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Writing

My ThoughtsWriting

Tools for Writing Faster – Scrivener and Dragon

Jarrod’s Journal

I’ve begun work on a science fiction novel and the progress is coming along well. I’ve gotten into a groove where I’m writing every day, and unlike the project that’s now on hold, the story still feels fresh every time I sit down to write. Some of the tools I’m using to write have changed and I’m finding that I like it much better. To be specific, the tool I’ve begun using is Scrivener.

How I Came to Use Scrivener

I wrote my last book, Pangaea: Unsettled Land, entirely using Google Docs. This was because I had a Chromebook. Now, while it behaves very similarly to Microsoft Word, and even allows you to export into that file type, it is not the same. After exporting the file into a Word doc, I noticed that the amount of pages were different and there were some weird page break placements. Also, I realized had I used MS Word from the start, I wouldn’t have had to change short hyphens to the longer dashes used for dialogue interruptions. These aren’t automatically changed in Google Doc, so I had to find each one and change it manually. Not only that, but when I started to format it for a print edition of the book, there were so many little changes I had to make in order for it to look right. I had manually done things like hitting the ‘tab’ button to indent the first line of new paragraphs and hitting ‘enter’ multiple time after each chapter heading before writing. Formatting became a  nightmare, but through this process, I also learned that Microsoft Word wasn’t really sufficient either. I knew that I’d need something else if I didn’t want the hassle.

Being amongst writers online, you tend to hear of a few specific ideas again and again. One of them was to use Scrivener. This is a program that was made for book writers that will automatically compile your completed document into a print-ready format. I wanted to use this program for a while now, but there’s no online version so I couldn’t use it on my Chromebook. So I finally bought a new laptop last week, installed Scrivener, and so far I’m very happy.

As of right now, I have not gotten to the point of compiling a print version of anything because I am still in the process of writing this book. However, there are a few features that I am enjoying very much. Scrivener allows you to break down chapters and scenes into small chunks. You can change this if you want, but I really like the way it’s laid out. This also allows you to set a writing goal and it will track your progress every day. You can easily see how many words you write in any given session as well. Now, whether the final product looks the way I want it to, remains to be seen, but I am hopeful. If not, I can always have it formatted by a professional.

Dragon Software

Scrivener wasn’t the only reason I bought a new laptop. Another thing I kept hearing of, thanks mostly to Joanna Penn’s podcast, The Creative Penn, was Dragon dictation. This is a program that some authors use to speak their story into existence! The general idea is to speak directly into the Dragon software or record your voice and then import the audio into text using the program’s transcription option. There have been cases of writers, like me, who struggle to get to 1000 words a day, but have quadrupled their output. After hearing this, I knew I had to give this a shot.

I first listened to the audio book version of Scott Baker’s The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon to see what hardware was necessary to run this program the best. I already had a good mic, so the computer was next. Using the information in this book, I purchased the laptop I’m using now. Now, I haven’t yet bought the Dragon software, because the version I need is expensive. However, when I get it, I plan to jump in and learn what I need so that I can start completing books more frequently.

Things are evolving and my new laptop and Scrivener are great investments. I’m looking forward to trying out Dragon and getting even more stories out to you.

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My ThoughtsWriting

Do Authors Need to Write Every Day?

Checklist

Maybe I need to rethink this “write every day” thing. It’s a standard idea among authors, so, when I don’t,  it gives me unnecessary pressure. I have a job, I’m producing daily content on social media for marketing purposes, and I’m trying to work out regularly. Sometimes, I just don’t have the time to write. And if I end up not writing a word in my latest book, I feel bad. It’s like I failed or let myself down. That’s not a good feeling to have because, as a result, I slow down.

This past week, I’ve been trying to focus on getting real with myself. I ponder thoughts like Who am I? What am I capable of?, and Have I done enough? All of those really amount to Am I doing the right thing? and the answer I keep getting is that I am doing just fine. I don’t need to be the guy who stays up until two in the morning and I don’t need to hit all of the objectives on my list every single day. Why? Two answers:

  1. The amount that I want to get done is a lot, and
  2. I’m just not built to run myself ragged day after day.

I do my best and I make sure that I move the ball forward. Progress is key. It may not be as fast as I’d like, but the alternative is to mope about how I can’t do what I need. This feeling can go on for days, as it has this past week. When it does, normal objectives fall through the cracks and sometimes I don’t do anything. If only I celebrated that I did what I can, I could continue getting a lot more done and progressing.

This isn’t an excuse. These are the best of my abilities. If you can stay up until 2:00 AM and wake up at 6:00 AM for work without feeling like a corpse, then that’s what you should do. I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t be something you’re not, but always work at your best. That’s what I learned this week. And it’s something I’m going to remember moving forward.

So, should authors write every day?

Well, yes, but only if you can. My suggestion would be to not compare yourself to what everyone else is doing. Do as much as you can and be okay with that. You will get the book done. You will meet your objectives. You will be fine. Stop beating yourself up. Your only competition is you. So, do you.

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Writing

Anime and Videogames as Story Inspiration

Anime Girl

Everyone has a source that inspires them to do something creative. You may think this odd, but for me that source is video games and anime. I’m definitely a nerd at heart. I’ve recently been so busy with juggling work and networking events that I was pulled away from the things that fill my imagination. Now, as I’m writing my next book (which I’m planning to be the first in a series), I found my brain needed some creative nourishment and I’m back to enjoying the things I love. So, I’d like to share with you why those mediums aren’t a waste of my writing time, why they work for me, and what specific works I resonate with. If you have a similar process or a favorite manga or videogame, I’d love to hear all about it as well!

I’m not wasting my time

There’s a lot of people who think that gaming and watching TV don’t add anything to your life. As a writer, it’s easy to fall into this way of thinking because we’re obsessed with pounding out a certain amount of words per day. I’ve tried to downplay the fact that I enjoy such things just so I didn’t get the stigma of being lazy, but this isn’t always the case. In an episode of The Creative Penn podcast, author Michaelbrent Collings explains just how doing something seemingly inane can be, in fact, productive. Watch the clip below at 11:58-13:30 to hear his thoughts.

 

Collings speaks in terms of being a writer, but the same mentality can be applied to any outlet. As he says, “…I’m not just fooling around. It is for a real professional purpose.” Now, I’ve been guilty of getting carried away with the enjoyment of everything, but after hearing this I don’t feel so bad. If I’m having a hard time getting words on a page, going to TV and games is my natural way of refilling my brain with possibilities. I’ll just have to start taking notes so that I’m still working and not slacking off.

The Anime Influence

If you’re a fan of Japanese animation, then you already know what’s so special about it. It’s a cartoon, but they usually contain content for teen or adult audiences. Back in middle school, when I got hooked on Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, they were a  nice break from the usual animated shows I’d watch. Instead of trying to be funny and having only two secluded 15-minute episodes packed into one half hour, these programs gave me a continuous story. Characters changed, some died, and I was taken on a journey I’d never experienced on TV. These action-packed anime shows illustrated to me just how well fantasy and science fiction could be done. Here is a list of some of my favorites:

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion
  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
  • Death Note
  • Read or Die (OVA and TV series)

To this day, I still watch this stuff because it gives you something completely different and original from popular American fantasy and sci-fi. That doesn’t mean they get it right all the time, and I absolutely love a lot in those genres from creators in the States. But it’s good to get something different.

Gaming the System

Another of my favorite things to do is play video games. This medium has provided so many influences in my writing because you get an immersion into a world unlike your own. You can’t quite get that anywhere else. Books are the only equivalent, but certainly a slower pace. The Final Fantasy series blew me away when I was first introduced by its tenth game. The deep stories of that series and others like it inspired me to begin creating my own. Not only that, but I constantly thought of ways to do it better. Now, I like my fighting games as well, but not for story; just for gameplay. If you catch me online playing one of these, I’m probably taking a break…or wasting time. Here are some of my favorite games:

  • Dead or Alive
  • Uncharted
  • The Elder Scrolls
  • Mass Effect

Enough About Me, What About You?

If you play video games or watch anime, what are some of your favorites – past or present? And if you consider yourself an artist, how has this influenced your work? I’m really looking forward to reading some of your answers. Comment below and let’s see what we have in common!

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Writing

New Series Learning Curve

Writing a Series

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, sometimes you may see the angst I go through as a writer. One day I’m writing and all is right with the world. The next, I’m stuck in a fetal position wondering if one book is all I’m able to make. I’m currently in the process of creating a series and even though I’ve already written a novel, I’m seeing that there’s a huge learning curve to getting this right. So, on top of my own agonizing process I have a lot of research to do.

It took me years to write Pangaea: Unsettled Land. I came up with the inkling of an idea back in 2009, and after multiple false starts, I finally got to where I am now with a near-completed product. Starting this new story is full of false starts as well, but I’m hoping it won’t take me nearly as long to get it done. I started with outlining, but I didn’t know much about the characters, so I began writing like a “panster” to see what the story revealed. I could only do this for a while before getting stuck. I can’t write and not know where I’m going (kudos to those who can). So just yesterday, my goal was to go back to outlining and see what more I can add in order to get some momentum. This step is where I learned a bit more about crafting a series.

You can’t just outline the first book. If you want to do a collection of forward-moving stories, you have to have the bigger picture in mind from the beginning. I already knew this, but my vision was very vague in the beginning and that turned out not to work. So, I plotted out some key points in the series as a whole and now I can say that I think I’m getting somewhere.

So what is the new series about? Let’s just say it involves angels and demons. A full explanation would be way too revealing at so early a stage in writing, but it’s going to have some great characters and action throughout. That I can guarantee.

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Writing

Progress Report

Checklist

My goal is to be able to make a sizable income off of the books I write. After a ton of reading and listening to podcasts, I learned that it is possible, but it’s a lot of work to get going. I know I’ve been blabbing about this book that I had written for a while now and to show that I’m more action than talk, I’ll list the ways in which I’ve been staying productive on the path to my goal. I’ll also share just how far I am in the process of getting published!

Tasks of an Author

  1. Work – The day job. As someone who’s trying to start a career in being a self-published writer, this is every bit as important as it is distracting. On one hand, you need the steady cash flow to bankroll things like professional editing, proofreading, book cover, etc. On the other hand, when you come home from a full day’s work, you just want to crash, watch TV, and go to sleep. But I don’t have that luxury. I know you’re going to love my first novel and I want you to have the option of getting what comes next. That means I have to write another book. The good thing is I love writing, so it doesn’t cause me too much pain to switch gears and work even more at the end of the day.
  2. Social Media – If you follow me, it may look like fun and games, but trust me, it’s not as easy as it seems. It’s all part of building an author platform; a base of followers to which you’re able to advertise your work. Now, I don’t really advertise that much on social media, nor do I plan to, but it is an important part of any brand strategy to be in front of as many eyes as possible. After years of tinkering, I’ve decided on three channels that are my main focus: Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. Any more than that and my head would explode.
  3. Blogging – I’ve rededicated myself to a weekly post and so far so good. This involves one day of pounding out an article, finding an appropriate photo, then blasting it out to my social media channels once it’s published.
  4. Email Campaign – You’ve certainly seen it! How could you miss the banner, the link on the nav bar, the sidebar badge, or the popup all asking you to sign up? The emails are something I only send out twice a month (so it won’t get spammy), but sometimes figuring out what to say is taxing. Luckily, I’m never short on words.
  5. Book Production – Typesetting, formatting an ebook, getting a book cover together – ugh! It’s my first time doing any of this and it’s a lot! Luckily, I have friends who are able to help me through, otherwise I would be screwed.
  6. Writing – Oh yeah, this writing thing. Trying to fit this in while managing everything else is insane, but I’m up for the challenge. Once I get running on all cylinders, I’ll get back to pounding out 1,000 words / day.

That’s just a small taste of what I have to do to move closer to my dream, but it’s all adding up.

Where I Am Now

Right now, I’m still in the process of getting my book cover completed, and I had to send out my book to get the print version to look just right on the page. So, trust me. It’s coming! I’m hoping to have it available by the end of this year. No – I will have it available by the end of this year! Follow me, subscribe, and stay tuned. And with all this work on my plate, pray for me!

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Writing

Show Trust Yourself

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How to know when your manuscript is ready.

For writers, trusting in your own talent is hard after a critique. You wouldn’t show it to anyone unless you felt it was perfect in the first place. Yet, when you get a critique that shows you just how wrong you are it can shift your confidence and slow your progress. That was me. This past week I mustered the confidence to start sending out query letters so that I could find a literary agent to represent my fantasy novel. I struggled to get to this point because of rejections and critiques, but through it all I’ve learned to trust myself again. It is my hope that you can do the same.

When I first finished my book, I went through and did my own edits. Then I had my dad act as a beta reader. Like I said in a previous article, this isn’t as bad as it sounds. After taking his advice and making some changes, I thought my book was complete. Wrong! After sending out query after query and getting form rejection after form rejection, I had to stop myself and reassess whether my work was at the level it should be. This was the first blow to my confidence as a writer that I had to endure, but none hit harder than what came next.

I decided to hire a professional editor. A month after I sent her my manuscript it was returned with a ton of comments and suggested changes. The suggestions were more tied to character motivation and story clarity than grammar, but each slightly critical comment felt like a slice in the heart. It took me another month just to get through reading the comments. I hadn’t even started working on revisions yet, but it was all worth it.

Now this may sound weird, but I am so grateful for the initial rejections of my queries. This forced me to get new eyes on my novel which pushed me to make changes that tightened my narrative in ways to which I was blind. But this also had a negative effect. Where I once would have confidently moved to the next step of submitting a polished product into the arms of agents, self doubt began to creep in. Questions like “Is my novel good enough?” or “What else am I missing?” took over my mind and paralyzed my actions. Again, I was in the same predicament of having no one to read the new draft, and worse, this time I did not have enough money to pay my editor for another look.

I pushed past the halt in my momentum by trusting that my editor said all that she needed to about my book. I also had to trust my dad when he said he enjoyed it and it reminded him of The Hunger Games. Finally, I decided to trust in my own talent. I’ve gone over that manuscript again and again and there is nothing that I would change. That’s where you have to be before you submit your material.

If you do the work and explore every avenue in order to get your manuscript to its best level possible, your last step is to trust yourself again. Let go of the doubt and put your work out there for people to see. In my case, I fully expect to get more rejection after rejection of my query letters, but this time I know that I’ve done all that I can to get my work to its best. I also have no doubt that my novel will connect with readers once it’s published.

Are you having trouble doubting the level of your work? Let’s talk about it. Show yourself in the comments below now and share this article for other writers.

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Writing

Free Write It Out

Free Write It Out

 

A tweet came across my screen with a quote from Stephen King: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us get up and go to work.” This is from his book, On Writing. I read the book cover to cover one time, but it wasn’t until I saw this tweeted out recently that it hit me in the gut. Its impact missed me on the first read-through. I retweeted the quote and asked if this were true because I felt guilty of waiting for inspiration. A gentleman replied basically stating that sometimes you just have to start writing to get the ball rolling. So I put this into practice and the result was fantastic.

“Just start writing” could mean different things to different people. For one, it could mean write a journal entry, while for another it could mean “just get through the scene and don’t worry about perfection”. I took it as an opportunity to free write – a stream-of-consciousness form of writing where you just keep going non-stop. I opened a new document and started typing whatever was on my mind. Now, I have done this before with little success and that may have been why I stopped. I see now that the more you do it, the better able you are to get over your self-criticism.

I had an idea for a science fiction story and didn’t know where to start. Every time I thought about it, something just seemed corny, overdone, or too complex. However, through this exercise I was able to get the first page done. Now I am currently writing the first draft of what could be flash fiction, a short story, or possibly longer. Here’s a taste of what I have so far:

I saw the barrel of the gun in between my eyes flash. The sound was loud, but quick. No echo. Everything shifted to black like a light switch was flipped.

I got all that from writing about how I doubted freewriting would help. I was wrong. If you’re stuck at the beginning of a story idea like I was, free write it out. And if you’re in the middle of a story and hit a wall, shut down that critical voice in your head and just keep punching away at your keyboard. It may take some time to get past it, but you’ve got to keep moving.

What are some techniques you use to get past writer’s block? Show yourself and engage in the comments below!

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Writing

The Marketability of Gay Fiction

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Last week I listened to a podcast by Eclectica Cafe on Soundcloud where they spoke with a group of LGBT and allied writers about the state of gay fiction in the publishing industry. What some of the members of Out in Colorado had to say really resonated with me. I feel the same as they in their motives for writing gay characters: we just want to see ourselves in the content that we consume. They also mentioned a couple quick tidbits – like how lesbians were usually a part of an ensemble for their appeal to straight male readers or viewers. Also, that there is no black lesbian superhero (someone jump on this). But what really stood out was the perception of how the publishing industry has this strange view of how to receive new gay literature. On one hand they have a desire for new voices and diverse characters, but on the other hand they have a strict sense of what will sell. Take a listen below and keep reading.

One member mentions how tired he is of publishers asking for a coming out story because they believe it will sell more. I don’t have any experience working with a publisher just yet, but I can totally believe this happening. That story is all over the place these days. Everywhere there’s a gay character in the mainstream, there’s a coming out story that is central to them. These narratives are important, but hardly make up the whole experience of what it means to be gay in a homophobic society. And so, when writers approach the larger publishers with anything different I can imagine it’s a bit harder for them to bite. Apparently, it’s easier to go through a smaller publisher who is willing to take the risk on your work.

They also raise the issue of token characters. I am familiar. I am an advocate for diversity, but is a story truly diverse by having just one representation of a group of people? There should be at least two very different people from the same underrepresented background in order to get away from defining the whole with just one.

My first novel that I am currently editing involves a couple of gay characters and getting past the limited ways LGBT stories are being portrayed seems daunting, but we must endure. Your story has to be marketable, but don’t compromise so much that you lose your voice. Every different story counts and a diverse cast of characters makes it all the more interesting.

What are your thoughts about what Out in Colorado talked about? What about how LGBT characters in books and TV are depicted? Leave me a comment below and let’s discuss.

Follow me on Twitter and please share this article. Thanks!

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BooksWriting

Harry Potter’s Hermione Is Black?

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Some controversy has been stirred up recently with the casting of a black actor, Noma Dumezweni, for the role of Hermione in a stage production of the next chapter in J. K. Rowling’s mega book series. There seem to be two camps of thought ranging from “don’t change the character” to “it’s great – she was never fully described in the first place”. Regardless of where you fall, the core of the issue lies in how we perceive characters with less than exact descriptions in books. I talk about this in my latest YouTube video below. Watch now, give me a thumbs up, and join the discussion!

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