structures with more brilliant co-panelists.
- 3pm autograph session.
- 4-6pm co-teach workshop “The Evolution of a Writing Career” with Pitts.
- 7pm panel on breaking into print with yet more brilliant co-panelists.
- Go to parties and attend bar-con. Introduce people, meet people. Drink. Go to bed.
Tired? Oh hell yes. And I’m not through Saturday yet. As an introvert, anything I do that involves people tends to drain off my battery. The larger the group, the larger the drain. And more interactions means more tired. With the week I’ve had, I was getting a Low Battery message before Friday showed up. But it’s worth every bit of Weary I’ve earned along the way.
And at the end of the week, I’m being exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, doing what I wanted to do.
As my grandfather used to say: “That’s not too shabby.”