Tag Archives: finishing manuscripts

On Mastery

By Kerry Schafer

Finish the damn book.

I know you’ve heard this before. You’ve heard it from writers far more well known than I am, people like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. There’s even a Finish the Damn Book Contest out there you can enter, if you need that kind of encouragement.

Why?

Because every book you finish teaches you something new about writing. Every story you complete improves your craft, brings you to a higher level of skill, makes you a better writer. The places that make you want to walk away to a new and still shiny idea are the places where you need to up your game and learn something new.

If you give up in the middle, if you abandon your characters and story when the going gets messy in the soggy middle, you never learn how to fix that middle. You’ll never learn how to go back and tweak the beginning to make the middle work. Or rewrite the end so you can fix the beginning.

When you quit, you never really give yourself a chance to become the best writer you can be.

This morning I chanced upon an article about the concept of Mastery that a friend posted on Facebook. It’s written by Maria Popova and is called Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Difference Between Success and Mastery (It’s about a book called The Rise, by Sarah Lewis, which is likely also well worth reading.) Popova talks at length about the gift of failure and the difference between mastery and success. One of the things that really stuck with me was a photo of the Women’s Archery team at Columbia University in about 1920.

These women spent “…countless hours practicing a sport that requires equal parts impeccable precision of one’s aim and a level of comfort with the uncontrollable — all the environmental interferences, everything that could happen between the time the arrow leaves the bow and the time it lands on the target, having followed its inevitably curved line.”

Think about that in the context of the writer’s life. We spend countless hours writing the books - shaping, polishing, perfecting. But after the books leave our hands there are so many interferences beyond our control. Agents, editors, the vagaries of the publishing business, current trends in readers and the market.

I’d like to be Robin Hood, with a level of mastery so magical and mythical that every book I ever writes hits the bulls eye.

But I’m not. And chances are good that neither are you.

So what do we do? We keep writing books. We keep practicing. We keep pursuing mastery of our craft because that is something over which we do have control.

And we never quit.

Which brings me to this, from the unquenchable Chuck Wendig:

“I am a writer, and I will finish the shit that I started.

I will not whine. I will not blubber. I will not make mewling whimpering cryface pissypants boo-hoo noises. I will not sing lamentations to my weakness.

My confidence is hard and unyielding. Like a kidney stone lodged in the ureter of a stegosaurus.

These are my adult pants. The diapers have burned away in the fires of my phoenix-esque rising…”

Read the rest, here. Then put it on your desktop. Print it off and paste it to your wall. Chant it in front of the mirror.

And then go finish your book. And write another one.

~~~~~

Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2012 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on February 14, 2013. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books.

Murder Your Darlings

By Jan Weeks

Jan WeeksSir Arthur Quiller-Couch said that over a hundred years ago and writers have followed his advice (or not) ever since. I, for one, being of kind heart and semi-sound mind, hesitated to do something so cruel. Occasionally I’d shoot a few of my darling words in the butt with a BB gun and watch them scamper to safety but my heart ached for them. I wanted to call them back and nurture and cuddle and soothe them into believing they really were worthwhile. I wanted to build their self-esteem, just like I did for my fifth grade students.

The first wholesale massacre was planned one day while driving down a Colorado back road, thinking of nothing in particular. I’d been working on Season of Evil, Season of Dreams, my first suspense novel, for years. The protagonist was Lorna Hollingsworth, a retired school teacher who discovers a child’s skull in a meadow in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Ben Logan, police chief of the small town and Lorna’s former student, uses the teacher as a foil for his thoughts and surmises as he investigates.

The story began with Lorna taking her dog for a walk early on a September morning. A bloody sun rose through lavender mist. Sentinel pines lined the trail. Sweat sheened her skin as she labored up the steep path. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Years and miles after writing that scene, I realized it had nothing to do with the story. Once home, I booted up the ’puter, highlighted the 3500-word first chapter, and pressed delete. Oh, the tears! Oh, the sorrow! Oh, the pain as my darlings disappeared into oblivion, never to return, unless I wanted to hire a techie to save them. I hardened my heart and started the story where it truly began, with the discovery of the skulls. (Yes, more than one.)

More years passed. Rejections flew like autumn leaves in a gale, adding frustration to insult. Why the heck couldn’t editors see what a great story I’d written? Surely they couldn’t all be rejects from the Arthur Murray School of Great Writing…or something like that. Each rejection caused me to stalk the manuscript, BB gun upgraded to a .22 rifle, in hand. Now my darlings seemed to know when they were in for the high jump and some scurried away with barely a nudge from the barrel.

Then the second mass murder sneaked into my mind as I washed dishes. I had the wrong protagonist. It wasn’t Lorna’s story, it was Ben’s. I sank into a chair, poured another cup of tea, and wept, not for my darlings, but for me. I had been writing this damned book for twenty years! Enough, already! I didn’t want to condemn the whole thing to oblivion. I didn’t want to start over!

The fit of self-pitying hysteria passed, as all fits must, and I buckled down. As I rewrote I realized that the book was becoming better. Now, readers could live in Ben’s mind and investigate along with him. They didn’t have to wade through pages of talking heads as Ben explained everything that he’d discovered to Lorna. Switching POVs between Ben, Lorna, and the antagonist further moved the story along. Some of the babies I’d plunged into purgatory crept back into the manuscript, a few at a time, this time in their proper places. The bloody sunrise and sentinel pines never did find their way back, thank God.

After 25 years and 59 revisions, Season of Evil found a publishing home and arrived in hardback in the spring, a time of renewal and life.

Now I believe in wreaking murder and mayhem on my dears. I also believe in reincarnation, as long as those little darlings know their places.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jan Weeks is an editor and award-winning writer with three published adult novels (Silverton Summer; The Secret of Spring Hollow; Season of Evil, Season of Dreams) and a middle-grade novel (The Centerville Code) available as an e-book, as is The Secret of Spring Hollow. Her articles, short stories, poetry and essays have appeared in local, regional, national and international markets, such as Outdoor Life, Guideposts, Natural Health, California Lawyer, Grit, and Midwest Fly Fishing.

She belongs to The Authors’ Guild and the Western Colorado Writers’ Forum, and has facilitated the Colorado West Writers’ Workshop. She teaches workshops in creative writing, writing for magazines, and basic grammar for writers.

Visit Jan’s website for rates, links to books, and more information.

Jan is also giving away a print copy of her novel, Season of Evil, Season of Dreams, to one U.S. or Canada reader who leaves a comment on today’s post. The mystery involves a small-town cop who must stop a serial killer before more children vanish. Comments through Tuesday, March 11th will be included in a random drawing.

Action Plans for the Scattered and Unmotivated

by Kerry Schafer

Last month I shared some of my thoughts about intentions, suggesting that it’s a good idea to have some and see where they take you. And then I tacked a little afterthought on the end, saying how next time we’d talk about Action Plans.

I still maintain that intentions are lovely and wonderful things, even though well meaning people say the road to hell is paved with them. I suspect that the road to paradise is probably paved with them too, although nobody ever seems to mention that.

Back to my point, which is that we want to give those intentions a little boost so that they are more likely to take us to the good place, and not lead us astray into darkness and possibly fire and brimstone.

Warning: If you’re looking for one of those super organized, highly structured, do-all-of-the-things-on-this-list-and-you-will-surely-conquer-the-world posts, you’re in the wrong spot. This isn’t even Action Plans 101. I’m offering up a few random ideas for those of us who organize by sticky notes on the kitchen table, or in our heads while resting our eyes on the couch.

1. Publicly announce whatever it is you said you were going to do.

Case in point – at the end of my last blog post here, I said I would write this time about action plans. If I hadn’t done this, I might easily have opted for something involving fluffy cats and maybe a random penguin or two, because I’m tired and feeling unfocused and the last thing I want to do right now is remind myself that I need a new Action Plan. But I do, and here we are. This is one of the things that makes Nanowrimo so successful, I think. After you’ve announced to everybody who knows and loves you, along with a bunch of strangers who don’t care at all and even a few people who hate you, that you’re going to do something – write a book, query an agent, self publish, whatever – there is a motivating force to keeping your word.

2. Write it on a calendar.

Don’t have a calendar? Get one. Or use the calendar on your smart phone or your computer. Get the kids to make you one. This, for the scattered and unmotivated, is one of the simplest and best motivational and organizational tools out there. Of course, simply scrawling “write a novel”  or “get published” on the first available date may not be of much use, although I think even that would be of some use. There is something about actually scheduling writing time, or query time, or a word count goal, that bumps it up the ranks of your to do list. It’s like magic. Write it down – Monday – 9 am buy groceries, 10:30 am dentist appointment, 3 pm write 1000 words – and all of a sudden your writing time jumps from something you’d like to do if you have time, to something that you plan to do.

3. Take a small step now that will commit you to further action later.

I’m talking about one of those moments where you open your mouth (or put your fingers on the keys) and commit yourself to something. Usually the commitment part only takes a few minutes, but has far reaching consequences, sort of like getting married in Vegas, only in a good way. Or that minute at a school meeting where you raise your hand and volunteer to organize the potluck. If you’re having trouble getting your butt in the chair to write words, buddy up with a friend. Agree to meet up for writing sprints, at 5 am, or 10 pm, or whatever fits in your schedule. That way, when the alarm goes off and you reach out to push snooze, you’ll be struck by the guilt of knowing that someone you care about is climbing out of a nice warm bed somewhere else so she can meet up with you. Guilt is a wonderful nap ruiner. Join a writing group that expects pages to critique. Create a contest with a friend to see who gets the most (well researched and solidly crafted) queries out into the world by a particular time frame.

As Action Plans go, this is the minimalist version. Search the net and you’ll find all sorts of involved and in depth road maps to success. These make my head hurt, and I suspect I’m not the only one. So this is the extent of my contribution to the subject. Hey, every little bit helps, right?

Now – it’s time for you to step up to the plate. What action plan step are you prepared to commit to today?

~~~~~~~~

Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2012 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on February 14, 2013. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books.

Old Writer, New Tricks

By Mary Gillgannon

I’m what I call an intuitive or “into the mist” writer.  I have a general idea of what the story is about, but I don’t really plot. I’m also a linear writer. I start from the beginning and keep going on the rough draft until I reach the end. Between “non-plotting” and writing straight through, I usually end up with a complete mess and then have to go back and rewrite extensively to get a coherent and compelling story. It was pretty typical that for a 120,000 word novel, I’d write about 30,000 extra words. For my 160,000-word historical novel, I probably wrote 300,000!

About five years ago, I decided I wasn’t up to all that floundering and struggle and wasted words. I was going to learn to plot. I attended workshops, read books and talked to other writers about their plotting process. It all sounded good to me… until I sat down and tried to do it. Nothing happened. No story ideas came. My mind went blank and my muse refused to speak to me.

So, I went back to “writing into the mist” and writing linearly. I seemed to be getting better at it with my romances. But when I tried to write a fantasy series, I ended up with a 200,000 word book that needs to be about half that. Not to mention, I can’t market the series yet because I don’t know what happens in the second book, let alone the third and fourth. (I know. George R.R. Martin probably doesn’t really know where his series is going either. But he’s clearly better at this stuff than me.)

The feeling that there has to be a better way keeps gnawing at me. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve found it with my latest project. It’s a fantasy romance that I first started years ago. Because I was trying to sell on proposal back then, I actually wrote a very rough synopsis for this book. I started writing based on the synopsis, and after a few chapters, inevitably, the plot began to change. But then I did something different. I didn’t keep writing. I went back and started revising the synopsis to fit the story. As I did that, I realized there were lots of story questions I hadn’t addressed. So I went back and rewrote parts of the first few chapters. In the process, the whole story became clearer to me. For once, I wasn’t writing “into the mist”. I could actually see where I was going.

I’ve decided I would keep up with this new technique with this book. I’m beginning to think that maybe the problem isn’t that I don’t plot, but that I keep writing forward even when I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe if I try to plot as I write the book and fix things as I go along, I won’t end up with such a disaster at the end.

I’ve been writing novels for over twenty years. It would be really exciting if I finally figured out a better way to do it!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mary GillgannonMary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the dark ages, medieval and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at public library, where she she has the enviable task of purchasing adult fiction. She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course! For more about Mary, visit her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook.

Tips on Working with a Manuscript Reader

By Alissa Johnson

Alissa JohnsonWhen I finish a book I love, I turn past the last page. I look for anything I can read so I don’t have to set it down. I want to stay immersed in the feeling of the book. Inevitably, my search takes me to the author’s Acknowledgements Page.

I’ve come to believe this page would be better called the Gratitude Page because it’s so often more than a list of names. It’s a tribute to the people who helped bring the book to life, and it’s a reminder to writers: writing may be an individual act but the process of creating a good book is never solitary.

Chief among those listed on the Acknowledgements Page are trusted and insightful readers—people who identified where the story flowed and where it needed some work. Theirs is one of the most important steps in writing, and one of the most vulnerable for the writer (I imagine it’s like parent teacher conferences, waiting to hear if your kid is a pro or a total slacker).

I’ve seen it go incredibly right, inspiring a writer to move forward with her story, and I’ve seen it go incredibly wrong—literally stopping a writer in her tracks because she didn’t pick the right reader.

Here are a few ways to make sure that you and your reader get it right:

1. Select readers with the skill sets you need. My two most trusted readers brought opposite (and equally important) skills to the table. One responded to the big picture—did the plot make sense? Were the characters clear? Where was it confusing? The other favored a black pen and editing a sentence like his life depended on it.

2. Ask for sample feedback. Send five to ten pages or a chapter and ask what he or she would suggest so you can get a sense for the input you’d receive.

3. Choose readers you like. If the communication flows easily it’s going to be a lot easier to take the good and the bad when they send you feedback on your manuscript.

4. Let your reader know if there are specific questions you want addressed, but trust that he’ll be seeing it with fresh eyes. Leave room for him to tell you what he sees.

5. After you send the manuscript, do something fun. Go for a hike, a ski, a run, or out with friends. Celebrate the fact that you care enough about your story to get someone’s input on how to make it better.

6. Resist the urge to edit before you get feedback. It’s difficult to work with feedback based on an earlier draft, and the time away from your work will let you see it with fresh eyes.

7. Set your own expectations before you get feedback. You’ve been living and breathing this story, which means that you are too close to see it clearly. You’ll hear some good stuff, but you’ll also learn where it’s not working. That’s not a failure—it’s the point of getting feedback.

8. When you get the feedback, read it and digest it. But before you start making each and every change, look at your manuscript for yourself. What do you see that needs work?

9. Once you’ve made all your revisions, read the feedback one more time. You don’t need to make every suggested change but make sure you’ve carefully considered each one.

10. Remember that revision is where the magic happens in writing—where prose comes alive and the storyline comes into its own.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alissa Johnson is an award winning writer and writing coach in Crested Butte, CO. She helps clients find peace with their writing process so they can get the most out of life and feel productive as writers. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Dirt Rag Magazine and Green Woman Magazine among other publications, and she holds an MFA from Western Connecticut State University. You’ll find her at her personal website and blog, and at the Writing Strides website.

The Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very Ugly: All Manuscripts Are Not Created Equal

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Listen closely, for I am about to tell you a publishing secret no one else wants you to know.

Are you ready?

Here goes.

Not everything a writer writes is good.

Shocking, right?  J.K. Rowlings didn’t sit down one day and pound out a thousand pages of Harry Potter the first time her fingers hit the keyboard. Learning craft takes a lifetime. Some writers get lucky and the first manuscript they write is snatched up by an agent and sold to a big house for a huge advance. But they still have to sit back down at the keyboard and write book 2.

Trust me; the second book won’t be nearly as easy to write. Or as pretty.

Manuscripts are a lot like children.  Some are born cute, while others have to grow on you.

*No emails, please. Your offspring are just adorable, I swear.

But there is a beauty in the crap writing too. A freedom. Maybe it’s a freedom from inside the box thinking or story ideas. Sometimes it’s freedom from your own voice, a means to explore beyond what you know. Often, for me, my crap words are the same ones that push me for better ones. After all, how many times can my heroine roll her eyes?

The answer is 27 time, in two chapters.

Had I submitted that bit of crap to my editor, he might’ve suffered from an eye-rolling sprain.

Not pretty, I know.

Now what can you do if you find yourself with an ugly baby?

A few things:

1)      Dress it up. Add a new, exciting character with a better story line. Then cut the old characters and story line. Basically, write a new book.

2)      Rip it up. Sometimes it’s best to just let a story idea and sometimes a whole manuscript go. Too often we get stuck on a manuscript, on an idea, trying to turn an ugly baby cute when even ten million hours of scalpel-sharp revision wouldn’t make it better.

3)      Let it rip. The ugly baby might all be in our heads. This is when honest feedback from a critique group can save your precious baby. But you have to be able to trust what the critiques say. People don’t like to tell you your baby is ugly, so they nod and smile when asked. That won’t be helpful if your baby really is ugly.

4)      Embrace it. Show the world your ugly baby, and let the world decide what happens next. This is a mindset I see a lot in indie publishing. Sometimes the world loves an ugly baby, a baby that then turns out to be a swan in diapers.

5)      Toss it in a dumpster. Or better yet, that drawer in your desk where all bad manuscripts go to die. Then, in a few years, after 20 more craft classes on revision, 10 on editing, 3 on the hero’s journey, take that baby out and play with it. If it’s still ugly, put it back in the drawer before anyone sees it.

Because I love my RMFW blog readers, I’m going to share a piece of an ugly baby of mine with you:

She struggled, but not too much. Her water soaked hair turned stringy like seaweed, making it almost impossible to see the terror in her eyes, as he held her head under the icy water. He was careful not to mare her snow-white skin. A bubble burst from the water’s surface, filled with the last remnants of oxygen in her lungs. The sound it made as it broke the surface was anticlimactic, a muted death rattle and then silence.

Guess that baby needs a few more years in a drawer before unleashed onto unsuspecting, polite society. Did I actually use the words, snow-white skin? I feel sick…

Since we’re all friends here, give me a bit of your best ugly baby, a sentence, a paragraph, a page, as much as you’d like to share.  Best ugly baby will win a prize.

———————————

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming book, The Assassin’s Heart. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator. For more about Julie, visit her website and blog.

Connect with Julie on Twitter and Facebook.

.

Gadgets and Spreadsheets and Apps, Oh, My!

By Katriena Knights

Like most of us writers, I’m always looking for a way to increase efficiency and up my wordcount. All this while trying not to aggravate my carpal tunnels and managing to spend a couple minutes here and there with the kids. My latest quest for the perfect productivity combo has led me to what I’m finding to be a neat combination of apps on my relatively new iPad and my favorite writing program, Scrivener.

Some history on some of these items first. My best friend introduced me to Scrivener a few years ago, and when I first fiddled with the demo it was like a revelation. I switched from PC to Mac for Scrivener, which I think is a little like converting to a new religion so you can marry that hot guy who’s not the same religion as you. That move alone made writing faster and easier, but it still tethered me to the computer. The next move, when my carpal tunnel started acting up, was to write by hand, then dictate into Scrivener with Dragon Dictate. Which helped my wrists but slowed me down.

I’d resisted getting an iPad for a long time, even though I really really wanted one. I mean I wanted one with the kind of intense lust I usually reserve for broken-nosed, big-shouldered, hockey-playing men. But I couldn’t justify the expense. Finally, my daughter got a hand-me-down iPad for Christmas one year, and after fiddling with it for a while, I decided I could get some use out of it aside from playing Bejeweled for hours. So I bought myself one for Mother’s Day last year.

Well, boy-howdy was that ever a good investment. I started writing ALL THE TIME. I could pop that sucker into my purse and get set up at Starbucks in a quarter of the time it took me to set up with my MacBook Pro. I even liked the touch keyboard for the most part. But using the touchpad plus Notes or Google Docs wasn’t quite cutting it, either.

Enter my BFF yet again, who ran across an app called Werdsmith. I installed the free version, fiddled with it a bit, then decided I didn’t like it and deleted it. I started working in Notes so I didn’t have to have an Internet connection to write. After I wrote a section, I emailed it to myself and dropped it into Scrivener. But that wasn’t covering my bases well enough, either. I wanted to know how many words I was writing in a session, and Notes doesn’t have a wordcount feature (if it does, I never found it, so don’t mock me or anything in the comments if it has one…). Out of curiosity, I downloaded Werdsmith again. For some reason, it made complete sense to me this time. You start with an Idea, then you add a wordcount goal to it and it becomes a Project. Werdsmith tracks your wordcount as you go. Now all I needed was a spreadsheet app. I also got a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard to reduce my weird autocorrect errors and so I could type faster.

I poked around the app store and tried out a few spreadsheet apps until I settled on iSpreadsheet (there’s a predictable app name). I’m still using the free version. I just make a new spreadsheet for each project, or, with longer projects, for each week of work. When I’m done, I export it, email it to myself as a .csv, convert it in Excel, then file it in my folder with the rest of the story files. Here’s an example, converted to a .jpg for your viewing pleasure.

Spreadsheet from iSpreadsheet

iSpreadsheet isn’t all that dynamic, but it does what I need it to do, and it’s free. Also I can put pretty colors on it, and it does a limited number of formulas. I’m not sure what the upgraded version adds other than the ability to create a larger number of individual spreadsheets and no more ads, but for now I’m doing fine with the free one.

So now my wordcount has increased to the point where I can knock out over 1,000 words in a half-hour session, as you can see on the spreadsheet. The Logitech keyboard is for some reason easier on my wrists than my laptop keyboard—maybe because I don’t bang on it as hard when I type. And with the spreadsheet and Werdsmith to keep track of my wordcount, all my tracking and goalsetting needs are in one place. I email my Werdsmith files to myself, drop them into Scrivener, then when the first draft is done, I chop the file into scenes while I’m doing my first edit. When I’m done editing, I export to Word and shoot the file off to my editor. It’s a great system for me so far, and I intend to keep using it until I find another fun gadget or app to add to the workflow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog

 

Why I Have Failed To Write a Word in 2014

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

Aaron_Michael_RitcheyI am the problem.

Not the clock. Not the industry. Not my critique group. Not my readers. Not even my stalker fans. Wait, I don’t have stalker fans. Dang.

No, I am the problem. When I don’t write, I am the problem?

First of all, I forget so easily most everything good about the writing life. I only focus on the difficulties. I know I suck, the criticisms sting, the despair drowns me, the disappointment destroys, the rejection! Rejection. Rejection. Eloi, Eloi! Lama sabachthani!

So far in 2014, I have not written a single word of fiction and for me that is a long time because I’m a daily writer. If I don’t write daily, I fall out of the habit, and getting back into the habit takes blood, my dearies, lots of blood. And I know I have to do some writing soon because I have a new book coming out in 2014, and I have several mewling projects that need my attention.

But I’ve been so busy.

Again, I am the problem. One of my favorite excuses not to write is time. Oh, I’m so busy. I have so much going on. How can I fit it all in?

That is me lying to myself, which I love to do. My friend says he wastes his life in ten minutes increments looking at drivel on the internet. Add up those ten minute increments? Six of them gives you an hour? Do you know what you can do in an hour? I can type a thousand words, easy. I can edit ten pages. I can outline a book. One hour is a long time. How else would I want to spend any free hour I have? Doing something that gives my life meaning? Or looking at kitty pictures on Facebook? Though I do like me a good kitten pic, I’ll tell ya what.

We all have the same twenty-four hours. People can do some amazing stuff with their minutes, and why not me? It’s all about priorities and scheduling. Normally, I schedule in what’s important first, and then let the rest of my day take shape. For years, I got up early to write. Getting up early is stealing time from God.

But now? I sleep in. I read. I watch T.V. I stare out the window into the darkness. I think Kafka-esque thoughts.

I am the problem. What really gets me is the self-doubt. Stephen King said that self-doubt kills both books and writers. This is me, raising my hand.

Ritchey_LLTSK_Cover for ARCI have the notion that I will never succeed, that I will remain stalkerless, that I know exactly how my writing career is going to look, and it doesn’t include huge contracts, adoring fans, and mimosas. I assume that whatever I write won’t sell, that I’ll die nameless, and this entire endeavor will be a monumental waste of time. I might as well embrace the obesity epidemic, turn on the T.V., permanently, and just huddle up in my cocoon of Dr. Who and chili-flavored Fritos and wait for heart disease and diabetes to come and get busy on my ass.

Every day in 2014 that is how I’ve woken up. What am I doing writing books? Why am I even trying? What kind of an idiot am I?

Then I think about my next book, Long Live the Suicide King. It’s a story about a seventeen-year-old kid who quits doing drugs and gets suicidal, but the more suicidal he gets, the more interesting his life becomes. It’s a story about hope. About meaning. It’s darkly funny, reads fast, and has some definite crime novel aspects to it. It’s a project I adore, and it truly is an Aaron Michael Ritchey novel.

It was a book I was born to bring into the world.

In 2014, I’ve forgotten why I write, so I haven’t been motivated to get up at the buttcrack of dawn to work. It’s our “whys” that drive us. We all write for different reasons. For me, writing is an act of supreme courage. When I write, it’s me spitting in the face of death and despair. When I don’t write, it’s the other way around. Yeah, lugies in the eye.

The hero in my new book is certain he knows how his life will turn out, which is one of the reason he wants to die. But he’s foolish. In the end, none of know what the future holds. Lots of writers commit suicide certain they were kidding themselves about their talent, the power of their story, the righteousness of their cause. I don’t want to be another dead writer.

While I’m alive, I will write. I can blame the clock, the industry, my childhood of neglect and afternoon sitcoms, but the reality is, I have the power, I make the choice.

And today, I choose to pursue this impossible, frustrating, windmill of a dream. I think I’ll go and write a little fiction right now.

I’m doing a little giveaway for both the hopeless and the hopeful. If you’d like to win a one-of-kind Advanced Reader Copy of Long Live the Suicide King, leave a comment about why you write. What keeps you going?

Comments left on this post through Friday midnight Mountain Time will be considered. The winner will be announced on the blog on Saturday. This giveaway is for U.S. residents only.

Thanks all!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Aaron Michael Ritchey’s first novel, The Never Prayer, was published in March of 2012 to a fanfare of sparkling reviews including an almost win in the RMFW Gold contest. Since then he’s been paid to write steampunk, cyberpunk, and sci-fi western short stories, two of which will appear in a new fiction magazine, Fiction Vale. His next novel, Long Live the Suicide King, will give hope to the masses in April of 2014. As a former story addict and television connoisseur, he lives in Colorado with his wife and two goddesses posing as his daughters.

For more about Aaron, his books, and how to overcome artistic angst, visit his website. He’s on Facebook as Aaron Michael Ritchey and he tweets as @aaronmritchey.

What, Precisely, Are Your Intentions?

By Kerry Schafer

Setting Yourself Up For Failure

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. More often than not, I think they set us up for failure rather than success. Some of us start out great with whatever it is we’ve decided to do: write 2000 words a day, go to the gym 5 days a week, lose 20 pounds, whatever. And then we have that day where we don’t write any words. We get busy and miss a couple of days at the gym. We fall to temptation and eat a box of chocolates. Some of us never get started at all. A week goes by, then two or three, and it’s already February and we haven’t even started on our resolution yet, or we’ve failed to follow through.

And then the self talk starts.

Why do I bother? I’m a failure. I’ll never be able to do this, I don’t know why I try… And this gives us the excuse not to try, to fall back to the old ways, which are always more comfortable than change.

For some people resolutions do seem to work. I’m guessing these are people who don’t have a tendency to listen to the negative self talk. They can fall off the exercise/diet/writing wagon, pick themselves up the next day, and carry on. And I’d guess this has everything to do with their focus, which is on the goal and not on the failure.

You Go Where You’re Looking

Remember learning to ride a bicycle? Part of the trick to balancing and driving in a straight line without crashing into the trash cans or parked cars is picking a spot somewhere ahead and keeping your eyes on it. If you turn your head to look at that parked car for very long, chances are good a collision is in your future. Actually, this applies to pretty much anything – skateboarding, driving a car, even walking. You end up where you’re looking.

What Are Your Intentions?

So what is your goal? Often we don’t end up where we think we want to go because really we want to be somewhere else. Our subconscious minds are powerful things. So if you walk around saying that you really want to finally write that novel this year, but really there are ten other goals that are more important to you, chances are the writing is never going to happen. I like the idea of setting intentions because it takes that goal idea one step farther. An intention is, simply, a statement of what you intend to do. This is, incidentally, the best predictor of human behavior. The old standby question asked by fathers of their daughters’ suitors in every comic strip everywhere, “What are your intentions toward my daughter?” is actually a good one. Not that most of those boys will answer honestly, mind you, but if their intention is marriage their behavior will be vastly different than if it’s a one time tumble in the haystack.

Try This

I believe in the power of the written word. Taking a half formed intention that’s simmering in your brain, half conscious, and writing it down (preferably with pen and paper) is a powerful action. It can also help bring you to an understanding of where you really want to go.

1. Fetch a notebook and a pen, clear a half hour somewhere in your busy day, and find some place where you can be undisturbed.

2. Now, imagine that it is December 31st, 2014. You are taking a quiet moment on New Year’s Eve to review the past year and all that you have accomplished. In the present tense, write quickly and without stopping, detailing your successes of the year and how you feel about them.

3. Take that page (or pages) that you have written, and put them in a place that acknowledges the importance of this intention to you. Ideas include: under your pillow so you can dream of what you are going to accomplish, in a special container on the windowsill, in your jewelry box with other treasured items.

4. Let simmer, and see what happens.

Next month: taking it one step further with an action plan

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books

Never Give Up!

By Mark Stevens

Regrets? I’ve had a few.

One bothers me more than most.

I knew it at the time, when I first read Gary Reilly’s stuff.

Gary ReillyWe’d meet in coffee shops, frequently the Europa Café on South Pennsylvania Street in Denver. Hip joint. Cool vibe.

Gary would pluck a stack of things from his satchel—offbeat fiction he’d found in the used bookstores along Broadway. He’d pull out cheap paperbacks, maybe a manuscript of mine that he had edited for the fifth or sixth time. He’d tell me the story of some B-movie he’d stayed up to watch. The guy loved movies.

And, over the years, he’d hand me one of the novels he had written.

About 25 of them.

This was years ago, when he was healthy and hearty and could talk for hours. Two rounds of large iced lattes, no problem.

I’d take the novels home—one at a time.

I was astounded at the sheer range of voices the guy produced—the comic adventures of his erstwhile cab driver Murph (the star of 11 novels), two dark psychological thrillers, some sci-fi, some fantasy, some straight-up, multi-generational all-American fiction and two of the best Vietnam-era novels I’ve ever read.

During our years of coffees, I went from “unpublished” status to “published.” Yes, a small indie publisher but I got an advance; it was a regular deal. Nobody could have been happier for me than Gary Reilly.

Here’s where the regret comes in.

I just re-read the first of the Vietnam-era books again: The Enlisted Men’s Club.

Poetry on every poetry. We’re in the Presidio, in San Francisco, and Private Palmer is waiting orders to ship out to Vietnam. All he wants to do is drink beer and avoid “shit details.” Nearly 100,000 words of raw honesty. Gary drew on his own experiences (he served as an MP in Qui Nhon) and The Enlisted Men’s Club takes you smack back to the mood and the feeling of that messy political era.

Here are the opening two paragraphs (following a brief prologue):

The ground is damp where Private Palmer is standing, sandy, with some sort of small-leafed green vine which wraps itself around everything planted in the earth—the white wooden legs of the NCOIC tower, a picket line of telephone poles, even the rows of smooth white rocks as large as footballs which border the sides of the dirt drive leading into the rifle range.

The sky is overcast and the wind is blowing hard, making Palmer’s fingertips ache each time he pinches a brass-jacketed round of ammunition and tries to stuff it into a spring-loaded magazine. His gloves are in the pockets of his field-jacket because this isn’t the kind of work you can do wearing gloves, you have to do it bare handed. Colorado raised, he’s used to the stale dry mile-high bite of lifeless Rocky winters, not these damp, heat-sapping, muggy mists blown inland from the coastal waters at dawn. San Francisco Bay is hidden by barren brown hills which border the rifle range, but he can still smell the odor of beached fish in the air.

I read The Enlisted Men’s Club and knew Simon & Schuster would need only tweak four or five typos to turn it into a book today. Flawless, perfectly paced and beautifully structured. The ending is a piece of work—a fine insight into humanity that gives a ray of hope to what is otherwise a fairly bleak tale.

And, now that Gary is gone (he died nearly three years ago), I was near tears as I read The Enlisted Men’s Club.

I’m angry that I didn’t stand him up, march him out of the coffee shop, drive him to a place where I could really give him a piece of my mind—that he needed to do more to get his damn books published.

I was frustrated at the time that Gary wouldn’t send out more queries.

But I didn’t really do anything about it.

I was frustrated at the time that Gary wouldn’t come to RMFW events, to network and find a path to publication.

But I didn’t really do anything about it.

When I’d ask him if he wanted a list of agents to contact, he said would think about it. He’d give me a little shrug of the shoulders. Self-promotion and marketing weren’t part of his DNA.

But I didn’t insist.

I should have made an issue out of it.

Gary would go back home—and write. We’d meet again in six weeks or so and he would have polished up another manuscript.

The guy was born to write and tell stories. He wrote (obviously) for the sheer joy of it. He was fascinated about the process. He loved words like nobody I have ever met.

Twenty-five novels and most (in my mind) could go straight to print.

Five Murph (The Asphalt Warrior) novels have been published so far and the response has been terrific. One Colorado Book Award finalist, two number one Denver Post best-sellers, and reviews coming in from all over the country—and around the world. Murph has followers on Facebook and Twitter.

Because Gary was a vet, the Vietnam Veterans of America website just reviewed all five of Gary’s books—and raved.

The VVA is waiting on his Vietnam novels, of course. If all goes well, The Enlisted Men’s Club will be out late this spring or early summer. Readers will not be disappointed. I guarantee it.

When readers start to see Gary Reilly’s range and his storytelling ability, I have a feeling my case of regret will only get worse.

What’s the lesson for the rest of us? Sure, write up a storm. Sit in that coffee shop. But get out there and network—knock on every door, query everyone in sight, never give up.

Truly.

Never.

Give.

Up.

Gary Reilly books

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan. Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014. Mark is also a partner in Running Meter Press, the company publishing Gary’s works. All proceeds from the company are going to Gary’s longtime girlfriend.