Tag Archives: writing life

Writing on the Go

I write to you from the Itty Bitty writing set up, to assert that you can write anywhere, any time, in any way. I have friends who swear by dictation (I’m looking over my shoulder to see if saying that has summoned Martin Shoemaker, it usually does). I believe Amanda Green has spoken of her travails with the book (or was it books) that insisted on being written longhand on yellow legal pads. I’m not judging. David Pascoe has a sweet raspberry pi set up that looks amazing. Me? Well, I decided if I were going to write at lunch, with no place to sit down… the entire lab crew shares a cubicle, and our de facto IT guy actually sits in it. You don’t sit at someone else’s desk, that’s like sleeping in their bed or something. Anyway, at lunch I can sit in my car and veg, or I can sit in a quiet conference room and do this.

So what is this, you ask? I’m glad you asked. I’m currently writing on my phone, in an email, since my theoretically ‘offline’ documents in Google Drive refuse to open. I’m a trifle annoyed by that, but if I have time once this post is complete, I’ll see if the settings are switched so I can’t work outside WiFi (I don’t have that at work, either). But the email works, I don’t even have to send it, it’ll be here when I’m back on the home network. I’ll probably even have time for a bit of fiction, since I have an hour to do this.

And no, my thumbs are not flying over the screen a million miles a minute, as amusing as that mental image may be. I could take lessons from the daughters, but what I’ve got instead is a little bitty Bluetooth keyboard, slightly too large to stuff into my lunchbox (more’s the pity) but just big enough for my medium sized hands (I know their size, that’s the size nitrile gloves I wear) to type on in my hybrid touch/look style. I never did master touch typing, although after hundreds of thousands of words (nearing a million? I haven’t added them up) I do tend to know where the keys are. Of course, autocorrect thinks it knows best, and while that’s handy when I’m all thumbs, it’s annoying as heck when I’m actually typing. The keyboard doesn’t work for my First Reader, his hands are a bit too big for him not to be constantly bashing two keys at a time. So your mileage may vary. There are squishy roll-up keyboards that are full-sized, but I don’t like how they feel.

However you do it, writing on the go is a necessary Evil. If I waited until the moment was perfect, my back fully supported, the monitors at just the right angle, the optimal selection of music playing… I’d never write again. A kid would knock on the door. “I have a question… how do you clean up toxic waste candy? Will it stain the floors blue? Can you please look at this? Did you know if you drop the bottle of Katsu Sauce, it exploded and glass slides all across the tiles and under the fridge…?”

So yeah, writing when I can cram in a moment of relative peace is the only way to go, anymore. Eating doesn’t take long, after all, and an hour is generous. I know for the longest time David Burkhead was posting his daily lunch-word count, and it was inspiring. I probably won’t manage this daily, but I had to do *something* with my changed schedule. I’m working Fridays and Saturdays, and my usual time for writing the MCG vaporized. I also don’t have time to keep up with publishing industry news, so you’re more likely to get thoughts on writing from me. And at some point, the now long-delayed post on covers, which requires the Real Computer (TM) and more time than I have been able to carve out of my schedule as of yet. It’s ok. It’s all good.

Life changes, and if you can’t roll with the waves, you’re going to get worn down to a nubbin. Sometimes you have to give things up entirely, but I’m stubborn. I’m not giving up on writing. I just have to work at finding the time, the place, and the equipment that fits the first two requirements. I happened to have the keyboard (I got it originally to pair with my tablet, and I could be writing with the tablet, but I don’t have much space at all to stow anything here. Took me a week to find out there’s a hook in the cubicle we share for my coat) so I didn’t have to lay out cash, but I think it was less than $20 on Amazon. The phone is, well, the phone. I practically have my entire life on this phone by now. If I had to carry a notebook, I would, but I can write faster this way, and I’m trying to cram as many words in as possible. Which reminds me I do want to create some fiction words today, as well.

Feel free to comment and talk about your writing-on-the-go improvisations, or any other topic that tickles your fancy. I won’t be on to comment much (maybe lunchtime) until evening after work, so be kind to one another!

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Give and take

I can’t speak for everyone, but this writer is socially awkward and uncertain. Last week I talked about networking as an Indie author, and creating a barter system that would help those with no budget, but time, get off and running. What if I don’t have a network? Was asked.

Well, here’s the thing about networking. It’s a mixture of being willing to ask, and being willing to give. The system is one built on trust, like any other relationship, and that makes it a delicate balance for those of us who aren’t terribly socially ept. I can’t help much, other than to talk about my experiences and how I tend to feel like a clumsy ox when it comes to human interactions.

Writer’s groups are the best place to start building this network, of course. I first joined one when I was submitting bits of stories for critique to an online forum, and was invited to take part in a small group. That didn’t go very well. I hear horror stories about the impact groups can have on delicate young writers egos, but for me it wasn’t an impact on my writing, it was a terrible feeling of having to pretend to be something I wasn’t, in order to keep from being attacked and flamed. Because I didn’t trust them on one level, I couldn’t take seriously their criticism of my work –  and most importantly, looking back, I couldn’t fully critique their work. That meant I wasn’t giving my best to them. I was afraid that if I pointed out flaws, they would come back at me saying that I was only bashing them for other reasons (I was not the same religion they were, and much of the OT chatter was bashing my religion). Later still, after I’d moved on from that group, I did hire one of them for editing, only to have to hire another person to revert those edits… It was a nightmare.

Lest you think I’m trying to discourage you! I am not. I am saying that if you don’t fully trust the people in the group, it’s a sign to bow out and move on. I got lucky, for values of luck, when I did at last wind up invited to a group mentored by Sarah Hoyt and Dave Freer. The group was run by another writer, Darwin Garrison (whose stories are worth looking up) and it was a far better structure than the small group (remember the song in the Music Man, with the women singing “pick a little…” That was the first group) in that it was targeted at becoming better writers. Not that there wasn’t off topic chatter, it’s the first place I saw in-depth discussion of what the publishing world was really like. And ultimately it led me here.

That group went the way of most communities – the attrition of time washed some of us away. I stopped writing for some years, dealing with illness and depression as my marriage spiralled into darkness. I reconnected with some of them on Facebook, and in time I started writing again. At that point I also started to consider the writing as a business, once I’d finished a novel. I had a bunch of stories, not all finished, in a drawer. I had very little money, so I knew I’d be on my own for things like covers and formatting. I decided early on that I would hire an editor… The first time I used money I’d saved and set aside from my other business. After that, all monies from sales were put back into the writing biz until it turned a profit.

I’ve always worried about asking too much of my friends, who were accomplished writers when I was struggling to begin. I’ve been blessed with good friends, but I try very hard to give as much as I get. I took a workshop on cover design (Dean Wesley Smith, it was $300 four years ago) so I could do my covers and help others. Later there was a class on design at college. I spent countless hours on art, learning how to take incoherent elements and make something that would sell a book. At this point, I have a skill I’m confident has value, which I can trade with others, towards editing my writing. I can edit, but I enjoy the art and design. You get the idea – if you are confident that what you are offering in trade is worth it, you’re more likely to ask for a barter.

Bartering is a trust relationship. If you’re trading loaves of bread for a chicken, it’s very physical and immediate. Trading skills takes time, and you may not see the results immediately. It’s important to know the other person well. And building that kind of relationship is not a quick and easy process. I suspect there’s a reason money has remained so popular over the ages. Friendships come and go, the work remains. I suspect that a more formal barter network for Indie Authors would be of use, some way to offer a skill you have, and say “I need x done” and there would be recommendations that paired you up. Pitfalls exist (don’t they always?) In that cliques would form, monetary values would have to be set (if someone is convinced their editing ought to be $500 per novel, they might not be happy to receive a $250 cover in return), and people who fail to deliver would have to be removed from the list (see the first pitfall).

So how to start forming your network? Start talking to people who are like-minded. Don’t limit the conversation to writing, only. Be an encouraging voice. And when you need help, ask. When help is asked for, offer to help. If you worry that you are asking too much, say that.

I’m bad about some of this. When I am deeply stressed, I tend to retreat from human contact. Some of this is a relic of my past, so when I feel I’ve upset someone, I go into full retreat mode with profuse apologies, which used to be the only way I could defuse an explosive rage. I know that this is not that, but if I’m not thinking clearly it is breathtakingly difficult to stop, open up, and reach out again. I’ve been trying to do this recently, and if you are like me, I encourage you to crack the shell a little, and take a risk. Writing may be a solitary occupation, but writers are healthier with friends.

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Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Now, granted for me that’s a little difficult, since my workday routine is to roll out of bed when the alarm goes off at oh god AM, drag clothes on, drop a couple of eggs, some shredded cheese, and some bacon into a tupperware, swallow the morning pharmacopeia, and head in to work. Once I get there I fix breakfast while my computer is booting up (whisk eggs and cheese together with fork, lay bacon on top, nuke 2 to 2.5 minutes), then settle in for the day’s insanity.

I still seem to manage. This morning’s ration of impossibility included discovering bizarre bugs, trying to work around someone else’s bloody nuisance bug (it being a trifle difficult to use information embedded in a program when the compiler corrupts said information), working on a server that’s currently got negative disk space available… Yes, negative. It runs a bunch of virtual machines and doesn’t actually allocate the space for them unless they’re turned on. We can’t turn them all on at once or the physical drive will faint. So yes, we TARDIS our hard drives at work.

Oh, yes, there’s also the Three Amigos, aka the cats, who are busy defying just about everything since Teh New Kitteh arrived on the scene.

I’m not entirely sure that my entire life doesn’t count as impossible, actually.

That’s not one of the impossible things I’m talking about, though. Anyone who saw what I do during any normal day (for Kate values of normal) would wonder how in the name of all that’s holy, unholy, or otherwise I manage to actually write anything. Take yesterday (please). I got about 2k words in, albeit on Overlord fanfic (it’s still plot and character development practice, damn it, and I’ll eventually do the filing of serial numbers and attach it to a universe where it will fit), while sorting out half a dozen different odd problems, discovering several other equally odd ones, running automation on three different systems to test what I was doing, flipping between my main system and my old one according to which machine had the things I needed on it, and a certain amount of administrative stuff. I write in dribbles in between everything else, sometimes no more than a sentence at a time.

How do I manage that without getting totally disjointed?

Stuffed if I know. Seriously. Whenever I’ve gone back to edit something, I’ve never been able to tell which parts got written in dribbles between other things and which parts I managed to get a decent chunk of time for. I’ve also never run into any major continuity problems. Glitches, yes, frequently, but not big problems.

Here’s what I think is happening – and those who are also juggling too many things and not enough time for any of them can take heart because I suspect it’s reasonably common. Memory is associational: you don’t remember things in isolation, and you certainly don’t recall them in isolation. There’s context and a bunch of attached stuff. So you hook to one piece in the form of the last paragraph you wrote on Story X, and that associational dragnet hauls out all the rest of the story information that goes with it – your characters, some notion of where you planned to take that scene, how deep the current POV character is in the smelly stuff and so forth. If you don’t try to concentrate too much, your subconscious will fill in the blanks while you’re writing.

Not that this is something to rely on: Sarah’s mentioned a few times that when she was fighting the after-effects of concussion she lost a lot of the connections and couldn’t remember from one page to the next where she was in the books she was writing at the time. When I’m arguing with a virus the subconscious magic tends not to work, or I’ll wind up looking at the page and going nowhere because no matter what I do I don’t actually know what’s supposed to be next in the story. Usually once I figure out what’s next, I’m good for a good round of fits, starts, and spurts.

It’s not what’s supposed to happen. All those things about butt in chair and write and work at it and so forth? Yes, they work. But I’ve actually never been able to see the difference between doing that and sliding in bits and pieces around everything else.

Of course, the fact that whenever I have a bit of mental space my mind is narrating pieces of the current story doesn’t hurt. That’s how I figure out what should come next. It’s also how I handle the out-takes, as it were. What I find interesting about the way I work is that it’s not supposed to be possible. Hell, as a narcoleptic, I shouldn’t be able to hold a demanding (and bloody stressful) full-time job, much less do that and write. Okay, I do all of it while some variation on half-asleep, but then I do everything while some flavor of half-asleep. I’m not sure I’d recognize awake if it hit me. I’d probably think I’d gone manic or something (yes, I can sleep-type. The main difference between that and the more normal sort of typing is that the “safe for general consumption” filters go away. Being able to touch-type helps: whether my eyes are open or not makes no difference.).

All of which is a really roundabout way to say to everyone here who writes, if someone tells you you’re doing it wrong or the way you write isn’t possible, screw ’em. So long as it works for you and you can keep at it, it’s fine. Even if it is supposedly impossible.

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Who am I?

I am Kate, Destroyer of Universes.

Yes, I know that sounds kind of… well… overblown, but it isn’t really. See, in my day job I test software. The company I work for does business to business applications that have a naming theme that’s kind of stellar (and all our servers are named for stars or constellations). And I make it explode. Add to that I have an innate chaos magnet effect that means I can guarantee that I will find something weird doing what I would think is normal and sensible (and get asked “What did you do that for?”).

The effect carries over, too. So far this week, I’ve caused severe damage to a customer’s expectations (I pointed out how long it would take to get them what they said they wanted), discovered that Windows 7 does not play nice with critical hardware and software I need to use for my job, and blew up the official software in several different spectacular ways. Oh, yes. And wrote (cough) Overlord fanfic as well as somewhat disguised Overlord tribute fiction. While pulling insane hours because some twit forgot to press the button. And dealt with the Bugger-cat pissing where he shouldn’t because he’s still battling his terror of teh ebil in teh basement. Why he thinks Basement Cat is going to get him I don’t know. Seems to me Basement Cat should be worshiping the Bugger-cat.

This is why I do not do “time management”. Like I said last week, I do priority management because things like this are my normal, and have been for quite some time now. If it’s not the Bugger-cat cowering at the basement door, it’s the Shani-cat hairballing, or a critical piece of hardware blowing up (my writing computer has spent more time in a state of kablooey than working), or something that everything says ought to work outright refusing to do so. Then a crisis rolls along so it’s drop everything and get the crisis sorted so I can go back to normal chaos.

This is why I positively adore theory. It’s the only universe I haven’t been able to destroy – and the only one where everything works as intended. Maybe one day they’ll let me visit… nah. I’d probably make it implode just by being there. After all, I can walk into a room and find the one huge problem no-one wanted to think about, and point it out without ever realizing people didn’t want to hear that. Social ept. I no can has.

And yes, this is why I stink to high heaven when it comes to things like marketing my books. For me, zero clue would be something to aspire to: I have negative clue.Facebook I mostly read with occasional comments and very rare actual posts. Ditto the assorted forums I follow. Actually trying to publicise something of mine is at the same level of wrong as… oh, pick something you find really horribly gross, and magnify it. So, I don’t. I work on the assumption (or possibly faint hope) that if I hang around, contribute as I see fit, and don’t hide that I write, people will check my stuff out and if they like it, they’ll do the marketing for me. Yes, I am prepared to let this be glacial. Trust me if I tried to promote myself I’d make “Authors Behaving Badly” look like something you’d do for pleasure (and having seen a lot of authors, that thought is just… EW).

So. Destroyer of Universes. Writer (which implies creator of universes). Chaos magnet. I’ve been told I’m scary but I don’t see that – I see deceptively ordinary (deceptively because I have the ability to fade into the background when I want to). Would possibly be more than passable if I could find a way to get about 100lb somewhere other than my body, which would require said body not hoarding every last calorie as if it were more precious than gold, or possibly work that did not involve spending 9-10 hour workdays parked on butt with major leisure activities in a similar posture). I even know who I’d give the pounds to. Pity I can’t put any of these in an official biography. They’re much more interesting than the real one and they have the added bonus of being true.

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A new outlet, more haters and other thoughts

In case you guys haven’t figured it out over the last couple of years, I’m not a morning person. I do my best to write my posts the night before they are due to go live but don’t always manage it. That’s exactly the situation I find myself in this morning. No post, not nearly enough coffee to start thinking, and my self-imposed deadline rapidly approaching. So bear with me as I try to find the zombie that took my brain overnight — and I really hope he didn’t chew too much on it — and then type one-handed, the other hand holding the mug of hot coffee that is all that stands between me and unconsciousness.

There’s a new player on the block in the self-publishing/small press publishing front. KOBO has opened its new self-publishing platform, Writing Life, live. I received my e-mail about it last night. I’ll admit that, while I welcome another player in the field, I have concerns as well. To find out what formats you can upload, what possible royalties you can earn, etc., you have to go ahead and sign up for an account with Writing Life. If you read the terms of service, you aren’t supposed to reveal what the royalty terms, etc., are without getting written permission from KOBO. That’s all troublesome to me.

However, what I do like about it is that KOBO is offering writers and small presses the chance to get directly onto their platform instead of having to go through a third party repackager or site like Smashwords. That takes one step out of the process and means you can get your book or short story up much quicker than before.

It also means that, unlike publishing through Barnes & Noble’s PubIt platform, you have another site that offers you international sales opportunities. This is very important, at least in my mind. The more avenues I have to sell my books, or to makes ure NRP’s books are available, the better.

There’s another reason I am cautiously optimistic about this news. With the international outlets and with KOBO’s e-book experience, it does look like it can position itself as a true competitor for Amazon’s KDP program. This is a good thing for authors, not that I expect it to quiet the Amazon haters. But look at it this way — as long as there is another platform out there offering similar royalty terms, offering international sales opportunities and that has a proven e-book store presence, Amazon can’t do too much to put the screws to authors or they will flee to the other platform. Of course, only time will tell.

For more information, you can check out the Writing Life FAQs here.

Speaking of Amazon haters, Facebook was alive with a number of them the last few days. Seems a fellow had put up a number of e-books that he claimed to have written but hadn’t. These books — by authors such as Heinlein, Cherryh, Clark and Scalzi, among others — had titles changed slightly but were not books written by this guy. Scalzi posted a quick blog about it, suggesting we all take part in some public shaming of the man. I’ve got no problem with that. In fact, it was a great way to get the word out about what this crook was doing.

But that wasn’t enough for some folks. No, while they decried what this supposed “author” had done, the fault, according to some of the comments on Scalzi’s blog and a lot of them on Facebook, lay with Amazon. It should do a better job of making sure this doesn’t happen. Every books published through the KDP platform should be checked against the “real” books published by “real” publishers. You see, according to these folks, plagiarism never happened under the old publishing model. Blah, blah, blah.

Let me take a moment to remind these folks that this isn’t anything new and most certainly didn’t begin with Amazon and the KDP platform. I wrote previously about how Little Brown had to pull Assassin of Secrets when it was revealed that the author had plagiarized from a number of spy novels. Then there was How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life in 2006 and the controversy around it. Whole chunks of it were lifted from other books and the howls of plagiarism began within weeks of it hitting the store shelves.

These are just two examples. You can find many others just by googling the topic. So, to all those who want to blame Amazon, get over yourselves. It was happening before Amazon began the KDP program and it happens to “real” publishers too. What’s next? Are you going to demand Amazon fact check everything that comes through the KDP program as well?

I get that there are those who just don’t trust Amazon. They have bought into the “Amazon is evil” argument set out by their publishers or, like me, they are skeptics. I don’t trust Amazon not to try to change the KDP terms to their benefit at some point down the road. Nor would I blame Amazon if it did. Look, Amazon is a company. It’s first priority is making money for its investors. But that doesn’t make it the enemy. What it does is make me remember to keep checking the terms of service for any updates and it leaves the responsibility to me to decide when, if, I move from KDP to another platform.

It is the same responsibility I have to read the Writing Life terms of service and decide if I want to use that new platform to get my books out to a wider audience. I have to ask myself if the ToS is beneficial enough to move away from Smashwords and word directly with KOBO. Remember, you have to look at more than just the financial aspects of the agreement. You have to look at where KOBO will be selling your books, will there be DRM, how much more time will it take to prepare and upload a file to Writing Life as opposed to just uploading to Smashwords and letting them distribute to KOBO for you.

Will I be trying the new platform? Absolutely. I’ll report on it, within the terms of the ToS, later.

 

 

 

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Capclave Sheepies

It’s off to Capclave tomorrow, with the usual levels of nervous (no, it’s not “performance anxiety”). Like most author types I’m terminally shy and would much rather hide in a corner. So I put on my warpaint and my not-exactly-demon-wear (I have some taste. Demons have none) and present a false front to the world at large, medium and small, and hope it sticks. Of course, I’ve done absolutely no packing, and I’ve got a bunch of stuff I need to take with me, like the box of copies of Impaler (not signed yet – they will be. Sometime), the bookmarks, the other bookmarks, the mother, the sparkly but too tasteful to be demon wear clothing, and of course the fully loaded kindle (it’s not loaded yet. I need to put the most recent revision of ConVent on it in case of readings). Not to mention assorted other bits and pieces. And I travel light compared to some… I’ll probably get everything except the box of books into a smallish duffel bag. The mother, on the other claw, will be carrying enough to kill a packhorse. This is something I try to avoid because good packhorses are expensive, and I don’t want to carry the stuff myself – and believe me, if I thought I wouldn’t have to carry the stuff I’d have more than enough to kill a whole herd.

Anyway… When I’m not going “OMG my first con with actual physical book in hand”, I’ve been using excessive violence in the form of the Overlord games (and the sheepies! Killing sheepies is fun. And it’s good for you. Eases stress. Even when they’re demonic sheepies – or maybe especially when they’re demonic sheepies). There may be a post at some stage involving the importance of sheepie molestation in maintaining a healthy attitude to writing.

Oh, yes, and proof of just how healthy my attitude actually is, the first snippet of ConVent is up over at the Naked Truth. No, not that kind of “up”. Save that for the innies vs outies panel.

And just in case anyone missed it, my schedule for Capclave is:

SATURDAY

1:30 Reading

4:00 Alternate History

SUNDAY

12:00 Urban Fantasy

2:00 Innies or Outies (which is actually about whether the werewolves, vampires etc are closeted or not, and promises to be fun even if I can’t – or maybe especially if I can’t – keep my sense of humor to a PG rating)

 

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All Work All the Time

This is – as many of us can attest – the recession, and possible depression, of the overworked. Everyone who has a relatively secure income is working their backsides off because in most places you’re doing well to be doing what used to be done by two people. Doing the work of 3, 4 or even more is the norm. And that’s just on the day job. There’s still homes to keep more or less in order, sleep (which, strangely enough, happens whether you have time for it or not), food, and of course, writing.

Those whose job is writing are also working their backsides off because there’s less money for each book, so they have to write more books just to stay afloat – if that’s even possible. If they haven’t been quietly shown the back door by their publisher, or directed towards one of the more noxious “we’re not really a publisher but we’re going to do all that messy publisher-y stuff for you and, oh, yes, take a hefty chunk of anything it makes” agency Not-A-Publisher arrangements. Or they’ve gone indie.

No matter which, there’s more work in it. Every single one of my employed, contracting, or self-employed friends is busier than they’ve ever been in their lives. The authors who’ve gone indie not only need to write as much or more, they need to handle that icky business stuff, and worse promotion stuff. So do all the other authors, whether they think they do or not, but we won’t go there.

So, how do the chronically time-poor (especially those of us who have several jobs, acknowledged or not) manage?

I’m going to be blunt here: I don’t. I’ve run out of manage. After close to two years of the day job running flat out downhill and sitll gathering speed, I’m exhausted emotionally and physically. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel rested. Writing is down to the relatively rare occasions when I’ve got enough of a brain to focus on the page, and/or I’m facing deadline pressures and have to push. Fortunately, I can usually manage to shove a decent amount of wordage into a short period of time, although the quality can be… questionable.

I’ve been here before, and yes, I am looking for a way to back off as gracefully as possible. It’s complicated by losing what was my de-stress time to a visit from my mother. Don’t get me wrong, I love her dearly, but I’m finding I don’t have the emotional resources to handle the disruption to my de-stress routines. Routines that have, over the past two years, grown to require almost all my non-day-job time.

How do the rest of you deal with this almost-burnout? Where do you find space to decompress and unwind? And for those of you who are unemployed, how do you deal with the different but related set of issues?

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