By day I work 60 hour weeks. At night I am a devoted father and husband to the world's greatest family. Somewhere in the non-existent time between the two, I am a writer. Join me from the beginning as I chronicle my adventures to become a successful published author.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 78 - Themes - Writing Wisdom

A few weeks ago, when I was a bit more on top of my game, I realized and wrote about how I really like the idea of a recurring theme in association with Writing Wisdom. Mini-Series if you will. In the past I did one about the role of morals in writing, which focused on the methods of description and how they can affect the moral tone we use. I really enjoyed it and learned a fair amount.

So now I am looking or ideas for mini-series. Here are a few ideas I have:

1) Budgeting: Time, Money, Inner Energy

2) Morals in Writing: The Moral Obligation of  Person of Faith in Writing

3) Technology and Writing

4) Becoming a Zealous Writer instead of a Zealot and Why it Matters

5) The Art of Research (Side Note: I spend an inordinate amount of time researching and it is what I am professionally trained in... I ind books written a thousand years ago for my study!)

Any other ideas? Is there one you think is more interesting? Let me know!

Day 77 - What is Self Improvement? - Self Improvement

What does it mean to "Self Improve"? In a sense, I don't think their is very much stock in the "self" part of self improvement. Can we improve our self, or being? Absolutely. But grammatically, it appears that by placing self first, it implies we are doing it on our own. In reality however we are influenced by the books and blogs we read, social media, friends and family, our successes and failures, and even our environment in general. Improving one's self can thus only be done by combining those experiences and events with change in ourselves. Perhaps we don't choose the change, in which case it may be negative. When we will ourselves to utilize our experiences though, we often move forward and upward.

Vague philosophies aside, I mention this or a purpose: When we recognize we cannot improve ourselves in a vacuum, we also have the potential to view every opportunity as a means for growth. God himself has said that all these [experiences, both good and bad] will be or our good. I believe that, but if we are merely cast about by the winds of fortune, then we will never reach our full potential.

In writing then we must always be looking or opportunities to make improvements upon ourselves whenever possible. This is what I mean when I say self improvement. I've been struggling with motivation to write. What can I learn from my struggles? Why am I struggling? I have been reading a lot more, more than in many years. Am I learning from what I am reading? I believe I am, because I am making a conscious decision to do so, to learn from those who have gone before. What about rejection letters? Have you sent out 50 inquiries and received 50 rejections back? If so, have you changed anything, made real improvements in your query letter? Are you participating in a study group and accepting feedback?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 76 - Still here... - The Writing Report

Well, I am starting to sound like a broken record now. I missed several days, but I am still here.

In retrospect, I realize I mainly miss the two most intensive days: Interviews and Weekly News Roundup. I think there is a message here... I have come down with a severe case of work aversion!

I have also written less over the weekend and am stalling badly. In part I blame school. I've had mid-terms and such. In part I also blame beautiful weather and a lawn and garden that need attention. I also blame holidays. And I have been reading A LOT (for me). Finished our books in the last month, working on a fifth. Several genres, and all of them have brought ideas to my mind. The ideas aren't for stories themselves, but I have been paying attention to why certain scenes appeal to me, evaluating what the author did. It's been a learning experience... and a fun one at that!

Also, I've been doing a lot of ax sharpening. Memrise, figuring out podcasting, Google+, and more. It's a period of growth in some areas for me, and I hope to bring the best of it and incorporate it into the bigger picture.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 71 - When you know you are struggling... - Writing Wisdom

I have to admit it. I am struggling with my novel right now and writing in general. It's true. I've had legitimate excuses for slacking, and some not so legitimate. The reality is that I have lost my focus. I am not as motivated. I still try to write, because if I don't, it could be months before I pick it back up again, maybe longer. This blog has been a life saver for keeping my dream alive.

Some people have writing partners. I don't. So this blog is my writing partner. It keeps me honest. Everyone who follows and comment keeps me honest. I feel that I have many writing partners, all whom I cheer for and wish the greatest success, and who I hope are cheering me on too.

So for Writing Wisdom, I simply say: Find a way to stay motivated, even in the hardest times. It will get better, and there will be ups and downs. Like exercise, some days you would rather be beaten senseless than work out (I generally choose the beaten senseless option for those who wonder...). Pressing forward though pays dividends that cannot be achieved any other way.

Question: What do you do to keep your focus when you struggle to write regularly? Do you take a break? How long? Do you read something, edit, etc? I want to hear from you!

Day 70 - Memrise - Self Improvement

Okay, I know this is a day late, but I have a really good excuse! I was at my office until 9:45 PM, came home, and just had to get some sleep. I was passing out on the drive home and barely made it into bed half an hour later. But I DID do some self improvement!

I found a way awesome website called Go there. Check it out. I'll wait...

So here's the deal:

A couple of months ago I listened to the audio book edition of Moonwalking with Einstein. For starters, a book title can't get much cooler than that. Secondly, it currently has 188 reviews at Amazon with 4.5 stars. That is incredible. Finally, it's a half story, have self-help, and a sprinkling of autobiography all rolled into one. From the dust jacket:

Moonwalking with Einstein follows Joshua Foer's compelling journey as a participant in the U.S. Memory Championship. As a science journalist covering the competition, Foer became captivated by the secrets of the competitors, like how the current world memory champion, Ben Pridmore, could memorize the exact order of 1,528 digits in an hour. He met with individuals whose memories are truly unique—from one man whose memory only extends back to his most recent thought, to another who can memorize complex mathematical formulas without knowing any math. Brains remember visual imagery but have a harder time with other information, like lists, and so with the help of experts, Foer learned how to transform the kinds of memories he forgot into the kind his brain remembered naturally. The techniques he mastered made it easier to remember information, and Foer's story demonstrates that the tricks of the masters are accessible to anyone.
Yeah, so an ordinary guy with a faulty memory is taught specific training and in one year has a brilliant memory. And you can do it too. Listen to the book!

Anyway, the person who took Mr. Foer under his wing happened to have been Ed Cooke. Ed Cooke created the International Memory Championships about 20 years ago. He can memorize an entire pack of randomly shuffled playing cards in 45 seconds and 1,000 random digits in an hour. And now... he has a website!

If you guess that website is called Memrise, you'd be right! Memrise is a variance of an online flashcard system, but a little more. For starters, the interface and website is very clean and friendly. Secondly, it has social aspects, so you earn points by learning new words or facts, theirs a points ranking board, and you can share your progress with your friends via facebook, twitter, etc. The system is built around a "memory garden" where new words are seeds, words you've learned are in a greenhouse and still need a lot of care, and words you've really learned are in your garden and still need occasional watering, the frequency depending on how established that "word plant" is. Pretty nifty, eh? Right now most of the lessons are with foreign languages, with Mandarin being one of the most developed

Additionally, you can create your own lists of vocabulary or factoids. I uploaded the top 1,000 Biblical Hebrew words in order of Frequency to help me improve my Hebrew vocabulary. Later I will upload all 4,000+ Hebrew/Aramaic words found in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). And I'm going to share it with my Hebrew learning friends, old professors, etc. And learning just became easier and even more fun.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Simple: We need to exercise our brains. The more we exercise our brain in one area, the easier it is to learn in another. Further, if you add to this website by learning memory techniques from the champions (not currently on the website, but read Moonwalking with Einstein as a stepping stone introduction), you're memory will vastly improve. And with a good memory, you can write better stories AND you can do so faster. Give it a go. I dare you. Let me know how it goes!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 69 - I'm Not Going Away... - The Writing Report

Well, contrary to what some may believe, I have not disappeared. A hiatus, yes. Disappeared, no. It wasn't intentional either really. Thursday left me with a ton of studying and a sudden mental crash (plus I lacked an interview again... I really need to plan for those!) and Friday found me in the ever beautiful Park City with my even more beautiful wife due to winning tickets to an annual garden tour/show (think Parade of Homes, but with awesome gardens instead!). It turned into a great date in perfect weather with incredible food, and I decided that date night was more important than blogging. It's also a lesson in needing to post the blog in the morning, not the evening.

I have been writing nearly daily in my novel also. This is the area I wish I had more time on at the moment. I have missed a total of four days in the past month, which I find troubling. The days I do write are rarely extended beyond a few sentences. I think it is time to schedule a sprint. I'll have to find a time a get it going!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 64 - Technology and the Writer - Writing Wisdom

First came writing on caves and pottery shards. Thousands of years later, we created the alphabet and wrote on clay tablets that would be baked. Fast forward hundreds of years again and we get parchment, complete with scrolls. Hundreds of years later, we advance our communication abilities once again with... the codex (book), first via wooden tablets with wax, then via parchment and bindings. Another 1,000+ years brings us the ever so awesome printing press, and a hundred or so years later we create movable type. Over the course of several hundred more years, the printing press evolved to become more efficient. This was followed with the first type-writers, a massive leap forward in the ability of the individual to communicate effectively. Let's also not forget the invention of the telephone.

Thousands upon thousands of years of advancement, most changes with hundreds or thousands of years in between.

Then came the internet. And email. Internet groups. Online chat. Skype. Blogs. MySpace. Texting. Twitter. Tumblr. Facebook. Google, Yahoo, etc. Podcasts and iPods and Zunes. Cell Phones ---> Smart Phones. Android and iPhones. Picasa, Flickr, and Photobucket. Grainy and jumpy video chat via expensive satellite uplink ---> internet based video chat ---> video chat on your cell phone. Kindle, Nook, iPads. audio books. eBooks. Enhanced Books. Film, TV, YouTube.

That was all in the last roughly 20 years.

We have faced an unprecedented level of communication advancements, and humorously enough, we still complain how out of touch we are if we have to drive two minutes through a cell phone dead zone.

And it just got crazier. Today I started using Google+, the new social network/communication application from Google. I was skeptical at first, because Google has failed many times with social networking, even where other items such as search, videos, online documents, and Blogger have been wildly successful. They just couldn't get it right. But this time it's right, and it's awesome. It has multi-user video chat, the awesome Circles (which is like Twitter enhanced), Sparks, and more. I am blown away, and I am not the only one. It's sweeping the internet by storm and is the fastest growing social/communication website on the web, and it's still in Beta and Invite only.

With so many changes, writers and many others must be more on top of building their personal brand than ever before. But where do we stop? How do we prioritize which methods will and will not work for us? When do we invest time and effort to taking a potential new outlet through its paces?

I believe all of these changes are awesome and certainly for the betterment of humanity. I even believe they are inspired of God in many cases. It is so easy to become overwhelmed, and instead we need to step back and ask a few fundamental questions:

What am I trying to ultimately accomplish? If I am building a brand (personal name, book series, etc), am I spending so much time promoting it that I never work on the product itself (ie, not writing). Am I letting it interfere with work and family? How does this specific communication method enable me to achieve my goal? What is my rate of return on time invested to spread my message on each individual communication method? Could there be more productive methods and returns using a different method?

And therein is wisdom for the writer. Don't forget: If you never finish writing the novel or article, 5,000 followers may never amount to more than a vain effort.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 63 - Audio Blogging Research - Self Improvement

As it turns out, finding free AND decent podcasting software is more difficult than I would have thought. Many have quietly passed away, and few have arisen to take their place. As I am not about to pay for one right now, I guess I will have to keep on searching.

The goal is to have the first podcast up this Friday, so Self Improvement Tuesday is probably going to stretch the entire week on the backside of things.:-)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 62 - Onward and Forward - The Writing Report

I put a lot of thought into topic and theme changes, restructuring of days, and more. To John, Canda, and Donna, thank you for your input. I'm always open for more, and glad  gave some food for thought to y'all too.

So here are my conclusions:

1) I will no longer be posting on Saturday or Sunday unless really feeling the urge. I am dedicated, but it's hard to create quality in the other days. The weekend can give my mind a rest as well as help me prepare for the coming week.

2) I will be generally reducing the size of posts, but don't expect the ones of substance to be reduced too much! What needs to be said will be said in the best way possible for the moment.

3) I have consolidated various days, eliminated others, and added one. The new weekly calendar is as follows:

Monday: The Writing Report - A brief summary of where my writing currently is, problems I faced in the last week with writing, and plans for the coming week. This is the one post dedicated each week to keeping the original founding of the blog true. Keep following my journey!

Tuesday: Self Improvement - Previously on Sunday, this has proven to be an invaluable asset to me. Whether it's changes to the blog, new directions, or personal growth efforts, Tuesday is the day to brainstorm and take action.

Wednesday: Writing Wisdom - Same day as before, but this time with Topical Series! The first series was Morals in Writing. The next will be announced this Wednesday, so be sure to check back! I will probably use guest bloggers on some topics, as many people have much more wisdom than I, and diversity is the spice of life.

Thursday: Author Interview - Previously on Tuesday, Thursday will give it more views than Tuesday and e more time to get things moving after the weekend.

Friday: News of the Writing World - with PODCAST! I don't have a co-host yet, but I decided this was the best topic out there for it. Currently there are few to none weekly writing/publishing news podcasts. I think it can be a fun and informative topic, and great for writers, agents, etc to pull off the internet for the weekend or their drive Monday morning to keep up to date. It will, as previously, cover the top five news topics to the field in the last week, have some discussion and commentary with it, and be approximately 15 minutes to allow easy listening in almost nay commute. I still need a co-host, and tomorrow I'll be figuring out how to operate the software, which I believe will be simple.

4) Expect a topic calendar either this Tuesday or next. It will make finding podcasts or Writing Wisdom that much easier.

5) I will use more images... soon. I do like images, I just need to get some help to figure out why they show up funky in the front/main/topic summary page. Also, I need to be as careful as possible about public vs private domain images. It's a messy legal world!

I feel that what I have laid out is an excellent application of the brainstorming from yesterday. What do you think? Any other implementation ideas? Should I do something a little (or a lot) different than laid out? Do you feel it's a step forward or back? Let me know!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 61 - Braintstorming on Blogging - Self Improvement

In many ways, I feel my blog and my writing has stalled. I hate to say it, but I am being completely honest. I'm not talking about in gaining followers. I've done pretty well for being around about 60 days and having been a complete unknown. I'm talking about motivation and depth in general.

When I began this blog, my posts were longer and had greater detail. Writing Wednesday had a theme. Monday Musings were legitimate. Recently however, I feel my posts have not only been too short, but essentially without substance.

My writing in general has suffered also. I write a lot less. I still write daily, but the drive has diminished. I have great ideas for continuing, but let them lay so I can do other things or because it's simply too late in the day. In looking to balance my writing with my personal and work life, I seem to have swung too far the other way. I went from spending too much time at the wrong time to spending hardly any.

Further, I feel that aside from regaining the quality of earlier posts, it's time to evaluate traffic statistics on what gains the most interest, and also look at adding a few more features and ideas.

So something has to change, and I have several thoughts. Some will add work. Most will reduce it while creating a higher quality product. While this blog is in part to help me keep going and record my journey to being published, I also feel that it has the potential to become a mainstay stop for many people looking to read a specific days' feature. I know, it may sound a bit grandiose, but what can I say... I like thinking big and I like creating something I believe in and would want to read/buy/visit myself. It's why I do well in start-up companies and areas where I have portfolios of clients.

 Brainstorming then, I'm going to list off randomly what pops into my head (some of which admittedly been running around for a while up in the empty recesses between by ears). Let me know if you like any of them and which ones the most. Also, some involve other people, so let me know if you want to participate in them:
  • Collaborative Efforts
    • Guest Bloggers. A guest blog a week. Can be from other bloggers, authors, random people off the street... okay, maybe not the last one unless they are really interesting! I realized that I like guest blog posts done well. In most cases it would have a theme that would be changing over time, but in some instances it would be free topic.
    • Podcasts. I've mentioned audio and possibly video podcasts. I think that time is fast approaching. I love podcasts! More than that though, I think it would be better if it was with one or two other people and we did it together. Probably once a week, keep it short (10-30 minutes average). Maye it will grow over time, maybe it will bomb, but it will be fun.
  • Add a Topic Calendar -i.e., Monday: Monday Musings, Tuesday: Author Interviews, etc. Make it look nice, make it semi prominent. A read can click on any of the days and be taken to a list of all the posts for that series.
  • Writing Wisdom: I liked it when it had the series of Morals in Writing. I think series within a theme is a great idea, and I plan to operate that and perhaps another day as mini-series with a few one-offs in between. Are there any topics you would like to see?
  • Switch topics to different days: obviously, this will be affected when I switch some daily themes out for new ones, but I think the important part is ensuring that hot topics are on busy blog days, whereas the freebie day (I feel like I have three currently, but will reduce it to one, though guest blogging will improve that on the other end) should be on the day when fewest people read (probably a Saturday or Sunday). 
  • Advanced planning. With more structure, I can better prepare posts ahead of time and improve their quality. To assist in this, I need to set a few minutes aside in the morning, maybe 15 minutes, before heading out to work. Then if I have a rough day, it's not as big of a deal.
It is my belief that by adding structure I can bother better manage my time and improve quality. I am open to other thoughts you may have, so comment away!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 60 - Slacking - Week End Report

This week has seen me with only one a couple minor posts. This is in part because of Independence Day, in part because yesterday was the 6th anniversary of meeting my wife and our first date, and in part because of laziness. Did I mention that Steam, a game distributor for the PC, has been having a mind blowing sale and people have been buying me games to play with them? Yeah, I've been distracted lately...

That said, I wrote in my novel most days and I am back on track. I'll still be distracted of course with my many shiny new games, but no more holidays/events for a while.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 58 - Social Media Doesn't Care About Vacations - Hard Knocks

There's a simple lesson I've learned about going on vacation from blogging and writing: don't even think about trying to catch up on any missed social media. Trust me, I tried. I also gave it up after 20 minutes of straight reading when I realized I was less than a tenth of the way through the backlog.

Now, I could have kept abreast, but it was made more difficult by my drowning phone, which is where I mainly used tweetdeck to deck. So there is always a concern that perhaps someone will feel like I ignored them. Or more likely, that I missed out on something cool or awesome or terrible. What can I say... I'm a news junky. In instances like these though, it is important to realize that writing and socializing in the now is infinitely more useful for my writing career than reading the here today gone tomorrow news that is already several days old.

Day 57 - Thoughts on a First and Second Novel Release - Writing Wisdom

Today is my first day back from my Independence Day hiatus, and let me tell you, it's tough. The feeling I've experienced in forcing myself to sit down and blog is much akin to that feeling you have on a lazy Saturday morning when you walk near the bed and it reaches out with it's softy, fluffy tentacles of happiness, threatening your day of possible productivity to certain doom. But I have overcome! Okay, let me be honest about that... I was supposed to return yesterday, but felt like I needed one extra day. That was the fluffy tentacles of doom holding me down.

Over the last week, I have thought a lot about how I would succeed as an author. David Farland was one of many who offered some sage information and I thought I would pass on the main points he made about selling eBooks successfully:

1) Write a series of books. You need to keep readers coming back so that you can build an audience. Generally speaking, this means that you will have either a persistent character/persistent world to the series. But you may also be able to write books of a very similar type (romances) where the emotional draws are consistently the same. 

3) Get a lot of books up quickly. It generally takes me up to a year to write a book. It never fails that when I get the novel out, I receive fan mails the day after the books release begging to know, “When is the next one coming out?” You have to have “the next one” up and ready to sell within a week or two. (I’m not kidding on this, folks. It may mean that you’ll need to prepare seven or eight novels before you publish even one!)

6) Don’t ignore your traditional marketing points: a great cover, strong quotes, an intriguing back copy—all of those traditional incentives are still required to sell your books. And make sure that you market your other works on the back end. Make it easy for the reader to get the next books in the series—just by clicking a button.

7) Last of all, you can do all of that and still fail if you don’t go out and market your books aggressively. This means that you have to do things like “blog,” speak in public, do readings at libraries, get press releases out, talk on the radio, and so on. In some genres, authors spend only 30% of their time writing and 70% marketing. That doesn’t sound like much fun to me, but it’s part of the model.

Truth be told, these are exactly the points I was thinking of. It feels good to see my own observations validated by someone a thousand time cooler than I am. The first point is good, as are the sixth and seventh. The best point however I believe is point number three regarding how soon to have the next book available. Here are my thoughts:

1) IF you have done your pre-marketing correctly AND you have written a good novel, THEN some sales must follow.

2) These sales are one off sales for one simple reason: you only have one item to offer them. If it's another year or two before the next novel is released, they will have likely long forgotten all about you. Your one eBook will be lost in the myriad of other one off books they purchased.

3) IF you have a second novel to go literally within a couple weeks, you can tack on a notice to the end of the first book (eBooks allow actual links to get the next in the series...) and you now have not just a one off sale, but a following. Readers didn't forget you, and now they own two books by you, the author, versus the majority where they only own one. They are also more invested in the world and characters, they know it is a series or that you are a regular producer of literature they enjoy, and thus sales magic is born. They won't wonder if a new novel is coming out... they will know it is because it's a series or you've given notice of a similar project.

4) Thus, more books out sooner wins the marathon.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Day 52 - Happy Indpendence Day Weekend! Time for a Vacation!

So, it is Independence weekend, and I have a lot of late night and early morning activities planned out. Family is staying over night, firework shows, Freedom Festival and Colonial Village, and more. As such, I am taking a blogging (but not writing) vacation until Tuesday, July 5th. Go celebrate the day we declared Independence here in the united states of America!

Capitalization is intentional in that last part, as that's how it was originally written...

Day 51 - The Cat and the Matt - Hard Knocks

The title of this post is misleading. There are two cats involved, but it just wasn't as witty of a title that way!

So I haven't been using the office portion of the home office/craft room because my wonderful wife has essentially converted the entire room to crafting and sewing. I am not overly shocked.;-) In her defense, it is mainly due to still organizing the tons of material and other items onto shelves, and we need to grab more storage items for them.

Now here's the rub. I go down to the basement tonight to help her clean up that room and the living room. We've been keeping the two cats downstairs also. Be it known, I am allergic to cats, yet still have two of them and a dog in a small home. But we have a special litterbox, and having lived with them for a couple of years in 800 sq/ft upstairs before gaining access to the basement, I didn't see any problems. Boy was I wrong.

For starters, my allergies have been shooting through the roof upstairs since they went downstairs. Itchy, burning, watery eyes are now a daily constant, and occasional itching on the body and throat. Heading downstairs usually I notice my nasal passage and throat begins to swell after a couple of minutes. Today I was down for about 15 minutes, and I thought I was going to die. A massive allergy attack with my trademark sneezing fits (I can sneeze 40-50 times a minute for up to ten minutes...), eyes felt like dirt was tossed in them, nose running, difficulty breathing, deep tissue itching in my throat and across my body, and more. I had to run back upstairs to relative normality.

So this poses a problem for me: I need to sue the basement also. It is where we set up for board games and puzzles with guests and each other. It is where I would like to focus on writing in the future. And I can't stay there for longer than 10 minutes.

So what can I do? Currently I am doing a massive research into the best HEPA filters. I'll try to get one tomorrow if I find one locally, otherwise I will be overnighting it. Also, I'll need to have my wife resume giving the cats regular baths. We could in theory get rid of the cats, which I would be fine with, but both my wife and son love them, plus she tolerates my dog who seems to run on caffeine. Not as bad as living daily with horrible allergies, but still. We all make our sacrifices. I also don't like allergy medicine as a long term solution and it makes my mind feel... odd.

The reason I share this is because those who have been reading this blog know how excited I was about having the downstairs and a quiet place to write. Setbacks like this can be devastating if we let them. I am slightly OCD, so when I set my mind to a specific area and conditions, varying before I am ready personally to do so can drive me up the wall. But we all have to adjust. For now, I will try to minimize the problem. If that fails, I'll be a few hundred dollars poorer and be self-banished from the basement beyond short forays. And still I, like everyone, will find a way to press on. It's too easy to simply say "I climbed my mountain, faced the challenge, thought I won, and then discovered an even bigger mountain ahead, so I gave up." I am reminded that Hannibal (of Carthage, not the cannibal...) had to climb through an entire mountain range to attack Rome. The Latter-day Saints traversed a mountain range, frigid temperatures, and more. Sometimes, it's not enough to climb a mountain... we have to cross an entire mountain range. And we really can do it. All of us.

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