Wednesday, July 18, 2018

As Elsa would say, let that stuff go.

52.

I have 52 manuscripts in my Just Writing dropbox folder. Some are complete, some have a couple of filled-in scenes and then basically a synopsis to remind me how I meant the story to go. None of them are sellable or even readable.

Not sure about all authors, but I get ideas a lot. I'll think, whoa, I'd really like to read a paranormal romance where the heroine hooks up with a not-as-evil-as-he-seems anti-Christ sort of dude. So I go off and write 60k (so, so dodgy) words because I'm so into the idea... and then I stumble across a book on a shelf somewhere that has already dealt with the topic. Brilliantly. Perfectly. (Thank you, Darynda Jones. Your version is the one the world needed.)

So anyway, my answer to this week's question -- do you ever abandon a project, and if so why? -- is yes, and because sharing the story isn't necessary. It was enough to have written it to settle my own brain.

See, thing is, not every idea that bubbles up in a writer's brain is going to work for actual readers. And not every writer is capable of writing every idea they have.

It's okay to put that first manuscript in a drawer. It's okay to say, you know what, there just isn't room in the market for another Harry Potter clone. (Inner voice says, "Yeah, but ours is with fresh-out-of-high-school new adults learning magic as a profession and how to adult and ..." and I say, "Shut up, inner voice. Seriously, just shut up.") It's okay to realize you've grown as a writer since you started working on that space opera that, let's be honest, was just a Deep Space Nine fanfic with substituted names.

It's okay to write those for-pleasure idea bursts. It's even okay to love them.

And it's also okay to let them go. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

5 Reasons Projects Are Abandoned

No one likes to say "I give up." We're taught from a young age that quitting is a horrible character flaw. On the other hand, the older we get, the more we understand we can't do everything. Our time, energy, and resources are limited.

Therefore, here are 5 Reasons I Abandon Projects:

1) Don't fit the schedule
My analytical project manager brain always assigns priorities, rankings if you will, to projects. A leftover from my dot-com days that says if dates slip then features drop. Features, in this case, could be a free short story to include in a newsletter or a perma-free novella told from an alternate POV to boost sales to a series.

2) No longer the right solution to a goal
When planning projects for the next year to 18 months, things change. ~gasp~ Meanwhile, I'm learning more about the business through classes, shared best practices, or trial and error. What was once the best strategy has to be revised. If my goal is to increase sales by 8% over 6 months, how I get there can absolutely result in me dumping one strategy if a less resource-demanding solution comes along.

3) Increase in price
Inflation is real. Budgets are necessary. P&Ls are good business practices. Market changes happen. That awesome resource that was affordable in the planning stages but has since increased its fees so its now out of budget? That kills a project toot sweet. Then are the projects for which I budgeted X but didn't properly account for all the inputs, so it should never have been in my plans in the first place. ~doh!~

4) Unnecessary
It was a genius concept when it was hatched, but it had a window of opportunity that closed, the strategy was trashed in favor of something else, or a third-party stepped up to provide the service/solution/alternative means (aka I'm not the one who has to do the work anymore, woot!).


5) Sailing A Sinking Ship
If it's a group project and key players are flaking out--barring a legal or financial cost of non-delivery--I'm not going to stick around to salvage the project. I spent a lot of my corporate days being the fixer, the catcher, the patcher, and the cleaner. If I'm not being paid handsomely to play those parts, I am not assuming ownership of someone else's failures. Similarly, if it's a group project and it comes to light that asshats abound, I will bail. It's not worth having my brand/reputation dragged through the mud on a crap product associated with crappier people. Harsh? Maybe. Too damn old to care. 
Note: It's not to say I'll run away if things get complicated; I take my commitments very seriously. However, I've been in this game long enough to recognize collaborative and creative abuse.

There's no shame in reevaluating a project for its usefulness, its cost (opportunity and financial), or its ROI. That's just smart living. Needs evolve. Strategies evolve. Projects are dumped while others are picked up. If it's not the right project for the goal you want to achieve, then kill it and move on.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Quitters, Inc?

So this weeks topic is When do you quit a project, or do you?

the answer is, of course, you don't. Unless you are forced to.

Let me explain. I don't like quitting a project, I might set it on a back burner for a while, but I seldom if ever actually QUIT a project. To do so is to admit defeat, and I am as stubborn as they come when I want to be. I always want to be stubborn when it comes to my writing projects.

If that sounds like bragging, it isn't meant to.  I think stubborn comes with the  territory when it comes to being a successful writer. No one is ever successful who surrenders to the whims of fate or to publishing.

Okay, time for one of my favorite Harlan Ellison quotes (May he rest in peace, and I'm paraphrasing.) Basically w hat Harlan said was that to be a writer requires a certain amount of arrogance. First, to believe that anyone would want to read what you have written and second to presume that anyone would want to PAY for the privilege.

I don't think he''s wrong. But it's more than that, i think if you're serious about this business, then you have to be willing to dig in yoru heels and make something work, even when it fights you.

So, a few years back I decided I wanted to write a supernatural noir thriller.  Just sounded like something I'd like, so I sat down and started writing. roughly 45, 000 words into the project I turned to my friend Tom Piccirilli and said, "Tom, does this suck?" Tom and I started off around the same time. the differences are numerous but among them are the following: My shortest novel is fifteen thousand words longer than his longest novel. He was the one that pointed that out, by the way. I am words faster than Tom was at his very best speed, and oh, yeah, he won volumes of literary awards and I have been nominated a few times. 

Tom is another soul lost to us these days and he is missed and if you have nto read his words, you should rectify that as quickly as possible, because he was an amazing writer in addition to being an amazing man.

I asked Tom for a favor and he did it for me. he read my 45,000 words of noir/crime/horror fiction and then he gently, carefully, wrapped the brass knuckles around his fists and tuned my ass up.  he was gentle, but he was brutal and he was honest. Turns out that maybe, just maybe, you should READ some of the genre's you'd like to write about. The kindest thing he said was that what I had written read like it was done by someone who had only ever seen the worst noir movies and thought that gave a good understanding of the genre.

He was not wrong. Currently, for kicks, I'm reading through the file and cringing a lot, because, really you should torture yourself when the ego considered getting out of hand. There is nothing technically wring with the writing. The story is fine.but there adept skill required to deliver the take is not there.

The good news? I now understand the genres involved a lot better and there are parts of this story I can use.  Most of it, really.  Surgery is required, but we can save this poor, misbegotten wretch. there might be scars, but it's salvageable as bits and pieces of something else. I'm already working the bloody thing out in my head.

There has been exactly one project I have abandoned. I was writing a sequel to my novel FIREWORKS and plugging merrily away when my computer decided to crash. When I say crash I mean epic failure. Complete devastation. The hard drive was a ruin.

I had not backed up my 40,000 words of work.

I looked through every disc I had, checked to see if I had emailed myself etc. Nothing. nada.

A little over 40,000 words. roughly 250 typed, double pages of work were lost.  even now, well over a decade later, when I think about the loss part of me just withers. I keep telling myself, maybe someday, but let's be honest here: No, it ain't gonna happen.

But bits and pieces of what I'd planned to do have been incorporated into another novel in progress.

So, no, I don't believe in quitting a project if I can help it.

You want to be a quitter? Maybe writing isn't the field fo expertise you should aim for.

Just saying.

Keep smiling,

Jim




Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fish or Cut Bait?

I'm in Denver for the #RWA18 National Conference. I think this sculpture of the dancing ladies is particularly appropriate.

This week's topic at the SFF Seven is Why do you abandon a project? What would make you (or let you) finish it?


I’m not much for abandoning projects. I don’t ever dramatically burn pages or delete documents. Now, some have gone into the equivalent of purgatory, languishing (possibly forever) in a file folder I may or may not be able to find. Some projects have been organ donors, giving up vital sections so another story may live. Those get laid to rest with reverence and celebration.

But why do I abandon projects? Usually it has to do with being able to sell them. That’s not the be-all and end-all, as I’ve certainly self-published some projects that were difficult to sell. But if the people who support me aren’t enthusiastic about a project, there’s usually a good reason for it.

As for what it would take for me to finish it, the first and most important reagent in this chemical equation is time. I’d need to be not working on something else. But that’s an oversimplification, because “time” in this sense is truly determined by priorities. In other words, devoting the time to finishing that would have to be more important than working on something else. Often that something else is more immediately marketable, so that would have to alter.

But I can totally see a day when I’ve finished some of my current series and one of these back-burner projects becomes relevant again.

Here’s three projects I abandoned and why – and what it would take for me to pick it up again:

1.     A narrative nonfiction book about my college sorority

My editor said I wasn’t ready to write it and to put it in a drawer for a year. That was 2005 or thereabouts, so 13 years ago. That one could still happen, if I get a yen to go back to nonfiction.

2.     A memoir about my grandparents and their scandalous marriage.

This is something I worked on for my Ucross Foundation Fellowship, a LONG time ago. I’m not entirely sure I know why I put it down. It felt massive at the time and it could be I didn’t have the chops to write it. Same as above.

3.     A twisty shamanistic magic tale

That’s an overly simple way of describing a complex story that would be a lengthy series, if I can get it right. I’ve written the first book twice in one genre – and massively revised several times – and did 100 pages in another. The first time I wrote it, I definitely didn’t have the chops to pull it off. Maybe even the next few times. It will get picked up again, when I feel I can do it justice.

In today’s podcast, I mention the reading Darynda Jones and I did at the SFF Reading Series at Denver’s BookBar last night, and how we discussed the importance of finishing writing projects. It IS critically important for newbie writers to learn to finish a novel or story. But there’s also no shame in realizing you don’t yet have the skills to execute it. The trick, of course and always, is being able to tell the difference. Thus it’s always better to finish it. At least write it and tie it off. Then, if you have to set it aside and write something else to hone your craft, then do that.

Abandoned projects aren’t dead, just sleeping. They’ll wait for you to be ready.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Amorphous To Be Read list

My To Be Read List and I have a somewhat amorphous relationship.

In the old days, pre-kindle, I used to go to the bookstore at least once a week and spend delicious time in the stacks. I’d come home with a pile of books to add to my already existing pile of books waiting their turn. I never did get to the bottom of the pile either, because newer and shinier titles would get released, or new books from my autobuy authors would come out. Of course in those days such authors only released new titles once a year, giving me plenty of time to read other people too.

I never did spreadsheets or tracking of any kind BTW. Not my thing. Books in, books out, some onto my keeper shelves and some to the Goodwill bin for someone else to enjoy.

Part of my sentimental collection of Andre Norton
As I moved more and more into the ebook realm of reading, I stopped buying hard cover or paperback books at all. So no more visible TBR on a shelf somewhere. I hardly have any physical books in my home any more, other than stacks of tomes for my ancient Egyptian research and some sentimental favorites.

Certain authors are still autobuy for me – Nalini Singh, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, our Jeffe Kennedy, Anne Bishop The Others series.

I’ve added a few scifi romance authors like Anna Hackett, Cynthia Sax, Pauline B Jones, Emmy Chandler, Anna Carven, Michelle Diener, Tiffany Roberts.
(I’m undoubtedly forgetting some names, not enough caffeine today yet…apologies)

These are people for whom I stop everything else for the day, even working on my own novels, and just sit and read the new book.

I devote a chunk of time every week to creating my New Releases (NR) post for new titles in scifi romance, paranormal romance and fantasy romance. (Here’s a link to a recent one if you’d like to see. Which golly gee, happens to have my own new release included! But about 48 weeks of the year I’m not releasing anything new myself.) I do limited curating of the list and I don’t even pretend to include every single new book in all 3 genres every week. What human can do that? And especially limit the time spent on creating the NR post so I can still write my own books?

 Anyway, I have a Process and in the process of discovering new books every week to share with people on my blog, I find a lot of books to read.

Some I one click right away.  No question must have that book! The books in that category I typically read within a week or two of buying them.

Some I put onto kind of a mental TBR, but I also know I can look back at my previous NR posts to refresh my mind about books I was intrigued by but might never actually have time to read.

The underlying thing for me is that I’m literally writing and talking about SFR all the time, in several FB groups, for USA Today/HEA, Amazing Stories, Love In Panels and sometimes other sites as well. I need to stay current on authors, books, and trends in SFR to be able to create interesting, relevant posts for all those places. So I ‘have to’ read. Such a hard life, right? I read very fast, which helps. I have an empty nest except for the demanding Jake the Cat and I’m full time at this writing gig.
Jake the Cat because who doesn't love a cat photo
So the jump for a book from Amazon to my kindle to me actually reading it is probably only going to be two weeks at the most. But very few books get put on that nebulous form of TBR.

The other titles I have an interest in reading sit on my archived NR posts on my blog (because I always put a note in the post of which ones I one-clicked or put on my TBR) and occasionally make it to the kindle and get read.

So that's my tale of how I manage my TBR List. Works for me!


Friday, July 13, 2018

A Book Problem

Uhm. Hi.
My name is Marcella. And I have a book problem. Maybe more than one book problem. I mean. Look. It was one thing being a book addict when buying books mostly meant going into a bookstore, right? After walking out with more books than three people could carry and vowing to never set foot into a bookstore again without someone - ya know - responsible along, I could control the addiction.

But then E-readers, amIright? It's like the Universe conspired to hand book addicts a new improved way to sneak binge their substance. Even if e-reading isn't the quite the same tactile experience as the much harder to conceal dead tree versions. So there's that.

Add into it that I can't tell you how big my TBR pile is anymore. It - uhm - escaped me. No, I have a good excuse! Hush. You know about the living on the boat thing - and that while that happened all of my books went into storage. Yeah. They're still there. In boxes. The boxes are actually in my bedroom now, but I can't take the books out and pile them up in teetering TBR towers cause we're in temporary housing, right? So I sneak out one at a time, read it and then tuck it back in. All while adding new books to my digital TBR pile, AND when my B-day and the holidays roll around, clearing out my book wishlist with dead tree formats, well. I have no idea how big the TBR pile is. I don't even track the books I read on GoodReads any more. I found it was changing how I invested in a book knowing I had to write up something about it.

Yeah. Still a book addict. There's one cracked open beside me while I type. Craft book, but a book nevertheless.

My goal for the coming year (our lease on this place is up in November and we'll be looking for a longer term lease option in less of a cliff-dwelling type arrangement) is to actually unpack and sort my physical TBRs.

Dunno that there's any help for the digital ones. Kindle seems resistant to file organization. At least on my dinosaur of a Kindle.

But yeah. That's my story. I have a book problem.

PS: Happy Friday the 13th! Remember to superstition safely! Also, fewer than 100 days until Halloween, y'all. Break out the spooky.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

My To-Be-Read List

My to-be-read list is shamefully large.  I have SO MANY books on my shelf that I have every intention of reading.  I really do.  But I haven't done it yet.

This is why I'm completely understanding whenever someone tells me that Thorn or Murder or Holver Alley is on their TBR list but they haven't gotten to it yet.  I get it.  This is how we all operate.  We have to make choices with our time, and for me right now, that involves drafting Shield of the People, going over the final proofs of Way of the Shieldreading and critiquing the pieces for the ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop, and also taking care of the rest of my life so I don't collapse in a heap of unhealthiness.

(My knee went out on me last week, which made life challenging.  Back up to snuff now, though.)

That said, I am currently re-reading.  Namely, I'm re-reading The Belgariadas I haven't read it in almost a decade, and diving deep into it on Twitter with the #BelgariadRead hashtag.  Come check it out.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"How big is your... to-be-read list?" she innuendoed.

"So, how big is it?"

It's not like I'm blushing or anything, but did you really ask that question? I mean, this is personal. But here we are, and you did ask. I struggle to answer.

"I mean, it's sizable."

You raise eyebrows.

"Biggish, then. Biggish and not showing any signs of shrinking." To my shame. "It just grows, and I can't seem to stop it."

Okay, you can giggle here, note that warning about calling a doctor if these things go on longer than four hours, and float off in a puff of innuendo. Go ahead. 

Except no, you're still here. Waiting.

Fine.

My to-be-read list is how big? SO big that ...

... clocking in at 702 ebooks on my Kindle queue alone, if those were holdable, sniffable books I had to store, I would no longer have a kitchen. Possibly would not have a house and would be relegated to a she-shack in the back yard. (With a reading nook, naturally.)

... even with all those titles offloaded to digital, the paperback stacks collapsed the shelves in my closet. (Poor closet.)

... I no longer remember which were loaners, which were freebies, and which I bought. So, if you loaned me a "you have to read this book!" book, forgive me. (And remind me of the title. I'm sure I'm getting to it!)

And the worst, most difficult confession of all:

... if I've read about ten pages and am not completely and absolutely invested in a book, I'm probably not going to finish it. That's the sad truth. It's probably going right back into the "maybe later" aka TBR pile.

I guess this is why folks say a book's opening page has to be gripping. There are just too many options out there now for entertainment. Such is the embarrassment of riches for a reader these days.

Of course, then I wonder what my own opening pages look like, and finally -- finally! are you happy now? -- I blush scarlet. 

Because I get the punchline to this very unfunny joke: My next book best start off with a dead body in a car chase, because I'm not alone in having more books than eyeball time. Snagging a reader's attention and holding it is the only way any book is going to move from TBR to keeper shelf.