The nine stages of editing your book – with cats

That’s what I need in order to be able to edit: Another cat!

Milly Schmidt

When most peoplefinish their first draft they have no idea of the mind-numbing and heroic journey they are about to embark on. Finishing the first draft is only the beginning… as editing may be one of the hardest f—— things you’ll ever do.

Here are the nine stages of editing your novel (with cats of course!)

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Outlining, At Last? #amwriting @ScrivenerApp

Story Genius, by Lisa Cron

Story Genius, by Lisa Cron is the Unified Field Theory of storytelling.


Those of you who have been watching me struggle with Pantsing v. Plotting (iThoughts and the Dreaded Outline, Movin’ On Down the Productivity Highway, Back To Work, Or NaNoWriMo Waits For No One, et. al.) know that I’ve blogged several “breakthroughs” about outlining that, well, have come to almost nothing. There’s always been something “wrong” with the systems I’ve looked at—Too rigid. Too much information to fill out that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with my story. Terminology straight out of an MFA program that doesn’t mean anything to me—even after I look it up. Directions to not let the outline be a straitjacket—but then I can’t let go of treating it like an engineering specification. Something. Always. Doesn’t. Work.

Well, if I can’t use Story Genius, by Lisa Cron to plan a novel, I’ll—strongly consider giving up writing and starting a knitting blog.

Ms. Cron explains why just sitting down and writing doesn’t work. She explains why plotting doesn’t work. She explains why most character bios are bunk. Instead, her thesis is that a story is NOT a series of things that happen (plot), not even if it has some interesting characters. Rather, it is a series of events that force its protagonist to change, to learn some specific lesson in some specific way. Every story. Yes, that one. That other one, too. Even “Grog Survived Being Almost Eaten By A Cave Lion.” Her list of academic references are impressive. Her system is—a lot of hard work.

But it’s work I need to do.

Ms Cron suggests that a would-be author (me) needs to select the lesson that the protagonist will learn in the course of the novel, and create very specific backstory that will make it absolutely necessary for the protagonist to learn that lesson. This creates a coherent focus on the specific theme I choose for the novel.

What? Me, focus? (Laughs derisively.)

Exactly. The world of Fane of Air and Darkness (FOAAD), The Bully Trap, and several other partly-finished stories, is one I’ve been thinking about, building, and creating a history regarding, for more than five years. That’s a lot of backstory, most of it sloshing around in my head. Following Ms Cron’s “blueprinting” process is forcing me to narrow my focus to only those backstory elements that have to do with FOAAD, and to write them down in sufficient detail to build a story with them. It forces me to look at contradictions. It forces me to put certain aspects of the Fraser and Spencer universe aside, as they will confuse the issue of FOAAD.

It’s slow going. Things that have nothing to do with FOAAD keep wanting to take over my brain and my keyboard. There are things that I know I’m going to have to cut from what I’ve already written. There are things I’m resolutely going to have to decide to, well, explore in a sequel. And of course, I’ve spent far more hours than I probably ought to have done, re-structuring my Scrivener project to accommodate this new method. (If you’re interested, Gwen Hernandez wrote an excellent article on this, Using Scrivener with Story Genius and included her Scrivener template which I’ve shamelessly perverted to my nefarious purposes.)

Dammit.

I want to shove it all in, and it’s hard work building a dam to keep irrelevant (for now) stuff out. But already I can feel the urgency building in my backstory—which is going to explode on the page in the story itself.

Ok, if writing a novel were easy everyone would do it. But keeping cats out of my knitting is much more soothing.

“The Bully Trap” (http://bit.ly/SWBully) is FREE during #ebookweek17 at #smashwords !

The Bully Trap is FREE during #ebookweek17 at #smashwords !

The Bully Trap is FREE during #ebookweek17 at #smashwords !


We interrupt your normal blog for a brief commercial message:

The 9th annual Smashwords “Read an Ebook Week” kicks off this Sunday, March 5, and runs through end of day March 11.

My book The Bully Trap will be free during Read an Ebook Week! Just use coupon code SFREE at Smashwords.

Thousands of other indie authors will also be offering free and discounted books. Browse www.smashwords.com/ebookweek and find an exciting new author!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

I’m Not Giving Up—But I Am Backing Off #amwriting

Time to advance to the rear (Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Time to advance to the rear (Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)


Well, I’ve injured my foot.

That makes it rather tough to keep up with my exercise goals—which in turn impact my other health goals. My health goals, in turn, impact my ability to focus, which means that my entire Beeminder-driven writing goal structure is in jeopardy.

Bummer.

For a change, I’ve decided to do something sane—I have taken every single health goal I have in Beeminder and added a week of flat spot. This means that while I don’t NEED to make progress to avoid a Beeminder payment, I do need to not slip backwards. And I haven’t given myself any slack on my writing or business goals.

With any good fortune, I’ll be back chugging on my step and weight goals in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I have no excuse to stop chugging ahead on my book.

And April Camp Nanowrimo is just around the corner. I think I’ll have a continuation/editing goal rather than a new project this time.

There Are Times I Want to Freaking Give Up #amwriting

It doesn't get easier.

Image courtesy of africa at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Now is one of those times.

I haven’t posted to this blog since January. I have no excuse. I’m just discouraged.

While there is a lot going on, it’s the writing that’s the thing that really gets me down. I promised myself a look at new “how to organise writing” books. Before March. I’ve found a winner: Story Genius, by Lisa Cron. My son has seized on it and is having a great burst of productivity. I’ve started using it, and while I’m making some progress—it’s very hard to put aside all I’ve written for Episode Two of my series and start with creating my “blueprint”, as Ms. Cron refers to it. Hard, but necessary. This is the first book I’ve found that puts story organisation into terms that even an engineer can understand. Nothing is by rote; there are no shortcuts. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a description of exactly what backstory is needed for a novel and in how much detail—in terms that make sense. Other guides I’ve read did discuss backstory, but left “how much and what” at “just enough and only what you need” without defining the terms “just enough” and “only what you need.” Ms. Cron defines her terms and explains why her definitions work.

Even better, they make sense in terms of the empirical learning I’ve done over the last eleven years in NaNoWriMo. I’d write something, look at it, and say, “Nope. Not a good story.” Next year, “Not that one, either.” In Camp NaNoWriMo, “Still not story…” When I finally had something (The Bully Trap) that looked like a story, I published it. I’m glad to see that according to Ms. Cron I was right.

The good news is that I have a lot of this background stuff already written down. The bad news is that I need to flesh it out and organise it differently. (There’s also stuff I need not have written yet. Pooh.) And yes, there are large sections of backstory that I still need to write. They’re in my head, but as I’ve already complained, they do me little good there. A novel is too blasted big for that, let alone a series.

Foo. You mean there’s no magic button that will take the beautiful story in my head and put it into Scrivener for me in a form that readers will love—without me having to work, and work hard? Now, that’s discouraging. But it looks like there’s no help for it. I suppose I had best get on with it, then.

How to Tap Your #FitbitAlta Screen On

Tap sideways from one of the ends.

Tap sideways from one of the ends.


I see a lot of frustration in the Amazon reviews on how to get the Fitbit Alta screen to turn on. I’ll confess that until I saw a YouTube video by a skilled Alta user I was struggling a bit, too.

The key is to remember that the screen is not a touchscreen. I’ve been conditioned by smartphones and tablets to tap up and down on the screen. The Alta does NOT have a touch screen; instead it uses the same accelerometer that it uses to track your steps to turn on your screen. The most effective way to tap is on one of the ends, sideways (axially, to use a more precise term.) This works every single time. Since you’re tapping on the (silicone) band, it’s quieter, too.

Enjoy this black-belt level technique!

Fitness Tracker 2: #Fitbit, Son of Misfit


More than a year ago, I promised myself a day at a spa when I actually published a book. Formally. In Habitica. Two weeks ago, I finally started to set up an appointment—and realised I didn’t want a spa trip. I wanted a better fitness tracker. One that had a real watch, not twelve flashing LEDs I had to interpret. More than that, I wanted a Fitbit so that I could actually Beemind my net calories per day. So far as I know, Fitbit is the only tracker and/or fitness app that can connect net calories to Beeminder.

That’s important to me, because weight is a horrible measure of how a person’s doing at becoming more fit. It can have vast daily swings, as anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight can verify. I want to measure the actual inputs—exercise and calorie deficit—and keep weight as a backup long-term check.

I selected a Fitbit Alta as being cheaper than that day at a spa, and having all that I wanted—a Fitbit that is also a watch that tells the time without me having to interpret flashing LEDs. It even displays the date. It displays the actual numbers—steps taken, calories burned, and so forth—instead of using LEDs to display percent of goal complete. It looks much better than my old Misfit Flash in its third-party sturdy-but-uninspiring band. (The factory-delivered Flash bands were better looking, but notoriously fragile. I never bothered.)

Mind you, I’m not complaining about my old Flash ($15). It’s served me well, particularly considering that it was a ninth of the cost of my new Alta ($130). I never expected it to perform as well or look as nice as the Alta does. The Alta will be held to a higher standard.

I took photos of the unboxing, in the gallery above. The Alta arrived in decent packaging, with the rechargeable battery absolutely empty—I had to charge it to even get it connected. I was impressed with its looks; my humble standards of elegance are well-satisfied with a solid matte stainless steel case and a gleaming black display.

My experience so far:

If you read the Amazon reviews, you’ll find some major criticisms of the Alta. Here’s my experience so far:

  • It’s hard to fasten. Absolutely true. In fact, while I take it off by unfastening the clasp, I put it back on by fastening the clasp first, unhooking one side of the band from the tracker, then placing the tracker around my wrist and re-attaching the band to the tracker. It’s just easier.
  • It comes undone too easily. I’m reserving judgement on this. I can’t imagine the clasp coming loose when it’s so difficult to fasten. Maybe it loosens up after a few days, or perhaps the folks who complained about it coming undone hadn’t managed to get it completely fastened to begin with. I’ll keep you posted.
  • It’s hard to get the display to come on. Not so. The wrist flick technique is easy—much easier than turning on the Flash display by wrist flick. The double tap technique depends on learning the correct interval between the two taps. Tapping harder doesn’t help. The single tap to bring up the next item in the display (clock, steps, calorie burn—there are several options.) works fine, too.
  • It’s inaccurate. At this, I shrug. It’s on my wrist, not on my foot, and it works by an accelerometer, so yes, steps are probably not as accurate as they might be. This criticism also applies to sleep monitoring. I’m keeping records in Beeminder for both the Misfit and for the Fitbit for a week, so that I can correlate Misfit points to Fitbit steps, and compare how they do at tracking sleep hours. I likely won’t make a value judgement about which is “better”—I’ll adjust my targets to ensure a smooth transition to Fitbit tracking, that’s all.

Other observations:

The Alta’s nice shiny display surface is plastic, not glass, as far as I can tell. I’ll be getting a screen protector right away.

The connectors from the band to the tracker itself feel solid. They look to be made of the same stainless steel alloy as the tracker itself.

Having texts come through silently on my wrist is unutterably cool.

Setting up Beeminder goals for the Alta was easy—much easier than the corresponding goals with the Flash, which went through IFTTT. I may return to an IFTTT driven goal for sleep hours.

I like the band the Alta comes with. It’s heavy rubber (or plastic as the case may be) and doesn’t look to be breaking anytime soon. The textured matte surface is attractive. Truth be told, I’ve always loved matte black watches, and wanted an aviator’s watch with a black face, case, and band since forever. So I won’t be getting a fancy aftermarket bracelet-style band unless Hubby complains that my current one is too plain or too sporty when he’s taking me out. If he does complain, he can spend the money for an Alta bracelet. I won’t replace the band unless it breaks or starts coming undone.

Revisiting Beeminder, January 2017 #amwriting @ScrivenerApp

My Beeminder Goals

I’ve expanded my use of http://beeminder.com quite a bit.


Beeminder has undergone a few changes in the past year—they’ve cut back on their free options (though it’s still usable free—just not as generously as in the past.) As a result, I’ve started a $4/month subscription. It’s worth it to me, just to be able to run more than three goals at once.

As you can see above, I’ve actually got seven Beeminder goals active. I’ve stated previously that I know I can’t handle more than three or four—what’s changed?

First, I’ve gotten myself a Bluetooth blood pressure monitor (Withings) as well as a WiFi-connected scale (also Withings). With these in place, a lot of data entry has gone poof. Instead, I can look at the tracking in Beeminder and say, “Oh, [Deity of choice], have mercy! WTF caused THAT spike?” and do something about it, without doing anything more than actually taking the readings. As long as all I have to do to get data into Beeminder is take readings, wear my fitness tracker, and work on my Mac (RescueTime), I’m good.

In fact, all is good except my word count. Lately my word count, to use the old Saturday Night Live line, “really bites the big one.”

I can’t get my word count into Beeminder directly. Scrivener remains stubbornly unconnected to things like IFTTT and Zapier. While I can track the amount of time I use Scrivener in RescueTime, I consider it highly unlikely that anything more sophisticated than tweeting word count automatically will appear in Scrivener 3.0. (Prove me wrong, Keith! Please!) Still, tracking word count in Beeminder is pretty hopeless if I have to have the discipline to do data entry every. Single. Freaking. Day. Even if Beeminder reminds me. Pleads with me. Flat-out nags me…

BUT—I’ve realised that I’ve stopped tracking only activities directly related to writing (Scrivener use, iThoughts use, Wikipedia (maybe), Evernote in my Writing notebook (maybe)). I started broadening what I had RescueTime consider “writing” back in October when I started the publishing push for The Bully Trap. That information is valuable, but it’s not writing time.

So I’m splitting “writing” into two goals—“Writing” and “Business_Hours”. Business hours will retain a goal of 22 hours per week. Writing hours will cut back drastically to 3.5 hours per week (included in the business hours goal) to make it easier to get started again. If it looks like I might derail, I’ll scale back the writing hours goal further, until I can succeed—and then start increasing it again. As I do this, I’ll adjust the activities (websites, apps, etc.) which are allocated to each category—on a daily basis at first, until they’re mostly right again.

I have to fight off feeling discouraged. It feels like starting over again—but it’s not. It’s cleaning up my act.

Besides, I have some True Fans out there. I have to keep on keeping on—for them. I’ve promised.

A Word in Praise of T-Mobile #amwriting @TMobile

T-Mobile
What T-Mobile has to do with writing:

I write in coffee shops. A lot. While I usually choose Starbucks and its excellent WiFi, at least weekly I go to a shop with unreliable or non-existent WiFi. Without WiFi, RescueTime isn’t tracking me and keeping me honest. So, yes, a reliable mobile data connection is important while I’m writing.

I switched to T-Mobile from Verizon, primarily for lower cost and better international service. It’s delivered on the cost and the international, but I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the following:

  • T-Mobile has service in Los Angeles’ subway line. AT&T does not.
  • T-Mobile’s loyalty program, T-Mobile Tuesdays, has made my life materially better with free and extremely low cost promotions, like a free Frosty at Wendy’s or $2 movie tickets. Verizon’s loyalty points program offered “auctions” I could never win, or “discounts” on luxury goods that were more cheaply available elsewhere even after the discount. So from free Frosties to $2 3D IMAX tickets for “Rogue One”, I have gotten more in four months with T-Mobile than I got from Verizon in two years.
  • T-Mobile has better service at my home than Verizon.
  • T-Mobile has better service in the Los Angeles canyons, places in which cellular reception is notoriously spotty for excellent geographic reasons.

When my son and I got home from “Rogue One” last night—an expedition we could not have afforded without T-Mobile Tuesday—I shouted “T-Mobile rocks!” I estimate I get 10-20% of my bill back in Tuesday promotions every month.

Sorry, Verizon. You’ve lost me forever.

Winter Productivity Cleaning #amwriting

Holiday Productivity Slump?

Holiday Productivity Slump?


Happy New Year!

I’ve fallen behind on writing, as measured by my Beeminder writing time tracker. See that nasty flat spot? The one that starts with the jog down in the “path” on December 29? Yes, I “derailed”—I fell so far behind my intended performance that Beeminder charged me. Foo.

Default behaviour for Beeminder is to lower the bar slightly, and then give me seven days of “flat spot”—days on which I need not meet my performance goal. The intention of this is to build up a “buffer” of a few days of performance.

I’ve taken shameless advantage of this by getting some unpleasant non-writing tasks done that I’ve been putting off. Tasks like selling my old Mac Mini and various other small electronics, following up on an auto insurance claim, and taking a massive pile of unused stuff to charity. I’ve cleared my Habitica to-do list of a bunch of nasties that had been hanging on for months—things that really weren’t that hard (selling the Mac Mini, auto claim) but which were . . . emotionally draining (translation: scary). I dread bureaucracy (hence the auto claim delay) and I dithered for months about the Mac, which had a bad internal optical drive. (Sell it as-is, or provide a cheap external DVD drive? I finally decided to provide the cheap external.)

I also made the mistake of agreeing to beta read a friend’s novel draft. This resulted in days of agony while I tried to decide—take the risk of souring the relationship and tell him the truth as I see it? Or just do the “Looks great!” useless email? I finally got up courage and told him my real opinions. If he never speaks to me again—it’s better than having copped out. But I won’t do it again, for anyone outside my writing group. I don’t trust my level of tact (I’m reasonably certain I have none.) At least in the writing group, I can see the face falling and the chin quivering, and adjust my tone if I need to . . . or fall on my sword apologising.

So all those scary things are behind me, and progress on my draft is ahead (I hope.)