My Life as a Twit

twitI wish I had time for book marketing, or, more precisely, I wish I wanted to make the time for it by sacrificing other things, but those other things, which include actually writing fiction, keep shoving it out of the way.

Still, I do a couple of things on a random basis. This blog, for instance. Thanks to friends and family – thanks, you guys! – there are some people who actually read it, and once in a while, a complete stranger wanders in from Networld and gives it a look – thanks to you guys, too! And I have an author page on Facebook here, which gets a look now and then. I don’t do much with it because of the time shortage.

Then there’s Twitter, which I am into more at some times, less at others. Right now, I’m more into it. My handle is @coolcarsoncraig, if you’re interested in following (or blocking, maybe).twitterHead

Sometimes, if I’m having a bad attitude, which is a lot, I’ll feel that having a Twitter presence is kind of like wandering around a huge meadow with a lot of other people in it, all of them very far away, and shouting. Occasionally, one of these people will wander within earshot. Of these, a miniscule portion will pay attention to your shouts, and perhaps react. You, too, will wander within hearing distance of some of your fellow meadow-walkers from time to time, and once in a while, you’ll react. Mostly, though, you’re unheard, heard but not reacted to, or heard and ignored.

But on a good-attitude day, I realize there are some shining moments in the Twitterverse. Someone will follow your feed for a reason other than to sell you 10,000 followers. You’ll get a Like on a tweet, or even a re-tweet. You’ll get a direct message that reflects a genuine desire for community.

The best thing about Twitter, though, is that it gives you concrete proof that there are countless other writers out there, fighting the same battles, experiencing the same defeats, celebrating the same victories. When you see this, suddenly you can hear all those far-away meadow people, and they’re all shouting, mostly joyfully, about writing. Sometimes somebody hits a big milestone, like 100,000 words, or they get an agent, or their book comes out, and they’re absolutely singing. Other times, they’re calling out encouragement or creative ideas, in case anybody needs them, and who doesn’t?

So, anyway, I don’t know if it’s much of a marketing thing, but I kind of like it out there in the Kingdom of Twitvalia (Is that dumb? Well, screw it, I’m leavin’ it.). It’s a place where I can reach out to like-minded souls, lots of them. Even if the connection is ephemeral, it’s still uplifting, and a writer needs that.

Now, there’s also Instagram, and Snapchat, and… Oh forget it. No time!

Happy writing! (And tweeting!)

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Trouble Spots: The manic tale of a young man's escape from Hell.

By the way, I wrote a novel. It’s full of laughs and adventure. It’s called Trouble Spots, and you can get the Kindle version here or the paperback here. It’s also available at lots of other awesome e-book outlets.

 

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Embracing the Writer’s Conflict(s)

frustratedWriterAtComputerTalking Conflict, Thinking Conflict

Writers talk a lot about conflict. And they should. It’s the lifeblood of any story. So we sit down at the keyboard, or the notebook, or the electronic device du jour, and think about Mary, and how she wants a new samurai sword, but her parents disapprove of her martial arts obsession, and even more so of a long, sharp instrument. Or we think of something else where humans are up against some sort of opposition.

Self-Conflict

We are in conflict, ourselves, as we write. At any moment, as we write, we’re standing in the shoes of the character who is acting at the moment. If it’s a character who is important to the story, they are no doubt in conflict, which means you are, too. You are, in fact, that character. If you couldn’t empathize like that, you probably wouldn’t be a fiction writer.

Life Conflictwriter-having-inspiration-block-and-frustration_r-yf1qioe_thumbnail-full01

If you’re a part-time writer, like me, you’re probably engaged in other conflicts, too. Maybe your day job keeps you so busy it’s hard to find time for your art. Maybe you have a conflict of desires; for instance, you want to be an excellent writer, but you want to be an excellent parent, too, and sometimes the choice between one and the other is grating.

Muse Conflict

There’s the work, too. If you’re trying to get something started, there’s that blank page/screen/stone tablet staring you in the face, daring you to make a mark. You might be well into a manuscript, only to have it turn around and start fighting you for every word. The muse might be throwing words at you by the bushel… only they’re all bad.

Value Conflict

And what about the worthiness of that work? After all, the writer’s conflict is of a very different, arguably far less intense, type that that of soldiers, police officers, emergency room personnel, and the like. Especially for the part-time writer, there’s a nagging voice in your head sometimes that tries to convince you you’re wasting valuable time making stuff up, and you have to argue back, or summon the fortitude to ignore it.

artsyWriterPicConflict is the woven into the heart of every story, and into the life of every writer. It’s inescapable. My though? Embrace it. Make it your guide and see where it takes you.

Cheers,

 

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Help in a Writer’s Hard Times

get by with a little help from my friendsHard Times

The last several months of work on novel #2 have been pretty miserable. I felt like I was dragging every word out of my brain by its heels, kicking and screaming. When they finally landed on the page, my only thoughts were self-bolstering phrases like:

This is terrible.

Can this get any more boring?

The story isn’t going anywhere.

Craziness

I went a little crazy. I spent a bunch of time on outlining schemes and re-writing. I wrote three new openings for the book. Still, I wasn’t happy with it. I even flirted with starting a new book altogether.

The Cavalry Arrives

At last it came time for me to submit my stack of pages to my critique group. As it turned out, their evaluation was radically different from my own:

“The writing is compelling and beautiful.”

“Another great episode.”

“What a powerful story.”

“…mastery of revision, and fluent writing style.”

I was floored, in a good way, like when you finally work up the courage to ask that out-of-your-league person out and they say “yes.” The positive feedback was a huge shot in the arm. Now I am writing with a positive outlook on the work and all the joy I had when I started it.

Objective Views

It’s wonderful how an objective view (or views) of your writing can change it for the better. Often such views are editorial and corrective, pointing out weaknesses you need to fix, and that’s always good. But sometimes, the objective view can just be encouragement. I don’t find writing lonely, but I do find it solitary, and I’m grateful for capable people I can reach out to for help on a regular basis.

Your Thoughts?

If you have some ingenious way of getting objective feedback on your writing, I’d love to know about it, and so would the other three people who read this blog. Please leave a comment. Thanks!

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P.S.: I wrote a novel ( get it here ) called Trouble Spots. Now I just need somebody to read it. Here’s the skinny:
Grieving over his dead parents, newly homeless, and bereft of his beloved younger brother, Colin Davis, aspiring writer and compulsive smartass, is certain life can’t get any worse, and it probably can’t. But then there’s the afterlife… When an injury sends Colin’s body into a coma, his soul awakens in the claw foot tub intended for the Limbo-bound, but a demon dressed like a Bible salesman tricks him into entering Hell instead. Colin’s one avenue of escape: Thin Spots, unreliable portals between realities that are as likely to land him in the lobby of a Ramada Inn as in the caldera of an active volcano. His quest to obtain the one means of controlling Spots, the Golden Bough, puts him on a collision course with Satan, who wants the Bough to launch a war against an unwary Heaven. To get the Bough and save the universe (and, incidentally, his brother), Colin, with the help of Hell’s queen, her handmaid, and a scholarly angel, embarks on a quest across the ocean of Limbo to beg Heaven’s unwilling angels for help. When the angels refuse his plea, Colin decides victory is a do-it-yourself deal, where the terms are a deep breath and a dive into the hottest flames Hell has to offer.

Get it here. 

5 Ways to Strangle Your Creativity

stranglerVineWhat a Pain…

Your inborn creativity is probably a large part of what makes you a writer. Situations, characters and settings pop into your consciousness like bubble from the bottom of a boiling pot. You are also probably driven to a certain degree by a compulsion to bring new things out of your brain and into the world.

What a pain in the neck!

All that stuff rattling around in your head, not to mention that nagging voice going “Write, write!” like some shriveled, cantankerous maiden aunt, is just a drag.

Killing Creativity

Here are five ways to choke off that pesky creative gift:

  • Make writing a hit-or-miss affair. Forget about making a commitment to write on a regular schedule. Write when you feel like it, or when it’s convenient, or when there’s nothing good on TV. Sure, you’ll spend most of your time trying to get your narrative voice tuned up and remember what happened in the story last, but who cares? It’s a casual deal, right, this writing?
  • Don’t read. This includes craft books, fiction, non-fiction, magazine, the newspaper, and package labels. Get as much information and entertainment as you can from broadcast media. The farther you get from the written word, the less inclined you’ll be to bother with it – and the less able!
  • Avoid art in general. Stop listening to music. Limit your broadcast consumption to fact-based programming. Stay away from art museums, and if you happen on a piece of public art, either ignore it or make fun of it.
  • Never take time out. Don’t sit back and let your mind wander. Don’t daydream. Keep every minute of every day filled with some productive activity, like polishing your doorknobs or picking the lint out of your rugs with tweezers and a magnifying glass. Work lots of unnecessary overtime.
  • Do it somebody else’s way. If you must write something creative, don’t do it in your own, unique fashion. Find somebody else’s method and follow it like you were its slave. For example, take the Hero’s Journey model and follow it exactly, and write from 4:30 until 6:30 every morning, even though you’re not a morning person and it’s more natural for you to write in shorter bursts.

I hope you’ll be able to find the fortitude to smash your creativity flat. If not, well, shucks… you’ll just have to write and enjoy yourself, I suppose. My sympathies.

Happy writing!

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Trouble Spots: The manic tale of a young man's escape from Hell.
The manic tale of a young man’s escape from Hell. Think: action, laughs, outrageous demons, and even romance. Or don’t think at all—it’s up to you. Available at most online bookstores.

Why I Write

joy2Joy.

That’s why.

Because joy is different from happiness.

Happiness is that wonderful, fizzy feeling you have when things are pretty much going your way, you’re doing what you like, and you’re smart enough to be grateful for it.

Joy is a sense that the grounding of things, the long-term outcome, the big picture, are whole and positive.

Happiness is great, but it tends to fade in and out, like an iffy signal on A.M. radio. Joy, on the other hand, hangs around.

When the prose stinks, the characters fall flat, the plot meanders into ever deeper and more stupid places, writing brings me joy, even though I may not be so happy right then.

So, I persist, and when happiness shows up to accompany joy, well, that’s a great day.

I wish you many days of both.

Cheers,

Carson

 

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Check out Wishie. That’s joy, right there.  

 

Small Sales = Big Disappointment? Nah

journeyNotDestinationWhen I self-published my first novel, Trouble Spots, last October, I did so with high hopes—well, hopes. Okay, a little. A glimmer, for sure. My feelings were mixed, truth be told. One the one hand, I thought, “Hey, I wrote this for fun and for love; I’ll publish for the same reasons, and to heck with sales.” On the other, the little gremlin in my soul that ever longs for glory was whispering “Oh, let this be enormous! Let it go viral! Let it be big in Japan!”

You can guess which happened. So far, sales have been slim, limited to friends and relations kind enough to give my maiden effort a chance. I am truly grateful to those folks, and I truly hope they enjoy the book, either as literature, a doorstop, or a handy sheaf of bacon-grease blotters. I’m not moving a lot of units, digital or dead tree.

Obnoxious Commercial Break: If you want to change the situation, check out the Kindle copy, the CreateSpace (paper) copy on Amazon.com, or visit other e-book stores like iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. Now, back to our show.

When I ask myself how I feel about the low sales, I still have mixed feelings: “Wow! I did it! That was so much fun! Let’s go for round two!” vs. “Nobody really likes my novel. My writing and storytelling are appallingly amateurish and not worth anybody’s time. I should give up now.”

I’m happy to report that, after a settling period, my feelings are ninety percent the former and only ten percent the latter. Sure, I’d like the world to pat me on the head by buying my fiction, but if it doesn’t, that’s fine. Here’s why the whole adventure was worthwhile:

  • I met the great folks in my writing group.
  • I became a better reader of novels.
  • I learned I can set a long-term goal and persevere until I reach it.
  • I learned that writing what you want, in the way you want, is joyful.
  • I got to spend time with my characters, who I love.
  • I gained increased confidence in my fiction-writing abilities.
  • I had boatloads of fun.

There’s a lot more I could do to increase sales, I guess—marketing-y stuff—but I just am not into making time for that right now. I have other priorities, like my family and my day job. Actions (or lack thereof) speak louder than words, so I guess there’s my certain answer: If I was really wrapped up in sales figures, I’d be spending lots more time trying to increase them. Making fiction for the sake of making fiction is still the way to go for me. That could change, but for now, I’m good with it.

Whatever conclusion you come to regarding the importance of sales, I hope your writing dreams come true.

Cheers,

Carson

Remember! Leaving a comment or logging a like builds the magic to get Wishie some boxers!

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Distractions

distractionsDistractions are all over, and they make life particularly hard for the part-time novelist. You’ve only got so much time, a limited time, to devote to your craft, so you don’t want to fritter it away on other things. Still, it’s easy to let your eyes wander from the page to the clock, or to social networking, the latest political debacle or the newest toy in the chest.

I have a hard time with this. I write in an office filled with distractions. There’s a music system, the day-job computer, guitars, microwave, electronic photo frame, iPad, art equipment… No wonder my attention wanders.

The obvious solution appears to be for me to create a space in which there is nothing but me and my laptop, but in my beloved suburban ranch, which I share with my beloved suburban family, my crowded little office is the only option for solitude.

Also contributing to the problem of distraction is my own tendency toward inattention, or, rather, paying attention to many different things in short bursts. I don’t know if an expert would diagnose me with ADD or ADHD, but the inattention thing is certainly present.

So, what am I going to do about it? What are you going to do about it, for that matter?

I’ve come up with something that I think is working, at least for me. It’s a combination of disciplining myself to pay strict attention and going with the flow of my inattention. Here’s the deal…

First, I accept that I’m distractible, at least at this point in my life. That clears the decks of guilt and all that useless garbage.

I get some of my distractions out of the way up front, when I sit down to write. Email, making sure my coffee is hot enough (remember that microwave?), etc.

Now I minimize distractions. I turn the music system off, unless it’s playing white noise or some specific, spacey sounds I often write with. I turn the picture frame off.

At this point, I may set a timer or not, depending on my inclination for the day. The timer sets my period of strict focus. If I don’t feel like setting a timer, I rely on my gut to tell me when to look up (this is riskier, but it works for me if I insist on a strong gut feeling, not just any old antsy notion).

I fire up the old manuscript and get to work. I bend over the keyboard and focus completely on the story and the words (well, 90% — I’m not perfect).

When the timer or my gut tell me to stop, I stop and indulge a distraction. I keep this time short! Five minutes max. A timer is particularly useful here.

After the break, I go back to focused writing. I repeat the writing-break-writing cycle until my time is up.

In all honesty, I must admit that this approach decreases my words-per-day output, but then, I didn’t get into the writing business to produce a certain number of words per day. I got into it for the joy of it, and giving my distractible nature a chance to flex increases that to no end.

Happy writing!

wishie-cropped-for-090916Please leave a comment, or Wishie the troll might climb into your bedroom one night and stand beside your head until you wake up. It’s quite a shock when you turn your head and see him there, believe me.

 

Cheers,

Carson

P.S. My first novel, Trouble Spots, is available in hard copy or Kindle soft-copy on Amazon, and it’s coming soon to other outlets.

Down the Writing Rabbit Hole

rabbitholegraphThe Rabbit Hole

Because I’m kind of a geek, I like to keep a line chart of the number of words I’ve written in my novel to date. Usually, this is an encouraging exercise, because I can see the number of words mounting up, day after day, week after week, passing the magical 50,000 mark that separates novel from novella, and heading on to the 80,000 words that, in my mind, signals a robustly realized book.

Sometimes, though, the graph ends up looking like the image above (or next to, depending on your display) this line. Note the steady climb upwards (wild cheers!) followed by the precipitous drop (miserable groans and sad emojis rabbitholesademoji). The drop represents a trip down the writing rabbit hole.

rabbitholeholeWhy The Drop

I was writing along my merry way, following the adventures of a major, though non-leading character, when a terrific idea for his backstory smacked me upside the head. He’s an assassin, and the backstory was going to be about the first time he killed a man. It was all there in my head: he’s just a kid, he gets imprisoned by some bad guys, escapes, and makes the kill to avoid recapture. There was a little circus troupe and a mysterious, crumbling wall in the middle of the forest. Gripping stuff! A no-miss detour off the main story line!

Until I started writing it. The dratted thing just got longer and longer, rambling along with no end in sight. So I started over. Same result. Ramble, amble, bumble. Undaunted, I went at it again, determined to keep it short while retaining the excitement. The result of that venture was something akin to an overused dishrag.

Eventually, after about two weeks and five or six thousand words, I just excised the whole thing. That’s where the drop comes in. All those words, all that time, zapped.

Feh. rabbitholesademoji

Not a Complete Loss

I was pretty well disappointed and annoyed about that loss of time and words, but, as you can see, the graph took an uptick right away. Having freed myself of the backstory and gotten back to the present condition of this character, I found the story taking off again, better than before. Even though the backstory adventure was incomplete, it had given me a better grasp of the character’s background and motivations, which made his current situation easier to write about.

So What?

  1. I didn’t get rid of that backstory altogether. I cut it out and pasted into another document, to be saved for later. It might be useful for reference, or for another entirely different novel, or for a later section of this one.
  2. I got to know the character much better. Now, when he has to turn right or left, I’ll have an improved intuition about which he will choose.

Go ahead and curse those rabbit holes, but not for too long. You never know when you might come out the other end and find a pot of gold. I know, that’s rainbows, but you get the idea. Right? Sure you do. See you next time.

Comments?

Wishie says to leave a comment or he will keep staring at you with his mildly creepy fixed expression.

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One Bite at a Time

Duck taking single stepAllow me to begin this post with a few timeless proverbs:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Laozi, philosopher)

“When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.” (Creighton Abrams, general)

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying small stones.” (Chinese proverb)

“How do you write a novel? One word at a time.” (Me, but somebody else probably said it first.)

I recently started a job that takes up a lot of my time, usually a normal workday plus two to four hours. It’s a good job in most respects, and glad to have it, but it does eat into my leisure time.

Time I might ordinarily spend writing.

Too often, people stop writing or don’t write at all because they believe they have to devote large chunks at a time to the pursuit. I know this, because I was one of those people for a long time. Then, somehow, I discovered the magic of small steps.

When I started my novel, I had to manage my time, so I set aside one hour a day, Monday through Friday. It took a while, but now my first novel is finished and I’m shopping it to agents. I have also started my second.

That second novel is going to be written under even greater time constraints than the first one was. I’ve had to cut down to one page a day, about 300 words, which takes me about 30 minutes to write. If I keep up at this pace, I can have a good 300 pages done in a year, maybe more (maybe less, but I hope not).

I had a brief Twitter conversation with a lady a while back who told me she made time for writing by always having the project with her and writing in tiny spaces of open time, like when she was stopped at a traffic light. Wow. Talk about small steps.

Don’t hang around waiting for those big chunks of time. They might never do so. Write a page a day, 10 minutes a day, a sentence a day. Get your novel written one word at a time.

Thanks,

Carson

 

Nascent Novelists: Don’t Let Fear of Failure Stop You

 

tunnelThe Tunnel

The time just before starting your novel is like standing at the mouth of a dark, strange railway tunnel, preparing to enter. You don’t know where the other end comes out; you may think you know, but you can’t really be certain until you’ve walked the whole way through. You don’t know exactly what awaits you inside. There might be bats, or rats, or giant spiders. A speeding train might appear out of nowhere, hurtling toward you, glaring with its one bright eye. It might even race up behind you and smash you flat before you even have a chance to turn around.

Putrid Failure

Scariest of all, failure might be waiting for you in that tunnel, by which I mean failure to finish the novel. Fear of failure can be so large and awful its putrid stench can reach out of the tunnel and wrap itself around you before you even set foot inside. It can make you freeze to the spot, where you’ll stay for a long time, maybe the rest of your life, wishing you could go in, but not quite finding the will to take a step. It can make you turn around and walk away, thinking anything that smells that bad can’t possibly be worth getting close to, much less grappling with. It can make all those voices in your head that say you’re not good enough and that this writing business is a waste of time drown out every creative impulse you ever had.

A mighty slayer of dreams, fear of failure is. (Is that a Yoda quote?)

failureBridgeAcceptance

So what’s a writer to do? Or an almost-nascent novelist, standing on the hairy cusp of doing and not doing?

I suppose there are many different answers to this question, but here’s mine:

I said, “Okay, I’m going to fail. Fine.” Once I accepted the worst, failure lost a lot of its power. It didn’t smell as bad or look as big.

I took a step into the tunnel and started walking, one slow step at a time.

And I failed. I came up with stinky plot lines. I created characters that wouldn’t work. Settings both preposterous and unappealing bloomed from my keyboard. But each time I failed, I patched up the disaster or razed it and rebuilt, and then moved on to the next failure.

After several years of doing this, I came out the other end of the tunnel, into the sunshine, with a finished novel. Failure and I had made an odd friendship over all that time, and as I walked away from the tunnel it stood at the entrance with a long face, waving.

“Don’t be so bummed out,” I said, “I’ll see you right down there,” and I pointed. Not far down the track stood another tunnel.

I ran for it.