ABL – Always Be Learning

Joe’s Post #178

Always. Be. Learning!

I’m going to bastardize a quote from one of my favourite movies.

Always Be Learning.

This is in the top 3 of my personal things to live by, or at least I’ll admit living by.

  1. Always be learning.

2. Never sniff the hockey gear.

3. Be kind to everyone because you never know who’s going to pee in your soup.

If you need a few more motivational quotes to live by, here are 50!

But for writing, here’s what I was looking at this week and wanted to pass along.

Agent Irene Goodman wrote a great article in Writer’s Digest. 16 Things All Historical Fiction Writers Need to Know.

Now I had the pleasure of listening to her at the Surrey International Writers Conference. She spoke about Non-fiction book proposals and I have to say, she handled the crazies there pretty well.

“So, how come no one wants to buy my book about quantum mechanics and the relation to me not getting girls?”

Her: “Uhm, make it simply about quantum mechanics. Like a text book. There’s a market for that.”

“Then girls will like me?”

Her: “Ah, next question please.”

Anyway, there’s a ton of great advice in that article if you have a moment to read it. I personally love #9, but am deeply afraid of #11. I so want that one not to be true.

 

Always. Be. Feeling.

Another read, (albeit a bit longer) is Don Maass’ latest book about putting emotion into your writing. Ok, he called it The Emotional Craft of Fiction, and it’s one heck of a good read. See, the thing is, as a reader, I remember a book that made me feel. I don’t often remember something with a good line about ducks, or on-fire dialogue, but man, do I remember a book that made me cry.

I’m currently doing my best to make sure I put a bit more emotion into my story. It’s a new journey for me as I usually write something like ‘Joe feels sad’ and leave it at that. But there’s so, so much more that can be done.

So, buy it on amazon. Borrow it from a friend (mine is full of notes, though), or take it out of a library.

Lastly, Surrey International Writers Conference is where I learned so much last year. Or learned so much more. It won’t be long until there’s early registration and I would love to see a few more of my writer friends there. We can learn stuff together, share our learning and become better writers.

ABL!

For the websites, in case you missed them, they are here.

Irene Goodman

Don Maass.

SiWC

Writer’s Digest

So what learning are you doing this week?

Next week – what it’s like to do a rewrite. I should be done my 1st rewrite on my novel and have a few things to share.

 

 

Always be learning

Joe’s Post #154

IMG_2269 (800x599)As a writer, as a human being, as a full-on weirdo, there’s one thing I should always be doing.

ABL. Always. Be. Learning.

Like the famous speech in Glengarry, Glen Ross. (Parental discretion advised.)

But not, you know, always be closing. Always be learning.

So even when I’m writing on my novel or fixing it or staring at the words I’ve written and wondering what the hell made me think this was a good idea, I continue to try to learn something new that will help me be a better writer, a better blogger or just a more annoying history buff.

This week, I looked at three things I wanted to share.

First, the Writer’s Digest Platform Challenge for October. Check it out. I have a link. Lots of good stuff if you’re just starting out a blog, but also some interesting exercises if you have one up and running.

Here are a few examples. Day 8. Find and share a helpful article. We do this on our blog (or at least share links) but it’s a good reminder to connect with the community at large. It’s something I need to work on with my own blog.

Day 9. Call to Action. I have to confess, this one has me baffled. We’ve not gotten a lot of comments on our blog and when I read other blogs, I see they often do. I’m not sure what we’re doing wrong. Any suggestions? (this is my call to action.)

Day 18. Interview an Expert. Oh, I like this one. Paula talked to an ex-sheriff, but I’m going to task that for next week. Stay tuned. I’m agonna find someone who knows something about something.

sniper 3. Apparently i'm in there somewhere.

Sniper 3. Apparently I’m in there somewhere.

Day 20. Search yourself. Hmmm. Seems Joe Cummings writes travel books. Seems Joe Cummings had a stranger living in his apartment. Seems there’s a Canadian poet named Joe Cummings. So not me. Seems Joe Cummings is an actor in Sniper.

So, yeah, seems I’m a lot of things, but none of them me.

Try justjoebc as a search and see what you find. I dominate that one. Oh, yeah, baby. Yeah.

I think I’ll go back and do up a plan for next week. I should be able to do 2 a day and catch up a bit.

Anyone else willing to give this a try?

Second thing learned.

Black Soldiers in WW1

Black Soldiers in WW1

Watched 8 hours of WW1 footage for my novel. Pretty interesting stuff. I’m going to steal all sorts of facts for my character’s background. After all, that war defined him. But the most interesting thing I learned is that while the US refused to integrate its army into the French army (for good reason), they did integrate their colored regiments, who were treated quite differently in that army than in their own.

Last thing.

I re-learned how important it is to have a support group, a critique group, or just a few writing friends who’ll be there to help you when you need it.

Holland WW2

Holland WW2

See, something was wrong with my first 60 pages. I dunno what the hell it was, but something was nagging at me. Nagging bad. But after spending time with one friend (and Friday, another), I should have it all sorted out.

Funny what a new set of eyes can see that you can’t.

So, if you’re ever stuck, go phone a friend. It’s advice from Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

At that’s it from me for this week.

******

Page count:  90ish (but see that thing about having to redo some of it)

5/5/5 Word count. I dunno. 22,000

Words that will get thrown out: Probably 21,000

Blogs written: 1 (but a burst of 5 starts tomorrow on Just A Stepdad.)

Exercise days: 0 – sick as a dog for most of last week

Movies Seen: Fury Road (with the boys). The Martian (maybe it was that time of month for me, but I teared up a lot). San Andreas (with the youngest boy, a movie that proves if you go by a formula, you’ll suck. Even with the Rock.)

Book I’m Reading: Something From The Nightside by Simon R. Green (a book akin to the one I wrote for the Tor open call).

 

 

 

Contest win – sort of

Joe’s Post #150

I was going to write a post about something Stephen King said, but then I got this in my email. It’s not a win. It’s an honorable mention. But at my level, this still has to count for something.

It’s little things like this that keep us going, like a foul ball in the majors or a near miss in Battleship.

“Hello Joe Cummings!

Congratulations! Your entry, Joe’s Job was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 84th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition.

As an Honorable Mention recipient, you will receive 20% off of qualifying purchases in the Writer’s Digest Shop

The top award winners will be listed in the November/December 2015 issue. In addition, the Grand Prize & first place winners in each category will have their story published in the 84th Annual Writer’s Digest Competition Collection. The names of all Honorable Mentions will be listed in the collection. The Competition will be published in November 2015 and will be available for purchase from www.writersdigestshop.com in early 2016.

Again, many congratulations from all of us on the Writer’s Digest team!”

So check out the collection when it comes out. It may not have my submission, but it should have some great ones in there.

Bootcamp for writers

Joe’s Post #135

i dont know butWhat do you do when you’re stuck in a non-writing groove? Maybe you look at a writing bootcamp.

Not the kind of bootcamp where you get yelled at by an angry-looking marine or go around singing martial marching songs. “I don’t know but I’ve been told, if you don’t write, you don’t get sold. Sound off, one two, sound off, three four…”

Nor the kind where you leap over logs and end up running through mud. Nope, a writing bootcamp is where you, ah, write.

It’s something the group is considering. What better way than to get together, unfurl our laptops, and grind out page after page? We can be there for support. For advice. Or simply for company.

stephen kingThere are, of course, some variations on this theme. I think the Hemingway version involves a lot of scotch. Certainly the Hunter S. Thompson version would include a lot of blow and hookers. I imagine Stephen King’s would involve graveyards and listening to thrash metal music and something that would probably scar me for life.

Some are structured (from Writer’s Digest). Some are fun and spontaneous (from Capilano College). Some set goals (like the one I went to in Oregon as part of the Oregon Writer’s Network, where we set a goal of writing a book in a week). Some just get together to write.

What’s important is that all of them motivate writers to write. And that’s what we need to do.

When I went down to Oregon, I was with a houseful of professional writers. That alone added a huge incentive for me not to sit there and play Minecraft or go for a walk on the beach and gaze at the waves. And I wrote my ass off. 400 odd pages in 6 days.

Now, I’m not saying it was the greatest novel I’d ever written, and I ran into a huge plot flaw problem on day 5 that I couldn’t fix in the time allotted, but I wrote, and wrote a lot. I didn’t even spend much time with the other writers, talking about ideas or methods or just the best way to make a cup of tea. It’s something I actually regret, but (again) I didn’t get distracted from my reason for being there.

So, I think it’ll be a good thing for us to gather together and write.

I don’t know if we’ll set goals as a group or as individuals.

I don’t know if it’ll be some place fancy like Palm Springs or my backyard.

structured writingI don’t know if it’ll be all structured and organized (like get up at 7am, pee from 7:10-7:11, dress from 7:11-7:30, coffee and breakfast 7:30-8:00, heavy drinking from 8:01-11:15, write…. 8:10-8:20 crying and swearing time. 8:30 bed), or we’ll just wing it day-to-day.

But I do know that if we get together for the purpose of writing, we will write. The peer pressure will be there. The support will be there. The encouragement for getting sh*t done will be there.

So I ask you all: What would your writing bootcamp look like? How would you set it up?

******

Best show last week – Seasonal finale of the Walking Dead. Brilliant stuff.

Book that I’m reading at the moment –  Shadow’s Edge. Brent Weeks. Nearly done and it’s his best book so far. But why, Joe, why? It’s because he gave his hero a nice cost to using his uber powers. A brutal cost, but an effective one.

Pages written on new book  I’ve now officially committed to the group to write 10 pages a week. A low total for a professional writer, but it should be me started.

Social media update – Finally finished my epic journey as a chaperone on my step-dad site. Check it out.

Health  Still functionally deaf at the moment due to an ear infection. F*ing hell. It’s like living in a bubble.

Best thing last week  I found out I’ll be getting more time to write. Let’s hope I can use that time effectively.

Worst thing  Nothing. Life is good.

Links to other writers and bloggers to check out….

Ok, I asked everyone to check out this guy, but if you haven’t, then now’s the time….

chuck

Chuck Wendig

http://terribleminds.com (it is NSFW, but funny as hell!)

Is trying to get published a time waster?

Helga’s Post #101:  What do writers spend most of their time on? Writing?

You may be surprised at the answer. Marketing supposedly takes more time than the actual writing. At least this is what some studies on writers’ behavior suggest. I find that a startling statistic and I am not sure of its validity. What about writers like Ernest Hemingway? Did he spend as much time peddling his manuscripts as writing them? I doubt it. Or take Agatha Christie, the most published novelist in history. She wrote 69 novels and 19 plays and is estimated to have sold 4 billion books. If she had spent more time on marketing than writing, she would have lived to at least double her 85 years.

Nonetheless, we know that writers do spend a fair chunk of time on getting their work out into the world and trying to make money from it. More time than most of us can imagine. Take the example of Amanda Hocking, an American writer of paranormal romance young-adult fiction. (You can read about her on Paula’s blog post of Dec. 18, 2014, ‘Top 10 Gifts for Writers’). Hocking has sold over a million copies of her nine books and earned two million dollars from sales, previously unheard of for self-published authors. In early 2011, Hocking averaged 9,000 book sales each day. Has it been easy?

“The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn’t writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.”

While most of us won’t need to be quite as involved as Amanda, it begs the question: What is the most efficient way to market one’s writing? Much has been said and written on the topic. Some excellent advice, as well as a lot of rubbish that only befuddles our poor writers’ brain.

Perhaps an even more fundamental question than ‘what is the most efficient way for marketing’ is this: How does a writer decide whether his or her work is marketable in the first place? Don’t you wish someone could tell you if you’re wasting your time trying to be a writer? Or if you’re at all close to getting traditionally published—assuming that’s your goal?

That question showed up in a Writer’s Digest article of a few years ago. While traditional publishing may have become a lesser goal for many of us, the question about wasting time trying to be a writer is still valid. At the risk of stating the obvious, it might be useful to quote WD’s 5 time wasters that writers should avoid:

  1. Submitting manuscripts that aren’t your best work.
  2. Self-publishing when no one is listening.
  3. Distributing your work digitally when your audience wants print—or vice versa.
  4. Seeking New York commercial publishing deals for regional or niche work.
  5. Focusing on publishing when you should be writing.

The article goes on to ask two questions most relevant to the publication path:

  1. How much time did you put into writing? Have you put in enough time to get good at it?
  2. How much time did you spend reading quality, published work? This helps you learn how to write better AND understand where you might be on the spectrum of quality.

When is it time to change course?

  1. Honestly assess whether your work is commercially viable. Not all work is.
  2. Are you getting bitter? If you find yourself demonizing people in the publishing industry, taking rejections very personally, feeling as if you’re owed something, and/or complaining whenever you get together with other writers, it’s time to find the refresh button.

But there is hope, compliments of Jane Friedman, the WD article’s author (I prefer to call it a reality check): “If your immediate thought upon reading this blog post headline was something like: I couldn’t stop trying even if someone told me to give up, then you’re much closer to publication than someone who is easily discouraged. The battle is far more psychological than you might think.”

I am convinced most of us fall into that category. We love what we do and nobody and nothing can deter us. We know the rules of good storytelling. We know when too many rules get in the way of good writing. And we can laugh at ourselves when our stories get silly. Or when we really, really screw up. Like this:

Credit: Tom Gould

Credit: Tom Gauld

You are a writer. So be an author!

Helga’s Post #93: These words of encouragement appeared in an article titled ‘Don’t be afraid of Indie Publishing’ by Writer’s Digest online editor Brian Klems. Posted a year ago it’s a must read for writers of all genres. It’s informative and helps ease the decision all of us who have written a complete manuscript have to face: Go the traditional publishing route or go on your own.

As you can glean from the last few posts of our blog, the topic of indie publishing and self-publishing has been utmost in the 5 writers discussions. Admittedly, we are still in the writing phase, some of us at the start of our new novel, and nowhere near ready to face the publishing challenge. But we have pretty well decided to give self-publishing a try.

I admit, I have been a skeptic of indie and self-publishing until recently, and there are some issues that keep me from being a dyed-in-the-wool fan just yet. But the more I research the topic the closer I am drawn to the conclusion that this is the brave new world for writers. And it’s here to stay.

The benefits for writers seem obvious. Here is how the ‘Don’t be afraid’ article puts it:

More and more authors are finding the courage to self-publish or sign contracts with small presses dedicated to building niche markets. They’re proud of their work, and they’re making serious money selling it to readers around the world.

Speaking of money, how can we not get excited that we don’t have to give 80% to publishers? We get to keep the money our stories earn. And we keep control of our work. How cool is that?

On the surface, it sounds fantastic. But how many indie authors are really making serious money? As you can guess, the picture is rather murky. Stating the obvious, some authors, whether self-published and/or traditionally published, are making $15,000 a month and more, and some are making $200. And some have yet to make any money at all. Not every self-published author will collect.

But not all of us are writing to make money, American author Hugh C. Howey reminds us. Some writers will do it if it costs them money. Among the self-published are those who published a memoir to share with a few family members. Or a young student who participated in a youth NaNoWriMo program and just wanted to see their work for sale on Amazon. These are valid reasons to publish. We can’t lump everyone together in the “wanna be rich and famous” category.

So where’s the rub?

Self-publishing is big business, but there’s more to putting out a book than just printing it. When you’re working alone, without a literary agent or traditional publisher, you must be vigilant about scams. Just google ‘self-publishing scams’ and you will find 742,000 results. Horror stories abound. Writers paying 10K to get their manuscript ‘published’ without a single copy sold. Like in any other business, it’s ‘buyer beware’. Writers who are in a hurry to get their book published seem to be the most vulnerable, willing to pay top dollars for inadequate services. They may get lured by unscrupulous publishers with promises of grandeur, only to find out they were paying for ineffective marketing or excessive fees for an ISBN.

But once you take the time to dig deeper, the picture actually gets brighter. My research revealed countless success stories where writers did very well and made money without paying to get their book out. There is absolutely no need to front any costs if you are willing to spend time to educate yourself. You can format your book and you can even market it yourself. There are many resources available on how to do it.

You just have to look.

For me personally, the two most important issues are this: First, writers should get paid for their stories, rather than paying for them (therefore: no vanity presses, no ‘pay to publish’). Secondly, writers should keep control of their work in their own hands.

On balance, even with pitfalls (which we can avoid if we are vigilant), the benefits lead to the self-publishing camp. That’s the route I am willing to take together with my 5 writers group. It doesn’t mean we’ll shut the door forever on traditional publishing. According to a recent survey, about 10% of self-published authors transitioned from indie publishing into traditional publishing. Conversely, among writers who traditionally published their first book, more than a third (36%) have now also self-published.

The bottom line? The decision is entirely up to each and every writer. You want to be an author? Now you can.Publish-259x300

To outline or not to outline

Joe’s Post #74

hamletThat is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of rewrite after rewrite or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by outlining end them.

Thing is, it’s not like there’s a right or wrong answer here. No really. It totally depends on the writer. Both ways – outlining or not outlining – have their good and bad points. Very quickly…

No Outlining – More creativity. Easy to get into the flow of writing scenes. Maximum inspiration. See Writer’s Digest take on it. Downside – You will need to rewrite the whole novel – sometimes more than once – unless you’re super amazing (and there are writers out there like that). It’s a TON of work to rewrite a whole novel. Like remaking a piece of Ikea furniture without instructions and forgetting to attach the noobler to the wookweiner. And then redoing it again cuz like you forgot the wankdinger has to slip inside the bagvik. Yuck, right?

Outlining – Easier to keep a complex plot organized. All sorts of wrongish things can be spotted and fixed. See Joseph Finder‘s take on it. Downside  (a big one) – it can suck the life out of your desire to write that story. Like writing Ikea instructions. In your own blood. While it’s raining. It’s hard, blood-soaked work. And isn’t writing supposed to be fun?

left right brainIt’s the classic left brain vs right brain. Logical, analytical, objective vs intuitive, action-oriented, subjective. Spock vs Kirk.

Now, I’ve tried both outlining and not outlining, but for the last novel, I settled on a hybrid make-a-rough-outline-then-write system. Sort of like a Frankenstein’s monster that tried to marry creation and order. 

That system, which I have dubbed, the ‘it looks like someone threw up sticky notes all over my table’, resulted in a surprisingly hole-filled plot. Oh, I remember the critique well. “Joe, you forgot about Blahblah the Dorfmaster who appeared on page 67 and then was forgotten.” Or, more embarrassingly, “You have no ending. No climax.” Or “You forgot to bring coffee to the critique session.”

Not good. Not good at all.

REWRITE time!

Now all of these things, (and many, many more), I could have solved by a more detailed outline… but a detailed outline that SOMEONE ELSE READS.

That’s why we’re looking at doing up a detailed outline for our next big 5/5/5 meeting. It’s one thing to write out one of those things, to go through it yourself and try to spot errors or omissions or a propensity to overuse the word ‘blood-soaked’, but another thing entirely to have someone else look at it. Where are the high points, the low points? Is there action or tension or sex in enough scenes? Have I lost a character or two in the journey? Is my plot so tight you could bounce quarters off it?

See, none of us have done a detailed outline and shared it. The hope is that by doing so we’ll learn a little more about plot, character, story-telling, emotion, pacing… well, pretty much everything. I’ve been fortunate enough to critique an outline by a great outliner and have found that I can often get a better idea of the story than if I read the whole novel and certainly better than reading 30 page chunks at a time. It’s like looking at the whole pizza and seeing if it needs more cheese, or pickles or whatever. It’s way easier than judging it from just one bite (or 50 bites over a year).

Who knows if we’ll all turn into dedicated outliners? I suspect Silk will never be one as she is such an amazingly creative person. I suspect Paula, having done such a great job with her last novel, will continue to outline as a way of keeping her from running after shiny new things. Karalee and Helga could go either way.

Me, I’ll just be happy to try something new.

What I hope, though, is that I’ll become a better story-teller like the guys who wrote Up. Sadly, I’m still a lot more like Dug the dog.

 

Hey, you! Wanna buy a book?

books

Joe’s Post #30 — The last thing I want to do is paint myself as some sort of expert on this subject. I’m not. I’m just Joe trying to figure this out like everyone else.  But I do have a process. It may not be for everyone and I welcome any and all advice to improve upon my chances of success.

So, sit back, grab a drink and let me lead you into that vast and cobwebbed labyrinth that is my mind.

For me, querying is by far the hardest part of being a writer. It terrifies me. I want to slink under the bed and hide from the scariest monster of all: Rejection. Oh, I have no problem pounding out a novel, no fear there. Nor do I fear rewrites or tossing out vast swaths of my manuscript to write a better story. I don’t fear critiques, spiders or people saying I write like a 2-year-old on dope.  But faced with a query letter to write then SEND, boy, I tell you, it’s a tough one for me.

To quote Nicholas Sparks “Above all, a query letter is a sales pitch and it is the single most important  page an unpublished writer will ever write. It’s the first impression and will  either open the door or close it. It’s that important, so don’t mess it up. Mine took 17 drafts and two weeks to write.”

Yikes!

But there seems to be some sort of correlation between getting published and writing queries. Apparently my psychic powers are not enough to wake up an agent in the middle of the night and get him or her to call me and say, send me your manuscript.

So, I nut up and begin.

First up, for today, finding an agent. There are many great resources out there, but Nathan Bransford is certainly one to check out. He says it better than I ever could and he knows it from both sides, the writer and the agent.

SKFor me, I begin with research. The first ones I have queried have been agents I’ve met at conferences or workshops and didn’t throw up on. Then I progress to agents that I find from my favourite authors. I read the acknowledgments. Make notes. I mean why not send to an agent who represents an author and genre I like? Stephen King’s agent, however, has not replied. I think this is to be expected.

For research beyond that, there are many avenues including a simple google search, but I chose querytracker, the Association of Author Representatives,  Preditors and Editors, Agent Query.com and perhaps the greatest resource of all, Publisher’s Marketplace.  These sites, and there are others, but these sites combined give me a pretty good idea of who wants what and how they want submissions done.

But those resources, as good as they are, aren’t everything. The agent I queried yesterday, Barbara Poelle I found from reading Writer’s Digest. She answered 14 Questions You’re Too Afraid To Ask Literary Agents.  Funny as hell (she seems to share my same sense of humor) and (from Publisher’s Marketplace) “She loves unusual literary fiction with a commercial edge, thrillers, and anything with a great voice.” Perfect, I thought. I’m unusual, I wrote a thriller and I wrote it with a great voice. So I sent her a query.

Now, when I write my queries, I want them to be as personal as I can make them. I will never say, Dear Agent. I will use their name and pray to God I spell it right. I won’t spam out the same query to all agents, I will tailor it to the agent based on a few things. I’ll research them as noted above, I’ll read their blogs (and man, there are some great blogs out there), I’ll check out the authors they represent, I’ll read their twitter feeds and I’ll do a basic google check. This also helps me determine if indeed the agent is right for me. If someone is looking for Highlander erotica primarily, no sense in sending them a book about detectives in the desert who don’t wear kilts.

And then I send out the query. I hold my breath. Move the mouse over the ‘send’ button. Close my eyes. And click. (Or, in some cases, put it all in an envelope and toss it in the mail box.)

It’s still terrifying. I won’t deny it. Before I send off any queries, I am the greatest writer of all time, funny and handsome and charming and so sure that everyone will want to read my novel. But querying puts my book out there. I risk not being the greatest writer of all time (though I still may be funny and handsome and charming).  I risk a blow to my self-esteem.  I risk not being read, the worst thing that can happen to a writer.

But it’s the price I have to pay to get published.

And honestly, at this point, being a new writer, the best I can hope for is that someone is willing to take a chance on me – that I’m taking this very seriously, that I can write, and that I can tell a good story that people will want to pay money to read.

Wish me luck.

Next week, a query I wrote for fun. To relieve the stress a bit.