NaNoWriMo Week 2

So I’m coming to the conclusion that I may not be NaNoWriMo material. One of the first rules of NaNo that you’re given is “turn off your inner editor” (followed very often by “don’t use your delete key”). Well, after deleting 230 words on Wednesday that I decided didn’t work for the way I wanted to develop that chapter, it’s clear that my inner editor does not have an off switch (one of the many joys of obsessive/compulsive personality disorder). While I can see the potential value of mass dumping words on the page, just getting everything out of your head and onto paper in a mad rush stream of consciousness, then worrying about editing it down to something worth reading after the fact, that is just not how I write.

For me, I need to develop the narrative as I write. I need to feel that what I’m writing adds to the story, and has value in the long term. The idea of writing whole scenes that I’m likely to just delete down the road drives me nuts. Which means that I do analyze what I’m writing as I write it, letting my inner editor help me decide if the story is moving in the direction I want it to. On the plus side, I feel this gives me a much stronger, tighter first draft. The downside, of course, is that it is a much slower process. So while I’m fairly confident I can reach my 50,000 words, more and more I’m starting to think it’s going to take me a wee bit more than 30 days to do it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret participating in NaNo for one second. Even less than halfway through I already consider this to be a very rewarding and worthwhile experience, and at the end of the day I plan on calling the event a personal success regardless of how many words I end up with when all is said and done. I truly feel I’ve grown as a writer over the last couple of weeks, and more importantly, I have a much better idea of where my deficiencies are as a writer, so I know what I need to focus on improving in the months ahead.

Along with dealing with my inner editor as I write, I’ve run into one other little wrinkle this week in trying to get in my daily word count. The section of story I’m currently working on involves breaking one of my secondary characters out of prison. In my outline that I did prior to the start of NaNo, I simply listed that section as “Chapters 6 & 7 – Prison Break” figuring that was enough to let me know what was going on in those chapters. Silly me!

I now find myself focused on researching prisons and prison breaks. Which means my writing has slowed to a snail’s pace while I figure out the details of these chapters. Under normal circumstances this would not be an issue – on the contrary, for me the research aspect of it is easily as much fun as the writing itself (especially when it’s a fun research topic like prison breaks). But when the story itself is essentially on hold because I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen next (and I don’t have it in me to just skip this chapter until later), getting my daily word count in becomes something of an impossibility.

So wish me luck as I return to mapping out an exciting prison break! And stay tuned next week for the third of my NaNoWriMo updates.

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NaNoWriMo Week 1

Today marks the end of week one of not only my first attempt at National Novel Writing Month, but also my first ever attempt at writing a novel-length work of fiction. And at this point the one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that it has been a very eye-opening experience. The biggest thing I learned is that years and years of short story writing – combined with an intense love of movies (because let’s face it, even an epic length movie is likely only a novella length story, if that)  – leaves one very ill-prepared for the depth of story required for a novel. I’m used to story-writing that is lean and focused, with little or no subplots or side stories. I’m starting to realize that these are elements I clearly need to learn to incorporate into my writing moving forward.

My actual word count hasn’t been too bad (although I’ve slumped quite a bit from a strong start last weekend). I’m below where I need to be, but not by a lot (so with luck I can catch up over this coming weekend). The problem, however, is that the more I look at the outline for my story, the more I realize that what I currently have is more novella length than novel length, which means I’m very likely to run out of story before I reach my 50,000 word goal unless I make some major adjustments/additions to what I have outlined currently.

The other issue I am facing is that even though I don’t have enough plot for a full novel yet, I’m looking at my story and realizing I need to split it into two stories to make it work as part of the series I’m planning (which is especially ironic considering it’s already too short for one story, much less two). And it all started with one lousy troll!

It happened like this: in the opening of my story, I have a bandit leader about to be executed, who is freed by his fellow bandits and escapes (thus necessitating my protagonist hunting him down). During the escape, the executioner is killed. Even though the character is only in the story for one brief scene, I wanted to do something to make him a little more distinctive, to help pull the reader into the story. So I decided to make him a troll, since this also helps establish from very early on that this is indeed a fantasy world that the story takes place in.

Once I’d made him a troll, the first thought that came to me was, “But he was really a decent sort of fellow, for a troll.” From there I pictured my main character sitting down for drinks with him at the tavern, and a back story quickly followed. Which left me facing a quandary – I now had this interesting secondary character, who’s alive for all of one paragraph at the beginning of the story! The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted him alive for one full story, so I could take advantage of the development I’d done. Plus, if readers are familiar with the character, that makes his death have that much more impact.

My first thought at the point was, “No problem, we’ll just make this book two in the series, and then we’ll figure out a plot for a new book one.” The only trouble there is, there are several scenes in the story that develop the main character in a way that I really want them in the first book (and several other scenes that I now realize really do work better in a sequel story as opposed to a first story). So now what do I do?

This is probably not the best solution, but as far as NaNoWriMo goes, my solution is to just keep pushing forward with my original plan to make this one story, and then I can spend the next month (or three) after that figuring out how to split it into two stories, and which scenes are going where. Which means my writing life for the several months is likely to be interesting, to say the least. And with that, I suppose I really should get back to working on my story (those words aren’t going to write themselves!). Part of me is tempted to add my blog posts over the month onto the tail end of my novel just to get my word count up (since technically this is all writing I did during the month of November), but at the same time that does feel a bit like cheating. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how close to that magical 50,000 word goal I can get!

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The Super Fan (plus, the future of the blog)

I have a good friend who in my mind is every author’s dream reader, what I like to call a “super fan”. Here’s why I say this – when it comes to his favorite author, he is passionate about his work. He’s regularly on the author’s website, and makes sure to faithfully listen to the author’s weekly podcast, and he’s first in (virtual) line to pick up the author’s latest book whenever one comes out. But most importantly, he is eager to tell anyone and everyone who’ll listen all about this author, and how great his books are, and how they really should read them.

Every time I hear him talking, I can’t help but smile, because the simple truth is, you can’t buy that sort of positive publicity. No amount of ads or tweets, or even positive reviews or best-seller listings can equal the sway of someone who is truly passionate about your work, to the point that they not only read all of it they can, but they actively want everyone else to read it as well so they can see how good it is.

When I get ready to publish my book, I hope I can get a handful (hell, even one or two) readers who are as passionate about my books as he is about the books he loves. Even in our modern Internet age, I don’t think you can ever underestimate the power of direct word-of-mouth. Has anyone else had an experience with this sort of fan? If you’re a writer, do you have any “super fans” of your own? I’d love to hear responses from other writers on this.

 

NaNoWriMo2014 starts tomorrow! I am very excited to start writing my first draft! Wish me luck – 1700 words per day isn’t going to be an easy number to maintain, but I’m going to give it my all. Next month’s blog posts will likely just be quick updates on my NaNoWriMo status, as I really want to focus on my novel during November. Then come December we’ll see if I can jump back into the blog with some new and fresh posts.

I’m also contemplating the direction I want to go with the blog. I want to keep actively posting to it, but over the last few weeks, a few realizations have come to me. Firstly, blogging my experiences as I develop as a writer probably isn’t as useful (and thus, interesting) to people as a blog by an experienced writer who is writing more focused “how-to” articles versus my random musings on things. Which leaves the second category of posts I’d first thought to write about, which are articles on the geek activities that I’m passionate about. The problem there is the randomness of those posts means they’re not likely to draw a serious following, either (and I feel like my blog really does lose its purpose if no one’s reading it but me).

Which got me to thinking about an alternative route I may take with my blog, to see if it has more success. Instead of trying to follow the style of your standard non-fiction, instructional blogs (and let’s be honest, most fiction writers whose blogs I’ve run across really do feel like non-fiction blogs that are just focused on the process/business of writing and publishing), I’m thinking I may be better off mimicking the web comic sites that I follow (by which I mean sites patterned after comic books, such as Girl Genius or Skullkickers, as opposed to comic strip style comics such as xkcd or Penny Arcade). That is, each week I would publish a chapter of a continuing story, and make this a story blog instead of an author blog.

I’ve read plenty of articles that say you want to give people more than just samples of your work for your blog, but I feel like the warning there is you don’t want people to think you’re doing nothing but self-promotion of your novels on your site (which I get). And so my goal would not be focusing on self-promotion, but focusing on providing readers with an enjoyable, free story that they can follow week to week.

At the end of the day I think I’m a much better fiction writer than I am a commentary/non-fiction writer (the complete lack of a following on the personal blog I tried to maintain many years ago is a pretty solid testament to that). And if people will faithfully follow a web comic series (I know there are a few that I read religiously), then why not a web story series? The trick, of course, is coming up with a story idea, and finding a way to consistently write it week in/week out, all while still working on my main novels that I want to publish.

So maybe that will be an additional challenge for myself for November – to see if I can come up with a good story idea that will work well spread out over multiple chapters published on a weekly basis, and then work out the basics of at least the first half dozen chapters or so. Because clearly there isn’t enough stress in my life already! Of course, one of the joys of a creative challenge like that is that in many ways it’s a good kind of stress, because coming up with stories is something I truly love to do.

And I will leave you with that. Wish me luck on NaNoWriMo, and let’s see what I can come up with to turn this from a random author blog into a solid story blog.

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The Journey Continues – Research, Research, Research

Following on from last week’s post, I wanted to continue discussing some of the things I’ve done so far in transitioning from hobby writer to serious author. Along with working on developing an outline for my first novel, I’ve spent a lot of time online doing research. And it is unbelievable the number of things there are to research (and this is above and beyond all the research I did for my story’s world-building, which will likely be the subject of a separate blog post down the road). I’d put most of the research I did into three basic categories: networking, the craft of writing, and author brand/platform building (aka marketing).

Building your writer network

It didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that being a serious writer is enough of a monumental task that it’s not one you want to do alone. And while the support of friends and family is great, there’s only so much they can do for you, because (more than likely) they’re not writers. Which means they can’t completely appreciate the struggles you’re going through, and they’re not likely to have the most constructive/informed advice. Which is why one of the best pieces of advice I could give to aspiring writers is this: find and join at least one writer’s forum, preferably one focused on your genre of fiction.

I started with a quick Google search of “fantasy writer forums” and after looking at a few, I joined Mythic Scribes. And I am very glad that I did. The camaraderie that I find with fellow writers is very different from what I get with my other friends. They’re struggling through the same challenges I am (and many are further along on the road to publishing success, so they have valuable insights as I move forward on my own journey), and understand both the challenges and the joys of being a writer.

Another site that I joined as I built my network of fellow writers (although I didn’t discover this site until quite a bit later than Mythic Scribes) was Scribophile, which isn’t a forum per se, but a critiquing group. I was initially hesitant to join this site, as the idea of critiquing other people’s work filled me with apprehension, but at the same time I knew that at some point I’d have a manuscript that I would want critiqued/beta read before I looked at publishing it. So I took the plunge and joined the site. And as with Mythic Scribes, I found another wonderful community of writers. And now that I’ve done a couple of critiques, not only is it not so nerve-wracking, but in the long run I’m developing a skill I can use in re-writing/editing my own work.

Improving your craft

I think this category speaks for itself. There are countless blogs and websites out there filled with helpful articles on how writers can improve their craft. In my previous blog I mentioned Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing site, but it is far from the only worthwhile blog I’ve found (at some point my goal is to find the time to add a links page so I can list some of the sites I’ve come across that are worth sharing). Of course, nothing replaces writing, writing, and writing some more, but I still try to find time to learn new things about the craft of writing. That being said, my focus over the last several weeks has shifted from the writing part of being a published author, to the publishing and marketing aspect of things.

Building an author platform

This final area of research is the one that continues to be an eye-opener, because this encompasses all those tasks that aren’t a factor when you’re just a hobby writer. And the toughest part of it is that these are things that have very little to do with actually writing anything. But the more I researched, the more I kept reading about building an author platform, and how critical to success that it is.

So what is an author platform? Essentially it is you the author, and your public presence. The bigger and more established your author platform, the more people know about you, and thus the larger pool of potential readers you’ll have. A great site that I used to learn many of the basics of what an author platform is and how to build it is Your Writer Platform. I’m not going to try and go over all the many things you can do to build your platform (since I’ve still got a lot of learning to do myself), but know that there is a lot you can do, and there are many resources online to help you do it.

I will quickly touch on the things I’ve done so far. The big one was setting up this website and blog. That in and of itself was a pretty big project (just getting everything setup and going was a solid 2 weeks of work, and I’m sure there’s plenty more I can do to improve the site – if you have any suggestions, feel free to add a comment!). After that came social media – which is a real challenge when you’re a fairly non-social person such as myself. But I setup a Facebook page, and a Pinterest account, and then I got onto Twitter. And I quickly realized that this will be the toughest one, but likely the one with the most potential reward.

The key with Twitter, of course, is that it is all about what’s happening right now, which means you need to stay fairly active on it for it to do you any good. And as someone who was very anti-Twitter for a very long time, this is a somewhat difficult realization to come to. But I’m making the adjustment, and even making an effort to Tweet something at least somewhat meaningful or amusing once or twice a day.

While all this work will hopefully pay off in the long run, it’s certainly been a big (and very nerve-wracking) investment in time and effort. And along with that comes that ever-present fear that I’m completely wasting my time, jumping through all these hoops and putting myself out there, and nothing is going to come of it. Either my novel will never get finished, or it will get finished and no one will bother reading it. But from what I’ve read, every author goes through these fears, so for now I’m going to grit my teeth, keep pushing forward, and we’ll see where this crazy ride takes me.

And that’s probably enough rambling on for one week. Only one week to go until NaNoWriMo! And I’ll be honest, with all the time and effort and focus that I’ve spent over the last month on building my author platform and researching the ins and outs of successfully being published, I am beyond looking forward to jumping with both feet back into non-stop writing!

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Making the leap from hobby writer to serious fantasy author

So I followed the advice of the experts, all of whom are in agreement that it is very important that an author have a blog. And thus here we have my lovely little blog, all shiny and new. The next natural question, then, became, “So what exactly should I be posting to said blog?” To this question, the experts were surprisingly silent. Oh, there are plenty of articles out there that relate to non-fiction author blogs (which generally all boil down to, “Use whatever the subject of your non-fiction writing is as your focus, and target people with an interest in said topic.”).

For fiction writers, however, this sort of advice is sadly lacking. And if you take a look at the majority of established fiction author blogs out there, for the most part they seem to follow the path of the non-fiction writer, with their area of expertise being their success as a published novelist. In other words, they focus on providing advice to fellow writers on how to polish their craft and/or how to get successfully published (neither of which are really subjects an aspiring author is in a position to cover). So I sat down and thought about it for a bit, and I came up with two general categories I could cover in my posts:

  1.  I can use this blog to chronicle my journey towards publication, to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at the process of transitioning from hobby writer to serious fantasy author.
  2. Between those articles, I can focus on topics that I’m excited about and that I enjoy discussing, whether it be movies or music or comic books or video games or whatever else may strike my fancy (if anyone has any topic suggestions, feel free to post them to the comments).

For this post (and likely the next few posts), I want to touch on some of my early experiences in deciding to get serious with my writing. Right off the bat, I have to say that the simple phrase, “If being a writer were easy, everyone would do it,” (which I’ve seen posted a few times on various writer blogs) is a very, very true statement. But what came as a bit of a surprise to me is that most of the reason this statement is true has nothing to do with the actual writing. Which just shows how little I really knew about the huge differences between being a published writer and being a hobby writer.

Yes, finding time to write each and every day can be a challenge, along with finding that great idea for your next story. And yes, every writer needs to continuously work to develop their craft and improve their skills as a writer. But that’s okay, because that’s the fun part of the process. That’s the key reason for being a writer in the first place – the joy you get from sitting down and writing. But it’s the publishing and marketing aspects of being a professional where the real challenges start.

The freedoms (and challenges) of self-publishing

Probably the biggest motivator for me to get serious about my writing was learning about the wonderful world of self-publishing. One of the main reasons I had always been content to just be a hobby writer was the incredible uphill battle that is getting traditionally published. I’ll be honest, as much as I have always enjoyed writing – and I do believe that I’m pretty good at it – I never had the self-confidence to believe that any publisher would ever be interested in anything I wrote. And everything I ever read about the publishing industry only heightened the belief that it is truly very, very difficult for a first-time writer to find a publisher. So I just never bothered.

But then I learned recently about self-publishing, and how anyone can publish their book to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. without involving a publisher or an agent or any of that. Now this was a concept I could get behind! Of course, the more I researched it, the more I realized that there’s a huge difference between simply publishing your book (which is fairly easy to do) and successfully publishing your book – meaning getting people to actually buy and read and positively review it. This is where the challenge lies, and where the bulk of the work comes in (much of it things that a traditional publisher would do for you, that as a self-published author you have to do for yourself).

Much of what I’ll be writing about in future behind-the-scenes posts will be focused on these tasks, firstly because these are things that have taken up most of my free time and focus of late (especially now that I’m in something of a holding pattern with my novel while I wait for National Novel Writing Month to begin in November), and secondly because I hope to provide at least a little insight, both to readers and to fellow aspiring writers, as to the various hurdles I dealt with in getting my first novel published.

I will admit that at times I’ve considered just submitting my first manuscript to agents and to publishers on the off chance that I become one of the lucky few to get picked up for traditional publication. But at the end of the day, I think the true power of self-publishing doesn’t lie in the fact that you don’t have to jump through those hoops in order to get published. No, the true power comes from the level of control you have over your novels. Yes, there is a lot of work involved. But I think the freedom to choose your cover artist and your editor and your sale price and everything else normally handled by a publisher makes it well worth the time and effort that is required to make these choices properly yourself.

First steps – learning to outline

Once I was (relatively) certain that I was ready to get serious about being a published fantasy author, the very first thing I did was research, and a lot of it. I wanted to know, “What do I need to do to get successfully published?” One of the very first blogs I came across belongs to a writer by the name of Randy Ingermanson. His writing e-zine is a wealth of information. But most importantly for me was what he is most known for, which is his Snowflake Method of designing a novel. This is a method to develop a structured outline of your story before you start your first draft.

Now I will confess that I was initially very resistant to this concept. I had always been a seat-of-the-pants writer (known as a ‘pantser’ in the writing community). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this had likely been a big part of my problem. I’d always struggled to finish anything I wrote, because the story would either wander around so much I’d completely lose the point of the story, then get bored and move on to something else, or I’d hit that creative wall where I had no earthly idea where the story needed to go next, and again I’d quit and start something else.

So I finally broke down and decided to give his method a try and see how I did as a ‘plotter’ (someone who fully plots out their story before they start their first draft, the writing opposite of the ‘pantser’). To my surprise, I quickly clicked with his process. My plot outline came together, my character profiles came together, my setting started to fall into place. Suddenly I felt like I had a solid foundation to finally finish a full novel. Now the real challenge, of course, is still ahead. We will see starting on November 1st (when I start NaNoWriMo) if I can take that outline and use it to keep me on task enough to write 50,000+ words in 30 days.

And with that I will bring this week’s blog post to a close. Next week I will continue with this topic, further discussing the things I’ve been working on recently, and the challenges I’ve faced, as I began this journey to publication.

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And So It Begins

Greetings, and welcome to my author blog! As it says at the top, I am Ryan Crown, aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist. You can read more about me and this blog on my About Ryan page. So I guess the first question to answer here is simple: Why write a blog? The easy answer to this is that all the experts online insist that it is essential for successful authors to have a blog. Even before you have anything published to promote, you should be building your author brand through your blog. So here I am!

But beyond that, I do really like the idea of connecting with my readers, and having a place to post short fiction and character profiles and behind-the-scenes information about my stories and my writing process. And along the way there will be plenty of random posts on the many topics I have an interest in/passion for, such as movies, music, comics, etc.

My goal to start out is to have a new post up every Friday. They might not be very long (or they may ramble on much longer than they should), but there should be something up every week. Want to know when the latest post is up? Then sign up for my mailing list! Just enter your name and e-mail address in the form on the left hand side of my page. I promise never to spam your inbox, and will only e-mail you when there’s something new on the blog.

Before I bring this quick little intro post to a close, I suppose I should say a little bit about my writing. At the moment I’m working on a fantasy adventure novel (hopefully the first in a series) featuring a bounty hunter and his compatriots. The outline is done and I’m ready to start the first draft. It’s on temporary hold, however, as I have decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month.

For those who haven’t heard of this, it is an annual writing event, with the goal being to write at least 50,000 words of a first draft during the month of November. This will be my first time participating, so we will see how it goes. I’ll be sure to post updates on my progress over the month (which will likely be all I have time to post, as the bulk of my available time will be focused on my novel).

On the plus side, the one month delay while I wait for NaNoWriMo to start has given me time to do some additional world-building for the setting of my novel, as well as focus on some of the business aspects of being an author – such as putting together this website. That being said, I am really looking forward to November and jumping into writing my first draft.

In closing, I’d just like to say thanks for checking out my site. I will strive to make this an enjoyable and entertaining enough place to keep you coming back. And I’d love to get your feedback, so feel free to post a comment – What did you like? What did you not like? Have ideas for future posts? Let me know! All I ask is that you keep your comments polite and relatively family friendly. Thanks!

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