Of Writers and Prose: Self-Isolation and the Writer

These are wild times we’re living in. Nothing like this has happened in four generations; not since the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. It’s the stuff of apocalypse movies, books and a few tv shows, but the funny thing is, it’s nothing like we thought it would be like.

I haven’t worked in over a month. As of this date, six weeks exactly. At first we were only supposed to be out for two weeks, and I thought great, this will be the perfect time to get so much writing done. I’d get a few chapters finished my Steampunk, maybe a revision or two on my Scifi novella, and even get a few pages written on a script or two. In the end, I’d come out of this pretty much ahead of the game.  One thousand words per day on novels and three pages of script writing; that was the personal goal I set up for myself a few days into my self-isolation. Not to mention, I’d finally be querying my zombie plague novel (perfect timing, eh?), and maybe get some blog posts done.

That was the plan was, but reality has a funny way of slapping you in the face. Reality sets in and I spent most of the time watching the news or reading reports on the spread of the virus. I’d burn myself out so much that I’d shut my laptop off and immerse myself with Netflix or dvds and go to bed late, only to wake up and start this routine it all over again. Two full weeks it went like this, and with each passing day with no writing I started to work on other projects just to keep my mind from thinking I was failing. Knitting projects, baking projects, even some baking experiments (which failed). I was doing everything BUT writing. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I’d failed at the schedule I’d set up for myself. I didn’t fall into the mindset of not writing means I’m a failure at it, but rather, my goals were easily obtainable, I just didn’t WANT to do them.

I couldn’t write because I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to immerse myself in my created worlds. I wanted to know what was going on in the REAL world, especially with my friends in the US. It was a type of FOMO, and the more I succumbed to it, the more I hated doing it, but it was an addiction that I had to break, but writing wasn’t a part of it. Hence the other activities. Three weeks I was like this; doing everything but writing. Then comes the back-end of it; trying not to succumb to the regret of NOT writing. Of all that time wasted doing anything but writing, and that feeling is more insidious that the first. As I said, I’ve been isolating for six weeks, and it may be another six weeks before I can go back to work. This blog post is the first new thing I’ve wrote, and it feels weird, but it’s a start.

What’s on the eReader.

The Wailoa Waltz (The Noelani Lee Mysteries Book 6)

Blurb: For Hawaiian PI Noelani Lee, a typical Wednesday morning begins like any other day. But a bizarre series of events propels her into a case rife with disjointed family dynamics, unsettled scores, and murder.

It all starts when an elderly survivor of the 1960 tsunami asks Noelani to find her lost maneki**neko, or Japanese lucky cat. One problem: the ceramic figurine has been missing for 30 years. But before she can say “no,” Noelani is caught in a grudge-fueled tug-of-war between the scions of two once-powerful organized crime families, who also want the cat, and a shadowy former underworld kingpin, whose motives are less than transparent.

In taking a case she doesn’t want and would be better off avoiding, Noelani finds a connection between the missing cat and a decades-old unsolved murder—and an unexpected, unwanted, and gut-wrenching family reunion.

Publisher & Date: Self Published via distributors November 5, 2019.

Book Link: https://www.amazon.com/Wailoa-Waltz-Noelani-Lee-Mysteries/dp/1709437774

~~~

Review:

With the pandemic raging I decided to take the time and branch off into genres I don’t normally read, and I started with a crime mystery.

As the blurb states, this story centers around a small ceramic cat that has been lost for several decades. The request for its return is harmless enough, but Noelani soon learns that there’s more to this cat than anyone is willing to tell her. The cryptic explanations and vague memories from everyone she questions doesn’t add up, especially when some clues point to a seemingly unrelated and unsolved murder that occurred around the same time the keepsake went missing.

Set in Hawaii, the writing is strong with quirky, eccentric characters that are all connected one way or another to the cat. I love that the author peppered the story with references and detailed descriptions of Hilo, with a bit of history thrown in to add to the overall flavour of the plot.

The only drawback that I had is that the story is thirty-three chapters long. At first I was hesitant about starting it because of this fact. I’ve read other novels (and dropped them) that had over thirty chapters, and most of the story therein felt more like padding and didn’t really move the plot forward in any way, but not for this story. For this story to truly reveal its secrets, I don’t think the author could have edited anything out and still keep it interesting.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and as it’s the sixth book in the series, I’ll be back for more investigations by Noelani and crew.

4 out of 5 stars.

Of Writers and Prose: Writing and Social Media.

I’ve written about this before (at least three times), and apparently I’m not done. I still believe that social media is a great ‘tool’ (note the parenthesis) for writers, and used properly it can have a great influence and help authors sell their books.

There are a few more platforms to choose from, but for this post I’m going to stick the ones I use most; my blog, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Tiktok.

Yes, I said Tiktok.

In the beginning there was Facebook. All writers had an author page. I still do, but in the last ten years it’s become less popular due to their TOS, and the few scandals around their algorithms. Their paid promo’s haven’t show to increase anything, no matter what they claim. Ask any author who has paid for their promotion. You won’t like their answer. I rarely use my author page anymore but I’m afraid to give it up.

Enter the New Age of Social Media.

As I stated, there are four I use the most, and while they seem so different in what to post, honestly, they’re all a great way for authors to reach out and connect. One thing you *must* understand; social media isn’t about selling books; it’s about connecting with readers. Writers read other writers, but to really sell you need to step outside of the author/writer/publishing triad and connect with the non-writer. Social media is great for this and you must keep this in mind when you’re using any platform.

#1. Twitter.

Twitter is real-time short conversations. There are threads that go on for post after post, but for the majority it’s short 250 character thoughts. Even Twitter realized how important the platform could be and doubled the character limit. Twitter is great to give a quick shout-out to folks, do a book promo, or engage in meaningful conversations with other writers. It’s typing, and writers are comfortable with this format.

#2. Instagram

The IG is a place writers can express their creativity through photos or short videos. This platform is good for book covers, pictures that inspire you to write, or have inspired you in other ways. I’ve posted pictures of excerpts on my account, food pics, cats, weather. You name it and I’ve probably posted something like it on my IG account. This is one of the places that I can reach out to non-writing folk.

#3. YouTube

Okay, here’s where things start to get a little time-consuming. It’s taken me about ten years, but I think I finally know how to utilize this platform. Right now I’m doing about one video per month, because the amount of work required to get one up is incredible. I can spend at least a whole day editing a thirty minute video down to around five to six minutes. There’s music that I add and I have an opening title and credits as well. The main reason I do the videos is to acclimatize myself to speaking about my work. I can sit at a computer and type away about my books, but *actually* talking about them is a different story. Making videos, watching how I move, how I speak, it’s preparing me for a time when I might have to talk to a lot of people about my books. YouTube is a lot of work, but for me, it’s something I want to invest the time in.

#4. TikTok.

Welcome to YouTube lite. It’s the only way I can explain it. The app has editing tools and you post short vids (about a minute long) about anything you want. I have a video editing program I bought for YouTube so I can do a bit more with my vids, but I try to keep them short and hopefully interesting. I haven’t been on long, and am setting up certain days to post certain videos. You can use hashtags just like you do on Twitter and IG. It’s only three years old, but it’s wildly popular.

The last platform I want to talk about is a blog. I don’t know how many times I’ve read these click-bait articles about how blogging is dead. No, it isn’t, and it never will be because those who use it will always feel the need to express themselves through words. I still recommend new writers start a blog, just so they can get used to the idea of creating new content and keeping a deadline. It’s perfect for the introvert who doesn’t feel comfortable with any of the other platforms.

Well, there it is, my fourth blog post about social media. If you’re interested in the other articles I wrote, I’ve linked them below.

Of Writers and Prose: Five Problems with Social Media

Of Writers and Prose: Are Authors Sick of Social Media?

Social Media for Writers: The New Time-Suck or Time to Connect?

Of Writers and Prose: Writing as a Source of Income.

As an author, I can say I have lived my dream job.

Creating worlds and stories has been something I’ve done since I was a child, but I never entertained the idea of making money from it until I was in my early forties. To spend the day deep in prose and publishing the books myself has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.

Every writer’s fantasy is to be able to stay at home and write, and, to a greater extent, make a living off of the novels we create. For some people, it’s the reason they start writing, but when reality sinks in, and they soon realize that money from novel writing doesn’t go the way they planned, they have to accept the fact that they may never live out their dream.

Take it from me, making money writing novels can take a long time; sometimes years, and can be full of frustration, disappointment, and rejection. I started in 2009 and put out my first novel two years later. I did quite well those first years, but it took several more until I saw a sustained amount coming in every month. It wasn’t life changing, but it was something and it allowed me to invest in editors and better book covers. At the same time, other authors were coming to the same conclusion I was; the more content you have out, the better chance you have of making money. This was the era of Amanda Hocking. Don’t know who she is, Google it.

I saw authors put out two or three novels a year (digital), and while many of those were of a good quality (proper editing, eye-catching cover), many more were not. Within two years self-publishing became such a glut of badly written novels put out by people who saw it as nothing more than a get-rich-quick scheme. There was such a glut of digital books that it was almost impossible for a new author to be seen, let alone make any money. The only ones who were still profiting had a large back list and had been in it for a while.  

The same holds true now.

So the question is; can you make money from writing novels? Yes, if you’re willing to spend the time and energy doing so. Writing novels isn’t a cash cow, and you’re not going to get that six-digit contract with a publisher, so why do it?

Because you’re a writer, and you HAVE to write. There are more options for writers now than there were ten years ago, but not enough to allow someone to quit their day job, and I strongly advise that you don’t.   Unfortunately, the days of sitting at my laptop writing all day have disappeared. The income from my books disappeared as well and while I do still get the odd payment from Amazon, it’s nothing like it used to be. While I haven’t put out a book in almost five years (yikes!), the dream of returning to writing full time is constantly on my mind, and as I put the finishing touches on my zombie/plague novel, I find myself thinking the same questions I did ten years ago; will it be with an agent and a Traditional Contract? Indie? Who knows, but at least I know it’s possible to make some money with a writing gig.

Of Writers and Prose: A Writing Career Ten Years On.

This year marks ten years that I have been published. I started off with short stories and advanced to self-publish six novels. In the last decade I’ve seen a lot, learned a lot, written a lot. Much has changed, but much more has stayed the same. One thing that has changed drastically is my writing.

I realized this when I was putting together a teaser for my first novel, The Watchtower. I cringed as I re-read the first three pages. Back then, I thought it was good, and for that period of my life, it was. As the years went by, I knew my writing strength improved, but I didn’t want to take them down. I wanted people to see how my craft evolved over time. Writers don’t start off strong, it’s a muscle we learn to build and I wanted people to see mine; see how my craft progressed. Now, I’m not so sure.

It isn’t that I’m embarrassed about these books, I’m not, but I find they lack the creativity I have now, and as I don’t have any plans to self-publish again (at least not right away), as much as I want to keep them up, I also want to take them down. I suppose I could revise them; bring them up to today’s standard, but I have only a set amount of time I can write and I’d rather be focused on new projects than old ones. Especially as I have so many new ones. I don’t make a lot of money on them to start with, so that isn’t a factor.

There’s another point that has me thinking about this; ‘non-competition’ clause in some contracts. Quite frankly, I’m not sure what to make of it. I understand where it’s coming from, and I don’t think it should be a strike against an author if they do have self-published works, but it really comes off that way.   One thing is for sure, I’m glad for the experience that came with self-publishing and wouldn’t change my decisions, but now I’m looking forward to taking a different path with my career and I’m torn on whether or not to keep these novels up. This is a difficult decision, but one I think I have to make. I will keep you posted.

Of Writers and Prose: Writing after an illness.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxI have a very unusual factoid about myself; I went into the emergency room of the local hospital once a year for about seven years. A few times it was minor (seriously sprained ankle) a few other times it was serious (mild concussion, appendicitis), but even with the minor health problems, it still knocked the hell outta me, and put me off of my writing routine.

Getting sick can throw a writer off faster than anything. It’s a strange feeling too look at the open word file and know I wanted to write, but the words weren’t there. My mind goes silent. It’s disconcerting as my brain is constantly at work; plotting out ideas, dialogue or scenes. From the moment I wake up until I fall asleep, that’s all I think about, and not always about the same WIP. I have distractions, work, games, life and the internet, but even at night as I try to relax and fall to sleep, I play out in my mind a plot or idea for a story.

Out of all the health issues I had, the concussion was the worst. Not only did I not feel like writing, I didn’t feel like doing anything. It was a good week before I even entertained the notion to open a word file and fell into my nightmare. I stared at the words on the page and no matter how many times I read or re-read, nothing came to me. I literally had no idea what to write. This wasn’t writer’s block. This was something else and it scared the hell out of me. The idea that I may never create another story scared me so much I refused to look at any word files. My fear turned to anger and I deleted the story desktop icons on my screen. I wanted nothing to remind me of what I couldn’t do anymore. My husband was incredibly supportive. “Just leave it alone,” he said. “It’ll come back to you. Do something else.”, but that was it. I don’t know how to do anything else. I can’t paint or draw, can’t sing or play music. Writing is the only creative outlet I have and I’ve been doing it since I was seventeen. For those few weeks, I never felt so absolutely useless. I don’t’ know how else to describe it.

I focused on work and played games. I was still in a fog at work; and they gave me short shifts to help me heal. It was a good two weeks before that feeling set in. You know the one; you’re supposed to be doing something, but you don’t know what. That was my brain telling me that I hadn’t written anything for a while and I need to get my ass in gear. I was excited. It was another week before I opened a word file, but the words didn’t come easy. I found my attention drifting to other things, things that didn’t require me to think. Games mostly, but in that non-thinking mode, it would poke at me; and I’d go and look at the file again. Slowly, over the course of another week the words came, but not in the way I expected. I was writing new words, but revising the pages I already had. I re-read scenes and found countless ways to improve them. I was pleasantly surprised to find my creativity had kicked up a notch. This is part of the reason why I re-opened my zombie survival novel.

The second worst was my appendicitis. Three weeks of recovered and I had to be careful how I moved so not to rip my stitches. Any kind of pain is a creative killer for me. Game over. Done. It drains my energy and forces me to focus on being comfortable instead of creativity. The recovery was a slow process, but I did manage to get a few pages written.

I’ve told you all of this because I’ve always been a strong advocate for being in the best mindset for writing stories. I dislike the adage of a writer having to write every day, because quite fucking frankly, we’re not always up to it and forced writing to me, it worse than not writing.

If you’re sick, take care of yourself. You are the instrument in which the stories flow. If the instrument is not in proper care, the story suffers. Be good to yourself. That’s all that matters.

A Company of Writers: First pages be damned!

companyofwritersOpenings suck. Seriously, they do. You always hear “Don’t worry about the opening, just get the story out!”, but any writer will tell you that once the story is ‘out’, the opening line of your manuscript becomes the do-or-die moment. As a matter of fact, the whole damn first paragraph, page, chapter fall into this category as well.

No pressure. Really?

This is evident in a series of tweets I recently saw. If you’re on Twitter, I suggest you save the hashtag #tenqueries. Some agents ask for a first chapter sample with your query and every so often these agents will give their first impression of the subbed chapters. Their comments can be a real eye-opener, especially when the reasons for rejection are easily fixable.

I’ve beta-read a lot of first chapters. Sometimes that’s as far as I can get, and sometimes that’s as far as I want to get because I now the author will make the same mistakes throughout the entire novel, and if I’ve picked up on that, you can bet agents and publishers have too.

Many times, first chapter problems are a result of the writer’s over-enthusiastic prose. They want to ‘set the tone’ or ‘mood’ for their story, but instead, bore the reader with info-dump and back story that drives the reader away. I once read a chapter where the author wrote three pages on the political climate of an alien race to explain the reason the MC was making a brief stop at the planet. Nothing in those three pages had anything to do with the plot. All irrelevant backstory.

Another problem I’ve come across is this need to outline the MC’s entire day. What they did, wore, ate from the moment they got up. Unless there are elements of foreshadowing, it’s pointless to keep it in your story and they you will lose the reader’s interest. I’m not telling you to throw it out, just don’t put it in your story. All this information is useful to YOU, just not always useful for the reader. Back story can be used SPARINGLY; a brief glimpse into what may be motivating your character to take the action she or he does.

The first few pages must grab the reader; make them want to know why your MC is doing what they’re doing. It doesn’t have to involve a lot of explanation, just enough to pique the readers interest. Once they’re interested, they’re all yours.

Of Writers and Prose: How NOT to Make Money Writing.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxIf you hadn’t notice, I didn’t promote any of my books for all of 2017.

Not once.

Nada.

It was an experiment to see if not promoting my work, but rather, focusing on interactions online, would have any effect on sales. While I can say that I did make money (roughly $16 per month, and considering my prices that’s saying something), the second half of my experiment goes into play this year – promoting.

I know authors that would rather crawl out of their skin than promote themselves or their work. Constant promoting can and will take a toll on the author. Plus, no one wants to be inundated with never-ending tweets or Facebook posts to buy books either. This is one reason why I decided to take a year off; to see if just having a presence online has any effect.

During last ten months I managed to post on my blog on a fairly regular basis, and not all about writing. Writers tend to huddle in groups and promote only between themselves. It makes sense; writers are avid readers as well, but we have to step outside of that bubble and find the non-writers. That’s why I blogged about things other than books or writing; hobbies that I love or things that my husband and I did together and the other things that interest me. I have just over 100 followers on my blog (awesome!) and I think a lot of that has to do with the posts that were outside the writing sphere.

Second thing I did was NOT promote on Twitter. I did help a few author friends with Thunderclaps which IMO is different. Also, when I linked blog posts to Twitter, I didn’t go nuts with hashtag links. As a matter of fact, for all of 2017 I think I barely used any when I cross-posted my blog posts. The result; I did see an uptick in followers, enough so that I finally broke 1k. For me that’s a milestone as I’ve been on since ’09. I wasn’t actively try to gain followers either. I want people to follow me for the same reason I follow others; because I’m generally interested in them or what they’re doing. Twitter is a great place to connect with other writers, especially for support and I plan on doing a blog post on it in 2018.

Lastly, I paid more attention to my Facebook Author Page. That was the hardest of the three as I had to switch accounts to post. Half way through the year I realised I could hook it up to my personal account and do things without having to sign out of one and onto another. I will be experimenting with this come the New Year. One thing I did learn, never pay for Facebook post boosts. I haven’t read a blog post on paid boosts that was positive about the program, which tells me they’re not worth the time or money, and with the way Facebook algorithms change (I swear from week to week) you’d be better off saving your money and putting it to something more useful. IMO, if you have a following that is organic, they will do what Facebook ‘claims’ their post boosts do.

So here’s to a year of good promotions! I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings.

Of Writers and Prose: I am the Muse and the Muse is me.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxYou hear a lot from writers about the Muse; that wonderfully invisible entity that bestows upon us lowly creatures the plots and creative inspiration so we can write our novels, but many tend to use them as an excuse to not write.

“My Muse isn’t talking to me today,”

or

“I wait until my Muse whispers in my ear before I write.”

Sound familiar? While that may sound like divine intervention the reality is, we are the muse. I read this article on how our mind use its synapse to co-ordinate activity across a several parts of the brain, and delves into a hypothesis of a ‘mental workshop’; a cognitive function if you will, where the brain engages several key areas to manipulate images and possibly ideas.

How Imagination Works

Our brain is a complex organ and we’ve only just begun studies on it. T act that it can take a familiar idea and rearrange them into a new concept to me is incredible.

Creative Thinking

I believe our imagination is a muscle skill. As we learn how to create new ideas, the stronger the skill becomes. I learned this first hand when I upgraded my math. At the beginning of the course, I could barely work on fractions but come the end, I could calculate an equation like Charles’ Law  in my sleep. Like those who are more skilled at singing or math, I believe that some people are more ‘hard-wired’ to be creative than others. Does that mean those who creativity doesn’t come ‘naturally’ are any less creative? No, but it may take a little longer for them to achieve the level of creatively they desire. You can’t sing opera after one lesion; so is it with writing.

Even with all this new information, I still think the notion of an invisible entity whispering in our ears is romanticised, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only when we use this this idealized fascination as an excuse for not doing something that it becomes a problem.

Remember, the Muse waits for no one.

Of Writers and Prose: The 3 F’s of Writing.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxWe’ve all seen those writers who claim their story idea is ‘a million dollar idea’, and we quietly snicker behind their back in haughty derision at their inflated egos, but I think we could all stand to take note of their self-confidence. These are people who, for better or for worse, ignore that negative voice that tells them their story isn’t as good as everyone else’s; they ignore the possibility that their novel won’t be read or that their writing is crap. Now I’m not saying get all egotistical about our work, but learning to love our writing is a hard thing to do, especially when we read other people’s books and we see such a perfect story.

F #1 – Frustration: Frustration comes when we constantly compare our work to other writers. I’ve talked about this before (as have others) how we must NOT compare our writing career with other authors. Whether it’s style, ability or even financial, they’re not us and we’re not them. I dislike hearing new writers say they want to write like Stephen King, or Anne Rice or whomever they idolize. They set lofty goals, and when it’s not achieved, they fall into depression. That’s when those nagging voices take over. You know the ones. The voice that says we’re not good enough.

F #2 – Fear: Fear comes when we’ve convinced ourselves that our work will never be as good as the author we’re trying to mimic. I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t worry about my writing. I worry no one will read it or that my stories aren’t good enough. Notice the present tense? That’s because this is something that’s with me all the time, but I don’t give into that fear. I accept all the fear and the worst case scenarios. Unlike frustration, fear can be an easy thing to dispel. If you’re afraid your writing isn’t good, then do what you need to improve it. Read more or take a class on creative writing. Talk to other writers, and you’ll see you’re not alone. If you’re afraid no-one will like your book, understand that no one can write a book that relates to everyone. If you’re afraid no one will read your book, join the club. That is a fear that we all have but if you write what you would like to read and I can guarantee someone will read it.

F #3 –Fulfillment: Fulfillment is like a breath of fresh air to a writer. It can start out as a small thing, like writing for an hour a day, and slowly increasing to encompass a lofty goal like getting an agent or publishing a book. Fulfillment’s grow and change over time and we have to make sure we grow and change with them. We must push ourselves to the next level once a fulfillment is complete. We grow each time we succeed, and even if we fall back into an old pattern, we can’t let that keep us from achieving our goals. We can’t let ourselves go backward and give into our fear or frustration, otherwise we’re f*****.

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