NaNoWriMo? More Like NaNoBooHoo

I was going full steam that first week in November — way back four weeks ago. I not only reached my daily word counts, but exceeded them. Then big-time disaster struck. I needed to sub something to one of my critique groups. I know. I know. I should have just passed and given them the week off of critiquing so I could continue on with my on-fire-hot-word-count-writing. What I subbed to my crit group was chapter 11 of a 26-chapter book which was “finished.” Revising it to send to them, turned my mind totally on that piece of writing, so I revised it to the end. Of course, I felt it was dynamically written, so I started looking into editors and agents. That done, like having postpartum blues, I crashed. I started writing “NaNoHaHa” in emails. About the same time I’d accepted a school storytelling assignment. I explained I only had 1800’s outfits and 1800’s stories. My contact said it wasn’t a problem. They were just kindergarteners. But in my former teaching brain, I thought, “Kindergarteners who know the 200 year difference between a Pilgrim’s outfit and a Civil War outfit. So I started making a Pilgrim outfit and researching the era. Yes, this was indeed a bit distracting. Then there was leaving the state for the weekend, and this last week, company in from out of state for the week.

So I decided not to cheat on the NaNoWriMo word count, except for adding four revised chapters from “that other novel.” I uploaded what I had, but I still didn’t win. This year. It felt more like NaNoBooHoo than anything to do with a month of writing.

I just need to say, that for anyone else who didn’t make the 50,000 word count this month, no worries. It’s only a challenge, so don’t beat yourself up. There’s always next year. Be sure not to give up on your novel, either. Keep working on this year’s NaNo project until it’s completed, so by November of 2015, you’ll be excited and fresh and rearing to go on your next novel.

Balancing Your Writer’s Life

Ah. Writing. There are so many ideas, so many characters, so much internal and external conflict to wrestle with. I love getting my thoughts down onto paper or up onto computer screen (and drives). It feels wonderful to accomplish such a feat with so many other non-writing-related activities pressing in all around.

Wouldn’t it just be grand if writing was all there was to a writer’s life?

But it’s not all there is.

Of course, there’s the mental struggling with plot and character, and the writing it all down (or typing it). Writing is a very romantic career, and I don’t limit that to genre. There’s so much more. There is research, and revisions, and critique groups, and more revisions, and more research. There’s setting the story aside to decide later it needs a full rewrite. And checking your story word for word for silly little errors. Then you must search what to do with your completed story — agent, editor, self-publish, alternate, or trash it.

When your story is published, of course, you go on to writing your next story. That’s a given. While that happens, you also must coddle your already published toddler.

What does this coddling entail? Updating your website, being “visible” on social media sites, printing business cards for live encounters. There are book signings, speaking engagements, and follow-up, including evaluations, to all. To each of these coddling suggestions, I could write chapters.

My mantra has always been that family comes first. That said, it’s often difficult to find time to write when you have babies to care for, toddlers, work which pays bills, school activities, church activities, social activities, house, yard, etc. Surely, there are at least 33 hours in any given day, right? And who needs sleep? Yet, somehow, the writing bug wiggles deeply into people who work and have families and family activities.

Family always comes first, which means sometimes writing must be put on hold.

Writing demands discipline. You can finish stories one sentence at a time, or as Anne Lamott puts it, bird by bird–writing during your children’s nap times, and then compartmentalize it while you focus on other aspects of life, like your kids.

Discipline is also required for all the published book coddling. Organization of sales for tax purposes, keeping track of  your PayPal account with their automatic withdrawals, remembering to update your domain name each year (or every third), contacting places to speak, putting together talks and PowerPoint presentations for the various requests, making your author name and book title visible both on social media and face-to-face, advertising, press releases, media kits, updating everything and often…

Is there no end to what an author today must do?

The short answer is no. So prioritize your time and what needs to be done. Focus. Be a disciplined person. Write. Market and promote. But most of all, hug and spend time with your loved ones.

But Cessation — The Case of Too Many Buts

So…when I started in on yet another revision of a manuscript, I noticed I’d started a sentence with the word “But.” I acknowledge occasionally I begin sentences with “but,” but it’s not necessarily intentional or even voice. It’s just how I speak. My voice. But still, I know I shouldn’t translate sloppy speech into my writing.

So, I did a Find and Replace to discover there were too many buts in the manuscript to even list them. I’m not sure how many, but it sure must be a lot. So I started at the beginning. An hour later, the Find and Replace let me know there were 92 buts left in the remaining five chapters. NINETY TWO! But I didn’t let the large number daunt my but cessation. I was on a but mission. I continued to the end of the manuscript, deleting nearly every one, of course, leaving in a handful of someone necessary ones, for everyone ought to be entitled to a few if, ands, and buts. To my relief, I discovered I’d tagged on a second manuscript in the same file. So, huge sigh.

So, if you find, too, are a but addict, my suggestion is to use the Find and Replace to tighten your writing. So go get rid of your buts!

(One revision mission accomplished. So now I think I’d better go to the beginning and do a search for all the times I use “so.”)

Michigan Signs (for the balance)

After my post about British Signs and Street Crossings, I started thinking how someone from another country coming to upper Michigan would react to some of our signs here. For example…

There is the infamous Michigan no-brainer: “Do Not Pass When Opposing Cars Present,” a sign I always go by too quickly to whip out my iPhone for a shot. It is for a two lane road opening to a three land road on a hill. The third central lane is for passing coming up the hill. But if no one’s in that lane, feel free to go into it to pass your slow downhill car in front of you.

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There’s the caution sign that the road ends…before you drive into Lake Michigan.

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There are the “Icy Bridge” or the newer “Bridge freezes before road” signs.

Hotels up north warn to be on the lookout for falling icicles (even in summer?) or instructing guests to not use hotel towels to wipe down sleds, or no snowmobiles allowed through the parking lot.

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A central Michigan truck company placed this sign on the back of their truck:

IMG_9156  But you had to drive up real close in order to read it.

Is this sign for a zoo? Or to be on the lookout for mating wildlife (X-ing)? Or is it a misspelling and polite way of indicating a nudist camp crossing ahead?

Cadillac, MI

Other states have their own peculiarities. When we lived in South Dakota there were official signs like, “Next Rest Area 365 miles” or “Do not cross road when flooded” or my personal favorite, a series of old pickup tires hung on fence posts in the Black Hills with the white words painted on them: “No Hunt.”

In defense of signs in England, we’ve all got our own local signs which may bring a smile or questioning look to outsiders. Mostly they’re used to keep us safe, I suppose, or on the flip side, not get sued.

So when you are writing your real or make-believe worlds, be aware of your region’s culturally different signs intended to help or guide, not confuse people.

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Little England. Big America.

It was only upon our return to the United States that I realized how big America is. I mean, I knew ahead of time that England was about the size of the state of Michigan, but everywhere I looked on our return was . The driver’s lanes here are wider. The sidewalks here are wider. Even the wastepaper baskets and toilets are bigger. In England, it was obvious who were Americans by their big (loud) voices. Yards, if they exist, are tiny.  Distances between major cities are shorter over there. Semi trucks are shorter in the UK, and even on the motorways for several days, I saw no doubles or scary triples like in the USA. And upon our return, I was surprised to notice how physically big Americans are. I guess my eyes had merely overlooked that fact before, or been adjusted to the sights. But coming home, it seemed that every store I entered, I found big people — big compared to thin Englanders. (Of course, you can find some skinny Americans, and you can find some plumb Brits.)

Therefore, it’s my casual observation that England is little and America is big.

Relating this information to writing…what is the feeling of your setting? Is it large and roomy or elbows-tucked-in small? How would your main character respond growing up in a roomy land v.s. a crowded one? Or feel visiting one the opposite type of setting?

Play with your characters. Play with your setting. Write, rewrite, tweek.

Restaurants, Cafes, Pubs — Eating out in London

London is a crowded place. It’s been that way for over a thousand years. Consequently, the buildings are flush to each other on the block. The eateries also tend to be must smaller than the restaurants we in America are more familiar with. For instance, you could fit 3 restaurants into the space of one fast food chain restaurant here. Indoor seating is about for twenty people, max. There are often four or so small tables with chairs along the front of the restaurant or cafe on the sidewalk.

Screenless windows and doors are left opened during business hours. In a ten-day period, I only saw three bugs. They must come out at night or something in order to pollinate the plants.

Pubs are dark on the inside, but in summer, it’s light until 9:30, GMT. Again, the inside seating of pubs is quite limited, but crowds can stand outside. We had a pub about fifty yards from our hotel door. (We had a small room six floors above the front door.) We’d pass this corner pub each night to go to a small grocery story a couple blocks away for our next day’s picnic lunch. Along the windows outside the pub (and other pubs have this as well) and on the quieter side street is a narrow metal shelf wide, enough to place a drink upon. The sidewalk was shoulder-to-shoulder people, about six times more people could stand outside there and socialize than sit down inside.

Another thing I noticed besides outside seating (and standing) was that people in London sit on steps or on lawns. Going through Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon, we found thousands of people sitting on the grass, either eating or merely socializing. The pond area of the Victoria and Albert Museum was so crowded with people sitting on steps or grass that we had to slowly weave our way through them.

Although it’s no longer legal to sell food for pigeons, there are still many pigeons around, and they are there to snatch up any fallen (or intended) crumbs from the human eaters. We ate at the Raven Cafe in the Tower of London. There was only outdoor seating. Pigeons danced on our feet, begging for treats. Pigeons also apparently have the right of way in England. We had to duck more than once to avoid flying pigeon during our stay. The whoosh of wings brushing my hair is still vivid.

I must close by saying that the taste of the food in England is exceptional. I didn’t have a bad spoonful of anything during our entire time in this lovely little country.

 

Raphael’s Tapestry Cartoons, London, UK

My husband and I sat on one of the benches inside the Victoria and Albert Museum (more affectionately known as the V&A). My mind knew I was admiring rare works of art indeed. In front of me, hanging from the walls were several of the 13 feet by 17 feet designs Raphael used to make the tapestries for the Sistine Chapel in 1519. I wish I could attach a photo, but no photos were allowed in this particular room of the museum. The figures were life-sized. It was artistic and colorful. A wonder to behold.

However, I’m thinking that perhaps it was from being tired from visiting so many new places and experiencing so many new things that I kept grinning away in that room. I mean — cartoons? Well, yes, I understand that the word is an Italian word for “large sheets of paper,” but why did I keep trying to look to see something funny? Decades of hearing that word and thinking of an entirely different meaning. That and being exhausted. That’s why.

We sat and studied Raphael’s tapestry cartoons. They are amazing to be sure, but not really funny.

Jet Lag Writing — England

After a 10-day whirl-wind trip to England, we are now back in the USA. I went grocery shopping at 7 a.m., and have been working on sorting through some of my 3,000 digital photos I took on the trip. I was working for about three hours when suddenly I realized my fingers weren’t moving on the keyboard and I was merely staring at the screen. I think I’d fallen asleep, eyes opened. Hmm. So this is jet lag?

For my picture-taking to record our trip, I actually used up all the internal storage on my iPhone and had to use my “old” digital camera the last three or so days. Gone are the days when I’d limit my photo shots to 24 film pictures a day while on vacation. And I used to think that (24) was an outrageously huge number of travel shots in a day. Hello, technology. So far I have twelve file folders on my computer now, nice and sorted out. The trouble is, I haven’t used all the shots from my iPhone and haven’t even begun to look at the digital camera SD card.

Realizing I needed a change in what I was doing, I closed down all the photo stuff and started a new post for my blog, which I unfortunately, but happily neglected during our vacation.

This was our first trip to England. It will take a long time to process. We sincerely hope to return some day.

There are three typically London things for visitors to do which we didn’t do, or barely touched upon. They are: 1) theatre; 2) shopping; 3) and royalty. No theatre, play or ballet. We only did a little souvenir shopping. And we went on a Changing of the Guards walking tour for our royalty fix, not counting the castles and cathedrals, where royalty have walked in the past.

You see, my husband and I went to England for three reasons: 1) study-education; 2) spiritual pilgrimage; and 3) literary pilgrimage. Next time we go, it will be all of that PLUS to visit some of our ancestral locations in the southwest, and hopefully make it to the Lake District, and Wales, and maybe even Scotland and Ireland. There is just so much to see and do…

Okay. I faded out again — caught myself staring at the screen without fingers moving and who knows what thoughts I was dreaming. I mean, thinking. Must wait eight hours till bedtime…Must wait eight hours…Must wait…

What is Writing – Publishing Success?

A writing friend recently called me successful. Her comment gave me pause. What is writing and/or publishing success?

I see author success in steps.

Step one: Write a good book. This involves taking classes, reading books on craft, attending conferences, webinars, workshops, joining critique groups – all to improve your writing. Every year you should be a better writer than the year before. If you’ve got a well-written story, you are successful.

Step two: Submit to and have agents and editors give you positive feedback about your work, even if they reject you as client or for a manuscript. When your story makes it through the initial reader, through the editor, through the editorial group, and to the acquisitions group, this all indicates that people in the publishing industry verify that you have been successful with step one. If traditionally accepted, follow that route, and I’d strongly recommend it.

If wanting to pursue self-pub, follow the next steps.

Step three: Partner with an awesome cover illustrator. Sales rank has proven that fresh covers make a difference even when there is no text change. You can judge a book by its cover. Traditional presses can pay $1,000 – $5,000 for a single cover illustration. That’s out of my price range. But if you know an illustrator whose work you admire, negotiate for a reasonable fee. Never accept an offer for a free cover. There could be legal and relational repercussions in the future. Finding a good illustrator match is success.

Step four: Learn how to self-publish. There are entire books on this subject. I could list a few hundred tips here, but it would be like a flood gate opening. Read as much as you can about how to self-publish. If this is the route for you, then do it. Having an ebook, or holding a physical copy of your book in your hands with your name on the cover, this, too is success.

Step five: Book sales indicate success. If only friends and relatives are buying your books, your success is limited to who you know. To me, when one stranger buys my book or does a review, this is success. To sell books, learn about marketing and promotion. Again, many books on this subject. Read. Read. Read. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Repeat what works and embrace your failures. I spent $92 on gas alone for a far-away book signing and sold a mere three copies of my book during the signing. I didn’t get paid for those books, not until, according to their contract, all their inventory of my books had sold, which they never did because they went out of business and donated my other 17 copies someplace. I can only hope that “someplace” wasn’t the dump. What is marketing success to me? Marketing success is when I sell books.

Step six: Write another book. If you make millions of dollars from your first and only book, good for you, but that’s not truly literary success. Being able to be creative enough to write more and more good stories – this is success.

Step seven: Having the strength and endurance to repeat these steps with each book, and to convince your friends and family that you really do have a job which takes up your time – this is success.

 

(Success to the successful thistle sifter.)

And More Marketing Tips for Authors — Indy Book Stores

With most writers preferring to concentrate on writing, getting out in the world to have others to sell your books may be contrary to our nature. It is also something which needs to be done.

Be bold. If it helps, think of yourself as acting out a character in your book when you approach a store owner or manager.

Introduce yourself and your profession. (Hi. I’m Sandy Carlson, and I wrote this book...)

Give the owner your book as you spout out your elevator pitch, or better yet a one sentence synopsis. (…which is about an actual town buried under sand dunes in the 1800’s.)

Explain why you’ve come. (And I’d like to know if you’d like to stock some copies?)

Let the potential buyer read the back cover. As he does, freeze. Don’t twiddle. Relax your shoulders. Don’t look desperate. When he looks up, smile. No, not that terrified he-hates-it-and-me smile, but your confident how-many-would-you-like smile.

If he says no, still smile. Shake his hand and thank him for his time.

If he says yes, refrain from dropping to the ground and kissing his shoes. Put on your marketing smile and pull out an order form you have in your bag and fill it out. Hand shake and thanks.

Realize that most indy stores sell books with 60/40% with the author getting the larger share. By the time you count in the gas and mileage and shipping and printing costs, the indy owner may make more than you. But your book is out there, in a stranger’s hands, to pass along to other strangers.

Smile.