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“This Book is Not the Boss of my Shit”

Normally I don’t just post to post a link, but I found something too awesome and fitting for my mindset right now that I just have to make a quickie post to share it.

Chuck Wendig over at terribleminds.com has posted “The Penmonkey’s Paean” and it is amazing.  Go, read, enjoy.

Haven’t clicked yet? Seriously, how could you not want to read a ‘prayer’ that begins with:

I am a writer, and I will finish the shit that I started.

I will not whine. I will not blubber. I will not make mewling whimpering cryface pissypants boo-hoo noises. I will not sing lamentations to my weakness.

My confidence is hard and unyielding. Like a kidney stone lodged in the ureter of a stegosaurus.

It’s amazeballs.  And now, I go back to writing, because this novel is not the boss of my shit *grin*

My Idea System

In the comments on the last post (about 2011 goals), one of the comments asked about my system for keeping track of ideas.  I do, in fact, have a system, though like most systems that have organically grown over the course of time, it doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense.  I figured I could do a post on it, but I’ll add some visual aids just for fun and try to describe how the parts I couldn’t figure out how to get visuals for work.

So let’s follow an idea from inception to finished product/submission through my recording system.  The first thing that usually happens is a character or bit of story or a line or two pops into my head.  From there I let it sit.  If, after a couple days (or when the idea is super insistent), I still have it in my head, then I write it down in a notebook.  Yes, a good old paper notebook.  I use Moleskine Cahier notebooks because I love the way they feel and how well they hold up.  This is probably a hold-over from when I used to write every story by hand (something I did up until a few years ago when I tried to write a novel by hand and pretty much said fuck that).

If the idea has a title, I use the title to list it (each idea gets a fresh page).  If it doesn’t yet I just pick out a couple key words.  This is the beginning for both short stories and novels.  If I know that the idea is probably going to be a novel idea, I make a note of that on the page.  I have multiple notebooks for ideas.  In the past I was just sort of filling them up as I had the ideas, but for next year I’ve actually gone and separated out a notebook for novellas, one for short fiction, and one for novel ideas.  I’m not sure how long that level of organization will last since sometimes I don’t know if an idea is a novel or just a short one at the start (they tend to seem like they’ll be short, but then grow and get more complex).

From there the ideas sit until I’m ready to start on them.  At that point they have different fates.  Novel ideas get their own sections of a different notebook.  I give you exhibit A:

These are a few of my novel project notebooks.  Some of these novels have been written or are in various stages of writing (There’s actually a notebook without tabs in there, but it’s dedicated to a trilogy, so I didn’t tab it yet since I know which one it is, so this picture represents 11 novels and 4 short novels).  Inside these notebooks I outline, keep track of character descriptions and place names, and do all the little nitty note taking that I feel is necessary to keep track of the world for each of my novels.  I imagine that when I start actually writing multiple series books that I’ll gravitate toward having a single notebook for each series with my handy tabs dividing by book, but for now this system allows me to easily flip to whichever project I want to work on and to see which notebooks hold which novel at a glance.  I find this simpler than trying to use electronic notes, though I appreciate that if anything ever happened to my home (fire, flood, really bored thieves), that this system could fall apart.  At least I back up all the actual writing electronically in multiple places.

So that’s what the novel notebooks look like.  For short stories I just find the title/tag line of the story I want to work on (if I’m in a short story writing mood I generally flip through until I find something I want to write), and then I just continue with story notes and character descriptions and all the things I need to keep track there.  Which, once a story is done, generally leaves me with a couple of pages that look like this:

If you can read my handwriting at the top of the right page there, you’ll see that this story was originally tagged as “Race to Pluto” but then got its actual title “The Light of the Earth, as Seen from Tartarus” once I’d started working on it more.  (This story has already been through Writers of the Future, so I’m using it since I don’t have to worry about anonymity anymore).  I generally write short stories over the course of a single day, sometimes two (this one took two, but it’s 13,300 words long).  I don’t often outline short stories, but as you can see from the left page above, I did a rough time line because the timing in this story was important (And yes, I do have the crazy handwriting of a serial killer, but *I* can read it, usually).  Sometimes though I’ll be adding notes and ideas to a page for weeks before I get working on a story.  It all depends how long the story needs to percolate in my brain.

The next step is once I’ve decided to work on a story or novel.  I go into my writing folder and then into the relevant folder (Short Stories or Novels or Novellas).  Then I make a folder with the title of the story or novel.  Then I open a word document and label it as a rough draft (usually titleRD.doc) and go to work.    Recently I’ve expanded this system a little.  I don’t normally start short stories and then not finish them, but back in October I was working on hooks and beginnings, so I picked out a bunch of short story ideas from my notebooks and went to the next step without finishing.  So in my short stories folder I have a folder called AAAbeginnings (the three a’s are so it will sit at the top of my alphabetized sorted list).  In there I keep the folders of stories that aren’t done (I have quite a few at the moment thanks to that exercise). Once I finish a story out of that folder, it gets moved to the regular section.

I also have a few pages in one of my notebooks that is all titles.  Pages and pages of titles that don’t have an idea attached.  Last year I decided I was pretty terrible with titles and wanted to practice coming up with them.  So I tried a few different methods (ranging from putting random words together to using random title generators on the internet) and wrote down all the ones I liked.  So sometimes if I have a story idea I’ll scan those pages of titles and see if any fit or can be altered to fit.

Anyway, that’s how my system, such as it is, works.  I have tons and tons of ideas, more than I will ever likely be able to complete.   And more come in each day (I think I have about 15 notebooks in various stages of full at this point).  It’s one of the main reasons I’d like to be faster and more consistent, because then I’d get a lot more of these ideas developed and out to markets.  So hopefully this post helps show how the hell I keep track of all this.  I imagine my system will keep evolving to suit my needs and career, but for now it works for me.

November Summary plus Extras

So first, my story “No Spaceships Go” will be out from Daily Science Fiction on December 17th it looks like.  So go sign up for their daily stories already, geez.  (Though it will also be posted on the website at some point as well if you’re somehow allergic to getting awesome fiction in your inbox each weekday morning).   Besides this being my first pro sale, it is also a story I really love.  I write a lot of stories and I’m not sure I could even list the titles of all of them off the top of my head (probably, with some serious thinking, because I do have a good memory, but I might miss one or two).  However, I play favorites like woah.  This story was one of my favorites and I’m very happy that Daily SF took a chance on it.

So in November my writing went not too poorly, but I’ve discovered that writing while in pain really, really sucks.  Or perhaps rediscovered, since I had to do it this summer when I pinched a nerve in my shoulder.  I have my new keyboard now and am so far liking it (it’s only been a day, so no idea how it will serve in the long term).  I’ve also adjusted my desk and my chair and gotten a wrist brace to try for the more sore wrist.  All these things will hopefully contribute to less pain and a more consistent writing schedule.

All that aside, I managed about 52,000 words this month.  That means a handful of new stories out to markets and some of what will be the first novel in my Pyrrh Considerable Crimes series.  I’m going to be finishing up the novel in the next week or two, then it’ll go to first readers, then to the copy editor, and finally (hopefully!) on or around Jan 31st, 2011, it’ll be available to purchase.

For December I’m going to take it somewhat easy.  While I’d like to be writing 5-6 hours a day, I know that on many days I’ll have other commitments (I have a huge family, and the holidays are always made of crazy sauce).  So I’m setting my daily goal at 10 pages each week day and 5 pages each weekend day.  I’m planning on writing the second Pyrrh novel this month, as well as starting a romance novel that will go out to traditional publishers in Feb.  I was going to write my horror/western, but it needs to percolate more I think, and I’m debating writing it for e-pub instead of trying to figure out how the hell I’d pitch something like that to trad publishers.  We’ll see.  I like that I have all sorts of options now and can pretty much write whatever I feel like (not that I wouldn’t anyway, I’m stubborn like that, but nice to know I might actually get paid for this stuff).

So November was a mixed bag.  I didn’t hit my goal, but I got over the halfway point and I still got something done, which is better than nothing.  Even if I only get 50k words each month next year, that would still be 600k words of new fiction ready for various markets and experiments, which isn’t a bad production rate.  So we’ll see.  I’m going to aim for more like 75k to 100k a month, but it’ll depend on schedules and wrists and my own laziness.

Speaking of laziness, I’ve been playing some Mass Effect 2 (well, helping my husband play by mining planets for him and such).  I mention it because the world-building is boggling and awesome.  Flying around and reading the different planet descriptions alone has been a joy and very inspiring.  After I finish up the next couple novel projects (or perhaps in between), I’m totally going to get some sf stories done.  I wrote fantasy in November pretty much, so maybe it’s time to return to space.  Hmm, I wonder if I can write ME2 off on my taxes? It’s totally helping my writing, totally. *grin*

(Speaking of taxes, I’ll be filing my first schedule C this Jan.  I’ll definitely be posting about that process around then, because I think more information needs to be available on how this works exactly.  I’m going to hire a professional to talk me through it the first time, because while I’m competent as the house accountant, I’d rather not mess up when it comes to the IRS.  They aren’t exactly forgiving of honest errors.  So look for a post about that, and some neo-pro interviews coming soon!)

New Keyboard!

Due to wrist/tendon pain, I’ve taken a couple days off writing (oh noes!). But now, thanks to my many and awesome writer buddies, I’ve adjusted my desk, adjusted my chair, gotten wrist braces, and have a brand new keyboard due to arrive on Friday.

So hopefully that will end the pain, because while I’ve proven to myself that I can write through the pain (Over 50,000 words this month, which took some doing 20-30 mins of writing at a time, sigh), I’m not all that fond of pain and it really makes the fun part (telling the damn story) a lot less fun. I’ll let you all know at the end of next week how the new set-up and stuff is going. Hopefully solving this new issue will mean unparalleled personal productivity, or at least a couple novels finished by the end of the year.

Speaking of productivity and finishing novels, Kevin J Anderson put up an amazing and blunt post about writing and putting in the time. I recommend anyone who is still stuck in the “writing slow or writing less = better” mindset go read his post (or really, anyone who wants to be a pro writer should read this post). From everything I’ve read and seen, those writers who treat writing the same way you’d treat any business and day-job tend to do the best and stay publishing consistently.  This is why I’m following the path I’ve chosen and why I (try to) put in consistent hours of writing and treat my writing the way I’d treat starting up a small business.

Writing for a living, and a very good living, is totally possible.  But it is work 🙂

Links and Interviews

So I’ve been thinking of ways to make sure I keep this blog updated and maybe actually interesting from time to time.  One idea I had was to maybe do interviews of my fellow neo-pro writers.  I know that I’m always curious about other people’s goals and paths.  So if anyone wants to get interviewed, let me know.

Likewise, I should really do some blog updating and get my links section in full working order.  So if you want to exchange links with me (either directly here or www.anniebellet.com) and I’m not linked to you, please let me know. (This is also my nefarious plan to find more blogs to read, clearly).

So… are you a writer? Want to be interviewed?  my email is izanobu  AT  gmail  DOT  com.  Put either “writer link” or “writer interview” in the subject so hopefully you won’t get spam-foldered.

So yeah, that’s it.  If anyone takes me up on the interviews I’ll probably do them with questions via email and then do a monthly or bi-monthly post or something (depending on how many peeps take me up on this).

Failure, Rejection, Depression, and Sundry

This post will likely be rambling and a little ranty.  (And apparently sappy at the end)  You have been warned.

As of Saturday to be on target for my goals this month I needed 21,000 words done.  As of Saturday, I had just shy of 9,000.  Writing for the last few months has been very difficult for me, like pulling teeth to get any words out at all (which is why that last novel took four months when it should have taken two at most).  I’ve engaged a friend in a challenge (with whole dinners on the line!) for monthly word count goals in the hopes that I can shove past whatever is blocking me.  Last week, not so much with the shoving, obviously.

Alas, what’s blocking me is… me.  Or more specifically my brain chemicals.  Lots of quote “creative types” deal with depression and other issues, and I’m no exception unfortunately.  I struggle with life-long insomnia issues among other things (which is how I read so damn much, it’s easy to find time to read when you only sleep 2-5 hours a day).  Sometimes the writing process just stutters and stops.  I think this is one reason I’ve always been a “binge” writer.  When I’m running well I have to do as much as I can as fast as I can because I don’t know when suddenly the images will stop forming up right in my head and the mental white noise will start to take over.

The other thing blocking me is my old friend self-doubt.  Writing is easy.  Writing for a living, not so easy.  Especially in the stage I’m in, where I’m starting to break out a bit and hopefully learning my to cross my Ps and dot my Is.  Sales are wonderful motivators, but fear of success can be just as deadly as fear of failure.  Things are tight right now in my home life because of the sacrifices we’ve made so I can pursue my dream and my goals and now, a year and a half into the ten year plan, the reality of the situation has definitely sunk in.  We’re fine, we’re making it work, but as always I can’t help but put pressure on myself to write, do more, learn more, be more. Thinking long-term is good, but it doesn’t necessarily help the short-term panic attacks.

I almost broke my number of rejections in one week record this week, which of course doesn’t help either.  I don’t even know what my rejection total is up to, though if I had to guess I’d say over 200 easily.  In less than two years.  What that number should (and does, when I’m thinking rationally) say to me is that hey, I’m producing and sending out lots of work.  But sometimes I stare at yet another “this was well-written but no thanks” or “this was fun, but ultimately we decided not to publish it” etc and think “so they don’t like fun, well-written work.  What the hell should I be writing?”.  It’s a war inside between the rational/business brain telling me that it isn’t personal (because it really, really isn’t) and that I just need to take a deep breath and put the story back in the mail, and the irrational side of my brain “zomg u suckzorz and r gettin wurse.  stUpid RITUR.”

What does this all really mean? Basically…nothing.  So I’m 12,000 words behind where I needed to be.  Over the next few weeks I can easily find another 12-15 hours somewhere in there to catch myself up.  It’s adding an hour a day to a couple weeks of work.  Rationally not a big deal.  What does the rejection mean? Again, not much (beyond the fact that hey, apparently I write fun, well-written stories and stuff).  But the depression, the sleeplessness, the slog, it all combines to make my life not peachy at the moment.  I’ll catch up though (so stop planning your sushi outing, Amanda…) because I hate to lose a bet for one, and because any job has bad days, and any job I have is one that gets affected by my depression/insomnia issues, and in the end, I get to sit on my ass and make shit up and people have paid me (and will pay me in the future damnit!) to do this.  Which is still awesome, any way you look at it.

So for anyone who is struggling this month (and let’s face it, November ain’t a great month.  I didn’t like it before my brother died during it and I sure don’t care for it afterward either), you’re okay.  Everything will work out.  If you are doing NaNoWriMo and you fail one day, or one week, no need to stress.  It’s cool.  Think about it this way: if you fall short by 10 or 20 or even 30k words, you’ve still written 40 or 30 or 20k words more than you would have if you hadn’t even tried at all.  And for all the writers in my shoes, us neo-pros who see more no than yes still, it’ll get better.  We’re just getting started.  Sure, we take a few on the chin during the opening round, but really, we’re just lulling our opponents into a false sense of superiority.  The next story we write? It’s going to KO some editor, somewhere, sometime.  As long as we don’t throw in the towel, as long as we keep sitting on our asses and making shit up and sticking it in the mail.  Because that’s what counts and that’s the only score worth keeping.

It never ends.

Link SMASH!

I have website!

My official Annie Bellet website is now live.  There are still some tweaks happening, and content will be added, but the basics are in place (including an awesome header image by my friend Greg).  Go HERE to visit.

The official Pyrrh Project website (my soon to be here e-pub series put out through Doomed Muse press) is also live.  There isn’t much content yet, but it’s being tweaked and produced and there will be more stuff added to that site as well over the coming months.  But the publication schedule is up, at least.  Go HERE and bookmark it so you don’t miss any announcements/freebies etc.

That’s that for now.

Writing Goals: Things I Like

As I gear up for my next big project (ie, novel), I’ve been thinking a lot about what kinds of stories I like to read and how that impacts the sort of stories I want to tell.  I figured it might be interesting to have the list (so far) posted on my blog.  Maybe some of you reading will post your own lists (hint, hint).

Things I like to read about/want to write about in fiction:

Fighting. Crimes. Sex. Serial Killers. Details about day to day activities I’m not familiar with.  Training montages.  Bad-ass people doing clever, bad-ass things (note, these characters don’t have to be the protagonists, I like bad-ass antagonists as well).  Love stories.  Space stations.  Starships or outposts in space in isolation type setting.  Post-apocalyptic.  Kick-ass, detailed magic.  Anything that reminds me of a table-top RPG (ie I could envision giving the characters stats and seeing how the world would be laid out etc).  Happily ever after enough endings.  Series.  Epic world-building.  Secondary characters strong enough to merit their own books/stories.

That’s my list so far.  I’m sure it’ll expand as I think of things or find things and go “hey! THAT! I love THAT!”

The next project I’m working on is the first book in my e-pub novel series.  The website for the series will be up shortly and then I’ll make it its own post.  What excites me about this project the most is that I think I can cover a lot of the above list in just one series.  (Not the space-station stuff, alas).  I’m going to be writing something that I fully love, with nothing in it I don’t.  Sounds like fun to me.

I’ve got a lot lined up, actually.  We’ll see how much I get to by the end of the year.  And I’ve got a pile of short stories waiting on final consideration at various markets with “we’ll tell you by X date-ish” dates coming up in the next few months.  Lots to be excited about and lots of work to do.

So, fellow writers (and readers…):  what are your favorite things in fiction? What are your reader cookies?

Appropriating and Updating the Race

In this crazy new world of e-publishing, the rules of getting published and making a living at writing are shifting.  As anyone reading this blog at all will know, I’m a huge follower of Heinlein’s Rules for Writers.  But where does putting my own stuff up without going to an editor who can pay me fall in the mix of those five rules?  I’m not sure.

But e-stuff sells.  I’m selling handfuls of copies of two literary short stories a month, stories I’ve done basically no marketing for at all.  How much better will novels sell? Novels I intend to push in front of people and do as much marketing for as I can handle?  Does that count as “keeping it in the mail until it sells”?  Maybe.

Dean Wesley Smith came up with a points system called the Race back in the years when I was a wee little girl.  The gist is that you get one point for each story in the mail, three points for each novel proposal (only for each novel, not for each editor you send it to), and eight points for each full novel out (again, only counts once per book).  Dean explains in his blog here and here much better than I can.

But if I put a story up on Kindle… I lose the point in the Race.  I’m sure that Dean will come up with a new Race point system to account for that, but in the meantime, fellow writer Amanda McCarter and I decided on a rough new plan, which we’re calling the E-pub Race (different from the Trad-pub Race).  It works like this:  (and this is probably way more complicated than it needs to be, but hey… games are fun!)

1 point for each short story.  If you bundle shorts, this counts as 1 point up to 4 shorts bundled.

3 points for each short story collection (5+ shorts minimum, repeats allowed with shorts on their own).

5 points for each novel. (Novels bundled in Omnibus form count separately unless they are repeated, in which case you only get the points once).

No points count until you’ve sold at least five copies (the original race has you losing points after getting paid, so we figured the E-pub race should have something opposite of that).  Copies you buy yourself don’t count of course.  Editions don’t count as separate (so if you do a POD version, you still only get points for that novel once).

Ok. Hopefully that isn’t too complicated.  Suggestions and comments are welcome, of course.

Library Study Project

As I move beyond the writing level where advice like “use proper manuscript format” and “don’t insult editors” no longer suffices, I’ve been looking for more ways to expand my writing skills and new things to learn.  In the pursuit of more advanced learning, I’ve come across a lot of advice from other writers, some of which I think is awesome, and some of which just makes me scratch my head (because either I’m clueless or I just don’t learn that way).

One of the bits of advice that I found valuable was to read the bestsellers and study people further ahead down the road I want to walk.  I decided to take that advice.  I’m not even close to rich, so alas, I can’t just go buy a million books like I’d want to.  But on the other hand, that forced me to do something I haven’t done in a while.  I went to my local library, and by local, I mean within a five minute walk from my home.  Can’t really beat that.  I do love owning books, but, from an economic standpoint, the mission I was about to embark on wasn’t feasible.

So in May I decided to suck it up and go to the library.  After paying 13.47 in library fines from 1998, I got my information updated (the library never forgets!) and was on my way.  I was just about to start writing a mystery/thriller/suspense novel (I thought it was a thriller, I’m told it’s actually a mystery, so what do I know? From here on out, I’m abbreviating those genres M/T/S and lumping them together, damnit).  So I decided to start with that section, which I quickly learned is shelved together with general fiction anyway. Sci/fi and Fantasy has its own section, as does YA, and chapter books.

The plan? Read at least five books by any author on the shelf with at least ten books who has been published in the last five years.  That’s a heck of a lot of authors, across a lot of genres.  I started with names I recognized, like Roberts and Patterson.  So far I’ve read over 100 books since May.  I make myself give each book 100 pages to lose or keep my interest and I think only two or three have failed past that point.  I’ve started reading authors I haven’t heard of as well, as long as they fit the 10+ books rule and are still publishing (or have been in the last few years).  The librarians have even commented on how much I read. Crazy.

But I’m not just reading for reading sake (or to impress librarians).  Every book I read I make mental (and sometimes physical) notes on what that author does that I think works, and why I like it, and how I might be able to emulate it.  Some books I’ve read twice.  I’ve even, as much as I detest outlining other’s works, have reversed outlined a few books to see how the plots work and where the emotional and storyline beats are.  I don’t love every part of every book I read, but I’m starting to see patterns and similarities of what these authors are doing with their writing that keeps them selling books.  And this process is starting to show me what I really like in what I read, and thus also what I might want to work on incorporating into my stories.

I’m only a few months into the library project.  I don’t know if I’ll keep it up quite as hard core, since I’m missing reading stuff that doesn’t fit into my qualifications, so I’ve started taking side forays into books that are coming out now or have come out that I want to read.  But I’m going to stay on top of the bestsellers, for sure, and keep seeing what’s working for the long-time professionals out there.  Because they are stomping down a path I want to be on, and while I might make my own sideways journey to the same destinations, I figure I can only learn something from those who’ve carved the paths ahead.

So that’s the library project.  Look at the shelves and see which authors (or pen names, however you slice it) have more than ten books on the shelves.  Check to make sure the author has published at least one book in the last five years (or ten or whatever you want to go with).  Then read at least five books by that author and pay attention to what you like, what you don’t like, what works, what doesn’t, and similarities between that work and others that have sold a lot.

Step three: profit.

Ok, still working on that one *grin*