Saturday, January 23, 2016

Chuck Wendig and Writing Goals

So today I read a (very long) blog post by Chuck Wendig, which addresses what a mid-career writer should be concerned about. You don't see a lot of these blog posts as most tend to be geared either towards beginning writers, or address very specific aspects of writing and not so much career stuff. It was an interesting read, though quite a lot of it didn't apply for me because I'm self-published (he talks about agents and advances and such). But two aspects did stand out: 1) find a way to survive as a writer and 2) it's a smart idea to spend some time thinking about your writing goals.

In terms of #1, the idea is that mid-career is when a lot of people throw in the towel. Wendig emphasizes the survival goal as being the most important because of this. I think he's right, though I don't worry that much about quitting. I need to write to stay sane. If I take breaks for a couple of months at a time, no big deal, because I know I'll come back to it. If I don't, my mental health quite literally suffers, so there's really no choice in the matter. Of course I get discouraged when my sales tank (which they aren't doing right now so much as dipping rather unpleasantly), but in the end it doesn't matter. I could never sell another book again, I'd still have to write.

For #2 Wendig talks about how he plans his goals for one year, five years, and ten years. Reading that made me want to make myself a flowchart, so I could visualize my goals. I didn't go beyond a year(ish), though. I mean, my five year goal is basically to have completed the goals in the flowchart, and I can't picture what comes after that. General stuff, sure: be selling enough that I can use some of the money to pay for marketing, for one thing. But that's not a goal I can control so it's just sort of floating there. The one year goals are much more doable, so I focused on those. Of course it's probably more accurate to see them as like, three year goals. Even without two kids (and a third on the way! Yep, I'm insane--it was a surprise, folks, and I'm happy about it but woo-nelly, am I going to be swamped come mid summer)* there's too much to do to finish within a year. And one goal is to try to get traditionally published so that's going to take more than a year anyway, especially since I haven't finished the first draft of the novel I plan on submitting.

Anyway, here's the chart:

I've had several comments from readers of the decopunk books (The City Darkens and After the Fall) about how I need to get the third book out ASAP. I did start working on it a few months ago, but I didn't have a lot of it planned out and ended up stopping because I didn't know where I wanted to take it. I've been thinking about it lately, though, and I think I will probably get back to work on it soon.

I will definitely be writing another Veronica book (which would be book 5). I have several ideas for book 5 as well as book 6, and the world and characters are so familiar and easy to get into now, it's just a matter of deciding that's what I'm doing next, and I'll crank it out. As such, though, it's not my top priority. I do think the Veronica series is the most likely to seriously take off. The decopunk trilogy is going to be too weird for a lot of people, and it has some flaws I just can't figure out how to fix, though I love the story and the characters. The decopunk trilogy has been such an opportunity to stretch myself as a writer, and for me that's worth it, but I am realistic about it. It's not what I set out to do when I started it, for one thing. I trying to create a story like Kushiel's Dart, only set in a decopunk 1920s type world. Loads of people (myself included) wish they could visit Terre d'Ange, and I wanted to create a setting like that. What came out, though, was a cold dystopia I would avoid visiting pretty much at all costs, though. Too much of my cynicism found its way into those books, and book three is going to be very much in the same vein. I don't know if I'm even capable of creating a world that people want to visit or live in. That's actually the core of my goal with the YA magic school series (which may end up being a New Adult rather than YA series, depending on how much sex I want to include--I haven't decided). Yes, I am absolutely going to aim for something reminiscent of Hogwarts, because I love Hogwarts, and I want to manage to write about a setting I love. I'll deviate quite a bit, too. For one thing, I dream of visiting the Mediterranean again one day, so the setting of my magic school will no doubt be very much a place like Corsica or Greece. Maybe it'll be inspired by Ancient Greece, or at least a fantasy version of Ancient Greece. And I can tell you that it's going to be a bit of a response to The Magicians, which I was terribly disappointed with. I mean, come on, what a cool premise! A college like Hogwarts, with adult students learning magic? A loser kid who has a chance to have everything he ever dreamed of? So cool! And then the loser kid never changes or grows or enjoys the gifts he's given. I wanted to throttle him. Anyway. Trying to talk back to The Magicians--that ought to challenge me to step away from my cynicism. If there's a core flaw in The Magicians it's the book's awful cynicism. But in any case, that one's not going to happen any time soon, I want to finish the trilogy and the book I labeled Twin in the flowchart first.

Twin is the working title of the book I wrote during NaNoWriMo this year (made it to 50K!). It was going well but I needed a break because carving out time to write every day was quite a strain on the family. But I'm definitely finishing it, I have lots of notes and ideas. The big question is, do I start with that or the third decopunk book?

And then there's the story of my grandmother Evelyn's life. I found out the third baby is a boy, so there goes my plan to honor my grandmother by naming a child after her (Evelyn used to be a boy's name, up until the 20th century, but I'm not going to saddle a boy with it). My grandmother was the most amazing woman, and one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever known. She used to tell stories of her life all the time, and she had such a fascinating life. Some of the stories were no doubt embellished, and some of my memories of the stories have probably distorted them. And on top of that if I were to write a novel based on her life I'd have to fill in a lot of blanks. So it really would be a novelization of her life. But I think it would be pretty awesome, nevertheless.

And finally the space opera idea... I love soap operas. I love cheesy space stories like Flash Gordon (and A New Hope--it is a space opera, folks, even if it's franchise has perhaps risen above that since--perhaps). The thing that really draws me to write something like that is the challenge of creating amazing worlds and locations, like Cloud City in Empire Strikes Back. Say what you will about Flash Gordon, it took a powerful imagination to create that setting! So often worlds are clearly based on Earth and Earth's existing cultures, but in FG if that's the case it's really not obvious to me. The worlds in FG aren't even spheres! They are floating island-like places with various climates and topography. How does a person imagine places like that? That would be the challenge. Again, that's not happening right away, but I do see it happening most likely within the next three years. We'll see, of course. Another idea may come along and demand to go first. I'm not one to ignore that kind of thing.

What are your writing goals? Can you see beyond the immediate ones, to five or even ten years down the line? What ideas are percolating for you, story-wise?

*FYI if you are my friend on Facebook (not my author page, I'm talking friends with my personal profile) I haven't made an official announcement about the baby yet. All of my immediate family know, but I do intend to put together some sort of cute picture, so please keep the secret until then!

Monday, November 2, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015!

I recently started an online writing group and it has done wonders for my motivation! I love talking about writing with other writers. I also rediscovered Kristen Lamb's blog after several years away thanks to Lori Sizemore, and found it to be super motivating. Back in September when I thought about doing NaNo this year I figured, "Meh, I'm not going to hit 50K with my current schedule, but I'll do as much as I can." Not anymore, baby. Lamb is especially responsible for this with her post about Good Girls and her post about why your writing career might be stuck. This quote from the Good Girls post really did it for me:

How many of us are getting up before dawn or staying up after midnight because our dream might just inconvenience someone else? Let them be inconvenienced for a change!

We ladies bend more than the karma sutra and that is okay, but if our husband actually has to watch the kids for an hour in the evening that is too much?


Because this is me. I fit my writing in wherever I can, and I don't ask my husband for any extra time. And it's not like he'd ever say no. He's totally supportive. But I feel guilty taking time away from him and the kids to go write. After reading these articles, though, I knew I have to do it. Just for November, I'm telling myself. We'll see how it goes. But on days when the older kid comes home at noon from preschool (there are two days a week where he stays in the afternoon, giving me several glorious hours for writing), I will leave once my husband gets home and go to the library for an hour and a half to write.

Yesterday I took three loads of laundry to the laundromat (because the piles of laundry were seriously starting to take over the house, and we don't have a working dryer) and got started on my NaNo book. It's my first foray into YA, a supernatural thriller set in the 1960s. I'm so excited about it. 1750 words so far, folks. Yay!

Are you writing a novel for NaNo this year? What's your schedule like? Do you have trouble giving priority to your writing?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Getting the momentum going... hard! Hard, I tell you! Gah.

"What in the world is she yelling about?" you wonder.

I'm trying to start book three in the Raud Grima trilogy. I've done a bunch of brainstorming and I've written the first 1600 words, but today I had several hours to write and instead I used them to participate on a debate forum I enjoy.

But there were people disparaging trans* folk, man. I had to call them out!

Not that I was alone in doing so... and it is possible that the other posters had it covered...

The real issue is I have this large scale habit when it comes to writing. It's a seasonal thing. I write the most in November-December. Then it tapers off for like six weeks to two months. But then it picks back up in March-May. Then in the summer, when usually the most I do is editing, and my writing dies down again, and it doesn't really get going until the following November.

The pattern has been that way for years--since 2006, I think.

NaNoWriMo is a big factor. I gear up for it and in years where I'm not overwhelmed by other stuff I do the 50K words in November, always with a new WiP. Then I keep going for a while, usually stalling a bit around 75K words. I have a hiatus, and then drive myself crazy thinking, "Come on, Sophia, you're so close to being done!" Which is not entirely true, as most of my novels have anywhere from 15K to 30K more words to go after 75K. But compared to the work that led to the production of 75K words, it's still a lot less.

So anyway, my point is it's September. This is not, historically, a productive month for me. I'm trying to buck the old system but my lazy self is just like, "Noooo.... writing is work and work hurts my brain..."

The next time I will probably have some uninterrupted time for writing is Monday, so really, what needs to happen is for me to not go on that forum at all. No checking for updates, nothing. Just sit down at the computer and write.

Do you have seasons when you are more productive? How do certain habits help or hinder you?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Another shingle!

Yes, folks, I've done it. I've hung up my shingle as an editor and ebook formatter. You can read all about how it works by clicking on either of the appropriate tabs above.

I am just starting to poke around to see where to advertise my services. Maybe if I get a client or two I'll spring for GoogleAds. It's hard to want to pay any money out without bringing even a little in first, though. Plus at the moment we are legitimately broke, as in, hope-we-have-enough-money-to-pay-for-the-baby's-daycare-in-September broke. It's always like that at the end of the summer, because they pay us for July and August at the same time as they pay us for June, and then we have to wait until the end of September for our next checks. Every year we try very hard not to spend too much. Each year we get a little better about it. But we still come up short. What can I say, it's a pretty major factor in the reasoning behind the hanging up of various shingles!
This is not the actual shingle I hung. This is a shingle for W.H. Smith bookstore in Romsey, England.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

That Link I Promised for the Sold Book Cover.

If you were curious about that cover that I sold on, here's a link to an image they posted on Facebook. There are nine covers pictured; mine is the one in the lower right corner, with the white background and silhouettes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I sold a cover!

I sold a cover on! Yay! I had posted two covers there, and sort of stopped thinking about them because I had too many other things to do to make new generic covers to submit to the site. And today, I got an email saying the cover sold! I'm not sure whether I can post it here, but as soon as they add it to the published covers page I'll update with a link to it.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


I wrote a review of The Girl on the Train on Goodreads. Then, out of curiosity, I scrolled through some of the other reviews there. I noticed a pattern--good reviews got a few comments, no big deal. Bad reviews got loads comments. Some over a hundred. Even short bad reviews got dozens. One reviewer went back and edited her review to include a disclaimer at the beginning of it to attempt to ward off all the flaming. So I edited my review, deleting everything and replacing it simply with "Not my cup of tea." I just don't need the headache. I've run into my share of belligerent book-fans when I've done things like talk about how Outlander ceased to be a romance for me after the punishment scene (there are book-fans of Outlander who have accused me of having had too easy a life to understand that book correctly--you know... people who have never met me and don't know anything about my life...). So instead, I'm going to post my original review here. Enjoy (and if you disagree with me, please feel free to comment, but if you are so incensed that you want to flame me, please be aware that I will delete your comment because this is my blog and I don't need that kind of static here).

I started off thinking this book was very well-written but too disturbing for me. I felt like I *was* Rachel (despite having far less personal experience with drinking and blackouts), and she lived in my head way too much for comfort. That's a sign of strong writing to me, even if I didn't enjoy it. I was hooked by the story, though, and I felt that her alcoholism worked well with the mystery--it's a strong choice, having her witness something important but be unable to remember it due to her alcoholic blackout.

The ending, however...

[MAJOR spoilers]

...was, to me, a total cop out.

What I respect most in a story is when the answers are there, but the author is masterful enough at showing them to you in such a way that you discount them until the end. Then you find out who did it (or whatever is appropriate to the denouement of a particular story), and you think, "HOLY CRAP. It was right in front of me the whole time." Some perfect examples in movie form: The Usual Suspects. The Sixth Sense. In book form, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

In The Girl on the Train, Hawkins uses a red herring, making you think certain scenes take place between the victim and one guy, when in fact it's another guy. Let's call them the doctor and the neighbor. (I'm trying not to use proper names in case someone is skimming but doesn't want to have their eye catch a spoiler.) Anyway, unless I really wasn't paying attention, she never gives you any clue that the victim is hanging out with the neighbor, not the doctor. She really just sets the reader up to understand (not just to *assume*--but to comprehend the narrative) that the person the victim is with is the doctor. There is also only one instance that I can think of where the personality of the neighbor is called into question at all. So when, in the end, it turns out the neighbor is the perpetrator, it's a surprise, but not the good kind. This is no, "Oh my god, Verbal is Kaiser Soze." Because in The Usual Suspects, it's all right there. If you are paying attention in a way that 90% of people never do, you have everything you need to realize that Verbal is weaving a web of lies. In The Sixth Sense, Haley Joel Osment looks Bruce Willis right in the eyes and tells him he sees dead people. When? ALL THE TIME. It's like he's waving a flag in front of the audience's face, but I know I didn't see it. Then, at the end, I was like, "HOLY SHIT, Y'ALL. It was RIGHT THERE."

Instead, in The Girl on the Train, Hawkins buried the reveal too well. As a reader there is no way you could see the clues ahead of time. Some of the other reviewers stated that they guessed early on who the perp was, because he was the only one who made sense--clearly their minds work differently than mine does. But even so, they chose him by process of elimination, not due to well placed plants by the author. Don't get me wrong, it's no good when you can figure out who did it way before the characters do. But in a well-told mystery, the clues would be there, they'd just be shown to you in a way that made you consider them insignificant. Like in Harry Potter--the cards with the chocolate frogs... tell you everything you need to know about Nicholas Flamel. But I paid no attention to that at all, so at the end I was like, "OMG, Rowling, you are a MASTER."

So I'm left feeling like Hawkins went, "AHA! It was the neighbor all along!" And I'm like, "Huh?" Not a satisfying feeling.