The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

Month: September 2015

You Can’t See The Forest For The Trees

Dark spooky forest at night in shades of blue
STORY CRAFTING

Picture yourself in the middle of a primeval forest of tall, thickly growing trees with a canopy that excludes most light and any sign of the daily path of the sun. The ground is relatively uncluttered with underbrush, but the few trails that are there, wind around the many tree trunks and crisscross each other, offering no clear way out. Everywhere that you look, trees sprout from the earth as thick as the hair on a dog’s back. Try as you might, you cannot find your way to open country.

As a writer, you can easily get yourself stranded in the middle of a primeval novel with multiple storylines, characters, conflicts with no clear path to open country. There are five essential elements to a story: Character, Setting, Plot, Conflict-Tension-Drama, and Resolution. I have found that although they are all important, they may not all play equally into your story. In some way, you should include enough of each to make your story interesting, inspiring, and enticing. It should be just long enough to keep you engaged but not so long as to make it a chore to finish.

You are blocked, unable to see where you are going and not seeing the path to your goal you sit on the ground amid the trees. You try to craft a plan to get out of this mess. Ideas flicker through your brain, you test everyone one to determine the right way to move. Then you leap to your feet, you have seen the right way to go. You look up—the path is clear. You must find your way to the top of the trees in able to clear the view. You climb a likely tree, you struggle your way up through the foliage, grunting with the effort, scratching your arms on the thick branches. Suddenly you burst through the canopy into the bright sunshine and look across acres and acres of trees. On the horizon you see the verge of the forest, beyond it is a rolling meadow. The goal.The beauty of Farmland

A good tale follows a pattern of “chasing a man up a tree, then finding a way to get him down”. In other words, you begin a story, you create tension, then resolve it somehow. It doesn’t have to be in that order, but the elements should be in there. Your reader should be able to follow along, even if the flow of the story isn’t logically crafted. If your story follows the beginning, middle, end template the reader can follow the story but may become bored because it is too simple and predictable. Conversely, if the story elements are too chaotic you will lose readers because it is too complicated.
So where is the balance? Your story should be just long enough to keep you engaged but not so long as to make it a chore to finish. Haiku poetry can tell an amazing story in just three lines of text. An Icelandic Saga may roll on for days. Each form is appropriate in its own time and place.

 Over the wintry
Forest, winds howl in rage
With no leaves to blow.      Natsume Soseki.

So, as a writer, what is next? The characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution, all the elements of a story, are the tree trunks of your story/forest. I wish that I could tell you that the climb out of that primeval novel is as simple as finding the right tree with enough branches to lead you to the light. That you will find the view of the whole forest before you, that you might see beyond the forest and not just the blocking view of tree trunks. You could look at my hard drive and see the stories lined up for their time in the sun and know that it isn’t as simple as all that.

How do you craft that story so that you as the writer and me as the reader are not lost amid the dark, thick trees with no hope of seeing of seeing the complete forest? You as the writer must not blind yourself with the minutiae of setting and multiple plot lines, characters, and conflicts. Stephen King, well known for his many horror stories, has written a memoir/how-to book On Writing that includes 7 great tips/insights into the process. You can see a synopsis of these tips at the Positivity Blog.

Remember, it isn’t easy to see the forest when all you focus on are the trees. Forests are much more complex than a field full of trees. A forest is a multi-layered ecosystem of flora and fauna that rely on each other to thrive. Your stories should model that ecosystem. You can craft that kind of story; your readers will be able to see it from a bird’s eye view that encompasses the whole picture not just the limited view of the trees.

DSCN0042_2_3Michael, “Mike” to his friends, is a writer, striving to be an Author. He has been a spinner of tales since elementary school and garnered a slew of rejections from even that early age. Mike graduated from a small high school on the edge of Utah’s West Desert with more than a passing knowledge of how to read and write. Mike has an undergraduate degree from the University of Hard Knocks also sports a collection of writing and literature classes from traditional institutions. From the Dictionary to Louis L’Amour, religion and philosophy, political science, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Mike boasts an extensive and diverse reading repertoire. The journey has been and continues to be enlightening to say the least. Author of Ghost of the Black Bull found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Mike has been married for 40 years and is the parent to one daughter and “poppa” to three grandsons. You can see more of his writing here at Everyday Author.com and at http://skullvalleytales.wordpress.com/

Guest Post: Authors, this is why you need community

Community, as it relates to authors, is a word so loaded with meaning that it runs the danger of being misunderstood entirely. To make things more difficult, the role of community in any particular author’s story is often misunderstood, hidden behind a veil of uncertainty, or ignored altogether.

As a result, authors often decide that this whole community thing isn’t for them, or—perhaps worse—engage in an ineffective way.

I’m here to make a case for community: Why it matters, how to find the pulse of your local community, and how this discovery can bring your author journey to life.

Take a chance

I won’t lie to you. Community is no panacea. It’s not a healing potion or a magic elixir. It won’t necessarily make you sit down and put words on the page, although healthy competition has a tendency inspire and motivate.

That said, finding a community has the potential to make you a better, more knowledgeable writer. I’ve seen it first hand. For instance, I’ve watched authors find editors and beta readers and collaborative projects. I’ve witnessed them discover critique groups and meet business partners. Most importantly, I’ve seen the joy in people’s faces when they learned or were inspired with a group of like-minded individuals. I’ve learned and been inspired myself!

I have the privilege of witnessing this process of growth twice a month at Indie Publishing Austin, a Meetup group I started because I couldn’t find one like it. I’m not bragging, I simply offer the group and others on Meetup.com llike it as evidence that local communities of authors do exist, and they are effective.

In the absence of a sizable community organized around indie publishing in my hometown, I saw potential. Whether you find an existing group and join them or start your own thing, you can experience and benefit from this potential too—if you’re willing to take a chance.

Search for a good fit

How do you find a group of community that’s a good fit for you? Start by reading Brook McIntyre’s detailed article on the possibilities of found communities, from critique groups to Meetups to NaNoWriMo to groups like Indie Pub Austin.

You don’t necessarily have to go local, though if you have the opportunity to join a vibrant group of writers in your area, I highly suggest it. Meeting in person, whether you’re actively involved or a quiet, passive listener, can impart by osmosis more than you might find online with effort. The Internet is a great tool, but introverted writers can make the mistake of thinking that interaction on the interweb is on-par with genuine connection in person.

They’re wrong. There is no substitute for humanity.

We’re all human, and as such we’re also all different. Don’t settle for a group if it doesn’t feel valuable, or if it’s the only show in town. Try several groups. Search online and in person. As a last resort, form your own community. You might be surprised, as I was, at the sheer enthusiasm and interest from those in your area who are looking for the same thing you want.

Make the most of community

I can’t stress this enough: you get out of a community what you put in. Just like your book won’t write itself, community is engaging in proportion to how much you engage with the people in it.

Don’t be a passive lump. Introduce yourself. Ask questions. Get involved.

This isn’t rocket science. Community is made up of people, and people want to be treated with respect, as equals. Look them in the eye, be interested in them, and they’ll be interested in return. Shoving business cards and book covers in people’s faces is a surefire way to fail at the process of engaging—this goes for social media as well as in person interactions.

For shy writers who think making friends is a challenge, I suggest starting by asking questions about common interests. With other authors, it’s easy: Ask about their books, about what genres they like, about their favorite authors. The conversation will trail naturally from there.

Once you’ve established relationships with people, you can start digging a little deeper. Questions like “Who do you use for your editor/cover designer/beta readers?” are cards people keep close to their chest, so save the prying questions for down the road. Once they see that you’re a genuine person who is genuinely interested in them, they’ll be more than willing to offer their help in return.

Give back to your community

Giving back is the factor that most people discount. Often, a person finds a community, becomes interested for a little while, and then stops attending or falls out of touch. They mistakenly think, they’ve got all they can out of it, and that there’s no reason to go back.

It’s one thing if the group is a bad fit, and you’re on the hunt for something better. But more often than not, a person hits a wall and just gives up, instead of delving deeper.

So what’s the most effective way to get more out of your community? Contribute to its richness by finding a way to add value. This doesn’t have to be anything big. I’m not proposing you give a moving speech or anything so intimidating. You don’t even have to offer anything unique—but you do have to be willing to get involved.

A good place for writers to start is by offering to read another writer’s work-in-progress. A simple gesture like going out of your way to read something they’ve published, leaving an unsolicited review, or commenting on a blog post also works wonders. Even small generosities can make people smile.

This is what’s so hard to understand about community, and why so many go wrong. Community is a process, a give and take, a two-way street. Finding a way to give back will get other people noticing you at the same time. It will make you an active part of the community instead of a passive bystander.

At the end of the day, becoming a part of an author community is no different than becoming a part of any other community. Fortunately, community is part of being human, so it comes naturally to all of us—as long as you’re willing to put in the effort.

Resources and Roadmaps

If you’re interested in the topic of community, you should know that I’m far from the first to discuss it. Jane Friedman and Betty Kelly Sargent have both written informatively on the subject as well.

Mark Coker from Smashwords wrote at Huffington Post about how libraries can serve as the local publishing portal. If you’re starting your own thing, the presentations Coker gave are also made available online, and you can use that content to help you in your early community-building efforts.

If you happen to be in Austin, TX, drop by Indie Publishing Austin sometime. It’s free and open to all. You might also like the notes from past Indie Publishing Austin events, all of which are collected on my blog—you can find a ton of valuable indie author information there, from platform building to audiobooks to how indie authors get reviews to a breakdown of publicity for authors.

Above all, I ask that you keep an open mind. Community is filled with potential, and those with open minds are most likely to see it. Once you find the pulse of an author community, it can work wonders to get your blood flowing, too.

matt-baba-square-round-transparentM. G. Herron (@mgherron) is speculative fiction author. After earning an English Lit degree from McMaster University, he spent two years traveling abroad while he honed his craft. Since he relocated to Austin in 2012, he has been earning a living as a writer in various capacities. He lives there still, with his girlfriend and his dog. Check out his latest novel, a scifi thriller called The Auriga Project or learn more about him at mgherron.com.

Authors: Balance is best in the long run

It seems that the romantic notion of the writer toiling away at his desk in spurts of inspiration for years only to emerge from the cocoon of his desk with a literary masterpiece has been traded out with another, more macabre. With the myth of the troubled artist busted, we’ve rallied around another golden calf in recent years: the insane workaholic, self-published author who writes 10,000 words in an hour and publishes a book every other day like a manic half-human, half-typewriter mutant/android.

Okay, I may be exaggerating a little. But still. This new author image is just as bad as the first.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire and respect a person who is dedicated and focused enough to write fast. Writing faster has made me a better, more productive author. This isn’t a post about quality vs. quantity. This is a post about *checks teleprompter*  not killing ourselves writing so, you know, we can be around to do more of it and reap the forthcoming rewards for our efforts. Balance is more important than engaging in a Scrivener death march.

A few months ago, I remember listening to a podcast interview with a writer who’d been publishing left and right, producing at a breakneck speed. During this interview, the host asked how he’d done it and one of the first things he mentioned was he’d sacrificed regular exercise to finish a certain book because he “had to get it out.” Most people aren’t bragging about this, and this guy wasn’t. But others in the writing community walk around like that hulk in the gym, muscles bulging from pre-workout and steroids, asking everyone “Do you even write, bro?

everydayauthor.com

In my opinion, this is a rather short-sighted way to carve out a career, like driving a case of Red Bull instead of getting a good night’s sleep. Sure, you got that next book (or books) out, but how long can you maintain that pace before your brain fries and you spend your time hiding in the pantry wearing a tinfoil hat, all the while waiting for the Big 5 agents to come steal your muse? When does it all come crashing down around your head?

I’m not knocking on passionate, hard-working authors. I consider myself one of you. I’m not totes jelly you can write 5,000 words per hour. But when you tell me you’ve forsaken your health, social/family life and who knows what else for a book, well, I guess I just don’t get it. It seems to me you’re perpetuating that poor, starving troubled artist stereotype all over again.

As Austin Kleon says in Steal Like an Artist: It’s best to assume that you’ll be alive for awhile. Eat breakfast. Do some push-ups. Go for long walks. Get plenty of sleep.

In the long run, which of the following do you think will get you further over the course of five years? What kind of person would you be at the end of each scenario?

A. Go to work, eat, sleep and write 5,000 words/day

OR

B. Wake up, write for 15-30 minutes (let’s say 250-750 words), go to work, come home, spend time with family or friends, exercise for 30 minutes, write or market for another 15-30 minutes (same word count as before, so between 500-1500 per day) and then the night reading a book watching your favorite TV show, etc.

Obviously in the first scenario, you’re producing roughly 5x more words each day. That might be well and good for a few weeks or even months, but what kind of life is that? I’d count the second scenario more productive and fulfilling every time. To me, balance show greater discipline and success. Writing like a madman just so you can tell everyone you busted out 10k words in a day isn’t sustainable over the course of a career (at least for the majority of us).  Your fingers may move but there’s only so much creative juice in the tank each day. You can’t write on fumes.

There’s only so much creative juice in the tank each day. You can’t write on fumes.

Some might call me lazy, or assume I don’t have the “drive” or “commitment” they do. I can assure you, you’re wrong. I want to be a full-time author, bad. But what I want even more is to not be some flash-in-the-pan author who writes one series and fades away. I want to be enduring. I want to be both efficient and effective. I want this to be a lifelong career. Given the choice, I’ll choose to be the tortoise every time, no matter how much in the moment I wish I was that damned, showboating hare.

This isn’t a death march, people. It’s the long haul. Sure, sometimes your sprint and sometimes you walk while you’re trying to figure out your ideal pace, but just remember: you may be able to sleep in a casket, but you can’t write in one.

wpid-imag0065_1-e1410915663557-960x913Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.

Author Origins: Justin Sloan

Justin SloanJustin Sloan is a video game writer, novelist, and screenwriter. He studied writing at the Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing program and at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s Professional Program in Screenwriting. He has published such novels as Back by Sunrise and Teddy Bears in Monsterland, and non-fiction such as Creative Writing Career: Becoming a Writer of Movies, Video Games, and Books and Military Veterans in Creative Careers. Additionally, he has published short fiction and poetry.

Justin was in the Marines for five years and has lived in Japan, Korea, and Italy. He currently lives with his amazing wife and children in the Bay Area, where he writes and enjoys life. Learn more at www.JustinMSloan.com.

Introduction: Tell us who you are, how and why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

On a snowy day in Washington, D.C., when I was in pain from a military related issue and not able to do anything aside from sit at my window, I decided to try to write a novel. While I thought I would take my time and try to finish over the next 50 years, I had it done in a much shorter time and soon learned that I was obsessed with writing. From there I started doing everything I could to learn the craft, from partnering with writer friends to write books and screenplays together, to taking classes and eventually enrolling in the Johns Hopkins MA in writing program and then the University of California, Los Angeles screenwriting program.

Somehow along the way I landed an amazing job at Telltale Games, where I get to write video games all day, and work on my novels and screenplays at night (if I can get my children to bed at a reasonable hour). It is a dream come true!

What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job. What’s still the hardest thing to balance with everyday life?

For me the hardest thing about having a regular day job before was knowing that I couldn’t spend that time writing or improving my craft. It was eating me up inside! I would wake up at 4:30 or 5:00 am and write, and sometimes write on my lunch breaks. I had to feed the creative beast within. However, I’ll say the good thing about having a non-writing job was that all day long my creative juices would be struggling to emerge, so by the time I got home every day the writing just flowed. Now that I have a writing job during the day, there are certainly days when I come home and my brain has shut off its creative side and just wants to spend time.

The other big hurdle to writing now is that I have two children, and one is an infant. But of course my family takes priority, and they definitely make me a better writer. There are so many scenarios in life that you simply cannot truly understand until you have children. For example, there’s a scene in the movie The Fault in Our Stars where the dad picks up his teenage daughter to carry her to the car and then hospital – this may touch all of us, but when you have a daughter and imagine having to do that? Oh man, the emotions move in crazy ways.

Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

The main change for me (aside from what I’ve already covered) is that now that I’ve published, I spend a lot of time marketing – whether this is author interviews, podcasts, blogs about what I have going on, etc., and that definitely eats into my writing time. That said, we have to find our own healthy balance in this regard, and I’ve reached a point where I have a certain number of books out there and a couple more on the way, so I feel okay with putting in a bit more time on the marketing side, for now.

If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?

When I first published, I decided to self-publish because of the advice I was hearing from such places as the San Francisco Writers Conference or the Self Publishing Podcast, and the horror stories I was hearing from other authors about bad experiences they were having with small presses. Not all small presses are bad, of course, and I am going with one for my upcoming literary novel, but you have to do your homework.

I gained traction with some of the KDP promos and whatnot, to the point where my books were at number one and three in their categories, but I have since moved away from those types of marketing because I feel it cheapens your writing, in a way. Now it has been almost a year since I first published, and I just started seeing organic traction. My book Creative Writing Career has been number one in its Amazon bestseller category for two or three weeks now, and in the top ranks for a month or so before that, which I am pretty happy with. This was after having published two novels, two non-fiction books, a fantasy serial, some short stories, and excerpts from the non-fiction books. So the lesson learned is that (a) it takes time, and (b) having more titles helps discoverability.

What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? Alternatively, what are some of your other hobbies/interests outside of writing?

My book Back by Sunrise is a fun pre-teen adventure about a girl whose dad gets deployed overseas with the Army and doesn’t come back, and how the girl deals with that grief through a magical necklace that turns her into a bird one night. Many people may see the book and just think it’s a cute story, but it came from a personal place – I served in the Marines and watched people be deployed, and watched my friend’s wives worry about what would happen if they never did come back. Thankfully, that never happened to my friends, but it does to people all over the world. Also, around this time I had a cousin commit suicide, and it was quite devastating. While I had written the screenplay before this happened, I couldn’t let the story sit on the sidelines any longer – my cousin’s death was what pushed me to adapt the screenplay into a novel and get it out into the world.

One of my readers contacted me and said that she used to be a hospice worker and that she thought this would be great for children dealing with grief. I hadn’t even thought about it, but of course she was right. By the time this interview goes live, I will have gone to a summer camp hosted by the Hospice by the Bay, called Camp Erin, where I’m doing a book signing (and the children and teens there get the book free). I’m so thrilled to be a part of this, and hope that I can continue to help others through tough times.

What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

Keep an open mind. When I first started writing, I had no idea it would lead to writing for video games, let alone on some of my favorite IPs (Game of Thrones and Walking Dead). If all you want to do is write novels, it’s much more of a gamble, and perfectly fine if you are okay with your writing being more of a hobby until it one day hopefully takes off. Regardless, continue to focus on your craft, but also keep getting yourself out there so you can build a community of people willing to help each other (and potentially, fans).

Is there anything we haven’t asked that you’d like to touch on?

I love sharing my story, but even more than my own I love sharing the awe-inspiring stories of those around me. This is why I put together my recent book, Military Veterans in Creative Careers. In addition to my advice (applicable to everyone, not just veterans) on making it as writers, actors, etc., I have interviewed a number of military veterans about their experience leveraging their past experience to land themselves in the careers of their dreams. If you only want to read my fiction, that is great, but consider checking out this book as well, if nothing else to pick up and find inspiration from time to time or to share with someone you know who could benefit from it. Every time I look back through one of the stories shared in my book, I can’t help but think how incredible the journey is to follow our dreams, and I wish I had something like this book when I was starting out to point me on the right path. Also, when this interview goes live, the audiobook should be out (Audible, iTunes, and Amazon), and the narrator has done an amazing job. His name is Scott Levy, and he has acted in movies, a Linkin Park video, and video games such as Battlefield: Hardline. If have any questions or have your own cool story to share, hit me up!

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