My Top Blog Posts of 2015

It’s been a good year for my blog. I’ve had several thousand visitors to this website over the year. Thanks to all you readers for stopping by. What were your favorite posts? Here are the top blog posts this year.

1.

Yeah, Scrivener! Part Two: Becoming a Compile Power User.

 

The top post was something of dark horse. It didn’t get that many views initially, but it slowly gathered more over the year, as people searching for help with Scrivener’s complicated but powerful compile feature stumbled on it. A win for “evergreen” content.

2.

A Digital Expat — and an Answer to Hugh Howey

 

Not surprisingly, getting mentioned by the likes of Hugh Howey really spikes your traffic.

3.

Shield Maidens, Bell Curves and Strong Women

 

Written in 2014, this post continues to draw views. Guess people are interested in Viking Women after all.

4.

Ten Problems with Being a Werewolf

 

Another 2014 post that continues to draw views. I guess it’s true, write a good post and it draws traffic forever.

5.

Ten Adult Dystopian novels now that you’ve read Hunger Games

I’ve always been a big fan of dystopian fiction and there is lots of it out there. My rundown of ten greats attracted a lot of attention.

6.

Free Book: this weekend only

Sorry guys. It was only free that weekend.

Want to know whenever I have stuff free? Sign up for my newsletter:

7.

The Hipster’s Bookshelf: Ten books that were (blank) before (blank) was cool

A slightly tongue in cheek post that many people seemed to like.

8.

Ten Music Parodies that are Better than the Original

Another fun post.

9.

Wattpad

Who doesn’t like free stuff. Here is where you can read some of my stuff for free. Enjoy!

10.

Amazon’s BS Machine

Last but not least, a post about Amazon always attracts attention.

Thanks for visiting my site and reading my blog. I will keep writing as long you keep reading! Happy New Year.

Creativity’s best fuel is Knowledge

I’ve been hanging out with writers a lot lately. Truthfully, I always hang out with writers as much as I can, but the last month is a lot even for me. First ICON 40. Great time guys! Then Nanowrimo’s kick off events. Also a great time! This weekend the Des Moines Writers Workshop had its first informal retreat. Seven of us stayed in a rented house on Lake Panora, talked about writing and wrote. It was a blast and I’m sure there will be other more official retreats in the future.

As I talk about writing with dozens of writers, patterns emerge. In particular I’ve noticed a huge pattern between wanna be writers (people who say they want to write but don’t actually write), struggling writers and those achieving success. The more concretely a writer can talk about their story, the better the chance they are actually getting words on paper.

By concrete I mean they are able to discuss their own story in a specific and tangible way. The more tangible their discussion, the more words they are writing, almost invariably.

For example when our critique groups first started we had a poet that when asked about her poetry, would start with a long winded personal story about her life, it would often trail off without coming to a point and with a barely whispered apology that she “hadn’t written much lately.” That is not concrete. She has since faded from the writing scene.

Another writer friend would start by talking about his setting, what kind of story he wanted to write, the music and the times that influenced his thinking. Again, it’s not a very concrete discussion. Unlike the poet, he has not faded from the scene. He’s been workshopping his early chapters and came to a class we offered on story planning.

The result is that his discussions of his story have evolved over time. It’s less about the setting (the setting is incredible, by the way, and I can’t wait to see the story completed) to talking about the characters, the events that occur and how they move the story along. Alongside this evolution is another one, he’s gone from talking about the story to writing it.

Another friend is working on a piece of historical fiction with a significant fantasy element, or possible a piece of fantasy with a historical element. We all how that goes. She’s stuck in what writers sometimes call the messy middle, where the main storylines are in motion, you know the ending, and you have no idea how to get there.

We were discussing our progress to the group over wine one night. Her discussion started with “There’s this guy who helps the main character.” As she talked about this guy (not a very concrete description) and we asked her questions, the details emerged. How he helps the protagonist. How he also helps the antagonist. His motivations for doing so. Slowly specific events emerge where these things happen. By the end of the discussion she’s looking for a name. He’s no longer “this guy.” And that’s where the writing magic happens, when you move past the generalities and discover the specifics.

I am by no means exempt from this. I am into the fourth Bear Naked book and I’ve been struggling with the series for some time. Part of it, a fairly big part, is Jay Toumi. I know where that character is going. I know Jay’s struggling with identity, particularly gender. But I didn’t know how that was going to be resolved. Until I started creating specific scenes and details. Now Jay has their own subplot in the upcoming books and some resolutions are looming on the horizon. And I’m fifteen thousand words into the novel. It’s a great feeling.

The TL;DR version (Too Long, Didn’t Read, for those not fluent in internet lingo) is this; if you can’t talk about the story, the settings and characters in a tangible, detailed sort of way, you don’t know your story well enough to write it.

Sometimes it’s the Little Things, and That’s Okay.

When I am trying to stay motivated on a big project, I will start tracking little things. The little things are mile markers on the journey to big things. When writing I look at word counts, scenes written, plot points passed to see how far along I really am. When marketing I celebrate small victories, like a new review, a solitary sale or even pageviews on a blog.

We all know the glib aphorism, don’t sweat the small stuff. But you know what? I want to sweat the small stuff. The small stuff keeps me engaged when the big stuff looks overwhelming. One could almost say, just sweat the small stuff, and let the big stuff take care of itself.

It’s November first and Nanowrimo begins today. I am going to my regions kick off party in another hour or so, and I will begin my novel then. In the meantime I am working on my profile and doing some last minute prep work.

I have a bunch of badges on my profile page. I’ve got all of my participation badges. Yeah, it was so worth the donation to get that final one. Go donate to Nanowrimo right now and you’ll see.

I intend to earn those writing badges, too. Right now I am yearning for the Participation Pep badge. That’s why I am writing this blog. When I am done I will post it on my website and cross post in the forums and get that badge.

Why?

Because that’s how I motivate myself to write. You can, too. Is this your first Nano? Have you failed in the past? Don’t worry, you can do this. Just take one step at a time. Find some small marker, five hundred words written, a thousand words, one scene, whatever works for you. And then do it. Celebrate. Repeat. And repeat.

If your family thinks it’s silly to take a dance break, or have a cookie, every time you write five hundred words, or meet your daily goal, screw them. They don’t get a cookie. You do. Because no matter how silly the goal, or the reward, it works for you and that’s all that matters. So embrace the little things and let the big job take care of itself.

 

p.s. I’ve even made a goofy working cover, just for my nanowrimo page.

Nano2015cover

Big Project Blues

I knit, or used to. I haven’t done any knitting in a while. I realized at some point that I had way too many time consuming hobbies and cut back on several of them.

I knitted a lot of small stuff, hats, mittens and socks. I did a few sweaters, but they weren’t my favorite. Here is the thing about sweaters, they take for ever. There is an old piece of knitting advice I read somewhere, “Don’t knit a man a sweater unless he puts a ring on your finger.” Adjust the saying to fit the times and whatever orientation fits your life. Don’t knit an androgynous sweater for the genderqueer individuals who is the latest point in the four, five pointed polyamorous star until they’ve reach long term status, or whatever. The point remains, unless someone is going to be in your life for a long time, don’t knit them a sweater. Because it’s a big investment in time.

There comes a point in any big craft project that you are too far into to give up easily and the end is still too far to see the light. Every significant project has it. I experienced with every sweater I ever knit. My ex experienced when making quilts. When we’ve undertaken building projects at the land we’ve experienced it.

The project seems to take over your life. It slows to a drag. You lose all motivation to continue.

A lot of people quit at this point. The world is littered with half finished sweaters, quilts that never got quilted all the way. And novels that didn’t get finished.

Because writing a novel is a big project. And you will experience the big project blues. For me it often comes just after the midpoint. You’ve laid the foundation, done the hard work. But the climax and the finish are still a long way away. Some writers call it the messy middle, that huge swath of writing between setting up the premise and fulfilling it.

How do you beat the big project blues? There is no quick, easy solution. Mostly you just keep going. You remind yourself over and over why you started in the first place. What the novel was supposed to be in your head before you started writing.

The same motivators don’t go as far as they did at the outset, when it was all shiny and new. And that’s okay. Dole them out faster now, more frequently. Celebrate every word you get down. You are making progress. Soon you will be through the forest. The subplots and characters will start to come together and rush toward the ultimate climax. For now there’s just slogging and putting words on paper. These are the moments that separate the serious authors from the want to be writers, so glory in them even as you struggle. You will break through.

As I write this, I am right there with you. I am thirty eight thousand words into my latest WIP. It’s been one of the funnest writing projects I’ve done, until about four days ago. I hit the midpoint and suddenly it’s dragging. Each scene is meant to build on one of the subplots, but right now it feels like another nail in the coffin of the spark that once ignited the novel.

I’ve been here before, lots of times. I know what I need to do, keep writing. It will start moving again. Until then, here we are.

It reminds of the Bob Dylan song about the Joker and the Thief. So I will leave you with that.

“No reason to get excited”, the thief he kindly spoke

“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke

But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate

So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”.

My Latest Toy, Umm, Tool

One of my more recent purchases has been this baby:

IMG_20150913_191410

It’s a Samson Meteor Mic. I’ve manage to convince myself I purchased it as a tool, not a toy, and that it’s work related. Why would a writer need a studio grade mic? I have three reasons.

Dictation

We were talking about this at the Saturday Writer’s meeting a month or so back. Our leader Cheryl brought up the book 5,000 words per hour. How can anyone write 5,000 words per hour? Why?

The why, is that he says that the only way you learn to write is to write. So by writing regularly and a lot, you get better faster. That makes sense, but I am not sure that I personally need to write this fast.

The how comes down to a number of tricks. One is dictation. I’ve been wanting to learn dictation as well for a couple of reasons.

I agree in part with both Chris and Cheryl’s leaf that dictation can help me write faster. I also find myself very much agreeing with, and being in the same boat as, Stephen King, who says that some writers are prolific because they have “that many voices clamoring in their heads.” I probably don’t need to be more prolific, but it might get me a novel or two closer to having those stories out and done.

The other reason I want to learn dictation is for the sake of my hands and wrists. I am a career writer who regularly logs three or four thousand words in a day. I’ve never had a repetitive strain injury, yet. But the potential is there. I feel it sometimes in the back of my hand after a long day of writing, or in my forearms the next day. Typing is an unnatural act. There is only so long you can do it before you start to run risks, repetitive strain, carpal tunnel, etc.

I am taking a career view on that. I want to be in this game for a long time, and that means protecting my hands from strain. Dictation seems like a good way to do that. So I am trying to learn how.

My early forays into dictation were less than spectacular. Part of that is just learning how dictation works, and working with enough for the computer to learn my voice. Or for me to learn to enunciate the way the computer wants. I’m not really sure who is training who here. Better sound equipment can’t hurt. But dictation is only one of the reasons I bought a good mic.

Podcasting

Yeah, I’ve thought about podcasting. Not sure if I will do it yet. It seems to dovetail well with the kinds of content I have on this site and some of the things I want to produce.

What holds me back? I have issues with my voice. That pretty much sums it up. I don’t like the sound of my voice. In person, it barely registers. I give speeches all the time and it barely registers. But sound equipment amplifies the things I don’t like and interviewing on the radio or online erases the visual elements and strips them from the performance. All that is left is my voice. I squirm and shudder as I listen to the playback.

Perhaps better sound equipment and greater familiarity will help me make peace with how I sound on tape. Perhaps not. Time will tell. But for now, I am experimenting.

Screen capture

I’m also researching and planning on returning to tech blogging, but with a new twist. I want to start creating and sharing content for writers about tech issues. This is one the area of being an indie writer where I struggled to learn, because there aren’t resources aimed at us yet. There are tons of blogs, books and other people talking about writing, publishing and marketing.

It’s assumed that the writer already knows how to use Word. It’s assumed that other writing software, with the possible exception of Scrivener, is worthless for the “real” writer. (If only writers knew more about the world of writing software, they’d disagree.) I’ve learned through trial and error.

There are blogs and books out there about setting up websites, managing social media, etc. but they are largely written by entrepreneurs. Yes, I know, all writers should be entrepreneurs today. But what about the writer that just wants to write? The “we should all be entrepreneurs” myth fails to address a fundamental difference in two business styles. For those who are happy to be entrepreneurs as well as writers, feel free to learn and play with marketing strategies, SEO, business software, etc. It’s fun for you. For the rest of it, it’s not fun. We don’t want to play with this stuff, we want to set up a system that will do the job, with as little input from us as possible. And that’s what I want to teach. Despite seeming to have a near constant presence on Facebook and Twitter, I actually only spend a few minutes each day managing those sites.

As I start researching and planning this content, I realize I am going to have to rely heavily on screen capture videos. Some of this stuff is just so much easier to show, than to tell. That means having better audio equipment.

So those are my excuses, I mean, reasons, for buying a new mic. I’m pretty good at justifying things, aren’t I?

Streaking with Seinfeld

Bet that got your attention. I’m not talking about that kind of streaking. I’m talking about being on a streak, doing something every day, day after day.

It’s Jerry Seinfeld’s secret to success, by the way. Or at least that’s what he told programmer Brad Isaac. Seinfeld gets a big wall calendar every January and marks it every day he writes new material. That helps him build momentum. Every day you skip it becomes easier to skip the next time. Pretty soon your habit is lost.

The converse is true. Every day you do something, no matter how hard, no matter how much or little, the price of skipping becomes higher (who wants to break a hundred day streak? A year long streak?) and the habit becomes more ingrained.

Week before last I had a family crisis. Nothing life threatening and it wasn’t my crisis so I won’t go into it. The point is I had a rough couple days as far as writing goes. Didn’t get much done.

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 6.14.36 PM

How did I cope. It’s right there in the graph. It’s a whopping 104 words. Barely a couple paragraphs worth. I’ve written more than that in this blog post already.

What’s so important about those words? It’s that I wrote. It was a few rushed words before midnight, but I wrote. I didn’t break the streak. I kept going. What happened? The graph shows, within a couple days I was back on track, at or near my typical word count. That’s the value of streaking. And heck, it worked for Seinfeld.

Meanwhile you can pick up my new sci-fi serial now.

Amazon

Kobo

Oyster

 

I Broke my Near Perfect Followback Record on Twitter. Here is Why.

Some time last week I got followed by an aggressive bot. (The TL;DR version right there.) How do I know it’s a bot? Well, the first hint is also why I describe it was aggressive. I noticed a suddenly rush of new followers. And I mean a lot of followers. In one day alone I had 235 new followers.

I typically get five or six new followers a day. It’s not much but you’d be surprised how quickly your follower count grows when you consistently get even a small number of new followers like this. When I am trying to build my follower count by actively following new people, interacting with people or running promotions I can add more, but never in the range of two hundred a day.

I noticed these new followers were all from the Middle East. In fact around ten, twenty new followers with Arabic profiles I started to wonder what was going on? Had I suddenly gone viral in that region and not known it? Was some Arabic reader rushing around with his/her kindle saying, “you all got to follow this American writer, she’s awesome!” (We all wish this was at the root of every mysterious bump in followers, page hits or sales. But sadly it’s rarely true.)

Here Temporarily and Tomorrow I will spend,, Thief, My Character. -Unknown twitter bot

Bots are automated software systems designed to tweet and act like real users. Some are very sophisticated. Others, not so much. Bots follow new accounts based on algorithms. I don’t know what keyword I used, what followback ratio or klout score led them to my doorstep, but here they are.

Bots can also be automated to create new accounts, so skilled bot owners may have hundreds or thousands of twitter accounts at their disposal.

But what can you do with a thousand twitter accounts? Most twitter bots are created with the sole purpose of boosting other accounts follower numbers. All the ads you see for ten thousand twitter followers for five dollars, are bots. There is simply no other way for such businesses to be viable.

More sophisticated bots can not only create Twitter account they can create the profiles as well, taking pictures from a database or from the internet and adding text to make it look like a real person’s account.  As you know automated text is not a perfected technology and the bots are often programmed to use keywords and any large body of text written with keywords in mind often comes across as funky.  Google translate is far from perfect as well. Put the two together and looking at some of these profiles can be downright hysterical.

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 8.59.49 AM

One my new bot follower’s profile.

Having decided that most of this rush of new followers were bots I decided not to follow back. I usually have a pretty liberal followback policy, including eggs and accounts that under other circumstances may also be bots.  A few bots here and there don’t bother me but a huge rush like this this did.  Here is why I chose not to follow them back.

Another wonderful bot profile

Another wonderful bot profile

1. Bots are usually created by people who are looking to sell followers. I do not buy followers. Having a huge run of automated bots following me might create a different impression.

There is an interesting  parallel with the recent controversy around paid reviews. An expose was written about well known Indie authors buying reviews from review websites. What the expose didn’t cover was whether or not all of the reviews written by paid reviewers were paid for. Twitter bots and fake likes on social media sites often do a lot of legitimate following and liking, to avoid suspicion. It would make sense to me that to sell paid reviews, reviewers would have to do the same, write many legitimate reviews of popular works so they look like legitimate reviewers.

Either way, it’s clear that people notice. Even though I didn’t pay these bot accounts to follow me, it’s likely that some people will notice and assume I did. Which Is why I won’t follow them back. If they unfollow me in a few days, all the better.  

2. Bots will never buy my book.  no matter how many bots you have in your following list not one of them will buy your book, review your book or give you any tangible benefit. Bots and paid followers are the perfect example of failing to understand what social media metrics really mean. Paid following does not equal a large fan base, any more than political candidates hiring crowds for events equals votes in the voter booth. If you stoop to paid followers, or encourage others to do, you will lose in the most important sphere of all, long term success.

3. Bots do not  interact the same as real people and their value as followers isn’t the same. It is better to have 100 followers who are real people and want to interact with you then ten thousand bot followers. Bots do what they are programmed to do and little else.

4. Like attracts like. I have five thousand and some followers. As a writer, I find the majority of my followers are also writers, bloggers or book lovers, as it should be. Bots follow by automated algorithms. Invariably they will end up following other bots, who share their online behavior. Then it becomes a vicious cycle of triggering each other’s algorithm. So bots may have hundreds of thousands of other followers, all of whom are also bots. They share what they’ve been programmed to share and retweet what they’ve been programmed to retweet, all to other bots. Interacting with such accounts is like shouting into the void. Your post might get shared a hundred times and never seen by a human eyeball. Don’t waste your breath.

 

The Internet should never let me get bored

Help! I got bored on the internet and it was awful. Awfully awesome, that is.

I found myself searching stock photo sites and downloading the oddest photos I could find, and then turning them into stupid book covers. Now which one should I write the story for? You can comment or vote below.

  1. I fell in love, with a dumbass

dumbass

Finally a romance that all women can relate to. He’s a nice guy, really he is. He’s much better than the last loser by a long shot. The only problem is, he’s a bit immature. He frequently does stupid shit. Let’s face it, he’s a dumbass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Jump! A parkour zombie novel.

parkour zombie

Zombies are strong, relentless and feel no pain. But at least they can’t parkour. Or can they?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Karate for Cats

karate for cats

Is you cat tired of being picked on by the other cats? Is he afraid to go out at night because the alley cats always beat him up? Not any more. This six week program will make your cat a lean, mean, meowing machine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. A Purr-fect Mate: A Billionaire Cat Romance.

purrfect

All Felicia wants out of life is the perfect mate. But nobody gets her, except for her cat, Tickles. When Tickles goes missing, she is distraught. That is until she runs into a mysterious billionaire, Mr. Kohls, Mr. Tie Kohls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which cover should I write a story for?

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The Most Important Rule: Keep Learning

My latest project is trying to learn Adobe Indesign. I have half a mind (some would say to stop there) to offer formatting and other technical service to my fellow indie authors. I already know how to do ebooks really well. I can put together a print ready pdf that will pass Createspace’s requirements in LibreOffice (I’ve never gotten Word to do that task) or through Scrivener’s compile menu.

Both options create serviceable books. But serious book designers swear by Indesign. I would have probably checked it out before now, but it’s not a cheap program and I couldn’t really justify it. Unless, I offer book formatting as a service.

How soon might I start offering this service? In a while. I want to redo a few of my older books and see if I can’t get a strikingly better result. Then I might hit up some local writer friends about testing their manuscripts. That’s the real test, isn’t it? Can I take someone else’s messy manuscript and turn it into a pretty book, and still do it in a timely fashion? I don’t know yet.

But as writers, we should always be learning something new. Whether it’s about writing, the process of publishing or marketing, we need to be always learning and growing. That’s my philosophy.

 

Which do you like better 1 or 2?

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Option One

Option One

Option Two

Option Two

Do You Count Words? Check out Wordkeeperalpha

One of the most pervasive pieces of writing advice is to have a regular writing habit. It’s also one of the best. There are so many reasons why writing regularly, every day if possible, is the best thing you can do as a writer.

Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Slow, regular writers will quickly outpace writers who make mad dashes when inspiration strikes, and not any other time. Chuck Wendig was a NSFW foul mouthed, but very solid plan for how to write your first novel in a year, writing a mere 350 words a day. If you don’t like his language or attitude the break down is simple. Write 350 words a day, at least. By the end of the year you will have written 91,000 words.

Writing is critical to learning how to write. I’ve written about that before. I firmly believe that you can’t actually learn to write without writing regularly. If you read books on writing, take courses, but never write, all you are doing is collecting trivia. Writers write.

Writing regularly beats writers block. Writers block is the bane of beginners, but many serious writers claim they never suffer it. That’s because they write regularly, whether they feel like it or not. In doing so, they learn how to deal with those days when the inspiration tank is running on empty.

We all know we need to write regularly. What is regularly? And how much should we write?

The most common answer to the first question seems to be daily. If your schedule allows, and you wish to be serious about writing, that’s a good answer. However not everyone has the luxury of schedule that allows daily writing. Twice a week, on this day and that, is much better than “when I can” in my opinion. Any sort of schedule is beneficial. Leaving it to chance almost guarantees it won’t happen.

How much you should write is a stickier question. There are several ways to measure your progress and each of them have their merits. Back in my day (god, I feel old just typing that) we measured progress in pages. Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones said to fill a wirebound notebook (75 pages) every month.

Today most writing is done on the computer and word counting tools are a common way to measure progress. I’ve counted words on and off throughout the years. A fellow writer recently posted about new web tool for word count. I’ve been using it for a couple weeks and I’d love to give it a shout out.

https://wordkeeperalpha.com/Default.aspx

It’s simple and easy use. You can register for free. It tracks your progress from day to day, allows you to create projects and set goals. I’m loving it. A huge thanks to developer Seth Swanson for putting together such a great tool.

Here is my Wordkeeper progress for the month. It looks good laid out like this.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 12.04.47 AM

Just keep in mind that alpha, in software refers to early versions. The occasional glitch is to be expected from time to time.

p.s. What else can do besides count words? I also track my time spent on writing. There are stages in writing when that is a more accurate reflection of your work, especially when you are doing a lot of editing. If I am working on tough, emotional writing, I will count a scene as good enough regardless of the word count.