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Archive for the ‘How To Be A Writer’ Category

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November. Are you ready? Will you spill yourself heart and soul out onto the written or virtual pages this month?

It’s November. That month where the world grows gloomy and cold, commuters begin their winter trek in the dim twilight or somber darkness, seeing little of daylight in their false indoor lights, and the long shadow of winter is upon us. Some of us are wallowing in regret from eating all that sweet Halloween candy bliss we had to panic re-buy last minute before we get tricks for not treating the ghouls, princesses, prancing unicorn ponies, and Ninja Turtles racing door to door October 31st.

Leaves have turned shades of yellows, oranges, and reds, like a burned effigy to summer, and fallen crisp and dry to the ground to house the creatures surviving the winter outside. Soon, tangled strings of mostly working lights will be pulled out to create a carnival of Christmas color.

November is the month of remembering those lost to us in forgotten wars of the past and the sacrifices made by both the living and departed veterans of yesterday’s and today’s battlegrounds.

It is also the month of awareness for too many causes to list; Movember (men’s health issues including prostate cancer), pancreatic and other cancers, crohn’s and colitis awareness, national domestic violence awareness, fall prevention, … let’s stop there.

What else is November? For some us it is the month of mad writing spurts, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Are you ready for it?

 

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

For those unfamiliar with that strange term “NaNoWriMo”, it is an acronym of the first few letters of each word for this wordy month: National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo is about writing and getting out of your comfort zone. It’s about putting aside meticulously plotting and thinking out each word and sentence carefully before committing it to literary art.

The month long writeathon pits participants (Wrimos) against their own inner doubts with the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That’s on the short end for a novel, and it doesn’t actually have to be a novel. It can be anything so long as you meet that goal of 50,000 words. You could be finishing a work in progress or starting something new; writing any genre or type: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short stories. There is also a youth version of NaNo. The kids set their own word goals.

 

It’s free to participate and is a worldwide massive internet-based writing competition. If you win, you get to download virtual badges. If you lose, you can boast participation badges. There are no monetary awards and no magic publishing button at the end of the rabbit hole. Wins are awarded on a self-declaration basis. That is, you upload words to a counter that determines if you won or lost. So, yes cheating is easy and is done; but, who are you really cheating?

 

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

NaNo is about challenging yourself to put aside thought and free your inner muse. Write. That’s it, just write. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to be planned or outlined. It’s an exercise in freedom to write without constraint, to simply let the words flow. You might be surprised at what you learn about your own writing ability if you have never done this before.

 

More importantly, NaNoWriMo is about encouragement, support, and awareness. Yes, and having fun in a weird writerly way that non-writers will probably never understand.

 

From the NaNo Org:

“NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit organization that supports writing fluency and education. But it’s also a social network for writers like LinkedIn is for job professionals, or DeviantArt is for artists, or Facebook is for moms whose kids accept their friend requests only to provide them with “limited profile” access. It tracks words for writers like Fitbit tracks steps for the ambulatory. It’s a real-world event, during which 900+ volunteers in places like Mexico City, Seoul, and Milwaukee coordinate communal writing sessions in thousands of partnering libraries, coffee shops, and community centers like… well, like nothing else.

 

It’s internet-famous. It’s a community-powered fandom (before there was the Beyhive, or Nerdfighters, there were Wrimos). It’s a start-up incubator for novels (books like Water for Elephants, Fangirl, and WOOL began as rough drafts in November!). It’s a teaching tool, it’s a curriculum, and its programs run year-round.

 

Whatever you thought NaNoWriMo was, it is more than that.”

 

 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

How the heck do you survive NaNovember?

 

50,000 words in 30 days is daunting. It’s the mountain of incomprehensible impossibility. The molehill the ant could not imagine to build. It is also only 1,667 words per day (rounded off). That’s only 69 1/2 words an hour. You got this! Okay, accounting for the need to sleep, eat, go to work/school, and all that, you might get two or three or four hours a day in, so realistically 417 to around 830 words an hour.

 

But hey, who really needs that eating and sleeping thing, right?

 

The NaNo community is very supportive of their fellow Wrimos. There are groups online and off to find encouragement in. You can get endless writing prompts and cues for NaNo sprints. A sympathetic shoulder to lean on, you go girls/guys/theys, and even encouraging articles from known authors. You can buy self-affirming posters, coffee and travel mugs, shirts, buttons, and other swag to litter your writing space with reminders.

 

The trick is not to let yourself feel overwhelmed. Give yourself a daily goal. If you can exceed that, great, you have a buffer for those days that will invariably come where you flop or cannot write at all. Life does have a habit of getting in the way of best intentions sometimes. The more wordy buildup you can get early on, the better you stand later. (I usually flop around the three-quarter mark of the month.)

 

Every word adds up.  If I get half a dozen words in before racing out the door in the morning, it’s a win. Write a scene on your phone notepad, or a real notepad, while your bus or ride trundles along through traffic. I strongly recommend against that if you are in the driver seat. Nope, no, not a good idea. And, it’s likely illegal wherever you are. (It definitely is illegal here in Manitoba!) Coffee breaks, lunch breaks, waiting for that ride home; every bit of scene, dialogue, and drama adds up. I will write in bits and spurts in the evening too, between supper, house stuff, fur babies, other commitments, and family.

 

Photo by Andraz Lazic on Unsplash

Find local NaNo gatherings where they encourage sitting quietly and writing, offer writing prompts and tips, and muse support. Hide away in a quiet corner in a coffee shop where you can disappear from family and friends (although you might want to let them know where you are so they don’t call the cops when they don’t hear from you for hours), focus, and unplug from the constant buzzing bleeping of your phone alerts to every post and picture of your extended online life.

 

The other trick is to ignore that inner editor. They can have at it later to wreak havoc on whatever you write. Don’t let yourself question or second guess the words spilling out. There is no going back to edit, revise, or fix anything, not even spelling. You can run it through the dreaded Spellcheck later, that nefarious creation which I’m sure was spawned with evil intentions and purposely tries to make you sound like an eighteenth century professor who hasn’t a wit about what half the words in existence now mean, or how people actually talk. You can rip, revise, and edit to your heart’s content – after the sun sets on November 30th and dawns on the crisp road gunk dulled snow of December 1.

 

If you’ve never tried it, don’t be afraid to give it a go. No one in the NaNo community will denigrate you for failing to reach that 50,000 word mark. You have nothing to lose, except maybe your sanity to the NaNo muse.

 

Don’t forget to join your local NaNo chapter!

https://nanowrimo.org/

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Photo by Raphael Rychetsky on Unsplash

As an author one of your jobs is endless self-promotion.

 

I did my first ever book bog tour. I mean a real tour, not one where your publisher sends your book to all of two fellow authors in their stable to review it and calls it a tour (yeah, this did happen). This, despite having my first short story published in an in-print anthology in 2009. (I’m not counting the multiple E-zine flash fiction and short stories), and my first book published in 2014 by that same Indy publisher, followed by another. (Wow, it feels so much longer ago than that!) And, I’ve been writing for a lot longer than that.

 

It was kind of terrifying. Okay, a lot terrifying. 62 book bloggers over 30 days received complementary copies of my 4-book series to blog and/or review at their discretion.

 

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

 

To add to the, ‘will they hate it,’ fear, I’m not entirely a conventional writer. I’m not a follow the traditional rules write to the long established scripted standards kind of author. I don’t conform to the status quo, the norms; the overall expectations of, ‘This is how it has always been done, so this is how you have to do it,’ mindset. I don’t obey the, ‘This is the currently popular style/person so you must do it too.’ Literary art, to me, is not meant to be kept in a tidy box of expectations.  (And, those expectations are expanding with the volume of Indy and self-pubbed books.)

 

 

 

 

 

Book blog tours is only one of the ways to try to get the attention of the readers at large in the hopes they will be interested enough to buy your books.

It is important to note here that people who manage book blog tours do not generally do it purely out of the generosity and kindness of their own hearts. Book blog touring is a paid service. While the bloggers and book reviewers are not paid (their only compensation is the free book), the tour manager will charge you a fee, and the rates will vary.

 

 

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

My book blog tour was a fail and I’ll tell you why. Predominantly, in going through each blog or Facebook page after their scheduled posting date, almost every one was like skimming through those Facebook groups of endless self-promotion. You know the ones, where countless authors hopeful and desperate seeming plug themselves in a never-ending stream of self-promotion posts that nobody looks at. Few of the authors posting on these groups take the time to scroll through the other advertisements, fewer still with the goal of finding something to buy. I doubt anyone else even looks at them.

 

 

The other problem was the genre. You need to sing to your target audience. Can you imagine Alice Cooper or Ozzie Osborn stepping on to the stage and belting out lyrics to a crowd who bought tickets to Michael Bublé or Beyoncé? As Alice would croon, “Welcome to my nightmare…”

 

Photo by Katie Montgomery on Unsplash

The blogs that signed up for the tour were mostly populated by streams of “book tour” advertisements for romance. Yes, romance. I write dark fiction; thrillers, dark mystery, psychological thrillers, drama with dark twists, not so cozy mystery with an underlay of you guessed it – darkness. I have not to date tried writing a dark romance. Frankly, I don’t think I could write a romance. Romance and dark fiction tend to appeal to very different kinds of readers.

 

I did get some positive comments on my book covers, even a few on the books’ write-ups. And I got one review so far from the 62 blogs. Do I expect to see any sales from it? It’s possible. Just because there was no uptick in sales during the 30-day tour, doesn’t mean no one who saw or participated will buy. Some buy later. I don’t think it’s likely, though; romance and thriller being unlikely crossover genres.

 

The comments were also generally from the bloggers themselves posting on the blog tour operator’s blog. They already got complimentary copies, so they aren’t going to buy the books. If a book farts in the woods and nobody hears it, will they buy it? There seemed to be little, if any, traffic outside those bloggers to any of the blogs.

 

 

Photo by Dorian Hurst on Unsplash

Can a book blog tour be successful?  Yes. The question is, ‘How?’ It’s about following basic rules of marketing.

 

Find your audience. If these were blogs featuring thrillers, horrors, suspense, mystery, and other related genres, odds of sales would have been driven up exponentially, assuming anyone reads the blogs.

 

Traffic is necessary. I suspect blogs that feel like Facebook groups of endless self-promotion ads with nothing else to offer probably get just as much meaningful traffic: little to none. You need blogs that pull traffic in, that have meat and potatoes and lactose free/gluten free/vegan-loving poutine (if such a thing exists). What you need are blogs the people who might read your book are interested in what they have on the blog menu.

 

 

Incentives are helpful. People love to feel like they got a deal. Thus, the giveaway. I gave away a couple of small Amazon gift cards and a few free copies of an eBook I was not trying to drive sales on in the book tour. If it was a short tour, I might have offered a discounted sale on the books.

 

Be inclusive and try to make friends. You want people to want to buy your book, and to make it as easy for them to do it as you can. Remember, everyone who might buy is your friend.

 

Personal touch is important. Self-promotion is not just about immediate book sales. It is also about building your author platform and growing your hoard of followers, some of whom will buy your books – eventually. More followers can be gained by being personable and engaging with them than standing behind a smokescreen plugging ads at them.

 

Be seen.  If nobody knows you exist, you don’t, right? Kind of like that Schrödinger-styled tree that may or may not have made a sound when it fell in the forest. Your marketing needs to hit as many eyes as you can, but not literally. This is not A Christmas Story or the Addams Family.

 

 

Photo by elizabeth lies on Unsplash

How the book blog tour works is that the tour operator puts out a call for bloggers to sign up. Once the signups are complete, the bloggers are scheduled to blog on certain dates. It could be a blog, Facebook blog page, or other online site.  The bloggers get a complimentary copy of your eBook(s).

 

You fill out an author Q&A interview and/or write up some short guest blog posts to be shared with the bloggers.

 

On their designated day, the blogger puts up the blog post. It could be a cut and paste of the book tour info (all but one did this on my tour), they could post the relevant information and pictures with their own personal narrative introducing it, or they can post a book review.

 

Ideally, you want each blog post to be unique. Pre-written author interview Q&As or guest posts from you are key here. So is regular active participation from the bloggers, rather than blogs filled with empty cut and paste advertisements.

 

You visit each blog and make comments thanking the blogger and responding to any comments left by anyone else. Again, be personable and try to make friends.

 

Sit back and hope for sales, and don’t forget to tip your waiter/waitress.

 

 

 

Other ways to self-promote your self and books include, but are not limited to:

– Book and/or author website/blog is discoverable on internet search engines

– Social media. Be social online and blog.

– Newsletter/email subscriptions (ie Mailchimp).

– Category choices and keywords for your book sales listings and Google searches.

– First appearances. Your cover needs to make them want to pick it up.

– Book promotion. Pay for some outside promotion help.

– Give it away FREE! Allow free download of the first 10%-20%, free short/flash fiction.

– Book events. Set up author signing tables and schmooze, sell, and sign.

– Have some swag. Give away business cards and bookmarks.

– Submit to eZines, magazines, and anthologies featuring short stories and flash fiction.

– Get mentioned in local newspapers and newsletters.

 

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Hands up introverts! Let’s get a hand-count here.

Is it just me, or do writers seem to have a disproportionate demographic of introverts compared to the general population? And what is scarier for an introvert, and even many extroverts, than having to put yourself out there front and center for the world? Writing, by nature a past-time of solitude and, the thing we embrace, is also our bane. It forces us to step out of our semi-isolated comfort zones into a place that leaves us exposed, where the world can stare at us, judge us, and even criticize us.

Stepping out of your comfort zone. Those words are enough to send a shiver of icy dread coursing down many an introvert’s spine. I, for one, am guilty of being an introvert, if ‘guilty’ can correctly be used here.  I don’t feel guilty or embarrassed about being an introvert, however it will cause me to be embarrassed by situations. Embarrassed, mortified, uncomfortable, awkward; they all fit as symptoms of introvertedness. (The making up of random words is another thing entirely). As a kid I was absolutely terrified of talking to anyone.

Like many new writers I’ve met over the course of my writing career, I wrote in secret for years before ever admitting to anyone it was a thing. I was afraid they wouldn’t understand. They would tell me how stupid I am being even thinking that me, me of all people, could be a writer. They would demand that I was wasting my time. I’m just nobody, right?

With some coaxing from an author friend I met online, I slowly crawled out of the dark and dusty world inside my laptop as a wanna be writer. “No,” she sternly reprimanded me. “You are a writer, not a wanna be.” It took years before I stopped feeling guilty admitting to anyone other than myself that I am a writer, to stop feeling like I was somehow a pretender, giving claim to a lie. That they would see through me, that my writing is crap no one would ever read, even after having first one and then another book published. (I now have nine under two pen names with another coming soon).

Calling myself a writer was stepping out of my comfort zone in a big way. It opened me to possible ridicule and denouncement. Certainly, there were a few who tried to blanket me in their negativity with the over-used clichés that I was wasting my time, would never ‘get rich’ or famous, would never amount to anything, yada yada yada. The joke is on them, though, because I am still writing and never wrote for any of those reasons.

Writing Tip – Step Out of Your Comfort Zone:

The comfort zone is by nature a very limited space in an introvert; small, solitary, and with limited room to grow; like hiding under your blanket in the dark as a kid. For extroverts that space perhaps is less solitary.

An inability to escape the comfort zone can hinder both your writing and your writing career. First and foremost is the simple act of admitting, to others, that you are a writer.

Whether you write openly or in secret, there can also be the ingrained fear that someone will not approve of your writing. It’s not good enough, it’s not up to snuff for the genre, it’s too this or too little that. Someone won’t approve if you use a few swear words, describe a sex scene, or write about real people and events (especially when it’s your own life).

How we each get through that is as unique as each of us are.  I spent years reminding myself that my friends and family aren’t even going to read anything I write, and I am mostly correct on that. I’m also okay with it. It’s actually quite liberating, really.

One of my biggest introvert challenges is public speaking; any kind of public speaking, even with people I’ve known my whole life. I panic. I freeze. Even with a speech written down my mind goes blank and I am completely incapable of thought or reading the cues. I stutter and make an absolute fool of myself, then feel utterly ridiculous for every word that managed to fall in a jumble out of my mouth. I can talk individually and in twos and threes to a long line of people about my books, but put just two or three people in a staring at me as a speaker setting and forget it. I have managed to read to middle grade kids, and totally bombed at trying to read my story at the St Valentines Horror Con a few years ago (I was so terrified I couldn’t even look at the scattered bodies among the mostly empty chairs).

Writing is stepping out of your comfort zone. It is about experimenting and learning. Not being afraid to try new things and getting over that fear of trying to be published. It is about talking to total strangers about why you think you are good enough to be published, doing readings and book signings, talking about your stories and writing habits. Letting other people actually read what you write, that can be a big hurdle when you are insecure about your writing. It is about realizing that it is okay to say, “I am a writer,” and not letting anything stop you from that dream. It is letting yourself write new things you didn’t think you could, being okay with it if it sucks, and working to make it better.

It does get easier, getting out of that comfort zone, with practice. Anything that takes you out of that comfort zone is practice; facing anxiety at having to return that item to the store, that job interview, and submitting stories and articles for possible publication and to contests. Even if you are certain you will fail, you are facing that fear and that makes you a winner.

What else makes you anxious that you could face? This summer we took the kids and stepped out of all our comfort zones. They have only ever gone ‘glamping’ in a campground with full amenities including a pool and hot tub and other people. For the first time in their lives we stepped out with tents and sleeping bag to real back woods in the bush with nobody but us around, not but a bucket for a latrine, no electricity or running water, if you want hot food you are cooking over the fire, oh my gosh there are bears and wolves and coyotes (and the beaver which was the only actual animal we saw more than just scat and prints of), and swimming in a gravel pit water hole, camping.

They were hesitant to put it mildly, but faced it like troopers. They stepped out of their comfort zone, realized it didn’t kill or mortally injure them, and I think they even had a little fun amid the, “I’m bored, I need Netflix,” complaints. They unplugged, learned new card games, hiked and teased each other, wanted photos, and even suggested they might be willing to do it again if there is a toilet and someone other than us to talk to. They faced it and are stronger for it. One of them is also a budding writer, while the other is an artist. Having not done real back woods camping ever, or even tenting in a campground since a kid, it was stepping out of our comfort zone too. It was a little scary, but fun. Or maybe that’s just the horror writer in me.

Every time you step out of your comfort zone makes you stronger and braver. It makes it easier to step out in other ways doing other things. It makes trying new things, in your writing and writing career and out of it, less scary. Just taking on doing this newsletter is stepping out of my comfort zone.

Challenge yourself. Step out of your comfort zone and let your writing flourish.

Online articles for writers:

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

 

We’ve all heard the age old trope, “Back up your work.” This has been repeated as long as computers existed in the writers’ world.

It’s so easy to say, “Yeah, I know.” It’s just as easy to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Especially with today’s beyond busy lifestyles.

We all get it. We’ve all been there, busy as all heck. As a writer, you are probably juggling the “paying job”, school, family, kids, pets, friends, other activities, and all (or many of) the things that make your house function day to day (you know, the dreaded laundry list of cleaning, cooking, shopping, and other chores). And all this is in addition to trying to put that precious time into writing, editing, revising, more revising, schmoozing, and promoting yourself.

Nothing brings home that reminder to back up your work like having a sudden unexpected computer emergency.

 

 

 

I have been dealing with this for the past weeks. I even have a dedicated external hard drive that exists for just that very purpose – to back up my work. It used to be a dual purpose drive, until one of my kids decided to ‘borrow’ it and dropped it. Everything on the drive was irretrievably lost, but luckily the important stuff, writerly stuff and family photos, were only backed up on it and not the only copy.

So, I bought a new external hard drive and declared it a, “Keep your hands off my frigging hard drive this is for writing and photos backup only!” drive. I dutifully backed up all my important stuff.

Once. Like a year ago. (Or was it longer?) Okay, it was definitely longer.

 

Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash

Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash

Flash forward to yesterweek, when my laptop decided to die an unplanned and untimely death. I faced the loss of more than a year of my life. Three books that I completely redid, spiffing them up better than before, after getting my rights back, plus the completion of the fourth in the series. Three other books finished and published since I backed up, and another book on the verge of publication.  Plus the hours spent on other writing projects and my writing bookkeeping files, among so much more.

At least it was better than completely and totally losing everything, my entire writing library and my self. I still had the older stuff from when I backed up, however long ago that was.

I was lucky this time. It wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last time I am caught unprepared and un-backed up. Once again, my work was saved. My awesome fantastic can fix and make anything better mechanic (yeah, I know, that is not a professional computer person) came to my rescue and was able to retrieve all my files. It looks like it wasn’t the laptop hard drive that quit, thank goodness. The bad news is the laptop itself is un-repairable.

Once again, I have everything backed up. I swore to back up every day. I’ll probably push for backing up every week once I am back up and fully functional again, and hopefully between life and everything I can keep to that.

 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

And so, I will leave you with this extremely very don’t lose yourself and everything you are by losing all your writing files important piece of advice: BACK UP YOUR WORK! REGULARLY! PLEASE.

Not just once. One backup copy is great. Two is better. Best, is to have those all important backup, backup’s backup, and your backup’s backup’s backup. But, what if your house burns down? An offsite backup is good too and maybe another, and … okay, we might be going overboard now, maybe.

 

 

 

But there are alternatives. There are the now getting bigger and better thumb drives. But in my world those are much too easily lost. External hard drives are bigger and harder to lose.

How regularly you back up your work depends on how much time you put into writing. If you do a spattering of words here or there, you probably don’t need to back it up so often.  However, if you write daily or near to daily, I would recommend a weekly backup. Or more. More is better. If you just put in hours writing voraciously, I would suggest backing up at the end of your writing session. Trust me on that.

 

Now, let’s talk backup drives.

There are basically two classifications of hard drives:

HDD: Hard Disk Drive: These drives have more capacity and are cheaper. They are basically a bunch of magnetic discs spinning like a CD with a head that reads and writes data on the magnetic surface of the disks. They are slower and require the head to be reset to a new location every time you want to read or write data. If you drop these they are probably now a paperweight! Moving parts = it breaks if it is jarred too hard or dropped, particularly when the head is not parked off the disc. Think of a vinyl record needle skipping across, only it’s a much more fragile CD disk instead of a more durable vinyl record.

SSD: Solid State Drives: These are probably your better option for a hard drive. Too bad you will probably only find it as an option for an internal drive, but I do strongly recommend it if you are working on a laptop. Data is stored in memory (flash) chips, so there are no moving parts to damage. They also cost more and are faster, but don’t come in the capacities of HDDs.

However, backing up means external backup drives.

There are two main types of external hard drives:

Both are based on SATA drives (the most common connectors used in laptops) and external drives are of the HDD type.

2.5″ magnetic drives: These are smaller drives powered by the port they are connected to, so they are more portable external hard drives. They mostly connect using USB 2.0 (480 Mbps) or USB 3.0 (5 Gbps)

3.5″ drives: These are a larger version of the 2.5”, but require their own power supply. So, instead of being powered through the USB plugged into your computer, there is a second power cord.

While the 2.5″ is more convenient, portable, and easily stored, the 3.5″ is typically more heavy duty and reliable, and tends to be faster because of the dedicated power supply. If you could find an SSD external hard drive, you would be golden! JUST DON’T DROP IT! (Like I said, paperweight. Just ask my kid.)

But now if you want a backup to your backup, something protected from break-in thefts, fire, you name it, you are looking at offsite storage. While you could keep a backup drive at a friend’s or relative’s house, it’s not very convenient for doing those regular back ups.

Luckily for us writers, there is a Cloud for that.

There are options that are free, available for minimal costs, and the pricier options, all depending what meets your needs. Once I am fully up and running again, I will definitely be looking into the cloud backup option in addition to my external hard drive backup. The downside to backing up on the Cloud is it requires internet to access it.

Here is PC Mag’s list of The Best Cloud Storage and File-Sharing Services for 2019:
https://www.pcmag.com/roundup/306323/the-best-cloud-storage-providers-and-file-syncing-services

Some of you probably use an online writing platform, so you don’t have the fear of losing everything when and if your computer or other device decides to die an untimely and unplanned death.

Even users of online writing programs and platforms need to back up their writing files somewhere else in addition to having it there. I have seen people in writing groups online desperately seeking ways to retrieve lost files when something went wrong on those sites and their writing project was lost.

So, no matter how or where you write, back up your files. Back up your back up. And, maybe even back up that too. You will thank yourself some day, probably.

 

 

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

The search for a new laptop is entirely another thing. 

I researched any and every use I could possibly use it for and the recommended specs, which is quit different from the minimum specs.  Minimum specs are the minimum it needs to function, and that’s about all you will get. It will function. Barely.  The “recommended specs” is what it needs to function properly and usably. And then I looked for something a little better than that for a cheap price because I’m a writer and I’m broke.

DO NOT buy the first “affordable” computer you find that meets your specs. No. Nope. Bad idea.

DO thoroughly seek out reviews on the computer you are considering purchasing and ask questions. Like, “What is an ‘unfriendly keyboard’?” I saw that on a review and it sent a chill down my back even a Stephen King novel cannot elicit.

Further reviews on that particular item included a lot of complaints like, “I have to use Cortana to do anything because the keyboard is crap!” A laptop with a useless glitchy non-responsive keyboard. For a writer. The thought is more terrifying than any story I can write.

Another laptop that had a mix of both a lot of glowing reviews and bad reviews included a few reviews warning that they were offering a FREE $100 headset to anyone who gives them a glowing five-star review. I ignored every single good review after that and read only the bad ones. And they were bad. And a lot.

We finally found one that ran me $1121 CAD after taxes with free shipping to the store. The only bad reviews were the pad on the laptop not working. I don’t use the pad. I don’t like the pad. That I can live with. It’s only been a few days, but so far the pad works. Hopefully it keeps working for those rare moments my mouse dies an untimely and unplanned death, leaving me mouse-less and forced to use that horrid pad.

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<SKIP THE VERBIAGE CHATTER AND GET TO BUSINESS>

As a writer, one of the tools in your self-promotion arsenal is newsletters.  I’m late on the ball on this one, mainly because of that fear I will make an idiot of myself. No one will want to read it. No one will even sign up and I’ll be sending it only to myself, or maybe to two or three people who will never even read it. If they do read it, they will think it is completely lame and stupid, rubbish. And, I’ll probably never manage to even send one out often enough for my existence to not be completely forgotten because I will never be able to think of anything to say.

Writers can be full of self-doubts.

One of the most popular mass mailers for producing newsletters is MailChimp. Whatever mailer you use it is a must to get it linked to everything you can so that potential readers discovering you can sign up for your newsletter and grow that base. Growing your newsletter base can grow your fan base and vice versa.

Blogging is another important tool, but that’s for another post. One of the most popular and easy to use blog sites is WordPress.

The bonus of them both is that if you are barely scraping by, money challenged, cheap, or simply trying to keep your author costs down because ideally your money in will some day be more than your money out, they both have a FREE VERSION available.

Here’s the crux of the problem.  MailChimp seems to be designed to work with WordPress plugins.  WordPress plugins come with the PAID upgraded versions of WordPress, not the free version.

You are supposed to be able to make it work using HTML code in a widget.  If you don’t know what a widget is, it is those menu items you can click on along the side of a blog.

MailChimp even provides you with the HTML code to copy and paste into the widget.  Now apparently everyone I could find blogging about how to do it found it a very simple matter of copy and pasting it into the text tab of a text widget and viola it works perfectly.

THIS WAS NOT MY EXPERIENCE. No. Nope. Oh for the love of everything horror in this world it was so not my experience.

Instead of something resembling this:

I got this (my author fan blog page background is black):

And, to top it off, you cannot actually enter an email address anywhere to sign up for the newsletter.

I tried deleting the extra verbiage that is clearly coming through as text supposed to be on the screen.  You can select that easily by clicking on the visual tab in the text widget.  But then I got this:

It looks better except that broken image thing, and there is still no way to actually enter an email address to sign up for the newsletter.

Clearly there is something in the simply copy and paste HTML code MailChimp provides that is meant to be removed, revised, or both. It doesn’t spell it out and neither did any blog post I could find about it. The closest I got was one describing how to do a make it yourself custom button instead. That has to be created in another program. They recommended one requiring a monthly subscription. I stopped reading there.

So, to fix the MailChimp signup in WordPress in free versions issue, I realized I have to learn a little about how to code HTML. Ugh.

Let’s get this straight; I am not a website designer or developer. Nope.  I am just a writer who would rather be writing than trying to figure this stuff out and don’t have the $$$ to hire a professional to do it for me.

Wait, I do have a fourteen year old . . . . .  No, I’m probably wiser to figure this out for when there are no fourteen year old  and friends around to ask them to do it for me.

Okay, let’s get to business.

Understanding HTML (a little) for the writer who knows nothing about coding freaking HTML:

DISCLAIMER: AS I SAID ABOVE I AM NOT A WEBSITE DESIGNER OR DEVELOPER. I AM GOING INTO THIS WITH AN EXTREMELY LOW KNOWLEDGE OF CODING HTML AND AM ACTUALLY TYPING THIS BLOG POST AS I DISCOVER AND LEARN IT FOR MYSELF TO HOPEFULLY HELP OTHER UNKNOWLEGEABLE WRITERS NOT SPEND A SLEEPLESS NIGHT IRRITATED THEY COULD NOT MAKE THE MAILCHIMP SIGN UP WORK ON THEIR FREE WORDPRESS BLOG. There, I said it.

Hell, I will probably have to go back to this blog post myself every time I have to monkey around with HTML coding. (Get it? Monkey around? MailChimp? Yeah, I’m bad with jokes. I’m not a comedy writer, I write dark fiction.)

HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language.

This is the code that makes mumbo jumbo meaningless seeming letters and symbols look like this:

(This is an HTML widget on my Blogspot blog that I have neglected for far far far too long. And it WORKS! It’s a button with HTML code copy/paste provided by Facebook.)

Here are a few point-form basics from this blog (I’m basically saying what they said in different words). This blog was very helpful:

https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-steps-understanding-basic-html-code/

Tags (see step one of the above article):

  • Tells it what the words in the document are supposed to look like. I.e.) bold text, underlined text, you get the idea.
  • Comes in pairs (usually) with the affected text inside
  • This example comes directly from the above article:
    • <strong> This is some bold text</strong>.
  • Take away from this:
    • <strong> is the opening tag.
    • </strong> is the closing tag (the / tells the interweb world this is a closing tag)

Empty Elements = Tags without a pair (see step one of the above article):

<p>This is a second<br>paragraph split between two lines.</p>

    • <br> is a line break. This is a formatting instruction that may or may not have a closing tag <br /> because it is not essential (notice this time the closing indicator / is after the code with a space between them).
  • Take away from this:
    • Formatting instructions like line breaks <br> do not necessarily need to have closure in their world because they are not affecting specified text that you have to mark the start and end of.

Making your Document Look Right (see step two of the above article):

  • You need certain tag codes to make your HTML document look pretty and not like my attempt at the start of this article to install a MailChimp signup into my WordPress blog.
  • Start and end codes to every HTML document (so it knows it is an HTML document):
    • Open tag: <!DOCTYPE html>
    • Close tag: </html>
    • Put these at the very start and end of the entire whole document.
  • Head <head> section:
    • Information including page title and scripts running on the page.
    • The author of the article above says this <head> comes after the initial <html> tag, but above says you close the document with </html>
    • I think they mean you put the <head> after the <!DOCTYPE html>
  • Body <body> = the body of the text.
    • This sounds easy enough. This is the text the viewer of your blog will actually see.
  • In the <body> of the text, you can make it look like you do by changing fonts, bolds, underlines, etc cetera in Microsoft Word, but by embedding code in the HTML like the bold text example earlier.
  • Hitting the “Enter” button on your keyboard to break up your HTML code may help you see the elements of your code in blocks that are easier for you to understand, but it will have no effect on what actually comes through on the visual on your blog. You have to insert a code for that.
  • This example is a screenshot copied directly from the above article:

= Defines a section of the document

<h2>   </h2>       = A header tag. Like Microsoft Word headers, the lower the header number the higher the header importance.

<p>   </p>            = Paragraph break. Browsers automatically put spaces before and after.

Images, aka you need pictures:

  • Image tag: <img>
  • Alt text = alternative text: The text that appears with the image
  • Src attribute = source: Tells it where the image is loading from (i.e. https location like your WordPress blog uploaded pictures)
  • Width and height: the size of your picture in the blog screen (number of pixels)
  • This example is copied directly from the above article (step 4):

<img src=”https://img.drphil.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/DrPhil-1280x720px-Shareimage.jpg&#8221; alt=”Dr. Phil” width=”1280″ height=”720″>

  • You see from this the source file is pulling this image file DrPhil-1280x720px-Shareimage.jpg from this spot: https://img.drphil.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/
  • Text with the image (alt) is: Phil (alt=”Dr. Phil”)
  • Image with is: 1280 (width=”1280″)
  • Image height is: 720 (height=”720″)

Links, aka links make blog posts more fun and you need to direct your readers to your sources of information (aka validation):

<a href=”https://www.google.com/&#8221; title=”Click here to search the web”>Visit Google</a>

    • <a> = open tag for the link. Note the link and its attribute and element are inserted before the end > (before “Visit Google”).
    • Href = the link. Here the link is https://www.google.com/
    • Title = words that show up when you hover over the link. Here the hover text is Click here to search the web
    • “Visit Google” would be the text that appears in your blog post article that is hyperlinked to the https link (see “17 Simple HTML Code Examples You Can Learn in 10 Minutes” below as an example). As you know, that usually automatically shows up as blue underlined text by default when you hyperlink in WordPress or Microsoft Word (like the hyperlinked example below).

Here is a link to 17 Simple HTML Code Examples You Can Learn in 10 Minutes

(this is linked to in the blog article I used for this. I didn’t get fancy trying to HTML code it. The title element aka words when you hover are the default when I hyperlinked it in Microsoft Word.).

Now here is the bad news.

Apparently, according to this article I got all this from, knowing HTML is not enough in today’s more advanced internet. Poop.

Now you have to know CCS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript.

CCS language describes how you HTML text should look. It’s the code inside the HTML code. I.e.) how your class attributes are coded to look within the HTML. (That is still kind of Greek to me).

JavaScript is what makes the webpage (or blog page) respond to the readers actions “without loading a new page every time”.

I.e.) JavaScript gives you that warning message without reloading a new page, flips through images, or asks the user/reader for input.

I am not even going to try to go into CCS and JavaScript right now.  I just want to make that freaking MailChimp signup work on my free WordPress blog.

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warren-wong-238677-unsplash

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

We’ve all experienced it in the world of relationships, first, second, or third hand; the person who distances their self from those around them. A fear of intimacy, of others getting to know them, or perhaps of revealing their deepest darkest secrets? These are possible reasons.

In your stories, you want to reveal your characters’ deepest secrets. You want the reader to uncover the story’s darkest hidden agendas. In time.

While closely guarding those, doling out hints in tantalizing little teases, you don’t want your reader to feel pushed away. It is not a bad relationship where the other party is treated like an outsider.

Distancing the readers distances them from the story and the characters. They need to feel connected to them to really care about them.

The language you use writing the story needs to invite the reader in to share the experience. Don’t put up a wall of distance, pushing the reader away, with your choice of words.

While I revisit my old friends, The McAllister Clan (they are of Celtic descent, a small tidbit revealed in one of the books), I am rediscovering things I learned through endless hours spent writing, editing, researching, editing, researching writing, editing, reading, editing, researching editing, and yes, more editing.

Third person feelings, describing the characters’ feelings as an outside observer narrating them, gives the reader a sense of distance from the feelings.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Every writing method has its place and time. But, when you want your reader drawn deeply into your character’s psyche, too much can leave the reader feeling like an outside observer too.

Writers: We learn and improve, but we don’t always see the ways we have improved until we take that in depth look back at our old selves.

Editing bits:

An unexplained coldness seeps through Michael’s veins and he felt the sudden urge to pee.

Changed to: An unexplained coldness seeps through Michael’s veins and he has the sudden urge to urinate.

– two words changed. One to draw the reader into the immediacy of the moment, the other because it’s a more mature word option and that’s the target audience.

She felt relief at the sight of him, the emotion reflecting in her expression.

Changed to: She is relieved at the sight of him, the emotion reflecting in her expression.

– two words changed to bring the reader into the character’s emotions and share them.
Writing is an adventure of continual learning and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Together, we can bring new worlds of discovery to new readers.

The McAllister Series will return better than before.

  • Where the Bodies Are
  • The McAllister Farm
  • Hunting Michael Underwood
  • Killing David McAllister (new – coming)

In the meantime, you can enjoy these:

  • The Gypsy Queen (new release)
  • Garden Grove

The Gypsy Queen:

Travis discovers his newest get rich quick scheme in an abandoned riverboat. Dreaming of the wealth and glamour she will bring, he becomes obsessed with rebuilding her.

Darius sees only rot, decay, and their ruination in the old boat. Travis’s best friend and unwilling business partner, Darius is unwilling to abandon Travis to his fate. He is committed to seeing it through, regardless of the costs to himself.

Struggling to rebuild her together, they are pitted against everyone from the Shipbuilders’ Union to the even more ruthless local casino boss, who desires to possess the Gypsy Queen himself.

As Travis and Darius’s lives become further intertwined with the Gypsy Queen, the strange accidents surrounding the boat escalate. Under the Gypsy Queen’s spell, Travis is oblivious to the sense of dread that fills those who enter the boat as she awakens with a hunger for blood. The Gypsy Queen’s dark past will not be forgotten.

Garden Grove

Garden Grove Meadows, “Where families come to live.” A new housing development promises a better future in a growing bedroom community. A project that seems to be the eye of a storm of strange events. Plagued with vandalism, the work crew poisoned, altered blueprints, and human remains intentionally planted for the crew to find.

Who is trying to stop the development?

Includes short story Old Mill Road

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Writing is about stringing words together to tell a story.

Good writing is about doing that in a way that speaks to the heart of the reader, drawing them in, and not letting go.

If you need the truth of it, it’s the massive hours spent editing that make your story come alive.

This is where you have to put on all your hats.

You edit the general story, scenes, and flow of the story itself. Pick apart the details, add and remove them, and research little things that seem unimportant but are important to the reader who knows more about it than you.

You edit for grammar and sentence structure, wondering if you could pass a fifth grade English Language Arts test.

You become a copy editor, seeking every wayward character, backwards quotation mark, and researching the proper usage of the “. . .” Character.

Most importantly is the careful picking apart and nitpicking of the little details in your choice of words.

There is something to be said for the words you use. Careful choice of words changes the meaning and tone.

Here (excerpt from Where the Bodies Are below), I changed “with” to “to”. Because, when people are gathered, eager for news, they are not really talking with someone. With implies a shared moment, not the shallow moment they are in. They would be talking to each other. Talking at each other. Any response is irrelevant unless it feeds the yearning for more juicy gossip.

“The normally empty foyer is filled with people, most of them talking animatedly or looking around eagerly for someone to talk animatedly to.”

Where the Bodies Are and the subsequent books in the series are currently in transition, being revised and edited to return better and bolder.

As a writer, you never stop seeking to improve your craft. And, what you wrote years ago is not going to meet the quality of your writing today. Given the chance, I am taking the McAllister series and putting that improved skill to work, improving on the flow and feel of these stories.

Watch for the rerelease of Where the Bodies Are.

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