Saturday, December 31, 2011

Excuse Note 12/31/2011

Please excuse Sheila from working on her novel today as she is spending her New Year's Eve clearing the decks for the upcoming year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Ugly Handsome Man

So I was doing my Three Daily Pages (most folks might know them as Morning Pages, but I'm not always up that early) and this strange and crazy thing poured out that I'm transcribing here for future reference.

If you've ever done any kind of serious writing, it's a safe bet you've had to deal with The Thing In Your Head That Keeps Stopping You From Writing.  There are a lot of names for it--Resistance, the Inner Critic, the Shitweasel.  I sometimes call it the NoMonster.  When I was writing this, the thing took on a persona I described as The Ugly Handsome Man.  (I picture him as a blond guy in a suit with a face that's just a little too . . . tight, in some way.)

This is a speech given by said Ugly Handsome Man, laying out the strategies to my various gremlins for stopping me from working on my current novel.  I suspect these strategies may not be unique to my inner battles.
I suggest a three-pronged strategy. Three lines of defense. I'd prefer she not make it past the first, but we should have the extra lines ready in case she does.

The first line of defense is, of course, to keep her from the page at all. Suggest that she should wait until she's in the mood. Tell her she should finish more important things first--things like cleaning the house, doing things she hates, getting the last word in on Facebook arguments. Distract her with a quick glance at her usual Internet time sinks and keep her hooked with the threat that if she stops, she'll have to quit for good. This will trigger her to gorge herself on such things even if, as it turns out, she never does stop for good.

Convince her that the page is a reward that can only be touched after all the vegetables have been eaten. Convince her the page is a burden that can be borne later when she has the strength for it. Remember, the arguments against sitting down and doing the work don't have to be
consistent; they just have to be effective. Have her wait Just A Moment and let those moments stretch out as long as you can.

If, however, she does sit down, all is not lost. If we cannot stop her from working, then we can still minimize the damage done. The moment she gets anything down, assure her that it is sufficient for today and more can be done tomorrow, when she feels more inspired and more ready. If she persists, try slowing her down by telling her how terrible it is and who on earth is she kidding. If you can keep her writing and rewriting the same sentence endlessly, the battle is half-won. If she does plow forward and promise herself to fix it in the rewrite, make sure you make the experience as unpleasant as possible so she'll be less inclined to return to it the next day.

After a successful--or, rather, catastrophic from our perspective--round of writing, you may think the war is lost, but we still have our third line of defense. One is to chide her for enjoying herself too much. Remind her that there are people out there suffering in
real jobs and she shouldn't expect people to hand her money for having fun like that. Tell her that even if you did everything you could to make the process hellish. Remember, the only consistency we're interested in is keeping her away from the work; it matters not that the arguments we use are contradictory. Once she's done, have her read over what she's written and remind her it's not enough. What she's done isn't relevant. We must tell her it's not enough and thus discourage her from doing any more.

After that, we rebuild our defenses for the next round, by telling her that she's already won, she's ahead of the game and that a day off will hardly hinder her progress. Once you've staved her off from working for a few days, the old hardened habits can resume and she is again rendered harmless.

The main thing is to keep her from the page for as long as possible. When she does make it to the page, our job is then to minimize the damage. You all know her well enough to know what triggers and buttons to press. Go to your work.
Yeah.  This guy kinda scares me, too.  But it's also really fun to piss him off.

I've decided to resume the practice of excuse notes for my current work in progress, and I'd best get something done so I won't have to write an excuse note for today.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On Being a Writer

There's a riddle I learned from a book or a magazine when I was about eleven years old.  Goes something like this:

A truck driver was going the wrong way up a one-way street.  A policeman saw him, but didn't stop him.  Why?
The answer hinges on a couple of bits of linguistic sleight-of-hand.  One is the careful ambiguity of the verb--you can substitute the word travelling for going but cannot use the word driving.  Because the answer is, of course, that the truck driver was walking.

The second bit of linguistic sleight of hand hinges on the nature of titles that are derived from verbs.  Truck driver is a job description and thus one can be called a truck driver even if one isn't actually driving a truck at the moment.  Truck drivers also do things like eat, sleep, watch television and, occasionally, walk places in between the business of driving trucks.

To be known as a writer is a good deal more glamorous than to known as a truck driver.  When somebody asks you the ice-breaking question of "so, what do you do?" if you answer "I'm a truck driver" the best you can hope for is an empathetic nod and a remark that it must be hard work.  If the answer is "I'm a writer" the questions that follow are numerous but tend to veer towards tactfully phrased versions of Are you rich?  Are you famous?  Have I heard of you?

Being a Writer punts you to the top of the Geek Hierarchy.  Being a Writer means you can look the gods of literature in the eye and talk shop with them.  Being a Writer means your name can potentially endure long after your death.

Or, at least, that's the popular myth of Being a Writer, a myth that dazzles people to the point that Being a Writer is more important to them than the act of writing itself.  People who want to Be Writers don't always write--they talk about the great ideas they have for novels, they compose acceptance speeches for awards in their head, they do everything short of actually sitting down and facing the blank page and putting words together.  Because that's when the hard part shows up, when the brilliant ideas come out crushed and mutilated in the transition into words.  Or, worse yet, seem brilliant at first and then reveal their clumsiness as one's skills improve with practice and the Dunning-Kruger Threshold is crossed.

My brother-in-law, Peter David, once received an angry missive from a young man who was furious at a certain plot point that Peter had introduced into a comic book series he was writing for.  The young man said that his dreams of "being a comic book writer" had been dashed because his brilliant notion for some particular character was now ruined by this revelation.  More recently, Quentin Rowan was found to have plagiarized nearly his entire debut novel from other works and confessed that the fame of being a writer was more important to him than making the effort of writing his own words.

As I write this, I have not yet ascended to the ranks of the professionally published.  (Give or take a couple of poems in anthologies and, oh, yeah, I have this ebook thingy.)  I have a virtual trunk of unpublished (and mostly unpublishable) novels.  Am I qualified to claim the title of writer?  I honestly don't care if I am or not.

The verb matters more than the noun to me.  I write.  It's what I do.  I'm a lot happier writing than I ever could in trying to Be a Writer.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Keeping Track

NaNoWriMo comes with some lovely stats pages so you can see where you are and where you should be by now in your wordcount.  But I realized that I'd forgotten my own personal tracking method which works as a surprisingly good motivator.  I figured I'd share it here (nearly halfway through the month--go figure) in case anybody else might benefit from it.

My amazing high-tech word count indicator and motivation device consists of a sheet of graph paper from a pad I picked up somewhere for cheap and still haven't used up.  There are fifty lines to a sheet and forty-one squares to a line.  I mark off a block of forty-by-fifty and notch it at intervals of four along the top and intervals of ten along the side.  Each time my wordcount advances by twenty-five words, I put an X in one of the squares.  Four boxes adds up to one hundred words and each line of forty adds up to a thousand.



Twenty five words isn't much.  Twenty five words can be something as simple as:
"Can you take me back?" she asked.
"I can, in theory, yes," he said, "I'm not entirely sure that would be the best thing for you." 
 Which is actually twenty-six words, but I didn't want to cut things off abruptly.  But that's the beauty of this technique--each time you nudge things forward by twenty-five words, you wind up adding just a few more words and then, hey, it's only a few more words to the next box checked off and then, oh look, you just wrote three paragraphs.  Or you wind up plowing through an entire scene and when you come up for air you realize that you have a lot of boxes to check.

I suppose you could give yourself little rewards after you check a certain number of boxes, but I've found that the simple act of checking off a wee box on a sheet of paper does nicely in terms of pinging my brain's reward system and providing me with a sense of progress.

By the way, even if you're already a good ways into your NaNovel, it's not too late to use this technique.  In point of fact, I just drew up this year's sheet this very morning (and man, did I have a lot of boxes to check to catch up on!)  I may be posting pictures of my progress periodically, at the very least on Twitter and possibly here.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some words to write and boxes to check.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The M.A.R.T.A. Write-In


So today, the crazy folks at NaNoLanta have organized the Mad Authorial Rampage Through Atlanta (M.A.R.T.A.) Write-In. I've decided to sign up. I'll be tweeting when I can (@wonderbink) with the hashtag #NaNoMARTA and if I can get to a WiFi signal, I'll be updating this entry on the fly.

It starts near Lindbergh Station and ends near Dunwoody Station, which means I can catch the 5 there and catch it back home as well. Too perfect to pass up.

I'd better start by packing up the laptop I'm typing this on, so . . .

Friday, November 4, 2011

Two Things That Happened on November the First

The first, of course, being the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, my favorite November pastime.  I have again submitted myself to the process and I'm about five thousand words into a novel called Dave the Wanderer and the Circle of the Sun.  Dave's a character who showed up in a notebook of mine about fifteen years ago.  Just now I'm getting to write about him.  He's a hell of a lot snarkier than I expected him to be.

The second being the official publication (or maybe just the first day I was able to be sure it existed, I'm not sure) of Catbooks and Other Methods on the iTunes Bookstore.  I've been a bit bad about getting the word out, but I guess I'll have to become That Gal Who Won't Shut Up About Her Book On The Interweebs.  Apologies in advance for that.

I'm about a day behind on my NaNo efforts since I've done very little in the way of wordcount what with grocery shopping and laundry and taking advantage of early voting.  However, I'm embarking on a rather insane adventure with the folks from NaNoLanta which involves writing on and around MARTA for most of Saturday.  That should give me a chance to catch up, I think.  If I get close enough to some WiFi, I'll try to post updates during the day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Did You Hear That?

There's a sound that Apple programs make, a chime of three ascending notes, that signals that something has been successfully brought to completion.  It's the sound you hear when a program has finished installation or a CD has been fully uploaded to iTunes.

I never knew that sound could be as delightful and terrifying as it was when it rang out to inform me that the upload of my book for purchase via iTunes had gone through.

I resorted to using Pages to translate my words into EPUB format, which was a touch more aggravating than I would have liked and forced me to relinquish a great deal of control over how I wanted it to look.  But once I relaxed and put my emphasis on the words I wrote rather than my font and formatting choices, it fell into place a little more easily.  I can only hope that those willing to lay down the ninety-nine cents to purchase this wee book will be forgiving of any lingering twonkiness in the layout.

I'm guessing that the folks at Apple will be giving the thing one more spot-check before offering it for sale via the wonders of iTunes.  Once it's gotten past that hurdle, I'll officially declare the thing finished and make myself some baked salmon with lemon to celebrate.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Breaking Into the Walled Garden

Catbooks and Other Methods has sold a handful of copies on the Kindle but I've been putting off doing any serious promotion of it until after I'd gotten the EPUB version up and running in the iTunes Bookstore.

Unfortunately, I've also been putting off the "getting the EPUB version up and running" part as well. Part of it is my usual procrastinative tendencies but the main reason is that Apple is the opposite of Amazon in terms of ease of publication.

Publication for the Kindle can be summed up in three steps:

1. Write a book.
2. Set up a Kindle Direct Publishing account.
[Steps one and two can be done in either order, to be honest.]
3. Upload your book.

That's all you have to do. This is both good news and bad news, as this means that the book you spent ages perfecting is sharing space with the sorts of manuscripts that would normally be languishing in a publisher's slush pile and the ebook equivalents of SEO spam. It takes a lot of external effort to raise your signal above the noise.

Publication for the iPad can be summed up in roughly the same steps, but those steps are far more complex. Setting up a Kindle Direct Publishing account requires an email address, a bank account to send payments to, some kind of tax ID number (EIN or Social) and that's about it. Apple asks for an email address, a bank account, tax ID number, an ISBN for each book and the names, job titles and phone numbers of the individuals in charge of Senior Management, Finance, Technical, Legal and Promotions. Even though I'm doing this through a small enough operation that these questions are easy enough to answer, it's still pretty damned intimidating.

I've also discovered, as I attempted to upload my work today, that the EPUB that plays nicely with my iPad will not play nicely with iTunes Producer and I'm going to have to take a step back and figure out how to convert it into a form they find pleasing. Fortunately, it's a short and simple enough book that it won't be a massive effort that it might be if I decided to inflict my first novel on the world.

I don't resent these obstacles, though. In a funny way, this is the legacy of the late Steve Jobs--acceptable was never good enough for the man, he wanted things to be "insanely great." I'm not sure if my book is up to "insanely great" standards, but Apple's standards certainly force me to take what I do that much more seriously and I can hardly complain about that.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

And It's Up . . .

Rather sooner than I'd planned, mind you, but I was under the impression I'd be able to set up a postdated release date for the Kindle. No such luck. It's up and I've just got to deal with it.

You can get the Kindle version so far. As of this writing, I am still waiting to hear back from Apple about setting up the EPUB version in the iTunes bookstore.

It's still something of an odd abstraction at this point, but I'll be posting soon about what I've learned from the process.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Completion

I've finalized the ebooks and sent copies to my publisher.

Going to have a long and quiet evening at home to celebrate.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One Step Closer . . .

ISBNs have been acquired. I'll be meeting with the head of Lullwater Press this evening. (A fancy way of saying "I'm stopping by Mom and Dad's house for dinner.") Guess it's time to do one more grind and polish on the book itself.

I'm sure there are folks out there who are curious about the nuts and bolts process of ebook publishing, so I'll do my best to keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Closer to Completion . . .

The acquisition of ISBNs for my upcoming ebook has hit a slight snag, as it seems Bowker is confused by the fact that Lullwater Press previously obtained the ISBN for their first publication via LuLu and is now asking for a batch of them directly. I figure I can at least work on a final grind and polish while waiting for this matter to sort itself out.

The next phase is going to have to be the dreaded M-word: marketing. It's not my strong point by any means, and certainly one of the reasons I steered clear of the very thought of self publishing for so long. Granted, by putting these out as electronic editions, at least some of the heavy lifting in the Letting People Know It Exists Department will be handled by large, scary corporations. But I know from experience that merely offering something for sale on the Internet is no assurance that anybody will notice, let alone make a purchase.

Non-skeevy marketing in the Internet age seems to break down to three simple (if not always easy) steps:

1. Find your people.
2. Connect with your people.
3. Love your people.

"Find your people" means to figure out what sort of person would enjoy your book or find the information in it useful to them. "Connect with your people" means to go to the places on the Internet where those people hang out and get to know them. As they learn about you, some of them will notice that you have a nifty book that you're awfully proud of and will decide that you are a sufficiently cool person to be worth spending money on. At which point you love those people thoroughly, celebrate them and keep in touch with them about other nifty things that you're doing and if they continue to like you, they will continue to spend money on you.

That's the bare-bones gist of it. (Which many people will pad out into enough pages to fill a PDF ebook that they'll either sell you for twenty-seven bucks or give to you for free if you sign up for their mailing list.) I'm currently stuck a bit at Step One. I do think that this book will be useful to introverted souls like me who could use these tools for making their lives better. Now I have to figure out where to find them. (Introverts, after all, don't tend to hang out in the open the way extroverts do.)

Come to think of it, figuring this out might be a job for a Sub-C Session. How convenient.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Final Steps

I've given the words themselves one more going-over--by printing it out and scribbling corrections on the pages, funnily enough. It was a little trickier making the corrections directly in the HTML code, but I kept an eye on the results in my favorite browser and reloaded with each change to make sure I didn't bork anything.

Unfortunately, I still did bork something, but it was undetectable until I converted the results into ebook form. Since I'd been using Calibre for conversion, I also took advantage of the ability to construct a Table of Contents that certain ebook reading devices can access. This requires using HTML tags at the start of each chapter and then telling Calibre which ones to detect and use accordingly. Initially, I'd used 'a name=' tags so I could also construct a working Table of Contents within the book itself. This did odd things to the TOC when I read it on my iPhone (it kept duplicating each chapter heading each time the book was opened) so I swapped over the the ever reliable 'h1' tag after a quick lesson in how to tweak the CSS code to make it look a little less out of place. This played nicely with iBooks, but resulted in the MOBI version being unopenable on the Kindle app I've been testing my drafts on. So now I've forked the code, if you will, and saved one version for iBooks (with h1 tags intact) and another for the Kindle (with h1 tags removed.) Both are now fully functional on my iPhone and iPad on three different reading apps and I think we're about ready for prime time.

As it is, I needed to construct two separate versions anyway since I'll need two different ISBNs to identify them. After sniffing around and finding how much a pack of ISBNs cost, I've cut a deal with Lullwater Press to obtain the ISBNs and put the books out under their imprint. (Note that "cutting a deal with Lullwater Press" is a formal way of saying "Um, Dad, I need some ISBNs, can you help?") Were I not in such deprived financial circumstances, I would have sprung for the $250 for a block of ten ISBNs myself, but it's not an option right now.

So I'm this much closer to joining the ranks of the e-published. No telling what comes next.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

No Excuses

So a little HTML hackage in TextWrangler and some Calibre magic have provided my ebook with a workable Table of Contents that links directly to the chapters. The nice thing about HTML as an ebook writing medium is that you can check the formatting in short order by firing up your favorite browser and opening the file with it. This way I was able to test my tags and fix them instantly instead of loading things onto the iPhone and then finding out that they were borked.

It's still a rather short work, some twenty-odd pages on the iPad, but this is a how-to book rather than a novel, so I can hope that its utility will make up for its brevity. I'm not planning on charging more than a buck or so for it anyway.

I think the next steps are one last going-over for revision, finalizing the cover and then getting it set up on iBooks and Amazon. Yikes.

Ebook Progress

After a long pause and much procrastination, I've resumed work on hashing out my wee little ebook. A few things I've learned:

1. Calibre works wonders for rendering .odt files into something resembling an ebook. So far I've done a few test drafts that I've been able to look at on my iPhone and iPad in three different reading apps (Stanza, Kindle and iBooks) to catch and mend the flaws and glitches.

2. Optimal size for an ebook cover image is 600 x 800 pixels. This allows it to play nicely with the Kindle and looks fine on iBooks as well. My test cover was originally rendered as 6000 x 8000 pixels (slow going, but still functional) and then scaled down to fit. PNG looks better than JPG, by the way.

3. Get rid of the double space after the period. It looks funny when rendered on a page, even an electronic one.

4. Make sure there are no gaps before the page break, or you may wind up with a blank page in the middle of everything, depending on how the pages come out.

5. Don't break your brain worrying about widows and orphans, because every page is going to come out differently depending on the size of the screen and which end is up.

I'm thinking about doing an HTML rendition so I can get under the hood to tweak the code directly and then running that through Calibre to see how it looks. I'm glad I picked such a short book to start this experiment with--I think if I'd tried this with my novel I'd be close to dead by now.

I'm going to resume the practice of excuse notes on this blog until the thing is complete and available for sale to the public. Which means I'd better get some work done on it if I don't want to write an excuse note for today.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Starting Where I Am

What I have so far:

1. A tentative title. (Catbooks and Other Methods: Free Writing for Mood Improvement, Problem Solving and Making the Waiting Room at the Dentist's Office a Better Place to Be)

2. A draft manuscript. I cranked out an early draft in Scrivener and later transferred each chapter to my Wonderbink blog as a series of entries there.

3. A potential publisher. As I've mentioned earlier, my parents set themselves up as Lullwater Press and my father is willing to add my little book to their catalog. I could also just as easily set up my own gig through LuLu and simply lean on their expertise in the process. Still deciding.

I guess that's as good a place as any to start. Next step is revision, I think, as well as getting a feel for what I'll need in order to render these words into a booklike form.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ebookishness

Two and half years ago I wrote a blog post called The Wrong End which asserted that self-publishing was less than ideal for the aspiring writer.

Obviously the landscape of publishing has shifted in the intervening time. Now that there are more ways to publish and distribute books in electronic formats than there were in 2008, one can set up shop as a self-publisher and not be saddled with boxes of books to lug around and wave in people's faces and you can have large corporations like Amazon and Apple do the heavy lifting of making your work available to the world.

This doesn't mean I entirely rescind what I said previously about the hard work from the wrong end. The ease of distribution still doesn't mean that the hard work of polishing the work to be the best it can should be ignored. Even having the wonders of social media to tell the world about your book won't help much if the book isn't that good to begin with.

But I am curious about the possibilities of ebooks and I'm embarking on a little experiment with it. I have a rough draft of a wee advice book on free writing techniques, which I'm looking at revising and expanding to publish as an ebook and possibly on paper via LuLu. I'll probably post a bit about the process as I go and naturally I'll pass on the link so you can buy it when it's done, if you are so inclined.

Next post, I'll talk a bit about what I've done so far and what I still need to do.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Possibility and Impossibility

So I've snuck Soft Places just under the wire for Open Door Month at Angry Robot Books. I had a month to perfect it but, true to form, I just put it off instead until there was no other choice.

The thing I've come to understand about my tendency to procrastinate such things is that in a weird sort of way the part of me that puts things off is trying to protect me from the disappointment of failure. The imaginary victory of contemplating what you could have done can be pleasurable in its way, while the pain of genuine defeat is not one that anybody I know rushes to embrace.

I came across a rather odd insight that has changed my perspective on a lot of things--what I can imagine will inevitably surpass what reality can provide. This seems a bit obvious when attempting to become a writer of fiction, particularly fantasy-type fiction but it hit me that this doesn't just apply to stories but also to the imaginary conversations I have with people I'm on my way to meet, the well-spun plans for What I Will Do When The Novel Sells and, honestly, any such vision in my head of things that have not yet come to be.

Motivational hucksters spout pithy statements like "If you can imagine it, you can achieve it!" Devotees of the so-called Law of Attraction picture their dream mansions in Beverly Hills, cut out pictures of their perfect homes, focus on visualizing and feeling it into being and wonder what's wrong with them when it hasn't shown up yet. Even if we haven't fallen into that particular mental trap, it's not uncommon to still have blueprints in our heads for dream homes and dream jobs and feel that our lives are somehow lacking because we didn't grow up to become the rock star we'd hoped to be when we were ten.

But here's the thing--my imagination is broad and wide enough to encompass things that are physically impossible. I can visualize a mansion of pure crystal suspended on a cloud over a waterfall of molten gold. I can picture a teahouse where the tea is poured by a waiter in a red brocade jacket with the head of a black lynx. I can walk through a desert in my head where the sand is green and the dunes punctuated by jagged blood-red stones. From childhood onward, I've always had a tactile, visual and absurdly extreme imagination. (This is one of the reasons I write in the first place, I suppose. So the impossible things in my head have a place to live outside of my skull and can even be transmitted, however imperfectly, to other people's imaginations.)

In the same way, every possibility I could have in this life for fame and fortune will always fall short of what my mind can conjure up. Should I blame my imagination for being too large? The world for being too small? Or should I blame the strange expectation that the latter can somehow be made to live up to the former and that my life isn't complete until and unless it does? If there's nothing wrong with me because I don't have that crystal mansion, why should I feel there's something wrong with me for not having a stack of bestselling novels by now? While a bestselling novel is indeed physically possible, my dreams of what could happen are still going to skip a few steps ahead of what reality can provide at every point in the process.

I don't think the solution is to rein in the possibilities in my head. I think instead I choose to let them gallop as far ahead of me as they are inclined, note the tracks left behind and focus on where I am and what the next step is along that path. I may never catch up all the way, but I'll certainly be farther ahead than if I'd just stood still.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chiseling

I have recently resumed the practice of a mere minimum of twenty-five words a day on my current project. (Again, the luxury of the amateur to slow things down to that level without anybody but myself to worry.)

Usually a few more words get in before I set it aside to tackle the rest of my day. But what even that tiny effort does is get me in the regular habit of thinking about the thing, figuring out what happens next and how to get there.

Last night I did a little bit of brainstorming and two stuck places cracked themselves open and a stream of ideas came forth. If this, then THIS, and, oh, what about THAT?

It feels good to have that again. Even at a mere twenty-five words a day.