An End, Another End, and Another End, and A Beginning and Another Beginning

An End
2020 ends today. I know for a lot of people, 2020 was the worst year EVER. I look at it differently. Yes, 2020 was extremely trying. I experienced trials more difficult that I’d ever confronted, but I got through them. And getting through those trials produced in me skills and strength that I didn’t have before. Not only that, but I learned a lot about writing and editing, which gave me the confidence to move forward with my plan to self publish my books. More importantly, 2020 brought me closer to my wife, my children, and my God.

Another End
I submitted the audiobook for Silenced on November 24. By a happy coincidence, it became available yesterday. I immediately started an offer to give away the ebook for free for 5 days (the longest amount of time Amazon will allow me to give it away). My journey to release Silenced into the world comes to an end.

Another End
Today, I finally put the finishing touches on Not A Prophet, book 3 of Not A Trilogy. This book took me a lot longer than I had originally planned because there was an element of the story that I never felt right about. I finally nailed that down a couple weeks ago, and once all the hubbub of Thanksgiving and Christmas died down, I polished it off. The plan is to wait until right after midnight tonight to submit it to Amazon. Usually, it only take 6 – 12 hours or so to be approved and appear on the website, but I don’t know how it being New Years Day will affect that roll out. Either way, I’ll update my website and social media accounts with links as soon as I see it is available.

Also, as with Silenced, I’m going to be giving away the ebooks of the first two book of Not A Trilogy, Not A Hero and Not A Monster, starting January 1 and going through January 5.

Moving forward, I’d like you let you know my plans for Not A Trilogy. I wrote Not A Hero four years ago. I’ve grown a lot since then, and I’m sure you’ll be able to see a difference between the quality in Not A Hero and Not A Prophet. I plan on, eventually, going back and editing both books one and two, but not for some time. My intentions are to move forward right now, and spending time on those two books feels like looking backward. At the same time, I want to produce the best product for my readers as possible, so here’s the plan. I’m going to finish the series with book four, Not Ashamed at some point in 2021. That will most likely be after I publish the first books of two new series. I also plan on writing a short story dealing with new characters in Not A Prophet and what happened to them right before they appear on scene. These new characters really intrigue me and this story should be a lot of fun. After that, I want to move forward with my new projects. The first new series has seven books, and the other new series has five books. That’s a good two years worth of work right there, and I have other stories I’ve been itching to write, some of them for years now. When I approach the ten year anniversary of Not A Hero, I’ll go back and rewrite books one and two, create audiobooks for the whole series, commission new cover art, the whole works. (My guess is that will coincide with returning to that world to do a companion series with some crossover characters.)

A Beginning
2021 is about to start. As far as my books go, this will be an exciting year for me. I’m starting my goal of 5 – 7 books a year this year. I expect that it will start out rough as I learn the skills I need to write that quickly with the same quality, but again, I’m really excited about it.

Another Beginning
With Not a Prophet done, the next project is Shattered Window, book one of Through A Window Darkly. I’ve already written a couple drafts of this book, but now I’m going to go back over it with all the things I’ve learned this year. At one point in 2020, someone in my writing group asked a question along the lines of what project gives me the most enjoyment. The idea is that if you write what you really enjoy, then you’ll write better and faster. Without hesitation, this book and its main character, Window, are the most fun I’ve ever had writing. Once I finish the first book in the other new series and Not Ashamed, I plan on returning to Through A Window Darkly and finishing it as quickly as I can.

Caveat
Of course, we all know what happened to our 2020 New Years Resolutions. Who knows what new trials 2021 will throw at us? So, I’m not above amending my todo list to accommodate life (or a surprise book here or there).

Here’s to making 2021 the most productive year ever.

Silenced

The last six months have meant change for a lot of people, especially me. While they haven’t been the kindest months of my life, they’ve afforded me an opportunity I can’t pass up.

Over the past several months, I’ve spent a lot of time working on my writing career. I’m part of the Apex Writers Group that focuses on helping writers turn their writing into a career, something to live off. We have weekly zoom calls with bestselling authors and members of the industry, through which I’ve been able to increase the depth of my knowledge and hone my craft. On top of that, I’m part of a smaller group within Apex, and we do weekly meetings there as well. With all the support and the wealth of knowledge, I decided to forgo my search for an editor/agent/publisher, and go all in on indie publishing.

About five weeks ago, I took a step back and evaluated my writing career. The combination of the increased knowledge and the idea of shifting from searching in favor of producing presented me with an interesting outlook. I’ve gained confidence in my ability to write and edit my work, and I have three novels which I’ve finished, two of which I have been using to fish for the ever elusive editor/agent/publisher. So, I’ve embarked on the indie journey, and while the first steps of this leg of my journey happened weeks ago, the first fruits have appeared today.

Silenced, my new novel, has gone live, and you can check it out here.

I worked 40 hours a week for the past five weeks to bring this to you. This novel has meant a lot to me on many levels, and I’m very excited to have it done and live. I especially love the artwork. I’ve caught myself staring at it several times a day ever since I received it.

Moving forward

While I’m affording myself a little room to celebrate, I’m not taking a day off. Today, I’m starting edits on Not A Prophet, which has been done for too long, but has never been finalized. I’m shooting for a release before October 1, but I’m willing to give it the time to make it as good as I can make it.

After that’s done, I’ll be moving on to edit a novel called Shattered Window, and I’m hoping to get that done before the end of 2020. At the same time, I’m working on the first draft of a new epic fantasy novel which I’m referring to as OP1. After that, I’ll write Not Ashamed, the fourth and final book of Not A Trilogy.

My overall goal is to take my production from three books a year and increase it to five to seven (which will get me through my 75 books in ten years, instead of fifteen).

My family got on this ride with me five weeks ago, and now I’m inviting you along. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

A New Writing Process

Times of change produce (spoiler alert) change. Not unlike the vast majority of the world, my life has been very different over the last six weeks than anything that came before it. The company I worked for went under, I got laid off, and then the entire world went in quarantine. Seeing as my skill set is “non-essential,” no one is hiring right now for what I can do. The crazy part about all of this is that none of that is because of anything I did. Either way, this time has made me focus more on my fiction writing career than I had over the previous nine months. As I’ve returned to writing every day , I find that I need to update the content on my website.

One of the main things that needs to change is the progress page.

I love having the place where I can update my progress with fractions and word counts. In the future, I hope to be able to turn that into something more fun. That’s not the thing that needs to change, however, other than being updated at least once every couple days. It’s the steps I go through to write a book that has changed.

First off, I used the old process for years, and it helped me to write six novels. I in no way think that that process is broken, but it relied on a certain lifestyle to maintain it. First of all, that was the process I used when I taught high school, which I stopped doing almost a year ago. Without the lifestyle of a teacher, writing fits into my life differently now than it did then. Second, with me not bringing in anything but unemployment checks, I find myself the stay at home spouse. That means I fit in writing once the house, and the kids’ school, is taken care of. Third, I’ve learned a lot about writing in the last six months. I’ve switched over to this process with all my writing, and the progress of each book matches this, except for Silenced. Silenced made it all the way through the original process, but I still felt uncertain about it. With what I’ve learned about editing over the last few months, I’ve started a new edit of Silenced. On the website, I’ve labeled it as being in its third draft, but I plan on trying to find fresh eyes to read it and give feedback. That would put Silenced also squarely in the second draft category. Either way, I still love that story and think it has real market potential, so I’ll keep working on it until it is the best I can make it.

What follows below with appear in the progress page of the website under the current states of each of my projects:

I start any project with pre-writing. I spend a lot of headspace on my stories. I usually spend months thinking about a novel before I actually sit down to plot it. Considering how many story ideas my brain throws at me, this can make my head cluttered. I keep a notebook handy to write down ideas and get them out of my headspace as quickly as possible so I can focus on the current project.

Once I’m ready to start work on a novel, I sit down and plot it using the 7 point plot as described by Dan Wells here.

Every night, while the rest of the house is dark, I sit in in the work room and write new material. Always new material, every day. I feel like this keeps me always working for the future. This first draft used to always be handwritten. Lately, I’ve round great motivation by using the website 4thewords.com (if you’re interested, my referral code is XKOMN46178). This website has a minimum goal of 444 words a day, and hitting that goal helps push me to start writing. Once I get going, I always surpass that goal. Because the website rewards number of words written, I tend to write quicker than I did when handwriting, which also means the quality takes a little bit of a hit. I think of this draft in terms of chapters (i.e.. 3/35).

The second draft happens when I take the 4thewords version and go back over it, adding more description, both physical and emotional. This cleans up the writing, and fixes any problems I have with pacing, character motivations, or clarity. I do this draft during nap time. I think of this draft in terms of pages.

After the second draft, I have my alpha reader, my wife, reads the novel and offers suggestions while also pointing out typos. (The number of times I’ve written form instead of from is infuriating) Then I do a quick edit and send it out to my beta readers, giving them about a month to finish the novel and return their suggestions to me. I think of this draft as a single task.

The third draft consists of me reviewing my readers’ suggestions and making the appropriate edits. I also think of this draft as a single task.

After the third draft, I read the novel aloud to our children, noting unclear or clunky sentences/words, inconsistencies, or anything else that catches my eye. This is also done during nap time, and the goal is to read a chapter or two a day and then try to make the corrections that same day. I consider this draft the final draft and one single task.

I find that if I follow this process, I can move forward with current projects at a consistent pace as well as continue to generate new material while keeping enough of the day between different projects that I can give full concentration to whichever project I’m working on. At the moment, this means I can shoot for a new first draft of a novel two or three times a year.

Realistically Optimistic

I just took stock of all the books I haven’t written yet. I counted every story that was fleshed out enough that I could sit down and start working on it. I have 40 books waiting to be written, and that’s not counting everything. If Silenced sells and the publisher wants to make it a trilogy, there’s two more books. If Shattered Window sells and the publisher wants the whole 7 book series, there’s 6 more books. The total also isn’t counting the giant magnum opus that’s probably more ambitious than I’ll ever be able to tackle while still being something I really want to do. Yeah, there are 26 books in that series. That’s 75 books total!

How am I ever going to find the time to write all of those books?

As a new decade winds to a close, I’d like to be realistically optimistic planning on what is probable while also striving to achieve what is possible. Is it possible for me to write 75 books before I die? Yes, but Is it probable?

The last decade has seen me write 9 books, 5 novellas, and 19 short stories totalling almost 900,000 words. For most of those 10 years, I wrote every night, 10pm to midnight or 1am. As a high school teacher, I felt driven to establish my writing career, which is more of an indictment of how much teachers in public education get paid rather than the profession itself. While my novel writing career didn’t bring an end to my financial troubles, I did find a job that uses my writing skills and allows us to loosen the belt a bit.

The career change also allowed us to make changes to our life to enable us to be more healthy. One of those changes was that I allowed myself to get sufficient sleep, bumping my nightly average from 5 or 6 hours up to 8, which cut out my normal writing time. Understandably, productivity on my personal writing dropped to almost nothing. I think this was healthy on several levels. It let me concentrate on settling into my new job, as well as allowing me to heal emotionally. At the same time, I had just finished with the second draft of Silenced and started prewriting a new project, which usually produces far fewer words.

So, let’s talk about the future. What do I see as probable?

In the year 2020, I think writing one book is probable. Another in 2021. Are more books possible? That’ll depend on too many variables to enumerate here. Do I know what those two books are? Absolutely. Not A Trilogy #4 (to finish off that series) and Operae Pretium #1.

At some point in the year 2022, I’d like to start writing full time. Is it probable? Maybe. If I can write full time, I have no reservations saying that I can write at least three books a year. Taking that into consideration, it would be 2035 before I finished the original 40 books, and I’d be 55. That means that I could finish all 75 before I’m 70. Possible? Yes. Probable? That is yet to be seen. There is a lot of life to be lived in 35 years.

For now, one thing is absolutely sure. I need to stop adding new books to my list.

 

2019 already?

I think a successful life is full of moments, daily to weekly, where you step back and evaluate what is and isn’t working. That is the best way to replicate successes and avoid repeating failures. That being said, the change in the calendar offers a good moment to not only look back at the year that was, but also look forward to what may become.

Was

2018 was a tough year on me for many reasons, and my writing ended up taking the heaviest toll. I feel that in a normal year, I should be able to produce 3 books. 2018 saw the completion of none. I started working on Silenced again in November of 2017 and have yet to finish it. When Christmas break started, I had a plan in place to finish it by the end of the year. 48 hours into the break, it became very clear that wasn’t going to happen, so I changed direction.

I’ve written before about The Writers of the Future short story contest. I’ve earned 5 Honorable Mentions. I haven’t submitted anything for the past several quarters, preferring to work on my novels instead. I decided to enter again for several reasons. 1) According to contest rules, I still fit the definition of amateur and can still enter. 2) I’ve been encouraged by Joni (the contest director) to revise a previously entered story in hopes of earning a better placing. 3) The quarter ending in December usually has the fewest entries of the four quarters. 4) I wanted to accomplish something with my writing over the break.

I thought specifically about the stories that had won Honorable Mentions. I had already worked 3 of the 5 into novels, so I chose one of the remaining two I thought would work best with a rewrite. I spent over ten hours editing the story, cutting scenes, and writing new ones. I added several thousands words and updated the title. In the end, I submitted it about 5 hours before the contest deadline on December 31.

Is

I feel really positive about all aspects of my life in general right now. In particular, I’m excited about finishing Silenced and starting a couple side projects (to be discussed in more detail soon). The future of my life and several careers looks bright.

Will Be

I will finish Silenced soon. Building off my successful writing sessions of the break and with only ~30k words left to write, I feel confident that I could finish it within the next couple months, mostly because the second draft will take a bit more work than other books.

The next book I want to work on is Not Ashamed (Not A Trilogy #4). My hope is to have it finished and published, along with Not A Prophet, by the end of the summer.

I plan on ending the year by starting a new trilogy that I’ve had planned for about four years now. I’m eager to get to this one, but haven’t really had the right time to do it before now.

I have an idea for a modern YA novel that I’d like to write, and preferably sooner rather than later. Because I’ve put off New Trilogy so long, it probably won’t happen this year, but it might. On my list of goals, it’s title perpetually appears on the next third of the year (previously slotted for Spring 2019 along with Not Ashamed, and now slotted for Summer 2019 with New Trilogy #1).

#RevPit

A little over a month ago, I was haunting the hashtag #MSWL (manuscript wish list) on twitter, looking for an agent who wanted NA or MR because I want to sell Shattered Window. I saw a tweet by an editor talking about #RevPit, so I looked into it. Basically, it’s a group of absolutely amazing editors who came together to give back to writers. They run the contest and each pick a winner. The winners get a free edit of their book, but then has to make the revisions and send it back. You can find out more about it here.

I hurried and finished the final missing scene of Shattered Window and sent copies out to beta readers. I got 3 back in time, and used those to edit Shattered Window, then submit it to the contest.

This makes my 20th contest. I’ve entered writing contests before, though only Writer’s of the Future. The three month delay between entry and result with Writer’s of the Future allows you to move on to the next project and get fully immersed before you find out you didn’t win. I’ve won 5 honorable mentions in Writer’s of the Future. The first one was awesome. It lent validity to my process and helped me know I should keep going. I felt like I was “almost there.” The next 4 honorable mentions were each harder to handle than the last, and normally accompanied by at least a week of feeling depressed, not good enough, and unmotivated. I only stopped entering this contest because I stopped writing short stories to focus on novels.

#RevPit has been a completely different experience, mostly because the editors are freaking awesome.

You see, during the week between the contest deadline and the announcement of the winners, each editor tweets about some/most/all of their entrants (without using names). These 280 character reviews each contain feedback, concise gems of advice. I’ve never received advice from anyone better than me before. At the same time, each tweet ranks the entrants on a simple scale of pass/maybe/interested.

All of a sudden, all the aspects I’d learned to deal with during my Writer’s of the Future experience seemed to merge into the span of a couple days. I felt hopeful, and yet pessimistic. I watched the hashtag on twitter relentlessly. Each time one of my editors tweeted about their queries, I felt the gamut of emotions that had previously taken over 3 months. By Wednesday, I was tired of the emotional rollercoaster. The editors had already sent out their requests for full manuscripts, and I didn’t hear a word. I was out, even though I was fairly certain I hadn’t seen a tweet about Shattered Window. The feelings of not good enough and the lack of motivation set in. Even after all these years, I was still only “almost there.”

What happened next was new.

I kept going back. I kept looking at #RevPit. At first, I didn’t even know why I was going back. It almost seemed masochistic. Then I started to feel better. You see, #RevPit isn’t just about the contest. It’s about the community. I loved interacting with other authors who’d entered the contest, replying to the fun games the editors posted there, and commiserating with others who hadn’t made it. I found out about the Facebook group and joined that, too.

I’m proud of Shattered Window. I definitely think I can sell it. I know it’s not perfect, and I’m not really sure I know why (that’s why I entered the contest, for the prize), but that’s not really what I’ve ended up getting from #RevPit. At least, not this time around.

Here it is, Monday morning. The rest of the #RevPit community awaits the announcement of the winners, and I know I didn’t win. Instead of just starting into my week-long bout of depression and lack of motivation, I’m already on the other side of it. I’m ready to dig back into Silenced and make it the best book I’ve ever written. I’m motivated again. I’m actually more motivated to write now than before I found out about this contest.

When I look back over the last 2 years of my life, that motivation might be more important than if I had actually won.

#Pitmad

#Pitmad is a twitter event that allows authors looking for agents to pitch like mad (I guess that’s where the name comes from). This occurs four times a year, the most recent one being yesterday, March 8. There’s a lot more info here if you’re interested.

I only found out about #Pitmad on the 6, so I didn’t have much time to prepare. I have Shattered Window all but finished, so I spent some time with my wife polishing off three different version of a logline. The hopes of the three versions was that if an agent was interested, they could look at my twitter timeline, see all three, and learn more about the book than I could shove into 280 characters.

I was excited, though I did my best not to get my hopes up. As it turns out, I didn’t get any bites. The great thing about #Pitmad is that I can try again in a couple months, whereas publisher slushpiles can take as long as 24 months to get a response.

In the meantime, I’m watching #mswl as much as I can. #mswl is short for manuscript wish list. This hashtag is used by agents who are searching for a manuscript that is already written that matches what they’re looking for. I’ve seen a number of #mswl posts that would fit Silenced, the book I’m writing now. When that is done, I’ll respond. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes open #mswl with the words Magical Realism and New Adult.

Big Moments

Six years ago today, I finished a short story called Giant’s House. This ended up being a bigger moment than I thought it was going to be. I submitted Giant’s House to The Writer’s of the Future contest and won the first of five Honorable Mentions.

Before I wrote Giant’s House, I watched this series of videos of Dan Wells presenting at Life, The Universe, and Everything. What I learned about plotting from this presentation significantly raised my level of writing. I leveled up, if you will. Every time I’ve taught a Creative Writing class, I have showed these videos.

Winning an award for something I wrote told me something. Someone that knows what it takes to make it as a writer thought my writing was good. This eclipsed stories I’d written for college professors, and even the two short stories I had published in a small local magazine when I was in college. It gave me a jolt of motivation that hasn’t ever worn off. I knew I could make it.

Looking back, I came up with 7 turning points in my writing career.

  1. Watching Caravan of Courage: Watching this Star Wars movie as an adult is quite a different experience than when I watched it for the first time as a seven-year-old. This movie evoked such a sense of wonder that I wanted to create that wonder myself.
  2. Serving a mission: I served a mission for my church for two years in the countries of Belgium and France. My schedule was structured down to the hour for the entire two years, and I had very little time to do whatever I wanted. I somehow found a way to write 13 short stories. I realized that if I wanted to write so much that I’d spend my precious free time doing it, then it was something I wanted bad enough to do with my life.
  3. Creative Writing degree
  4. Superstars Writer Seminar: I thought I was ready to be a writer when I signed up for the first Superstars and drove down to San Diego. What I learned about the business of writing from that seminar taught me that I wasn’t ready yet, but it also gave me the path and tools I’d need to get there. Mostly, this led me to write short stories for The Writer’s of the Future contest.
  5. Giant’s House
  6. Not A Hero: I wrote this book in roughly six weeks. Stephen King once said that story ideas are golden and perfect, and as you write, you’re trying not to mess it up. When I finished Not A Hero, I felt for the first time that I hadn’t messed it up.
  7. Amanda’s Nocturne: I realized that I’d never make it as an author if I didn’t write every day. It was summer break, and I decided to write every night. A couple months later, I finished Amanda’s Nocturne and published it as an ebook on Amazon.

At the time I wrote Giant’s House, I didn’t think it would have this big of an impact on my writing career. It was a normal event. It was the next step. That next step turned into a turning point. I read something once that said that when people talk about time travel, they say that changing one little thing could drastically change the present, but no one talks about how little changes in our lives right now could drastically change our future.

As I think about Giant’s House today, and the turning point that story became to me, I’ll be thinking about what small decision I can make, what next step I can take, that might drastically change my future.

Life vs Goals

I’ve had some great goals which would always end in me achieving many things. To tell you the truth, most of my goals go unmet. At the beginning of the school year, I set out to publish Not A Prophet, finish Shattered Window, and write Silenced beginning to end. As so often happens to us humans, Life got in the way of those plans.

With an addition to the family in late December, my writing time dried up. I actually don’t feel bad about this because I know I’m doing my utmost to be a good husband and father. But my writing has suffered.

I’ve found myself feeling behind on three projects: Not A Prophet, Shattered Window, and Silenced. I would like NAP to already be published, but at least I’m down to only one edit left. That project is almost in the home stretch. Shattered Window was supposed to be done almost a year ago, but I ended up adding a number of scenes. I’ve finally finished the second draft, which I count as a success. Lastly, my progress on Silenced’s first draft was fine, but when I took time off writing new stuff, it’s become harder to get back into it, especially being so tired at night. I try, but don’t ever get very far.

Looking forward, as life gets back to normal, my writing projects should all fall back into place. Also, as different projects reach milestones or completion, my stress will ease, giving me more motivation and energy to tackle the next project.

I anticipate publishing NAP within the next couple weeks. The goal is sometime in March. Shattered Window should get done next as it is now in the realm of edits instead of drafting. I also anticipate finishing the first two drafts of Silenced before the end of the school year, and since I’m intending Shattered Window for agents and publishers, once NAP is published, Silenced will be my main writing focus. I also feel like Silenced is good enough for submission to agents and publishers, so both of those books you probably won’t see for quite a while, despite the fact that I think they are some of my best work. Hopefully, before the end of the school year, I’ll start on Not Ashamed, the final book in Not A Trilogy. The goal will be to finish that before the end of the summer.