The Fiction Writing Process — For Beginning Authors #5  Your Inner Discipline Honor Code:

This is where the rubber meets the road. How badly do you want to be a writer… a successful writer? If you are seriously attempting this path you need to develop discipline. It’s not just important, it’s essential.

Before I became an author, I was a technical writer. I had to write 5 days a week, 6-8 hours a day. It was my job, and if I wanted the paycheck I had to write. Was it boring? You bet. But that job taught me the discipline of writing.

I sometimes write 7 days a week, but, at the very least I write 5 days a week. I get up at 5 am and start writing no later than 6 am and write until 11 am. Some days I write more, but hardly ever, do I write less.

I understand the machine that is Amazon (where I self-publish my books). The Amazon reader needs a book from me every 3-4 months, after that time period, I lose them. There is always another author who will deliver if I don’t, so I make sure I hit my deadlines. Getting some success is great, but in order to maintain that success, it takes discipline.

Let’s look at some issues that might come up as you embrace discipline:

 

Writer’s Block.

We’ve all had writer’s block. It’s no fun, but there are ways to work through it.

Sometimes you may need to get up and take a walk or go for a drive. Clear your head and get a change of scenery.

Create an inspiring work environment. It could be your office, your dining room, your bedroom, your deck, or someplace else. Wherever you write, surround yourself with things that motivate you – art, books, vintage typewriters, your favorite pillow, etc… Every person will have a different space, make your workspace work for you.

Switch it up. Work in different parts of the house or go to your local library or coffee shop. A change of environment will bring different stimuli, and, hopefully, new ideas.

Don’t give into it.

I don’t know who came up with the term, “writer’s block,” but some may use it as an excuse to skip a day. The problem with that is… not the one day. The problem is one day turns into a week or a month, and before you know it, you have given up your dream of being a professional writer. If you treat your writing as a hobby, then that is what it will become. It’s entirely up to you.

 

Judging Your Writing.

Sometimes I write a chapter, and I know it’s terrible. But I get it down and change it later. It could be later that day, or the next day, but I put words down on the page. It’s okay not to write great prose every time. The truth is, it’s normal and expected. Try not to judge yourself. If you write through it you should actually feel great about yourself for sticking to your schedule. Write the words, unclog your mind. What can be found beyond the clogged mind may be gold.

 

Organize Your Time/Delegate.

Depending upon what stage you are in your writing career/ambitions, you may or may not have help. Personally, I like to use UpWork to enlist the help of freelancers. UpWork has freelancers from all over the world and they offer every kind of service you can think of…. editing, cover art, outline writing, book formatting, etc.

People on UpWork are hungry and willing to work for lower fees to build their resumes. I found some real gems on this site, so I would encourage others to, as well. You can even hire someone to brainstorm with.

You might be fortunate to have friends to talk to about book ideas, or maybe you hit the jackpot and have a mentor. Make time for them. Buy them a cup of coffee and soak it all in. Then, pay it forward… if not today, the next time you are in a position to help.

If hiring freelancers is not an option for you, I would suggest getting a whiteboard and organize your time. Try to do this a week at a time. Writing is one chunk of time, but make time for cover art, editing, marketing, and all the other tasks it takes to write/publish your book.

 

Take Care of Your Health.

This may sound irrelevant, but writing can take a toll. Sitting down and writing can be hard on your back and your nerves. It helps to have a stretching/exercise routine, getting enough sleep and eating healthy. I’m speaking from experience.

If you feel lousy, you will not want to work. You may think you have writer’s block, but your mind might be mushy because you’ve had a Big Mac every day for the past 14 days. Wean yourself off the bad stuff and work in a salad now and then. Before you know it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start this healthy lifestyle sooner.

 

 

 

 

The Fiction Writing Process — For Beginning Authors #4 The Basics – Hone Your Skills

I’ve been writing books for eight years now. I followed the basics in the beginning, and I still do. There are certain things readers expect from a good read, and the last thing you want to do is disappoint your readers.

When I first started writing I sought advice from experts, and I researched websites and blogs that gave excellent information about the craft. The best blog I found was “All Write” by AJ Humpage.

http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.com/  It’s all in the posts – everything from grammar to plot twists.

Humpage’s blog mentions hundreds of topics, but I’m going to mention and expand on a couple that I think are especially relevant.

Head Hopping. So, you’re reading a book and it’s from the protagonist’s POV. You’re really into it and then suddenly – in the middle of the chapter – the protagonist is thinking about something the villain is thinking about….  Oh, wait – it jumped to the villain’s POV. Annoying, right? Nobody likes to stop mid-chapter and try to figure out who is thinking what or what is happening.

Having said that head-hopping is no-no mid-chapter, it can work if you break up the POVs with chapters or other breaks in your book that are clearly labeled so that your reader is in the loop. I’ve done this. Just try to be consistent and always keep your reader in mind.

Dialogue Formatting. Sounds boring, I know – but it’s important! When you self-publish on Amazon, there are thousands of readers out in the world that are incentivized to find mistakes (typos, bad grammar, misuse of commas, improper dialogue formatting, etc.) Every month or so you will get a list of these mistakes… even if you have a rock star editor. And if you don’t fix these mistakes (and you have enough of them) Amazon can take down your book.

And so, that’s why this is important. Back to dialogue formatting. It starts simply, by putting quotation marks before and after a quote.

EXAMPLE:

Dialogue tag before: Gerard whispered, “We have to get out of here.”

Dialogue tag after: “We have to get out of here,” Gerard whispered.

Use of the exclamation point, question mark, or ellipsis: “We have to get out of here!” he said.

Notice the “h” in here is in lower case when using the “!.”

The first letter after the quote is also in lowercase when using the “?” and the “…”

What if there is action happening before or after the dialogue? This is one that many people slip upon.

EXAMPLE:

Daniel gasped. “What are you doing?”

Sometimes you may use a quote within a quote. If you do, use single quotation marks.

EXAMPLE:

Daniel’s face reddened. “When you said, ‘I hate you!’ it made me question everything we had together.”

When a new character is introduced in the conversation, start a new paragraph.

EXAMPLE:

“Harry, I don’t like the way you installed these cabinets. They’re crooked,” Kim explained, motioning her hand toward the lopsided walnut door.

“I think they look fine,” he said, looking down at his watch.

Kim took a step toward him. “You’re not even looking at it!” she felt her teeth clench. “Look, I paid you a lot of money. I’m going to need you to fix this.”

“Yeah, I hear you,” Harry said. “Let me take a look at my schedule and I’ll get back to you.” He spun on his heel and headed for the front door.

If an action happens at some point during the dialogue, use a lowercase letter at the beginning of where the dialogue picks up.

EXAMPLE:

“I can’t imagine,” he sucked in air, tension overtaking in his body, “what you were thinking. Do you realize we could have lost the whole squadron?!”

If a quote is long, it may require breaking it up into paragraphs. Place opening quotations marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but only place closing paragraphs at the end of the quote.

EXAMPLE:

Mark paced nervously moments before he began his presentation. “This is how to write a book 101. Head Hopping. So, you’re reading a book and it’s from the protagonist’s POV. You’re really into it and then suddenly – in the middle of the chapter – the protagonist is thinking about something the villain is thinking about….  Oh, wait – it jumped to the villain’s POV. Annoying, right? Nobody likes to stop mid-chapter and try to figure out who is thinking what or what is happening.

“Having said that, head-hopping is no-no mid-chapter, it can work if you break up the POVs with chapters or other breaks in your book that are clearly labeled so that your reader is in the loop. I’ve done this. Just try to be consistent and always keep your reader in mind.

“Dialogue Formatting. Sounds boring, I know – but it’s important! When you self-publish on Amazon, there are thousands of readers out in the world that are incentivized to find mistakes (typos, bad grammar, misuse of commas, improper dialogue formatting, etc.) Every month or so you will get a list of these mistakes… even if you have a rock star editor. And if you don’t fix these mistakes (and you have enough of them) Amazon can take down your book.”

Now, let’s move on to foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is a practice that authors use to indicate to their readers an idea of what is to come. If done properly, it is subtle, yet evident. Mysteries use this technique a lot, although it is a practice that is ideally used in all genres of fiction writing.

Foreshadowing is a way to build tension and suspense. It also can act as an emotional buffer for your reader so that he (or she) does not feel let down or unprepared when something “big” happens.

So, how do you introduce foreshadowing in your book? Let’s get to it.

Dialogue. A character may reveal something in dialogue that acts as a set-up to an event that is uncovered later in your book. It might be the way the character says something, an action the character is doing while he is saying something, or it may be the words themselves. The idea is to plant seeds, not to drop a 10-foot tree.

Title. A good book title can sell a book. Some examples of this type of foreshadowing are Murder on the Orient Express, One Little Lie, The Last Thing He Told Me, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Love in the Time of Cholera. You get the idea. There is a hint of what’s to come.

Setting. It’s an overcast rural town with boarded-up houses and shut-down factories. It’s a seaside town with quaint coffee shops and cobblestones streets. It’s a dimly lit submarine with the stale smell of Old Spice. Every place is the setting the stage for the story to come.

Metaphors or Similes. Quick explanation: metaphor is a comparison without using the word “as” or “like.” A simile is a comparison using the word “as” or “like.”

Kenny was a caged animal. This metaphor may be a clue of a blow-up to erupt at a later time.

Greg behaved like a silly lap dog, without a care in the world. This simile could be a set-up for something more stressful down the line.

Is it difficult to tell how these could be clues? Think about breadcrumbs. You don’t just drop one and expect to figure out how to get to the end. It takes little pieces of information dropped in the right places to make foreshadowing successful.

Character Traits. Is your character self-assured to the point of being cocky? Maybe it’s a set-up for him to take a fall. Is your love interest recovering from agoraphobia? It could be that the only way she can survive is if she is forced to leave her house.

You’ve seen these plot formulas a million times. They are played out in slightly different ways and in slightly different environments.

The word “formula’ has a negative connotation to it. It’s repetitive, done again and again. The truth is formulas are used constantly because they work. Just like math, you will get the answer you are looking for if you follow the formula. Book writing is no different. We, as authors, want to be creative. But we also want to engage our readers.

The techniques and practices that I have written about in this post are great formulas to follow. Use them and see what happens. You might be surprised by how much room is left for creativity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fiction Writing Process for Authors for Beginners / #3. What do you read? What do you love?

Do singers listen to music? Do actors go to the theatre? Yes, of course, they do! They enjoy the arts that they practice because they love them.

Now, I suppose there are some who say, “I don’t love it, I just want to sell lots of books so I can quit my 9 to 5 job and get rich.” If this is you, this blog/advice is not for you.

So, if you are an author or an aspiring author, you must read. I am primarily a science fiction writer, although, I have been branching out lately. When I first started writing I read the successful authors that were similar to me in the specific type of science fiction I was writing. In my case it was space opera/military science fiction… books full of spaceships, aliens, navy seals, ex-military, technology, strange planets… you get the idea.

To name a few, I read BV Larson, Craig Alanson, and Andy Weir. From BV Larson and Craig Alanson, I learned how important humor was. Now, I have a different sense of humor… it comes from my personal point of view, which I inject into my characters. Andy Weir is a little bit more straight ahead, with a finer point on technology. You can tell Weir does a lot of research, or, more likely, he has a paid researcher he works with on a regular basis.

I am upping my game on technology. For the most part, my books are meant for fun with non-stop action, while focusing on interesting characters and the relationships they develop. But the more successful you get, the more you can seek out the expertise of a researcher. I began developing an interest in integrating more technology after I read the sequel the Martian (I read that first), Hail Mary by Andy Weir.

Start reading where your interests lie currently. If you’re like me, your tastes will develop over time. My suggestion to you is to follow your gut. When I first started, when I wasn’t writing, I was reading. When I finally fell asleep (always have had trouble sleeping), I would dream, and when I woke up (sometimes in the middle of the night), I would write down things that came to me in my sleep.

When you write and read, hour after hour, a swirl of ideas occupies, not just your mind, but your being. So, you may dream more (day and night dreams). Pay attention to what comes to you, one of those dreams might be the foundation for a best seller.

The aim is not to copy ideas (although some lazy authors do this), but to immerse yourself in the work so that ideas just come to you. And, yes, you will get writer’s block… nothing amazing (like a successful writing career) ever comes too easy. As I mentioned in my previous post, I get a flood of ideas when I’m in water… a hot tub, bathtub, etc… But the water is helped by the fact that I read.

 

I picked up the new Stephen King book recently, Billie Summers. Now, I don’t write horror, but sometimes I get bored, and if I scroll the best sellers list and a book has an interesting cover and good reviews, I’ll buy it.

That goes against my advice, right? Technically, yes. But, let’s face it, sometimes you just want to read a good book. And, by the way, Billie Summers was a great book. It was not King’s typical horror story, but a straight-ahead thriller. Hmmm, sounds like even Stephen King gets bored.

But this post is for ‘beginner authors’ so ‘in the beginning’ I would suggest…. Well, you know, what I just laid out in this post.

Read on,

MWM

 

 

The Fiction Writing Process — For Beginning Authors #2 / Your Creative Contemplation Place

The wonders of water should not be underestimated when it comes to sources of inspiration.  A simple hot shower is a great, quick way for me to get back in the right frame of mind to write. If I have more time, I’ll take a bath.

And if I have more time AND it’s not too hot outside I’ll sit in my hot tub. One reason the hot tub experience works for me is the surrounding environment. We landscaped our yard with about 12 trees, lots of flowers, shrubs, and a large fountain along the fence line. Beyond the fenced-in yard are rolling hills, a couple of farms, and animals… cows, deer, elk, and other wildlife.

But it’s the water where it starts. 60% of our bodies are made of water. And 71% of the world is comprised of water. It’s got to be important. right? For me, it frees my mind. It wanders and then I just stumble upon ideas, and then I jot them down on my notepad on my phone.

Another place I go to get away is my basement. A few years ago we finished our walkout basement. One of the things I wanted was a big fireplace. I can sit in my lounger and watch the fireplace and I start to drift. Yes, sometimes I drift to sleep, but sometimes my mind drifts to unexpected places. I can come up with a character’s flaw, a plot twist, or the landscape of an alien planet.

I do have an office. I work in different parts of my house, and, yes, the office is one of those. I have a large computer monitor and I like to spend time designing book covers, for books that (sometimes) haven’t even been started yet. I get inspired by the cover because, to me, a good book cover tells a story. I’ve always been a visual person, and my creative juices really start working when I can see something that intrigues me. Design is in my background, so I play with images and fonts on Photoshop and mess around until something clicks.

Other sources of inspiration include going hiking, going on trips (one-day getaways to five-nighters), reading a good book, looking at bookcovers at a book store, running on the treadmill, spending time with neighbors/family/friends, or watching a great movie.

So, what inspires you?

I will  leave you with a quote that kind of spoke to me, “The important thing for you is to be alert, to question, to find out, so that your own initiative may be awakened.”- Bruce Lee

 

 

 

 

The 12-Part Fiction Writing Process — For Beginning Authors

What this MWM Series is and what it is not. A beginner does not necessarily mean young – I was in my 50’s when I started writing novels! But if you are a quitter – this won’t work.

 

The Fiction Writing Process — For Beginning Authors

 

#1.  Develop Your Long-Term Support Team!

 

—In my case, it was my sister, Lura (her nickname is Wink). Wink read each rough Scrapyard Ship (my first book) chapter as they rolled out… Back then – some eight years ago – it was do-or-die time. We (my wife, Kim, and I) were broke. She was working double shifts so I could write.

Many beginner authors will find themselves in this situation. When you’re starting out there is no money coming in, and if you self-publish (as I do, on Amazon) you won’t see any money until after 60 days after your book is published… and that is IF your book becomes popular enough to make money. This business is not for sissies.

Again, that is why it is so critical to have support. Wink was always great at not only telling me what I needed to hear but telling me in such a way that I knew she really believed I had what it takes to succeed. That’s why she (and Kim) are always in my acknowledgments.

Early support from true cheerleaders is always motivating. Someone that will tell you – you are great! Find your person, or – even better – people.

Tell your support person (or group) what your motivations are and ask for help to get there. The more specific you are the better. I told my sister I wanted to write a book that was entertaining, that fit into the scifi realm, nothing too over-the-top technical – just a helluva lot of fun to read. I told my wife that I wanted to make a living writing books. Both were true motivations, and each person supporting me knew where I was coming from.

BE CAREFUL WITH WRITING GROUPS! These meet-up-type groups may seem like a great idea, but there is a caveat.  I tried them too. However, unconsciously, not everyone has your best interest at heart when they critique your work. Staying motivated is paramount – so keep the wind in your sails with equal parts positive feedback. Keep this in mind when accepting feedback as well as doling it out.

To recap,  try these steps:

Figure out your true motivations for being a best-selling Indie Author . . .is it fame, is it to express your creative talent and being recognized, is it money (it was for me).

Find your support team. Most likely they will be family members and/or friends.

Tell your support team the kind of support you need.

If your support team involves a group, make sure to keep an eye out for naysayers.

Be generous with your feedback when it comes to other aspiring authors.

When I was working on my first book I reached out to other best-selling authors in the sci-fi genre. I was bowled over by the responses I received. BV Larson sent me some suggestions and advice. Hugh Howey asked me to call him. H. Paul Honsinger sent me a message that I want to share with all of you.

But first, know this: it’s one thing to ask for advice from experts (and then get it!), but then, you must follow it!

Here is the response I received from Mr. Honsinger. I reached out to him through LinkedIn in July of 2013. He wasn’t the most popular of the authors I contacted, but his words had a huge impact on me.

Sadly, I recently discovered that he passed away last year after a month-long battle with COVID 19. This post – and the posting of this letter – is a dedication to him:

First of all, good luck on the venture. I hope you meet with every success. Based on my own experiences (and those of my wife, who publishes under the name Laura Jo Phillips) here is what we’ve learned.

1. Have a very clear idea what your market is (or markets are). For each market, you should have a list of authors whose books are similar enough to yours that the readers of those books should like yours. Then make a list of the defining traits of the books from the authors on each list. Make sure your book checks off enough boxes on each of your lists that it is going to be genuinely appealing to those existing markets. If it does not, seriously consider finding a way to work those additional elements in.

2. Your blurb should specifically check the boxes for the readers. Use key words that invoke each element. People who go looking for a book to read are looking for one that has what they want–you want your blurb to tell what the ingredients are so that people who are hungry for that dish know it will taste good to them.

3. Your cover art should be professional looking. It is better to be very simple and clean than to be complex and amateurish. Be sure it looks good as a thumbnail–far more people will see it as a thumbnail than as full size.

4. Your blurb and author bio must be perfect. Lots of people are wary of self published books because they are often poorly edited. If you misspell a word or have a grammatical error in your blurb or bio then readers will think that the book is going to be full of mistakes and many will avoid it.

5. Make an announcement to all your friends, all your facebook friends, everyone you can possibly reach, and try to persuade as many as possible–not only to buy the book–but to all buy it within the first day or two of release. If you can get 20 or 40 sales in the first day or so, you will break into the “Hot New Release” lists in your genre on Amazon, which will get some attention for your book. People will start reading your blurb and will download the sample–if it is good and if there is a market, your book will take off from there. If not, then the problem is probably either that the quality is not there or that you have not targeted the right market with enough precision.

6. Make sure that the first chapter or so is totally boffo. Do NOT get your first book off to a slow, leisurely start. People will download that first chapter or so and if it doesn’t grab them, they won’t buy the book. The prologue to my first book was an after thought. Originally, I started with the cocktail party on the Halsey and went from there. Once I got up to the encounter with the Krag Baggers, I thought I needed to get off to a faster start, so I went back and wrote the prologue. With the second book, you can be a bit easier on the gas pedal because you already have an audience, but if you can start off right away with a totally whiz bang action sequence, you are going to get the audience’s attention quickly. If you start off with an exposition dump about how your world and universe work and who runs the galaxy and what kind of power sources they have, you’re done for.

I get asked this same question fairly often, and I give this same advice to just about everyone. It’s tough advice, but this is what has worked for my wife and for me and when I’ve seen people fail in this business, they’ve usually violated one of these rules. My father, for example, a far better writer than I, wrote a brilliant Western Historical Novel (Fire Hair, by Harvey Honsinger). BUT, there is no market–it’s a historically accurate, realistic novel with lots of gunsmoke and horse sweat, but it’s got a female protagonist and a lot of the drama is internal marital intrigue, lies, etc. So, it’s not really a man’s book and it’s not really a woman’s book–it’s for women with strong male sensibilities or for men who have a lot of empathy and understanding for how women perceive the world. We all know how common that is. So, my somewhat clunky space operas sell more copies on a good weekend than his brilliant western has sold in the two years or so since publication.

Anyway, if you have any specific questions, I will be happy to try to address them as time permits. I wish you the best of luck and hope you have at least as much success as I have. BTW, if you want me to take a look at your blurb, I will be happy to do so and to comment on it–just understand that my comments, while not deliberately hurtful or sarcastic, will be very direct. If the blurb makes your book sound boring, I will say precisely that. On the other hand, I will also praise what I see as being good. Just be warned.

All my best,
Paul Honsinger

On 07/18/13 1:36 PM, Mark McGinnis – Avenstar wrote:
——————–
Hi H. Paul

Just wanted to say thank you for connecting with me on LinkedIn. I’m 60K words into my 1st SciFi novel, Scrapyard Ship. Your Man of War books have a big inspiration, so thank you for that as well. I’m another guy over 50 who’s discovered writing can be more than a hobby. Any words of wisdom of advice prior to my publishing to Amazon next month?

Kind regards,
Mark W. McGinnis

 

 

 

 

WIN

I read a lot. And by read, I mean I listen to audiobooks. I usually scroll the best sellers list on Amazon and hope something pops up that looks interesting… something that I haven’t read before. Sometimes it’s rough… I read so much, that finding good material is like finding a clean bathroom in a frat house.

The other day I was walking through a Barnes and Noble, and a title that caught my eye in the New Releases section…. WIN, by Harlan Coben. I picked it up and it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read in years. The main reason that this book had me hooked: humor. It was funny.

Not slapstick funny, or even self-deprecating, but sarcasm with just the right amount of ‘bad.’ In other words, I wouldn’t say it was mean-hearted. But WIN (the main character) is an unapologetic rich guy who happens to be good at solving mysteries, and that doesn’t involve doing everything by the book.

After that book, I searched his other books. I was hesitant to delve into others. I liked the Win character, and the other books had a different protagonist, a sports agent. But once I started it, I was glad I did. It had the same humor and Win actually popped in here and there.

So, why does humor work so well – and when doesn’t it work?

In my opinion. Good books need a likable, but flawed protagonist. Writing in first person helps with relatability and so when humor is thrown in it’s like you’re having a chat with a good friend that you haven’t seen in a while.

The trick is what’s the likable part and what’s the flawed part. The guy (or gal) might make you laugh, but he’s arrogant. The difference with this guy is he knows he’s arrogant. He doesn’t apologize for it, but he warns you. He makes no apology for what he does, it’s just how he operates.

The arc appears in other ways. The guy may mistreat women. This is a less forgivable flaw. One he recognizes, and deep down knows he could do better. And then opportunities arise through the story for him to do better. Nobody’s perfect. And so, the relatable deepens, and the reader routes for him (or her).

The humor allows for character and story development. The way the guy thinks and his mannerisms and how he reacts, and, finally, how he verbally communicates, are all clues to who he is (and was in the past), why he does what he does, and how he fits into the puzzle of the story.

Good writing can be like enjoying a great meal. You love the secret sauce on your Big Mac, and love it when the buns are fresh. The pickles some like, but I prefer my meal sans those nasty green things, not funny or likable.