Every Step Is a Victory

 

The Grand Canyon from the upper portion of the South Kaibab trail (beginning of the hike)

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to complete one of the goals I set for myself for this year: to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. It was something I had been thinking about doing for a while, but finally decided the time would never be quite right, so I might as well do it now. Besides crossing another goal off my list, I also learned something from my experience. What I re-learned was that most times, the way we look at what happens to us is more important than what actually happens to us.

I know, that sounds deep and philosophical. It sounds like another motivational story where the teller (that would be me) tries to impart some kind of life lesson on the reader (that would be you). Let’s not suffer through that. I’d like to apply what I learned to the process of writing. Grander applications can be left to those who want to make them. I’m going to keep it light.

Let me give you some background. We can all agree that the Grand Canyon is huge. Hiking it from rim to rim can generally be done either from north to south or from south to north. I chose the latter. Traveling down the South Kaibab trail from the South Rim, it’s nearly seven miles to the Colorado River at the bottom, with more than four thousand feet of elevation loss. The hike up the North Rim is more than fourteen miles, with an elevation gain of 5700 feet. Altogether, it’s a hike of over twenty-two miles.

Not surprisingly, I got tired on the hike.

Part of the North Kaibab Trail

The trail is fantastic and there are adequate opportunities to refill water containers, but it is a long hike. The last four miles or so were an experience in torture and longevity for me, mainly because I never condition adequately for these things. I found myself trying to convince the part of me that just wanted to lie down to keep going, to make it to the top.

I chanted to myself, “One step after another. Keep going. Every step is a victory.” It worked. I was slow for those last few miles. I hurt. I wanted to stop and take a nap, for maybe a day or a week. But I continued and finished the hike.

As I drove home after the hike, I thought a lot about my little mantra. It was true on the hike that every step was another victory, every time I put my foot forward it was closer to the major victory of finishing the hike. Each time I resisted the urge to stop, I won a tiny battle. I thought about how true it is that all the little wins are really what’s important, whether hiking or doing something else.

It applies well to writing. Often, in the writing process, there are sticking points. There are times when we are so tired, so overwhelmed, so sick of editing or structuring or any one of a number of other things, that we want to quit. Just one more word or sentence, paragraph or page, and we have taken another step. We have declared another small victory.

Will this new—although it’s really not new so much as something familiar viewed from another angle—idea help me in my writing, in life? I’m sure it will. The lesson is real to me, branded into my soul by the pain through which I have come by the experience. It makes me feel a little better when I’m tired, beaten down, or just plain want to quit.

The Grand Canyon from near the top of the North Rim (North Kaibab Trail)

The physical experience of the hike was hard, but the exhilaration of finishing and looking back over the canyon, one of the natural wonders of the world, that I had crossed, is indescribable and priceless. It was very nearly the same type of feeling when I hold in my hand a new book I have just published. In my opinion, we can all use a few more of those types of victories. What do you think?

 

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Water & Flame Launch

Water & Flame, a new collaborative story, is now out and available on Amazon in paperback and in Kindle formats. It’s my first foray into the world of paranormal romance (PNR) and advance copy readers have good things to say about it. It’s on special for release week, only 99¢ until June 10, 2017.

 

Fire and water don’t mix…

Water witch Abigail Henderson is focused on one thing: finding the fire witches responsible for murdering her mother. Her coven has finally allowed her to go undercover at the estate of the prime suspect, Margaret Huntsman. The job is to get magical evidence to prove the woman was the mastermind behind the killing and that she actually cast the fatal spell. It’s a dangerous mission, but worth it if Abbie can bring the killer to justice.

But she never counted on meeting Margaret’s handsome, estranged son, Ben.

Now, Abbie must choose between completing her mission or pursuing a relationship with the son of her enemy. It’s not only the success of the mission that’s at stake, either. If Ben is in on Margaret’s schemes, Abbie could follow her mother to the grave.

Even worse, she may have stumbled across a bigger conspiracy than she ever imagined—one that could lead to all-out war among the elemental witches.

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Whispersync: Why I Think Amazon’s Audiobook Program Is Kind of Cool

Amazon has a functionality with some of their Kindle books and the associated audiobooks is called Whispersync, and I am a big fan. First off, let me explain what Whispersync is.

Whispersync

Whispersync is a coordination function that allows synchronization between a Kindle e-book and it’s associated Audible audiobook. So, for example, if you read your e-book and are at page 50, and then get in the car to go to work and want to continue the story, you can start up the audiobook and it will remember where you left off reading. It will start at page 50. No more trying to figure out where you were. I typically read a book and then, after I’ve finished, listen to the audiobook while I’m in the car, driving to work or running errands. Because of this, the functionality to keep my place isn’t that important to me. Some people only listen to audiobooks and do not read text books, so again, this feature wouldn’t be attractive.

Another feature is that when you buy the e-book, the price of the audiobook is drastically reduced for a Whispersync qualified title, and this is more important to me (as a reader and as an author) than synchronizing page number. Put plainly, it can save you money, and everyone likes to save money.

Let me use my book Vibrations as an example. The e-book is $3.99, the normal price for the audiobook is $24.95, and the reduced price for the Audible audiobook is two or three dollars (it seems to change, for some reason). If someone wanted only the audiobook and not the e-book but bought it anyway, they would still save about $18 over just buying the audiobook by itself ($6 or $7 vs. $25). Because I have no control over pricing of the audiobooks for my books, this is great for me because people can read (and listen) to my book for less money. As a reader (and listener), this is great for me, too because whenever I buy an e-book, I always pick up the audiobook if it has Whispersync. I’ve never paid more than $3.99 for a Whispersync audiobook, so adding it is a no-brainer.

One other reason I like Whispersync is that in order to qualify, the audiobook has to keep a pace that allows it to synchronize with the e-book. That means the cadence of the narration can’t be too jerky, can’t speed up and slow down, which can be distracting. I know that titles qualifying for Whispersync have smoother narration that those which can’t qualify and that is an important piece of information for me.

So, whether you are a reader first and listener second, solely a listener, or a hybrid consumer of stories in text and audio formats, I think Amazon’s Whispersync is a good program. I’m a fan of anything that will allow readers to experience the books I write in varied ways and to do so without spending too much money. Both of the titles I have out right now, Vibrations and Gray Man Rising, have Whispersync functionality, and I plan on making sure all subsequent titles have it as well. I am already planning for the audiobook for Harmonics, the second book in the Harmonic Magic series, the e-book and print copy due out this month. Let me know what you think. Do you like Whispersync, too? If so, why?

 

 

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Why Should I Make Daily Writing a Habit?

Typewriter 11We all have habits. Some are good, and we try to cultivate them. Some are bad, and we try to break them. One thing just about anyone would agree with is that if you do anything consistently, it will become a habit. “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going,” Jim Ryun said.  He had something there.

Writing, as with all endeavors, improves with practice. As a writer, I am constantly looking for ways to improve my craft, to find newer and better ways of describing things, to attempt to describe what is happening in a story so vividly that the reader forgets she is reading and begins to see the landscape before her. The wind is not then simply rushing through the character’s hair, but the reader’s as well.

 

How Do I Find the Time?

But how? How can a writer improve their craft while still doing all the myriad things necessary to structure, map out, develop, write, edit, and polish a story? It seems simple enough, right? Write a story and put it out there, write the next story, and as you go along you become more adept at the craft. Well, no.

There are so many aspects to publishing a book (even self-publishing) that there is actually very little time spent just writing. After all the upfront work (for those of us who structure and plan stories), there is a blissful chunk of time wherein the rough draft is written. That is pure writing, without all the fluff and necessary incidental work. But that’s it. The majority of the author’s time is spent on other parts of the process.

After the rough draft, it is an endless stream of edits and revisions, checking facts and timelines, and making sure everything works. Then comes the actual compiling and publishing. Don’t forget all the work that goes into product descriptions, gathering of metadata, cover art, and the publishing process itself. Then, there is marketing and blogs, mailing list work, and (if lucky) fan mail to read and answer.

All of this leaves the author without much time to actually write. So what happens? We become rusty. Editing is great and is necessary, but it’s not freeform writing. The problem then, is to figure out how to write consistently, making it a habit, while doing all this other work. For those of us who work a “day job,” it is even more difficult. There are only so many hours in a day and if we take them all to edit or market or do any number of other things, we’re left at the end of the day with no time to actually write. What to do?

Many authors set a word count for themselves to write each day. Come hell or high water, they get those words in. I have read comments from them, heard of the benefits, but still I resisted trying to do daily writing quotas. I didn’t have the time. I had too many other things to do. I may get around to it eventually, just not now. It was always something to do in the future.

November caused a few cracks in my argument. If you don’t know or remember, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), wherein writers are encouraged to write a 50,000 word novel by writing each day. I participated in 2015 (you can see my journal of it here) and found that I liked it. No, despite how difficult it was to find the time, I loved it. Writing each day gave me a little treat as I saw a story, one I had done the structure and scene list for beforehand, unfold before my eyes. Still, as I said, it was difficult and I was glad to go back to my lazy way of doing things in December.

 

The Commitment

As the new year came and I read more and more about the benefits of daily writing quotas, I finally succumbed. Starting in February, I set a goal for myself to write at least a thousand words a day. I resolved myself to doing my writing as soon as possible each day. If I could do it before work, that would be ideal, though that does not happen often because of how early I have to get up already just to go to work. Normally it means coming straight home each night and writing first thing. On the weekends, it’s the first thing I do in the morning. I have kept up with the task, making it a habit, for 44 days as of this morning.

It’s tough sometimes. I recently took a road trip on which I drove more than 20 hours a day. I’m sure the writing I did on those days will be heavily edited, maybe even thrown out of the rough draft. But I did write. My string of writing days stayed intact and I got my needed practice.  As with anything worthwhile, keeping up with my daily writing requires sacrifice. I think it’s worth it.

 

Benefits

Writer & Muse 01

As mentioned, the main reason for writing daily as a separate, word-count driven activity is to get much-needed practice. Writing in a journal is great and helps to become more articulate, but that does little to develop the skills for weaving all the threads of a story together into a coherent whole. A chunk of time sitting at the keyboard and searching for the magic is invaluable for sharpening the writer’s tools. Following are some benefits I’ve already experienced with the daily writing quota habit.

Speed – I type relatively quickly. Sure, I could be faster, I could be more accurate, but in general, I think my speed is good. Normally you hear the rate at which someone types expressed in words per minute (WPM). While that’s a good indicator for gauging how long it takes to write a letter or to have a standard metric with which to compare two typists, it is inadequate for writing novels. There, words per hour are more informative.

When I began my daily quota, I was writing at about 1200 words per hour. So, to finish my writing each day took me about an hour. Keep in mind that this total includes time taken to think or to look something up, so it’s not just straight typing. At this point, I’m at almost twice that rate. It’s not just that my typing speed has increased. I believe that by practicing, by creating my habit, I have improved the efficiency by which I write. That means, simply, I am able to think through a scene, develop how I will describe it, and then put it onto the screen in less time than it took before.

Quality – It’s an interesting thing that the more you practice something, the faster you get, but also the better the quality of what you put out. I have noticed that my more current stuff is better, less in need of drastic editing, than material I wrote even a month ago. I’m analytical by nature and so I imagine lots of new neural pathways being formed by my new habit. I am actually rewiring my brain to not only write faster, but to do it better. If I continue to improve, I can see a time when my rough drafts will be as good as my second or third revisions are now. Who knows what the limit is.

Writer's Block 01No Writer’s Block – The trio responsible for the Self-Publishing Podcast, as well as three excellent non-fiction books on writing (Johnny Truant, Sean Platt, and David Wright) have stated repeatedly that they don’t believe in writer’s block. I would have to agree. I have had rough spots where I couldn’t write a particular scene in any way that seemed acceptable, but I’ve never been incapacitated by a blank screen. Part of this is the pre-writing preparation. If you have a list of scenes that you have to fully flesh out, you can almost always type something. Writing daily, being comfortable with transferring thought to screen, does a lot to keep blockages from happening. If you keep the machine moving each day through action, it is not as likely to seize up when you try to start it at a particular time. That’s my take on it, anyway. I never have a problem with being able to write, just with having the time to do so.

Lots of Stuff in the Queue – Another benefit from writing daily is that you can quickly build up a collection of rough drafts. True,  you still need to find the time to edit and revise those drafts, but having them there, waiting in the wings, does a lot to build confidence and keep motivation. Chipping away at a novel of over 100,000 words by writing small parts of it each day almost seems effortless. Isn’t that what habits are supposed to do? Right now, I have several stories in-process. Keeping up with my daily writing, I can foresee most of them being published by the end of summer. No doubt, by that time, I will have started on several others to feed my habit.

 

But Does It Take Up Valuable Time?

Ok, so all that is great, but what about the edits and revisions that need to be done? Does writing for a half an hour to an hour each day take up valuable time that could be used for doing those other tasks? Yes and no.

Joanna Penn has famously said that she believes there are different types of time. For example, there is creative time during which your mind is imaginatively working overtime and you are making art. Then there are times when you are less creative, more analytical. Still other times you are so tired, such as at the end of a work day, that about all you’re good for is checking e-mails and maybe scheduling some advertising campaigns. The point is, I feel that the editing part of my brain is not the same as the creative, rough-draft writing part. When I’m most creative, I’m really not sure I want to waste that on an edit pass where I’m focusing on grammar or fact-checking. I would rather use the creative juices to, well, create.

Also, the benefits of being able to let loose and imagine can’t be underestimated. So many times, I begin writing a simple scene that should be very short and somehow, during the process, I come up with something that changes the whole story trajectory. A simple scene may become two chapters and may be the linchpin on which the entire tale becomes based. I liken this to a muscle. Letting the mind do its creative thing relaxes it, makes it more efficient, more fluid. It lubricates all the moving parts (figuratively speaking, of course) and then when I do go to tackle the editing, maybe an hour or so after, my brain is clear and uncluttered. In a word, it’s efficient. So, though I do spend time on writing other works, I think the net gain in my efficiency in working on my top-of-the-list project more than makes up for the time. Again, that’s totally my opinion, but I think I have a basis for stating it as truth in my situation.

I have found that making a habit of writing every day, targeting a specific number of words, to be beneficial. It makes me happy, makes me feel as if I’m developing my skill, and it goes a long way toward completing the projects I have planned out for my year. Sean Covey, the son of Stephen (7 Habits of Highly Effective People), stated: “We become what we repeatedly do.” I myself want to be a writer who improves with every story I write. What better way than to write every day? Would this work for you? Why not give it a shot and see. I’d love to hear about your success.

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Book Release Delays. Now I Understand…To a Point

Release Calendar - Final

As a reader, I can think of few things more frustrating than waiting for the next book in a series to be released, only to have it delayed over and over again. If you don’t understand the concept, strike up a conversation with a Game of Thrones fan and ask when the next book will be out. You’ll probably want to get yourself comfortable before asking, though. It may take a while.

The old adage that to understand someone you must travel a mile in their shoes applies here. While most readers understand that writing and publishing a book takes some time, there is such a wide range in the frequency of book releases, sometimes it is hard to determine if an author is dragging his or her creative feet or if the reasons (excuses?) for delays are valid. Out of curiosity, I did some research on a handful of authors to see how frequently they release new works. One must keep in mind that not all authors are created equal, so the numbers should be taken with more than one grain of salt.

Frequency of New Releases By Some Well-Known Authors
Author Number of Books Over How Many Years Frequency             (years per book)
Nora Roberts 234 32 0.14 (49 days!)
Tom Clancy 92 29 0.32
Brandon Sanderson 31 10 0.32
Stephen King 85 39 0.45
James Patterson 61 34 0.56
Terry Brooks 45 38 0.84
Robert Heinlein 38 46 1.2
J.K. Rowling 7 10 1.43
George RR Martin 13 34 2.6
Ernest Hemingway 13 35 2.7

As you can see, the average frequency for an individual author differs quite a bit, as does each book release for the same author. For example, though George RR Martin has an average of 2.6 years between releases, it has been double that since his last Game of Thrones book. It’s no wonder some readers are disappointed.

In the past, I, in my ignorance, scoffed at authors who spouted the old standby: “I just want to make sure the book is the best I can make it, so I’m pushing off the release date for another [insert ridiculous length of time here].” The thing is, there is some validity to the statement. Some.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not selling out and I’m definitely not condoning or defending authors who make their fans wait exorbitant amounts of time to get the next book in a series. All I am saying is that I have experienced firsthand how things can get slightly out of control.

Let me use as an example a story that has a fair amount of complexity and girth. Writing the first draft, it seems sometimes that things flow well and there will be no problem making the self-imposed deadline for release. Then, somewhere in between the third and fourth edits, the story begs to fork off in another direction. The author can ignore the direction the story and characters want to go, or he can oblige them and see where it all leads. And just like that, another month or more has just been added to the process.

This is not even mentioning delays in cover art creation, third-party editing, or one of the other dozen or so steps that are required to publish a book. Suffice it to say, it was eye-opening when delays began to rear their ugly heads with my own works. And then there are the delays originating with traditional publishing houses themselves, things completely out of control of the author.

Still, there are limits to which we can claim unforeseen occurrences meddling with our schedules. If delays stretch from weeks to months and even to years, there is something wrong. Authors have the obligation, I believe, to finish what they start, and to do so in a reasonable amount of time. In spite of all the many things that can tie us down and cause a release date to be pushed out, readers deserve the entire story, start to finish. As for myself, I need to get back to editing the next book in my series now so I won’t be accused of stalling.

If only George RR Martin would do the same.

 

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Can You Hear It?

Vibrations Harmonic Magic - AudioThe audiobook version of Vibrations is out! It is now available on Audible, Amazon, and the iTunes store. I’m trying to get the book so that it qualifies for Whispersync, Amazon’s/Audible’s program for seamlessly merging audiobooks and e-books. If it qualifies, those who have bought the e-book version will be able to get the audiobook for a discounted price.

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