How to be a Prolific Writer

I’m a prolific writer. With my 10th full-length novel coming out this month and another 10 shorter works on the market, that’s just a statement of fact. Other writers tend to have a love-hate relationship with prolific writers. In writing group some will express admiration or jealousy over how much I write. Others are far more disparaging, sure that writing a lot means writing poor quality stuff.

Zoey one

My tenth full length novel.

Too many writers think that prolific writers are just born that way, that we are somehow different from other, slower writers. In fact there are two simple secrets to being a prolific writer, and neither are secret at all.

Everybody writes at a certain pace. There are certain tricks to speeding up the pace but I found most of them don’t work. Some writers suggest doing high-intensity sprints of writing. For me, the sprints just wear me out and slow and steady racks up better word counts anyway. A lot of prolific writers use technology, programs like Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I do, too. I do it to save my wrists. Honestly, it doesn’t speed up my work counts that much. It varies a little bit from genre to genre and piece to piece, but overall dictating has not sped up my writing is much as I thought it would.

So if we accept the idea that every writer has a certain pace of writing there are two simple ways to increase your word counts and become more prolific.

One. Write more.

Two. Make more of your “writing time” writing.

Writing more

One of my writing friends likes to joke that she uses the writing strategy of “butt in chair.” It really a great writing strategy that can help with many writing problems. And I guarantee you will increase your productivity. If you average 500 words per hour and you want to double your word count, write for two hours. The more time you spend in the chair writing, the more writing you get done.

Sadly the only guaranteed way to write more is to spend more time at the keyboard.

Sadly, the only guaranteed way to write more is to spend more time at the keyboard.

It’s really easy on paper, but much harder in real life. We all have many competing claims on our time; there are day jobs, families and we need to take care of ourselves as well. There are days when it seems like everybody wants something from us. If we are the kind of person that routinely says yes to requests, we quickly find our day filled up with everything but writing.

In ways, saying that I’m a prolific writer is simply putting a positive spin on the fact that I have no life. Okay I’m joking, or half joking. I made a conscious decision a few years ago that if you want to be a writer you must write. And if you hope to someday be a professional writer, someone who supports herself entirely with their writing, you need to write like a professional. I track my time and I shoot for somewhere between 20 and 40 hours a week, depending on what else is going on in my life.

Not everybody will be able to dedicate that much time to writing, nor am I always able to do that. The most important thing to draw from this is attitude. Nobody else is going to care about your dream as much as you do. And living your dream is going to take time. You will have to learn to make choices, set limits and carve out time to write.

Some of you will have supportive spouses who will actively help you make time to write. A few of you will have unsupportive spouses. But most of the time spouses and family members will be somewhere in between, they will acknowledge your writing dream but the extent to which they will honor your need to make time for it will vary from day-to-day. Very few will hold your feet to the fire and force you to make that time. You have to be the driving force.

Make more of your “writing time” writing

I’ve noticed over the years that prolific writers tend to be planners and researchers. This might seem counterintuitive but it’s not. To make the most of a limited amount of writing time you need to spend most of that time with your fingers on the keyboard and your eyes on the screen. Planning and researching can help this.

First let’s be clear about what I mean by planning. A lot of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writers are dead set against any sort of planning. They also tend to associate planning with long complicated outlines and 50 page synopsis. Apparently that was how MFA programs taught or teach writing. I say apparently because I don’t know a single writer, MFA trained or self-taught, that actually plans this way.

There are literally dozens of different ways to plan out a novel. In my own writing I have tried storyboarding, the snowflake method, beat sheets and several more. My current writing process is a hodgepodge of several of these methods.

I now use Scrivener to plan my writing.

I now use Scrivener to plan my writing.

I’m not going to argue for one planning process over another, or insist that you have to plan a certain way to be prolific. I’m merely going to suggest this; if you have some sort of a plan then as soon as you finish one scene or chapter you can easily jump straight into the next one. Without a plan when you finish the part you know, you must stop and think up the next part. This kind of musing is critical to writing but doesn’t necessarily have to be done while you’re sitting at the keyboard writing.

And therein lies the advantage of planning for the prolific writer. Knowing even the broadest plot points that will occur at some point in your novel allows you to write from one point to the next. It allows you to spend all of your writing time doing the writing.

The same thing can be applied to research. Writers who do the research they need before they start writing will have those facts on hand as they write. Writers who don’t will waste large chunks of their writing time on Google.

Doing your planning and research together provides double benefits. By having a plan for your novel you know exactly what you need to research. So research takes less time. Having that research done and in hand makes the writing go faster and smoother.

And that’s all there is to it. If you want to be a prolific writer you need to spend more time writing and you need to make sure the time you spend writing is spent well. No tricks, just discipline.

I Don’t Want to Buy Your Book, But I Probably Will

If all my kindle books were print, I imagine it would look like this.

If all my kindle books were print, I imagine it would look like this.

Since I started advertising my promotions on ebook lists, I’ve signed up for several. I get daily emails from Bookbub, Bookgorilla, bestfreeebooks and more. Some times weeks go by and I don’t see much, other times I am picking up new books almost daily. It’s hard not to when they are all free or ninety nine cents.

And then my TBR pile started weighing on my mind. The last time I organized my kindle into collections I had eighty books waiting to be read. I feel guilty about downloading these books and then not reading them promptly. So I make a resolution to read, to reduce the pile, and to not buy new books until I’ve gotten the old ones read.

I never keep those resolutions for long. I read a handful of the books and start making progress. But invariably there is something free or on sale that I just can’t pass up. Often more than one thing.

This what we are up against today, as a reader and as a writer. As a reader there is a glut of books on the market and many of them are cheap. That’s a great thing and a terrible thing. It’s great because we will never run out of things to read, even in relatively small sub-genres. It’s terrible because we will never keep up with what’s out there, even in small sub-genres.

As a writer the resistance we face is changing. The main obstacle to selling someone a hardcover book in the old days was price. Trade paperbacks were easier to sell, but still price was often a deciding factor. A buyer walked into the bookstore with only so many dollars in their pocket. They could only buy so many books. The goal for the author was to make sure their book was one of those.

With so many ebooks at 2.99 or 3.99 price isn’t the obstacle it once was. With authors running promotions constantly, it’s even less so. The main obstacle to selling books today is time. Readers are so inundated with cheap books that they can’t possibly read them all.

I know because I am one of those readers. My constantly swelling TBR pile has changed the way I read. If a story starts slow, is inconsistent or I find my attention slipping, I move on to something else in a matter of chapters. If errors and typos break the spell of reading more than a couple of times, the book is gone. If the story is good, but it just isn’t my kind of story, it goes. My “didn’t finish” pile has grown many times what it once was.

That’s not all a bad thing. In the old days if I went to a store and shelled out 6.99 for a trade paperback, I forced myself to finish it. I also learned to dislike certain authors and books. It robbed me of the pleasure of reading. It made me leery of authors I didn’t know.

Now I read more, and more widely. I am more willing to try out a new author if I can get their book cheap, and I allow myself the option to put the book down if I don’t like it. I read in many genres I wouldn’t have tried before.

And I’ve found authors and book series that I love. People I go back and buy their others works at regular price. People I am excited to meet at Cons.

As an author, it makes me realize that we have to change the way we market. It’s not good enough to convince the reader to buy our book, we have to convince them it’s worth reading. The blurb has to promise a story they will fall in love with, and the book has to deliver. Our openings need to grab the readers attention. The pacing needs to be smooth and consistent. We need to draw them in and keep them reading. We have to step up our game in every way. It’s the only way.

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The One Rule for Writing

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There is a lot of writing advice out there on the web, in books and from various writing groups. I’ve been around for awhile and had literally hundreds of people tell me the “rules” for writing. I’ve finally distilled them down to one master rule.

Don’t argue with success.

Every writer has their own process of planning (or not planning) their writing. Everyone has tips on mastering writers block, low motivation, and all those things that make writing hard some days. There are millions of opinions about what you should write, how you should write it and what you should do with it when it’s done.

I am a firm believer that anyone can write. You can write short stories, novels and even series successfully. You just have to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. When writers tell me that they can’t finish their story, I think they just haven’t found their process.

If you are a seat of the pants writers, planning may well kill your creativity. But if you aren’t a seat of the pants writers, being told to “just write” will kill your creativity just as effectively. I love storyboarding, but then again I am a visual thinker. For others, a storyboard just makes their eyes cross. The Snowflake Method is great for some people, some stories. Many veteran writers have worked out a system that is a hodgepodge of theories and ideas, but it works for them.

And that is the gold standard; it works for them. If the words are getting down on paper at a satisfying rate and you are happy with those words, you are on the right track. This technique or that might help, and it’s worth keeping an open mind about new advice, but no one can tell you that you’re doing it wrong if you are getting the writing done.

I see this rule broken all the time. “But you can’t write that way,” a first time author will say to a veteran writer. Sorry, but obviously they can write that way, they’ve done it. I’ve seen planners slam seat of the pants writers in conferences and vice versus. And they’re both published authors.

It’s not just novel planning that gets treated to this sort of hubris. So many writers are certain that their personal opinion on writing, grammar, point of view or story structure are the last words on the subject. And yet for almost every piece of advice on what constitutes good writing, there is an example of best sellers or great literature that breaks said rules.

First person is “such a beginners mistake” I’ve been told. Guess what, Twilight, Hunger Games and many other best sellers are first person. Many examples of great literature are not only first person, they feature unreliable or even unlikable narrators.

Your story should be x number of words long. Even though most of the rules on length were based on publishers wanting to publish print books of a certain size, and never had anything to do with the stories writers wanted to write, or readers to read. Never use a prologue. Unless it’s a great prologue that makes the novel better. And so forth and so on.

My personal one is finish what you write. It’s great advice for most people. If you intend to be writer, you need to finish what you start. But it doesn’t work for me.

I have ADHD. I’ve struggled my whole life with starting but not finishing things. I’ve tried many approaches or organizing and dealing with my ADHD. The only thing that seems to work for me is to embrace my ADHD.

I jump around a lot. I write everyday, but I don’t write on the same thing every day. More organized writers are aghast when they see how I work. I write like mad on projects for days or weeks, only to abandon them, temporarily or permanently. I write more than one book at the same time.

I will write a scene for book A, take break. Then edit book B. Then write a couple scenes for book C. It’s a crazy way to write and I know it.

But you know what? I have nine full length novels on the market. A science fiction serial I release monthly. Four novels ready to be published this year. Several more in progress. So apparently even though it defies all common sense, this approach works for me. I’m not going to sabotage my own success because someone else is certain this is the wrong way to write.

I’m not saying you should throw every rule out the window or disregard all advice, especially if you are struggling. But filter it all through the first rule, don’t argue with success, yours or others. If another writer is getting words on paper and those words are good, don’t try to correct their technique just because. Will a change really make their writing better? Then it’s a good critique. But changing things to make them more “correct” according to some book, isn’t worth it.

By the same token, if you are getting your words on paper, don’t let someone tell you you are doing it wrong. If those words set you on fire, who cares if they could be more “correct.” Don’t kill your voice to make it sound like everyone else out there. Write your stuff, your way. Do you.

The Real Cost of Self-Publishing (Or How Not to Get Scammed.)

This landed in my inbox today and for some reason it really got under my skin.

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I get emails just like this almost every day. I usually just delete them and move on. But today I just want to pull on my ranty-pants, pull them up well past my belly button like some demented grandma and rant.

It does not cost three thousand dollars to publish a book!

If anyone tries to convince that you need to pay them 1500 dollars to self publish your book, that’s pretty high, but okay. If they try to convince you this is half price, they are scammers. Don’t pay these kinds of fees. It’s insane.

And it just gets worse. I’ve heard of people spending tens of thousands on “deluxe” publishing and promotions packages that do nothing other than take your money.

What does it really cost to self publish a book?

One of the beauties of self publishing is that a lot of the costs are up to you. There is a simple formula for most things in life:

Knowledge + Time + Money = Results

The great thing about this formula is that you need a certain amount of knowledge, time and money, but any of these things can be substituted for the others. Knowledge is power, if you are knowledgeable you can produce good results quickly for very little money. If you don’t have the knowledge but are willing to spend some time learning, you can do most of the steps of self publishing yourself and eventually get good results. If you have neither the knowledge or time, you can spend the money to pay a pro. It all comes down to choices.

Let’s break publishing down into five component parts and lay out the real costs for each. Publishing book requires editing the manuscript, formatting it, getting a cover, the actual publishing it and then promoting it.

Editing

You do need to edit your manuscript. In fact, you need a professional editor. A lot of writers resist this, put off by the cost or unwilling to admit they can’t do it themselves. The problem is that you can’t see your own mistakes. You need a second set of eyes, good professional eyes that know what they are looking for.

A professional editor requires money. There is no way around that, but the above formula still works for editing. Most editors offer at three different types of editing, content, line editing and proofreading. Which is right for you? If you have spent time learning your craft, if you understand story structure and are competent in basic grammar, you can get away with line editing or proofreading. If you have the time to let a manuscript sit and come back to it with new eyes, you can find more of your own mistakes. If you have taken the time to build a decent network of beta-readers, they will help you with content.

I still strongly recommend a good profession editor before you publish, no matter how many times you’ve been through the piece or how many beta-readers you use. A professional editor will almost always find things that could be improved.

How much does that cost? I hear quotes all over the place and it makes me think that all too many writers are being taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous editors. I’ve personally paid as much as a thousand dollars or more. Other writers tell me they are regularly quoted prices in the three to five thousand dollars range.

My editor, Janet Fix at the Wordverve offers several packages ranging from a half penny a word to a 1.25 cents per word, depending on the level of editing. A penny a word means that a sixty thousand word novel will cost in the neighborhood of 600 dollars. Expensive, but well shy of the thousands that some people are quoted.

Another important caveat, always ask about what the packages include. I used a professional editing service once, early in my career. Not only was it one of the most expensive edit jobs I’ve had, if I wanted to re-submit my changes or to work with the editor to finalize the document I would have had to pay for another edit, at the same price. Don’t fall for that. Find a good editor that is willing to do at least couple passes, until you both agree on the final manuscript.

Formatting

Formatting really isn’t that hard. This one area where I recommend knowledge and time replacing most or all the money investment. Formatting typically means making two versions of the manuscript, a print ready pdf for the printer and a file that can be converted to an ebook. Neither is particularly hard to do.

I have one huge bias when it comes to formatting, and while I admit it’s a bias it has worked so consistently for me that I use it as a rule. Don’t use Word. Whatever you think of Microsoft’s Word as a word processor or a writing program (it seems that most writers either love it or hate it), it’s not good for formatting.

If you are a Scrivener user, Scrivener does a great job on ebooks and a passable job for print. (Check out my tutorial on compiling in Scrivener here.) Free tools like Calibre can also be used to create ebooks. A workable print ready pdf can be created with open source software like OpenOffice or the way pros do, with InDesign. InDesign is more expensive and has a much steeper learning curve, but if you publish a lot or are planning a career, it might be worth learning. OpenOffice can make a decent looking book for the average indie author.

If you are technically challenged and the mere thought of learning to format a book makes you break out in hives, hire a professional formatter. My editor has one in her network. He runs a couple hundred dollars, which I find a bit high but he’s a professional graphic designer with years experience. Shopping around you can find formatters who will work for anywhere from fifty dollars to low hundreds, depending on what you want/need done. Again, I have had naive authors tell me they paid thousands for formatting and I shudder. Shop around, ask fellow authors for recommendations or check in with a local writer’s group about whether a quote sounds fair to them before you shell out thousands of dollars for anything.

Cover

A good cover is vital if you want your book to sell. It’s one of the areas where many writers are most willing to spend. There are two reasons for that, they acknowledge how important a good cover is and they know they don’t have the knowledge to do it themselves.

There are many reasons why it’s worth getting the knowledge, even if you continue to hire this task out. Knowing how to use a graphics program can save you a bunch of time and money on promotions. Having a basic understanding of design will help you know if a particular cover artist is worth the fee or not.

It does take time, though. There are two graphics program commonly used by the pros, Photoshop and GIMP. Neither are particularly user friendly and it takes hours of watching tutorials and trying things out to get a real sense of either program. Graphic design is an art form and you won’t develop an understanding overnight.

So this is one area where you are likely to going to spend money to have someone else create your cover. How much is that going to cost? Unfortunately, there are a number of factors and the legitimate cost of cover art can span twenty dollar premade covers to several hundred dollars. I’ve spent anywhere from seven hundred and fifty dollars for custom artwork to ten bucks for stock photos that I turned into a cover myself.

The biggest factor, in my opinion, is your genre. From a sales point of view, it’s more important that your cover show an understanding of the genre expectations than being an artistic masterpiece. Your target readers need to see your cover and know instantly that this is a book they might be interested in.

Erotica often features a scantily clad women on the cover. Erotic romance might have a hunky bare chested man. The “scary silhouette man” is so common on thrillers that it’s something of a cliche, but unlike writing cliches, cover cliches work.

What does this have to do with cost? Writers in certain genres can find stock photos and make their own covers pretty easily. The Best Boy Ever Made is YA with a large romance element. It has a simple stock photo cover and it one of my most consistent sellers. Other genres will require more work. Fantasy books often have illustrations, which is why I spent seven hundred and fifty dollars on commissioned art work for The Mage Chronicles.

This was one of my simplest covers, and yet it sells well month and month.

This was one of my simplest covers, and yet it sells well month and month.

Fantasy novels typically have illustrations. This is my most expensive cover, but I don't regret the cost one bit. It's gorgeous.

Fantasy novels typically have illustrations. This is my most expensive cover, but I don’t regret the cost one bit. It’s gorgeous.

Whether you are working with a designer that is using stock photos or directly with an artist, they should sell you the cover outright. I’ve talked to a few authors that were offered licensing deals instead. The result was that they had to go back to the artist and pay more money if they want to create merchandise based on the cover, or publish a new edition. Make sure you own the cover.

Publishing

Amazon and other ebook retailers have made publishing so easy it’s almost sad to see authors pay someone else to do it for them. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to upload your own ebook and see it on the kindle in a matter of hours. Createspace, Lulu.com and Ingram Spark make creating a print on demand book so easy that creating the print ready pdf is really the hardest step. There are many tutorial online to walk you through the process.

Even if you are not tech savvy, you really need to learn this step. Think about this, if you pay someone else to upload your book to Amazon for you, you will have to continue to rely on them to make changes and run promotions. You also have to trust them to report your sales truthfully and pay your royalties. Do you really want to put all those tasks into the hands of some company that sent you an email that one time? More than anything else, this is what makes me so angry about those spam emails.

The only potential cost for publishing is the ISBN and more than a few indie authors are on the fence about whether they matter. Some sources insist that if you let Amazon or Createspace give you a free ISBN, then they are the publisher of record and you won’t be able to get into bookstores. Other sources say that isn’t true.

The biggest argument people give in favor of buying your own ISBN is that then you are the publisher of record and you can take that book and ISBN anywhere. This is a myth. Say you buy an ISBN and publish your book to Createspace. Later you decide to switch to Lulu.com. You must unpublish the Createspace book and reissue your book as a new edition, which requires a new ISBN.

Then there is the whole question of whether or not ebooks even need an ISBN. Amazon allows you to publish without one. ISBN numbers are used to catalog books in libraries and collections and it’s uncertain whether or not there is any advantage to having one on your ebook, especially if you also have a print book which will have an ISBN by default.

Assuming you do want an ISBN, how much does that cost? ISBN’s are sold by Bowker. The more you buy, the cheaper. Currently its one hundred twenty five dollars for one ISBN or two hundred ninety five dollars for ten. A hundred go for around five hundred and some dollars. If you intend to publish and intend to use your own ISBN it really pays to save up and buy a package. It cuts your cost to less than thirty dollars each.

The bottom line is that paying someone hundreds or thousand of dollars to publish your book for you isn’t just a waste of money, it’s a dangerous business move. It puts the control of your book into someone else’s hands. It they are trustworthy, it’s a hassle. If they aren’t, you’re screwed.

Promotions

Promotions are the most difficult part of being an author. Or perhaps more to the point, it’s the vaguest part. What works and what doesn’t? How should you promote and what should you avoid? No one seems to have any solid answers.

Part of the problem is that it’s nearly impossible to make a definite correlation between our actions and the sales we see. If I ended this post with a link to my book, ten people read this post and one clicks through and buys the book, I could quantify my efforts. I’ve yet to see that sort of correlation pop up. You blog. You post on social media. You run promotions. Somewhere down the line you see sales. Whether those sales happened because of your effort or would have happened anyway is anyone’s guess.

It’s no wonder that so many writers would be happy to pay a promoter to take of that hassle for them, if only they could afford it. But they can’t. Promotional services are some of the most expensive packages offered by these snake oil salesman. For just a few thousand dollars they will make sure your book is plastered everywhere. They will put a team of Keebler Elves to work around the clock promoting and promoting.

I will say two things about these services. I have yet to talk to a single writer in person who paid out from some promotional service and was happy with the results. I’ve also noticed over and over that the glowing testimonials I see online have one common feature; they are authors who are new to the program and can’t wait to see the results. I’ve never read a testimonial that said, “I spend three thousand with Company A three years ago, and I’ve been a full time writer ever since, thanks to them.” Instead they trick writer who have just shelled out for the service to write them a testimonial, knowing that a few months down the road those writers will be disappointed and cynical.

 

So that’s my rundown of the real cost of self publishing. My most expensive book so far has clocked in just shy of what the above company is calling half price, and I paid for a professional photo shoot for that cover. My average, even with a professional editor onboard, is under a thousand.  

Spend time networking online with fellow writers before putting any money down for any service. Find out what a reasonable price is, what results you should expect and be sure you can’t do it yourself. I really hate to see any writer scammed out of thousands of dollars by some unscrupulous publishing company.

 

The one place I would never skimp on is knowledge itself. Luckily indie authors are a great bunch of people who are happy to share their knowledge. Here a few books to get you started:

 

The Indie Author Survival Guide

 

Write. Publish. Repeat.

 

Think Like a Publisher.

Your First 1,000 Copies

 

Let’s get Digital

 

Chuck Wendig’s Nanowrimo Challenge

Chuck Wendig challenged readers to post a thousand words from their current Nanowrimo project. This piece is, needless to say, pretty rough, but here it goes:

For Bear Naked readers, this snippet from book four is the packs arrival at the big council of werewolves. It introduces an important side character for this book and the rest of the series.

 

Amanda groaned as she climbed out of the car she’d shared for the last nearly ten hours with the other alpha females, Karen Leidulf and Darlene Sage. They’d been driven by Soldier, one of Arthur’s wolves and it was supposed to have been an honor, being part of the alpha group. Amanda would have much rather ridden with Connor or even better, with her pack.

They’d left early, before the sun had risen. It was now mid afternoon and it would be late afternoon before they could hike to their camp site and set camp. The thought of the long day she’d pass, and the long day yet to come soured Amanda’s mood even more.

Their hike-in point was an abandoned farm in on the edge of Hercule-Glades wilderness area. They were met by a man in torn jeans and a muscle shirt, who waved them behind a decrepit barn. They found several other vehicles already parked there, out of sight of the road. From here they would hike several miles in, to a site that the human authorities knew nothing about.

Robbie had parked the van with the omegas and the younger pack beside them, Arthur pulled in on the far side. Vince, Mitch and the one remaining of Arthur’s wolf, a woman named Sarah, had ridden motorcycles and pulled in on the far side of the van.

Erica rushed to hug Amanda, even they’d only been separated a few hours. Tanner and Robbie were opening the back of the van to start unloading their camp gear. The rest of the three packs were slowly gathering around them, stretching sore muscles, and talking amongst themselves.

Other vehicles were pulling in and there were signs of activity all around them. “Chose a popular time to arrive,” Karen commented.

A man came to greet them. He took a big sniff as he approached. “Leidulf contingent.” He sniffed again, his eyebrow furled. “And?”

“Amanda,” Amanda said, her mood souring more at the reminder of her scent. “Burnson.”

“Bear clan,” he said with a nod. His eyes traveled up and down her body, appraising her with a calculating stare. She met the stare and he looked away. “Thought they’d be bigger,” he muttered to himself.

Tanner scoffed at him. “Ain’t seen her in bear form.”

Valerie moved forward to break off the conflict. She introduced herself and accepted a map of the route into the woods. “How will our campsite be marked?” she asked.

The man just shrugged. “Just set up where you like. Best get a move on, though. Best sites be taken.”

“No organization?” Valerie huffed at the man’s retreating back. The rest were pulling bags from trunks or from the back of the van.

“Gives the early arrivals, their allies, the advantage of picking the best sites,” Tanner opined.

“No,” Arthur said. “It’s typical Fleischer thinking at work. Be a few challenges for choice sites, no doubt. People will choose sites near friendly tribes. By days end the pecking order around camp, and the alliances will be obvious. What is that?” His nose wrinkled as Erica and Jonathan hoisted a mass of canvas out of the back of the van.

“Darren’s pavilion,” Amanda replied. “Always said, if you are camping in the same place more than five days, use the pavilion.”

“And if not?” Valerie asked.

“It’s so much work to set up. Tents are easy. But pavilions are better.”

Arthur made a face, like he was about to disagree. “It reeks of bear clan.”

“Let them know where our loyalties lie,” Connor replied. “And if it makes the Sons of Garm uncomfortable, all the better.”

Amanda had packed a small cart as well. She pulled it out and directed Erica and Jonathan to lay the canvas on top. “The poles strap to the side. We can pile most of the packs on top. Take a couple people to haul it all, but it will be easier than each having to haul a huge backpack.” She gave Arthur a shaded glance as she said it, as if to let him know that he wasn’t the only one with expertise in their group.

Before long they were loaded and ready to go. They consulted their map and started down a trail into the woods.

On the very edge of the farm they encounter a small group of people, mostly Fleischer wolves from the odor, though it was hard to tell for sure. The parking area was awash in many scents as various packs arrived and debarked.

A slender man with long blond hair and deep blue eyes stood uncertainly beside a tree, one hand resting on its trunk. He regarded the semi circle of people surrounding him with a look of bitter resignation.

The man directly in front of him had scruffy dark hair and dark eyes. He had a Canada crutch in one hand and was pointing it at the blond man. “Gonna crawl all the way in, huh?” he demanded.

Amanda’s eyes narrowed and her blood pressure rose. She looked at the blond again. His stance wasn’t uncertain, merely off and he used the tree to hold himself upright.

“If you don’t give me my crutch,” the man said. “I suppose I shall have to.”

The group laughed.

“A crippled werewolf,” the man snorted derisively. “Do you know what we do with cripples in our tribe?”

“Do tell,” the man’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “I’m sure it’s quite fascinating.”

The dark haired man licked his lips and looked around. He apparently hadn’t been prepared to have to actually explain. “Well, we don’t let them be part of our councils, that’s for sure.” He poked at the blond with the crutch.

The blond seized the opportunity to grab for the crutch. “Your a real genius, Marty,” he sneered as the two men fought over the crutch.

Marty yanked, pulling the blond forward onto the ground and retrieving the crutch. “Fuck you, Haltir.”

“Marty,” a woman offered hesitantly. “Maybe you should just give it back or…”

“Or what? He’ll tell on me?”

“Or maybe you could just leave him alone, you know, because it’s the right thing to do,” Amanda growled, striding forward.

Marty roared in laughter. “Yeah, right. Who says, princess? You look like a feisty one. I like that.” He reached for one of her breasts.

She knocked his hand aside and shoved him with all her strength. It sent him several feet through the air and into a ragged heap.

Everyone stepped back in surprise. Connor laughed, coming to Amanda’s side. “She’s a strong one, too, my alpha. Best not to forget that.” He retrieved the crutch and handed it to Haltir. He rose slowly, balanced on the crutch.

“We are heading in now, if you wish to join us,” Amanda said.

Haltir gave her a sharp, guarded look. Humiliated at being saved by a woman? Angry? Or what? “I’m slow but quite capable,” he replied, his voice tight. He turned and started towards the path.

“Haltir,” she said, moving towards the man again. “It’s an unusual name.” The name tickled the back of her mind, but she couldn’t place it.

“It’s old norse,” he replied.

She recognized the word from Uncle Darren. “It means…” the words died in her throat. He turned and met her gaze, his blues eyes piercing. It meant broken.

“I know what it means.” He looked at his aggressors, who were slowly pulling Marty back to his feet, shaken but not seriously hurt. “In my tribe cripples are left to die at birth,” he said. “Father would have, too, but mom forbade it. Said she took one look into my eyes and couldn’t bear the thought.” He looked back at Amanda. “But dad got his revenge in the naming.” He turned and started resolutely towards the path again.

“Your tribe?” Tanner called at his retreating back.

“Garm,” he replied without looking back. A shiver went through Amanda.

Turning Cliches on their head

Cliches.

We all know they’re bad. We know we shouldn’t use them. But cliches are there for a reason. They aren’t just a part of literature, they are a part of life. They are expectations. They are things we assume will happen.
I like to challenge cliches. Not just avoid them, but completely turn them on their head and then fish in their pockets for loose change.
The first novel I wrote started out that way. It went through a half dozen attempts at writing before I became a good enough writer to write it and a dozen or more major rewrites before it eventually became Children of a New Earth.
The seed, the kernel of the novel, lay in the post-apocalyptic stories of my youth in the eighties. Mad Max and it’s many spin offs had a simple cliche notion, that once society collapsed it humanity would quickly devolve into punk rock barbarians and para military organizations.
Why? Why does every writer assume this?

Every 80’s apocalypse assumed that para-military groups would take over.

I see two underlying assumptions that drive this cliche. The first is the idea that humanity is basically evil, that we restrain these impulses because of society. Without societies control people would become vicious and cruel. The second assumption is that evil is inherently stronger than good. That good people are hampered by what they won’t do. Evil may lose in the end, but only be heroic actions of a few.
These are easy assumptions to buy into. Look at any place on the globe where law and order aren’t routinely imposed and you can find the worst in humanity, on display for all to see. It’s easy to see power when it’s being wielded in weapons and dished out in cruelty.
I wanted to explore an alternative world view in my first novel. I wanted to pose the question, what if society collapsed and people said, “hey, that was pretty stupid. Let’s not do that again.”
The novel changed many times over as it was written and rewritten. The finished novel focuses more on the survivors, especially the next generation and the survivalist enclave of Freedom Ranch. But the original kernel is still there in the stories told by other survivors, in the Quiet Earth Society, the Ten Thousand Warriors for Peace and the Cult of the Iron Mother. These groups fought back against martial law and the growing power of paramilitary groups. Even though they were low tech and peaceful (though not to the point of being pacifists), they won.
They won because there are two paths to power and their opponents only understood one of them. There is destructive power and constructive power. You can invest in weapons to destroy your enemy. You can use fear to control your followers. This is the destructive path to power. Or you can have the knowledge to make things. You can reach out and build connection with your followers. This is the constructive path to power.
In the words of a former Quiet Earth Society member and minor character, “The early military dictators were a stupid lot. They fought over politics. We went straight for the food supply. Once the countryside was on our side, it was over. They just didn’t know it until winter hit.”
Did I succeed in proving my point? I will have to leave that for the reader to decide. But it is an entertaining story and it shows how turning a cliche around can lead to a new novel idea.

Children of a New Earth can be purchased here.

Children of a New Earth can be purchased here.

 

5 Things only Writers Can Do

Being a writer is hard work at times, but it does have some perks. There are things you can do, if you are a writer, that non-writers can’t. Here is a short list.

  1. Kill someone.

So I was having a stressful day a while back and thought to myself, why not kill someone. It will help get my aggression out and under control. So I located this total loser who was harassing a gay kid down in some homeless camp in Columbus, Ohio and offed him, just like that. (p.s. Columbus P.D. – I didn’t really. Promise.)

Before you get up in my business about how unethical murder is, it actually was necessary. I had a demigod that needed to send a message to the Queen of the Dead without the other gods knowing. And he took the time to find a real scumbag, too, so he kind of did the world a favor.

Needless to say, if a non-writer attempts to murder someone, or talks too openly about the desire to murder someone, it tends to lead to awkward talks with local authorities and often some non paid vacation time at a spa not of your choosing. Best to suck it up and not murder people. Nuff said.

  1. I’ve been male, female and transgender.

I’ve also been an elf, a dwarf, old, young, tall, short, you name it. Writers get to live out multiple identities and lives. I’ve been a computer hacker, loved a trans man with all my heart and came into my power as a great mage.

Writers, if they want to do these things well, need to read a lot. They need to study other people’s lives and experience with an open mind, attempting to put themselves in the shoes of the people around them. It’s actually a really great exercise for anyone to do, and I think it’s one of the great perks of being a writer.

  1. They can save a life.

Yeah, I know, doctors and nurses get to do that, too. Sometimes EMTs and even random people get to be a hero and save a life. It’s an incredible feeling.

But those people spend years learning what they’re doing. They work in stressful jobs. And here’s a dirty secret from a nurse to you, you can’t save them all. And it really sucks.

So why get dirty and risk failure? Writers save lives all the time, without the years of training and risks associated with a medical career.

  1. They build entire worlds.

“What are you doing?”

“World building.”

God, it’s great to say that. For years I was told that I was daydreaming and I should stop and pay attention. I was taught to feel shame for having this beautiful creative mind.

I am glad I outgrew that. Now I love being a creative person. I love that I get to create complete worlds in my mind, and then share them with others. It’s my second favorite part of being a writer.

  1. Writers inspire others.

Are you feeling jealous? Want to know what it’s like to kill with impunity, or to hold a life in your hands and save it instead? Wondered what it would be like to live among the stars in some space station or in a world where magic exists?

Writers have a fifth super power and it’s my favorite thing about being a writer, by far.

We can take you with us.

Writers don’t just build world and explore new identities and experiences, we share them with our readers. To me, that’s the greatest thing about being a writer. I love seeing someone’s eyes light up when I tell them a story in person. I love it when beta-readers or reviewers are as invested in my characters as I am. That’s when I know that the world I’ve created in my mind has taken root elsewhere, in another’s mind.

Scrivener: Becoming a Compile Power User.

In part one of this blog I discussed why I love Scrivener for version control. This time we are going to discuss compiling and formatting both ebooks and print books straight from Scrivener. It seems like a long process when you read this, but once your book’s details are set it’s really fast and easy.

Compiling in Scrivener

There’s an old saying, the devil is in the details. That saying pretty much sums up compiling in scrivener. It’s straightforward but there are details that have to be minded in order to have the finished product turn out the way you want. Setting aside a little time to go over your book’s details will save you a lot of time later. Don’t fret the time, once the details are right the rest of the formatting will be taken care of by Scrivener itself.

Some Basics

There are some basic issues that need to be addressed before you get ready to compile. These issues cover both ebook and print so they will be done together.

Cover art

You can insert your own cover into the finished ebook easily with Scrivener, but it first must be in the scrivener project in the right place. You need to drag your cover art into the sample output folder in the research area. Don’t try to insert it in the title page under front matter and don’t ask me to explain the logic of placing it in research. If it’s in the sample output folder it will be available in the compile menu and scrivener will do the rest.

coverart

Front and Back Matter

One of the great things about compiling from scrivener is front and back matter. These have to be done differently between print and ebook and often between different ebook retailers.

For example, you will have different ISBN’s for print and ebook versions. You might want to craft a different copyright page and dedication for each edition. It’s common to abbreviate the front matter on ebooks, ereaders want to open an ebook and go right to the story.

Scrivener recognizes this and has separate folders for print and ebooks. The bad news is that you have to fill out each folder separately. The good news is that Scrivener will keep the information separate from there on, so you don’t accidentally insert the wrong ISBN or front matter.

The back matter “About the Author” page is a great tool for selling the next book. If a reader just finished your book and enjoyed it, make it easy for them to grab the next book in the series by including a link to it. However, most retailers have picky rules about links in ebooks. They won’t let your book link to a competitor for example. So you want the link in the Kindle version to direct to the Amazon page for book two, but you want the Apple iBook to direct to Apple’s store. With Scrivener it’s easy to create three different About the Author pages with the same basic information, but one with Amazon links for the kindle version, one with Apple links for the epub and another with no links for the print version. I create these in their own folder in the front matter tab of the binder. You can click and drag the correct version into the back of the document before compiling.

$Authorname

The dollar sign inside of brackets is code. Anywhere you see these, Scrivener will automatically import some piece of information into that document when it compiles. Most of the time that’s exactly what you want, but there are occasions when you need to take control, and you can.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 3.11.27 AM

One is the author name. It will import the name of the person who registered the software, just as Word does. However you might use a pen name or the Scrivener program you use might “belong” to a spouse or parent. No problem. You can simply highlight $authorname and replace it with whatever you want.

The same might be true of the copyright year if you are republishing something from a previous year. $year on the copyright page can be changed to whatever year you need.

 

Making these changes ahead of time will shorten formatting later on and help troubleshoot some of the most common problems.

Kindle books

For ebooks we are going to concentrate on Kindle files. Scrivener will handle epub as well and the same basic rules apply. The very first step to using Scrivener to make kindle books is to download Kindlegen from Amazon.

Kindlegen is Amazon’s own ebook creation tool. I don’t know many writers who use it, because on it’s own it’s not much to look at. It works but it requires some technical skill to fine tune. With Scrivener you can do that fine tuning with Scrivener and get really good results.

When you choose the kindle (mobi) option under the compile menu it will add a tab for kindlegen. The first time you use it you will have browse for kindlegen and tell Scrivener where the program is located in your computer. (Usually under applications, unless you put it somewhere else.) Once you’ve done this it will remember for the future.

Kindlegen

Each tab on the left side of the compile menu brings up a different dialog box and each has it’s uses and foibles.

Contents

Allows you to select what goes into your book. Typically you want to include everything in the manuscript folder and that’s Scrivener default setting. However you can use this dialog box to change that.

One foible to watch for is the front matter check box at the bottom. Different options (print, manuscript, ebook) will have it automatically selected to its own default. If you have special front matter, this is where you can tell Scrivener to use that instead.

contentsmenu

Separators

The separators menu allows you to customize how you create scene breaks, chapter breaks, etc. The average user doesn’t need this on most projects, but some writers might use this. The drop down menu allows you to select an empty line, single return or section break. Or you can choose custom and enter what you want in the right hand box.

Cover

Allows you to select any image in the sample output folder.

Formatting

Scrivener uses a hierarchical formatting system. That means there are different levels and each level is treated differently. There’s a neat little trick to working with this system. When you select a level on the compile menu, everything on that level will be highlighted in the binder. This can be very useful when troubleshooting problems.

formatting levels

The average writer will only have/need two levels, chapters and text. Notice at the top there are a number of check boxes. For final formatting only title and text are important but if you were creating a proof for an editor you might want to play around with including meta data or synopses.

For today, we will only use title and text. Notice that in the screenshot level one, which if the folder level, is selected. Down below we see an editor screen with Chapter one: Title in it. This is a preview of what you will see when you compile. If you’ve named each folder with a pithy chapter title, all is well. If you’ve simply numbered your chapter, your final book will come out with Chapter One:Chapter One, etc. Or worse still you might end up with Chapter One: New Folder. If this is your case, uncheck the title checkbox for that level. The result will be that Scrivener will simply provide the chapter numbers with no chapter titles. “Section layout” will give you more options to change how the title will be displayed. The internal help dialog does a good job of explaining the options.

formatting menu

Title Adjustments

For those really wanting to fine control the chapter titles, you can read up in the manual about the title adjustment dialogue, but it’s not necessary for creating a good ebook, in my opinion.

Layout

For ebooks, there isn’t a lot of fine tuning needed for layout. However I would check this page over. Scrivener should default to checking the “generate HTML table of contents” which is what you want. That will create a navigation file that will let readers easily find the table of contents and the chapter they want.

Transformations

There are a handful of features under transformations that allow you automatically change portions of the text. I rarely use these myself and there is one huge foible to watch out for. For reasons that are beyond me, Scrivener by default checks the box “Convert Italics to Underlines.” I have no idea why anyone would want to convert every instance of italics into underlines, but it’s there and it’s checked. I always uncheck that box.

HTML settings, replacements, statistics and tables

None of these tabs should have anything you need for book formatting. For proofing you might want to include some statistics and non fiction writers might have tables to work with, but for our purposes these tabs can be safely ignored.

Meta-data

Metadata is information about your book that isn’t included in the actual book. It includes titles, a description and keywords. Scrivener always you to customize the metadata you include with your books files.

One important foible to note here is author name. If you are writing under a pen name, be sure you check this tab and correct the information.

 

That’s it, folks. It’s time to compile. When you hit the compile button you will be prompted to choose a destination file and Scrivener will do the rest. When you are done you can open the file with a Kindle app or share it to your favorite reading device.

 

Print Compiling

The basics of compiling for print are almost identical to ebooks. In fact if you’ve followed along with the above description of ebook compiling there are only three foibles we really have to deal with for print.

Compile for PDF, not Print

When you select compile for a print format, Scrivener will want to default to compile for print at the bottom. This will lead to no end to troubles. You want to compile for PDF. Why? Its the same issue I have ran into time and again with Word as well. When you compile for print it always wants to default to a standard 8 by 11 1/2 inch sheet of paper, which is what a standard printer uses. Createspace or other print on demand publishers will reject your pages, because each page will be a 5×8 printed page centered on an 8X11 sheet.

Instead you want to compile for PDF, which will create a correctly sized PDF, once we’ve handle the second foible.

Page Settings

Under the page settings tab you want to select the page setup button in the right corner. It will be set by default to 8×11 and you will need to change it to whatever trim size you plan on using for your book.

page setup page setup 2

$Surname

A final foible to consider, if you are publishing under a pseudonym, is in the layout section. Scrivener will automatically create headers with the novel name on one side and your last name on the other. You can tweak that if you need to for a specific project.
That should be it. Run through the tabs, checking that you have the right About the Author at the back of the book, that the chapter headings are the way you want them and then compile.

How Do You Write So Much?

How do you write so much and stay so thin?

That’s the question I wish people would ask me, but they never do. It might help if I was actually staying so thin, but writing is not exactly calorie burning and I am at the age where my natural metabolism is no longer fighting that particular battle on my behalf. But that is a completely different sort of blog post, so let’s just move on.

How do you write so much?

And also, an update on pulp speed writing.

I write a lot and I get a lot of writing done. Other writers often tell me that I am prolific and objectively I agree. Subjectively, I am a prolific storyteller. If I could make my fingers work as fast as my brain, or somehow abbreviate the planning, writing and editing to simply telling the story, I could be a lot more prolific. So I don’t always see myself as prolific.

Since I get asked it a lot, how do I write so much? How can you get your writing speed up? For me it’s a simple three step process.

  1. Build your creativity.
  2. Build your writing muscle.
  3. Write, a lot.

1. Building your creativity.

Creativity is often seen as one of those traits that you either have or don’t, but that is a half truth at best. Yes, I was always a creative even as a child. Or, that’s what the nicer teachers said. The others said things like a lazy day dreamer who would rather stare out the window than do work, but I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion.

Probably the best book on creativity is Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. If you haven’t read it, I would strongly suggest it.

Bradbury compares creativity to the dust motes that float across your eye. We quickly learn to see through the motes, so much so that we are unaware that they are there. That is until someone mentions them. Even then, there is a trick to seeing them. You have to unfocus your eyes, become aware of them drifting across your vision.

Creativity is like that. It’s everywhere around us. But in order to focus on day to day life, we have to see through it. We have to shove inspiration into some back corner of our minds and focus on work, family, chores. Soon we can’t even see it.

To build our creativity, we simply have to unlearn. We have to stop shoving inspiration aside and unfocus our vision to see it again. We have to take the time to look for it. Ask ourselves questions, let our minds take us where they will.

Once you learn the trick, story ideas are everywhere. Every ‘what if’ question is a potential story. Every time you wonder what someone is thinking, or how they came to be caught up in some event, that’s a story idea.

You start to question everything. Why did that happen? What if it happened differently? Why did they make that choice. How would a different person have responded to that situation?

It is this tendency to question everything that makes writers and other artists so dangerous, so often censored in politically repressive regimes. But it’s also the root of a million new stories.

2. Build your writing muscle.

Writing is work. Non-writers and beginning writers share this myth that it’s easy to write. If you have inspiration, that is, you sit down and the words just flow out onto the page. In truth it takes a huge mental effort to put a story down on paper.

And that work is exhausting, at least at first. Slowly you get better at it, just like exercising a muscle.

Just like exercise, you will have good days and bad days. There will be days when you jump out of bed and say, “I want to go for a run today.” Other days you will have to drag your weary ass out, saying, “if I want to be a runner, I need to run today, no matter what.”

Writing is like that. If you only write when you have the inspiration, you will never be a real writer. Only the writers who learn to make a habit of it build the writing muscle.

Those days when you drag yourself to the keyboard, you might not get much done. You might wonder if it’s really worth it, or if you should just wait until you have the inspiration. Persist. You might not be achieving much in word counts, but you are achieving something more important, you are building your writing muscle. Eventually the day will come when you can sit down to your keyboard with a cup of coffee, put some music on and jam out the words for three straight hours. Which brings us to step three:

3. Write, A Lot.

Once you’ve discovered the secret to creativity and built up your writing muscle you are ready to become a prolific writer. There’s no great secret to putting these two thing together, it just takes time.

As Dean Wesley Smith states repeatedly in his blog, every writer writes at a certain pace. For some it’s faster or slower. But beyond that the only real secret to writing more is to write more often or longer. Many others writers have said this, Chuck Wendig says it a lot, with frequent profanity laced in for effect. Natalie Goldberg says it in Writing Down the Bones. Writers write. If you want to be a writer, sit your butt down and write.

There is only one point that I disagree with it all these people, I think sometimes we introduce the ‘write more’ rule too quickly. If you are still a beginner, getting stuck on story ideas, pick up Zen and the Art of Writing. Spend some time learning to unfocus the day to day mind and let the creativity in. If you’ve never written, focus on making it a regular practice before you attempt long sessions. Get up every morning, open your computer and write for five minutes, then ten minutes. Eventually it won’t seem like enough, not enough to get all the stories clamoring in your head to get out. Then start writing more and more.

Which brings us to an overdue update on my year of writing dangerously.

The short version is I gave up on it. The longer version is that I decided I didn’t need it right now.

I am not a professional writer, but I pretend to be one. I am a nurse, in my other life. I work night shifts and I’ve got an unusual schedule. I work more than part time, but less than full time. I work one week, more or less without any days off. Then I have close to a week off. It works for me. I have one week where I am a nurse and fit writing in when I can. And I have one week where I am a writer.

On those ‘writer’ days, I write. Three thousand words a day isn’t really that bad when all you have to do all day is write. I usually can jam that out in one mammoth session of three hours or so. On non writer days it’s another matter. Three thousand is tough to squeeze in around other stuff. I would fall behind on those days, so far that I wasn’t able to catch up easily on my days off.

There was more to it, though. I am producing new works, lots of them. I have a novel I am doing on Wattpad. It’s written at least in rough form and I am editing and posting as I go along. I have a multi-part science fiction serial that is in the editing stages.

I also have the four books I intend to publish this year finished. I have a couple of manuscripts in the queue for next year and one in the works. I have the remaining Bear Naked books in planning stages.

What am I going to do with all these manuscripts? Eventually I hope to publish them all. But I can only publish so many. It takes time to self edit things, money to have my editor go over them again, time and money to make covers. I am not ready to up my publishing schedule yet. So why I am in such a hurry to produce books?

My goal for this year is to publish four new books. In the future, I don’t know. If I am making enough to pay for production cost, I should increase that to five or six. If I am making enough from writing that I can cut back on work even more, I can devote that much more time to writing. Maybe I will approach Dean Wesley Smith’s pulp speed someday, or maybe I won’t. Right now though, it’s not important.

 

Yeah, Scrivener, Part One

The more I use scrivener, the more I love it. There are so many reasons for the love, I can hardly count them.

Scrivener logo

I got my final clean version of Children of a New Earth back from my editor last week. I spend the rest of my writing time that day, nearly two and a half hour, re-importing it scene by scene into Scrivener and making sure all the scene breaks and other formatting stuff was correct.

Why spend that much time on it? One reason is version control. The other is that I spent another two hours or so doing formatting, and created both the ebook and paperback in that time. For those of you who have created ebooks manually using a word processor, or fought to get Word to create a proper print ready pdf, you know how much time I am saving.

Version Control

For both prolific writers and avid rewriters, version control soon becomes a major challenge. I learned this early on in my writing career when I was writing articles for a local LGBT paper. I had the editor take me to task for numerous errors in one submission. I couldn’t see the errors on my side. I later discovered I had accidently submitted a rougher version of the same article.

My issues with version control stem from three sources and each carries its own liabilities an solutions.

Tech

Back up your computer! If you haven’t had this drilled into your head, all it takes is a couple of major data losses and it will be. I’ve been through dozens of backup methods over the years. I used to print hard copies of everything. I still have stacks of moldy paper in my basement with crappy stories I thought were gold once upon a time. Then I saved things to floppy disks (yes, I am that old) and USB drives.

The problem with all these backups is they aren’t the same. Twelve different versions of the same story might be secure, but it’s also confusing. Trying to find the one you are currently working on can drive you nuts and lead to mistakes, like submitting the wrong version of an article. If you backed up an early version of your novel, it will be there after you lose the current version but you still lose hours of editing.

The solution: I now use an automatic cloud storage. I’m on a Mac right now, so I use time machine, synced to a personal cloud device. The device cost me a hundred and fifty dollars but it was money well spent. It sits next to my router, uses the same wifi network and acts just like an external hard drive except I don’t have to worry about backing things up, it does it automatically. It also re-saves the most recent version of every document, so I don’t have to worry about old versions floating around.

Editing

As a younger more hesitant writer, I had to save a version of everything before editing. I had novel A draft one, Novel A draft two, etc. I was worried that I would regret rewriting and want the old version back. Then I started getting involved in writers group. So now I have Novel A draft eight with x person’s comments. It got so I each novel had it’s own folder and even then those folders were packed with extraneous files.

Now I am more confident. If I change something, its because the change will improve the novel. I don’t care so much about keeping older versions. In fact I’ve gone to the other extreme. I hate having older versions of my writing around. It fill up your hard drive. And it’s drivel. I hate to be blunt, but it’s true. Do you really want an early draft of your novel with seven thousand typos floating around? And no, ten pages of run on sentences isn’t “your voice.” It’s bad writing. Clean it up and get rid of the old version.

The solution: Scrivener. I keep all of my writing projects in scrivener these days. I use the snapshots feature to save anything I am going to do a deep rewrite on. If I am moving or getting rid of whole scenes, I drag them out of the manuscript folder but leave them in the project in case I need them later. If I am workshopping something, I either import people’s comments directly into a separate scrivener file or make the suggested changes directly on the scrivener document. The Scrivener manuscript always remains the most recent, cleanest version of that project. And that is a thing of beauty.

Indie

The third source of too many versions is simply being an indie writer, though traditional writers may have their own version of this same problem. You get your clean edited manuscript back from your editor and you start formatting. Print formatting and ebook formatting are different beasts, so the first step is to create two new versions of the clean document, one for print and one for ebooks.

Every author, whether indie or trad, knows the horror of seeing your book in print for the first time and spotting a typo. Argh! If you are trad, you complain to your publisher and then grumble in your writers group until they finally get around to fixing it. (And if it’s not POD, don’t expect them to be able to do anything.) If you are indie, you go back and change it yourself. Oh, but did you also change it in the mobi file? the epub? The original document? Personally, I am way too ADHD to get to them all. It’s a struggle.

Traditional authors aren’t immune to this problem. Every publisher/editor/agent has their own set of submission guidelines. By the time you have spent a year and half trying to sell a manuscript, submitting it to dozens of agents, you will have a pile of version, each formatted to this or that person’s taste.

Multiply each of these three issues by several novels and you will see what I am dealing with.

Solution: Become a scrivener power user. This brings us full circle to the original intent of this post, formatting and compiling in scrivener. This post has grown to the point where it might be best broke into two. For now, learning to use Scrivener’s compile feature means that you can create multiple versions, all based off the same document. A year from now when you need to update something, you do it in Scrivener. When you resubmit, you do it from Scrivener. You never have to wonder which version of your novel is the most current, and did you correct those pesky little mistakes in all versions or not? It’s all in one place.

Coming next: Becoming a Scrivener compile power user