Monday, December 21, 2015

End of the Year Scramble

Zoom! Did you see 2015 fly by? The year went incredibly fast and with 2016 less than two weeks away, most of us are evaluating the year that was.

I've said many times that I don't set yearly goals or resolutions at the start of each year. I make plans.
Plan your work and work your plan is a much used piece of wisdom at our house. For many writers, planning has to be done around another full-time job or taking care of children. Plans often fall by wayside. When my children were all at home, I used to say I never made plans more than 12 hours in advance.

Before planning for next year, look back and evaluate 2015. Did you write down your goals last year? Did you check them all off or are many of them still outstanding debt toward your plan for the last twelve months?

I confess to a strange love of planners and journals. I love to write by hand and my planner shows it. The past few years, I've purchased The Old Farmer's Almanac Engagement Calendar style planner. Every inch of space gets filled with jotted notes and reminders. I secretly crave a Moleskin Planner just because it's Moleskin but I've never found one that suits my needs. I like the planner to lie flat on my desk so I always get a spiral bound one. But the point is, this is what works for me to keep track of my plans for my novels writing and everything else.

I don't think I would keep up my blog without my planner. Already in my 2016 model, I have notes jotted in April for the A to Z Challenge. I have marked the days for guest posts, for IWSG, for bloghops, and writers' meetings.

I know lots of my friends have digital calendars on their smart devices to remind them of things. Those things work great and are pretty easy to use. But I prefer writing it down. I always seem to remember if I write it down without even having to look at it. And remember, studies show that writing things by hand stimulates the brain more than using an electronic device.

I'm sure that the first IWSG posts on January 6, 2016, will be filled with goals and plans for the coming year. Go for it! Make 2016 your year!

What works best for you to keep track of goals and your plans? Are you a Moleskin lover or think they're just overpriced name-droppers? Are you already thinking of your goals for next year?

And I'll say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays with this.

"May you have warmth in your igloo, oil in your lamp, and peace in your heart." Eskimo Proverb

Monday, December 14, 2015

Print Book Formatting Programs - Which One Should You Use?

The ease of self-publishing has lured many writers into publishing their own books. Publishing an EBook is cheap and the formatting and conversion simple. The author’s book can be for sale within minutes of upload.

While it’s a thrill to see one’s book for sale online, nothing beats holding a print book in your hands. There are costs involved though. And many more details, including formatting for print, which is different than formatting for EBook. What are the options?

There are dozens of programs you can purchase or use, including:

PagePlus X9
CorelDraw X7
Microsoft Publisher
PageFocus Pro

Let’s look at cost first. At the high end, we have QuarkXPress, which is $849. to purchase new. (The upgrade is $349.) At the low end, we have InDesign, which is no longer sold as an individual program but rather “rented” from Adobe Cloud for a monthly fee of $20. (Upgrades are included free.)

Most of the programs will come with a learning curve. It takes some instruction reading and playing with the program to figure out how to use it properly.

Many of the programs also come with options to convert the print book into EPub. InDesign, QuarkXPress, and PagePlus all have this feature.

It also depends on whether you have a PC or a Mac. A few are not available for the Mac.

And of course, you have to consider the ease of inserting tables, graphics, images, and other extras you want to include in your book. From those listed, PageFocus Pro and PageStream are more limited.

Top Ten Reviews offers an excellent comparison of the ten best print book formatting programs available. InDesign, the program most traditional publishers use, scores perfect in every category.

You’ll notice one program that many authors use that’s not listed here or there - Microsoft Word. While fine for formatting EBooks, it was never intended to format print books and the results are often amateurish. For a professional look, avoid using Word.

If formatting your own book seems like a monument us task, you can always hire someone to format it for you. We have many listed on the Self-Publishing page here and several of our IWSG members format print books. (Myself included.)

But if you’re ready to tackle formatting yourself, do your research and get the program that best suits your needs. Because hopefully, you’ll be using it for years to come.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Second Draft by Jessica P. Morrell

The Much-Needed, but Sometimes Dreaded Second Draft
Jessica P. Morrell
I don’t write easily or rapidly. My first draft usually has only a few elements worth keeping. I have to find what those are and build from them and throw out what doesn’t work, or what simply is not alive.” — Susan Sontag

Jessica P. Morrell
This column is especially meant for those plucky souls who have recently survived November’s hellacious, glutton-for-punishment and yet exhilarating challenge—NaNoWriMo or National Writing Month. But then every writer faces a second draft. And a third….and we could keep counting here, but let’s focus on the second one of a book-length story or memoir. Because you’re in for a deep rewrite along with analyzing, musing, and asking a lot of questions of yourself. 

Your second draft focuses on larger issues, consistency problems if the plot hangs together and the architecture makes sense. A lot of second draft fixes solve structure problems; fix places that needs bolstering or sections that need to be eliminated or relocated. You’re also judging plausibility and motivations. You’ll be making your major revisions at this point, deciding whether you need to change the beginning, ending, or viewpoint. This means you’re searching for scenes that don’t accomplish much, big plot holes, unanswered questions, and wimpy stakes. You’ll make certain your key events occur in the right order. And remain open to change: would allowing for some unplanned, newly-inspired twist transform or deepen the story even if it’s different from your original plan?

Start with a plan. Your first trick is to achieve psychic and emotional distance. Stephen King’s advises letting the manuscript cool for a few months, but for most writers that cooling off period can turn into a deep freeze and you might opt to avoid the hard work needed. A few weeks helps just fine, especially if you’re on a deadline. No matter your timeframe, print it all out in a different typeface than the one you wrote it in. Many mistakes you won’t notice by reading it on a computer screen will become apparent because you’ll be habituated to ignore them.

Next schedule a solid bock to time for reading, note taking, and heavy analysis. It’s best to undertake this in a different place than where the story was written, thus adding even more editorial distance. It’s also helpful to work in a location where you can take long walks while you ponder whether your story is working or needs a major overhaul. I suggest an ocean view or lakeside cottage or mountain hideaway, but that’s just me.  Plan to use a lot of colored ink and highlight sections that need moving or trimming.

Create a story bible if you haven’t already done so. Your bible ensures consistency and connectedness— what this reading and rewrite should achieve.   You might want to list all the scenes in the story along with the change that takes place in each scene. Scenes require change and then fallout. You might want to title your scenes.  Note their time and location, the characters involved and their ranking, their main physical and psychological traits. If it’s a complex story with a sprawling cast, design a family tree or a web of connections.

How do your protagonist’s goals and motivations deepen throughout the story?  After Act 1 often the protagonist’s goals will change, become more personal. A search for a missing person uncovers a human trafficking scheme. And then someone in the protagonist’s family becomes endangered by these heartless criminals.  Perhaps at the end your characters want something far different from what they fought for in the opening. Perhaps he or she is seeing the world with new eyes. Stories where the characters’ priorities and worldview evolve are powerful. Stories where they don’t can seem predictable.

Pay attention to events or motives that are never explained or spelled out as if you’re whispering stage directions to the reader. Note if there are too many dangling subplots or simply too many subplots. Often this draft will be loose and sketchy, lacking in the narrative flow and glue that holds a piece together. Or, it might be written in summary, thus the intimate details and moments that bring the story to life will be missing. This means you’ll be replacing summary with scenes. Notice if the viewpoint is consistent, or if head-hopping is going on. Determine if your story contains surprises, intrigue, and forward momentum
Make certain that you need the first chapter or scene. Many stories are strengthened by a beheading because they start far before the first crucial actions. Generally backstory isn’t needed in Act 1. If it’s a thriller you need to start with a crisis or disaster, not a tour of the CIA headquarters. It it’s a love story, collide the lovers as early as possible.

Checklist for the First Revision:

·         A good story begins with turbulence or a threat. Has your ‘ordinary world’ been introduced and does this intro include tension, something amiss before the trouble starts?

·         Do your main characters have a physical presence on the page? Have you added to their presence as the story proceeds?  Is the whole visual enough?

·         Have you identified your protagonist’s inner conflict?

·         How about your midpoint? Is it a game changer? Did the story take your readers in a direction they couldn’t have predicted? If so, does the inner logic hold up?

·         Can readers understand where scenes are taking place and the timeframe for the scene? Do you need transitions to bridge events? Is your timeline consistent?

·         Is the story question and main subplot clearly resolved?
  • Are most scenes built from obstacles?
  • Can a scene be cut without affecting the main story?
  • Does each action cause more actions and reactions?
  • Evaluate the order of your scenes—is this the right time to include this action or should it wait?
  • Do you need to add twists and complications if it bogs down, especially in the middle?
  • Is description dispersed in small increments throughout and  via a character’s viewpoint?
  • Do you need to add flashbacks so the characters’ motivations and goals make sense?
  • Do the flashbacks contain action or mostly summary?
  • Do you need to strengthen or add subplots? Or cut some because the story is wandering too far afield?
  • Have you created a plausible tie-in or between the main plot storyline and the main subplot?
  • Are you noticing that a lot of the pages have the same emotions, tone and mood? If so, how can you mix it up?
If you find major problems, don’t panic. Instead create careful notes as if you were an editor addressing a client. Chances are at this point you might need to expand or cut backstory, deepen main characters, cut or combine secondary characters, expand or cut subplots, reorder the scenes to heighten the tension, beef up the middle so that it contains a potent twist, and refine the ending so it truly concludes the plot.  I repeat, don’t panic.

Thanks to Jessica for guesting again. Please check out Jessica's website for even more terrific writing advice and help. I can personally recommend her books as they're sitting on my shelf. Thanks, But This Isn't For Us can be purchased on Amazon.
Do you dread the second draft? Did one thing on her checklist really click with you?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Insecure Writer's Support Group Post Day!

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

Our awesome co-hosts today are Sandra Hoover, Mark Koopmans, Doreen McGettigan, Megan Morgan, and Melodie Campbell!

Thanks again to everyone who entered the IWSG Anthology Contest! There were some amazing stories in the thirty-plus submissions. Only ten will go into the book, though. Be watching January 6, 2016 when we announce the winners.

Be sure to say a special thanks to the admins who keep this site and the Facebook Group going strong:
Lynda Young, Michelle Wallace, Susan Gourley/Kelley, L. Diane Wolfe, Joy Campbell, and Joylene Nowell Butler.

We’ve got some great stuff in store for next year, including more top-notch guests and another contest. As always, we are here to serve you. Is there a specific area where you need help or a topic that we can cover to make your journey easier?