Looking Back: 2014

2014 is nearly over, with a mere three days left in the year before 2015 starts. I thought I’d take this time to look back on my year, with another post tomorrow talking about what I plan to do next year (which will be the special announcements post I mentioned a while ago).

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What are your goals as a writer?

One of the most important things I have learned about the writing business is that you should be clear about the goals you want to achieve. Your goals determine how you approach your writing career . . . or your lack of one.

As an example, the writer who wants to publish only one book will have to approach the writing business differently from the writer who wants to make an entire career out of writing. The writer who wants to publish one book need only think short term, whereas the writer who wants to make a career out of this writing thing has to think long term, as in five, ten, or more years.

I’ve already written about my goals as a writer before. These goals–to be great and to make a living off my fiction–inform nearly every decision I make regarding my career as a writer. If a decision will not help me become a better writer or help me make money off my writing, I generally don’t do it.

Notice how my goals don’t include:

-Getting on the New York Times Bestseller List
-Becoming a household name that everyone knows (but not necessarily loves)
-Writing The Great American Novel
-Selling a million copies of my first novel
-Writing a book that becomes a classic
-Being published by a big publishing company
-Becoming a creative writing professor at a prestigious university
-Getting a blockbuster movie made out of one of my books
-Having my stories analyzed in creative writing classes across the country
-Appearing on every late night talk show whenever I have a new book out
-Getting represented by a literary agent from a famous literary agency
-Being invited to speak at campuses, writer’s groups, libraries, and bookstores around the country

There’s nothing wrong with wanting any of that and if any of it does happen to me, hey, I won’t complain. Those just aren’t my goals at the moment. Perhaps I may aim for some of those later on, but right now all I want to do is become a great writer and make a living off my work and I can do all of that just fine without any of that other stuff.

You might differ. Maybe you want all of that or only some of that or maybe you want something else entirely that I didn’t even mention. Maybe you have the same goals as me. Whatever your goals may be, it is important to be clear about them. If your goals are muddled and confused, then don’t be surprised when that happens to your career.

I’ve notice that a lot of beginning writers don’t have very clear goals. They talk about making a career out of their work, but get obsessed with one book or don’t try to learn business or anything that could help them long term. I used to be that way, too, until I realized that writing is a business as much as an art and that if I didn’t want to get screwed over by agents, publishers, or anyone else who tries to take advantage of unsuspecting beginner writers, then I needed to learn that business.

If you do not care to make a career out of writing–maybe you only do it as a hobby or simply want to do it as a side thing to have some extra coffee money–that’s fine. It means you will have to approach the business differently from how I or other writers like me do, but again that’s totally fine. As long as you are clear about what your goals are and don’t try to pretend your goals aren’t what they are (such as publishing only one book and claiming that’s enough to constitute a career, for example), then you will probably do fine (‘fine’ being relative here, of course, depending on your goals).

Learning a New Skill

Whenever I set out to learn a new skill, I generally prefer to have someone show me how its done first while explaining how they do it. Then I try to copy them as best as I can, which inevitably means I make mistakes but that’s okay because the only way to learn is by making mistakes (even though making mistakes is rarely fun, especially embarrassing ones).

Interestingly enough, this isn’t how I learned to write fiction. I didn’t have someone show me how to do it. I just sat down one day and started writing really awful fanfiction (that I cannot find anywhere at the moment). Of course, since then I’ve read countless books, articles, blogs, and videos on the art, craft, and business of fiction writing, but I’ve never had a teacher or mentor of any sort, even though I find the idea of a writing mentor really cool. I’m self-taught, I suppose you could say.

I’m not exactly sure why I like hands-on learning best. I guess it’s because I find explanations and instructions, even well-written ones, difficult to follow. I’ve always appreciated having someone show me how to do it and then letting me try to copy how they did it, even if it means messing up. It’s probably because explanations and instructions, whether verbal or written, are more open to interpretation than watching or doing something yourself, and misinterpreting instructions can cause a lot of grief for everyone involved (especially on projects that require following the instructions to the letter).

This preference for hands-on learning extends to teaching as well. Whenever I have to teach someone something, I usually show them how to do it while explaining what I am doing. I then let them try it themselves; after all, how else am I going to know if they learned something if I never let them try it?

What is your learning style?

Starting Editing

Recently I have started editing my soon-to-be-released first novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock. I am largely doing this to fix some of the more obvious errors I made while writing it, as well as to figure out the book’s exact timeline. It takes place over several months, which is longer than usual for my works, but I didn’t work out a timeline while writing it and now I am doing so to make sure I didn’t make any glaring errors.

Keeping track of time in a novel is always a difficult task, even if you keep it vague and nonspecific. So far, I have not found any glaring time errors, but I just started and there’s still quite a bit to do, so I may spot something later on.

After that, I intend to have some friends look it over, then have it copyedited, finalize the cover, format it, and then publish it on as many ebook stores as I can (Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, etc.). I will also do a print edition that I will release shortly after the ebook version.

I do not have a release date for it yet. Depending on how fast things go, I may publish it as early as the end of June or as late as the beginning of August. It’s actually coming along a lot faster than I thought it would, really. I’ll make sure to announce the release date on this blog so I’ve decided on it, though, so stay tuned.

-Tim

Why do you blog?

Bloggers blog for different reasons.

Some blog because they genuinely enjoy it. They like sharing their thoughts on various subjects online and love interacting with their readers in the comments section of their blog. They are the kind of people who would blog even if they had no readers or were making no income from it whatsoever. These people generally blog every day or at least very frequently.

Others blog as a means to an end. These people write blogs in order to achieve certain goals, such as selling books or spreading awareness of certain political/religious/social issues or supporting a cause or some other goal. These people may like to write, but they may not be particularly fond of blogging in itself and blog only when they need to.

I’m in the second category of people. I started this blog as a way to build my author platform. I hope that the readers of this blog will eventually translate into readers of my fiction (once I publish them, of course). To be sure, I like my blog, but it can be hard for me to come up with ideas for posts, which is one reason I don’t blog every day.

I see myself as a fiction writer first and foremost. It’s what I spend most of my writing time doing. I like to write nonfiction, too, but fiction is my real strength and what I like best and it is ultimately what will be making me money. Blogging will help, which is why I am doing it, but if I had to choose between giving up my blog or giving up my books, I’d choose my blog every time.

I have nothing against people who blog for its own sake, though. It’s just something I don’t understand. To me, blogging is a means to an end. I don’t understand how you can be excited about blogging every day. Honestly, I don’t. As cool as it is to get comments and likes and subscribers, I’m interested in that stuff only insofar as it helps build my author platform, not for its own sake.

I guess it just comes down to preferences, like with any form of art. I prefer fiction writing while blogging on the side, while I am sure there are some bloggers who write fiction on the side. Neither preference is inherently superior to the other. Just comes down to what you like doing best.

-Tim

Another victory

Today I finished the third draft of my upcoming novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock.

I am done rewriting or, as some writers call it, ‘redrafting.’ I will put it aside for now, work on a few short stories, and then come back to it to do some editing. I could do the editing right away, as I know of several problems that need to be addressed, but this draft was a lot harder for me to write than the last two and I would like to focus on something else for a while, just to give my mind a break.

After I edit out those errors, I will then give it to some friends of mine to look over. And after that, I will get it ready for publishing, which should be sometime later this year if all goes according to plan. So excited.

-Tim

Taking Charge of my Business

I hope to make a career out of writing fiction.

That is a rather ambitious dream, when you consider all of the obstacles that new and old writers alike must constantly deal with. Scams seem to be around every corner, plenty of people will take your rights and your money with a smile on their face, there’s a ton of misinformation about writing and publishing everywhere you look, and sometimes you get sick and you miss a few days of writing and you think, this is it, this proves I’m not a writer, that I’m a fraud, that I’ll never make any money off this. Even though you have not yet published even one book yet.

Indeed, there is no guarantee I’ll ever make a living at this. Joe Konrath calls publishing a lottery and I am starting to think there’s some truth to that metaphor when you consider the millions of books published each year, traditional, indie, or otherwise, and how many new writers give up early on. Indie-/self-publishing has made it easier to make a living writing fiction, true, but it still takes a while to build a dedicated readership who will buy basically anything you write.

Nonetheless, I still want this to be my career. I’m taking a long-term view of the business, trying to give myself time and space to learn and make mistakes and to write a lot of books. It’s not easy because I want to be published now and I want to be making a living now, too, but I still have a lot to learn and it wouldn’t do for me to upload my first novel to Amazon or some other website right away until I’ve got a proper grasp of things like formatting and cover design, for example.

This is why I am indie-publishing, actually. I would like to have as much control over my business as I can, even if that doesn’t guarantee me anything except a lot of hard work. Indie-publishing gives me that control and indie-publishing is a viable option in today’s world, so I’m gonna give it a go and see where that takes me.

Oddly, I am excited for my future, maybe because I have set realistic goals. Right now, all I want to do is make enough money off my fiction (both novels and short stories and maybe other things, too, later on) to live off of. True, it may take a while for me to achieve that goal, but it seems far more reasonable that uploading one book to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Kobo or whatever and expecting it to sell a million copies within its first few weeks or months.

Whenever I get worried or depressed about my future as a writer, I remind myself to keep writing and learning and to never give up. I believe that as long as I do that, then maybe someday I’ll achieve my dream of becoming a fulltime career writer. Maybe.

I can only hope.

-Tim

Positive Thinking is Fuel

My dream is to become a fulltime, professional fiction writer.

That’s what I want to do. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time and I’ve only recently started to take the necessary steps to make that dream a reality. I’m still in the process of learning a lot of things and I think it will be a while before I can actually call myself a professional.

The road to becoming a professional fiction writer is difficult and beset with many difficulties, even now that the rise of indie-publishing has made it easier for fiction writers to make some real money off their work. Even if you write great books, know how to market and promote your book effectively, and design (or hire someone else to design) awesome book covers, it can still take a while to get your career going.

Sometimes, when I think about it all, I get discouraged. There’s no guarantee I’ll make a living. I mean, I’ve been doing everything I can to take care of the craft and business side of writing (all the while learning as much as I can), but even knowing I am doing the best I can, sometimes I wonder if my best is good enough.

As a result, I try to think positively whenever I can. I remind myself of my victories and my strengths. I acknowledge that I still have a lot to learn and that I won’t succeed right away, but I’m not going to pretend that I’ve made NO progress or that I will never succeed. That type of thinking is a good way to kill dreams and creativity, two very important parts of success, in my opinion.

But I would be amiss if I said positive thinking alone was enough. There are some people who think that. They believe that all they need to do is think about good things or how good they are and that if you do just that, then you’ll get everything you want and it will all work out in the end. They forget that positive thinking is fuel, the fuel that helps make our dreams a reality, but by itself is fairly useless.

Imagine I told you I was wanted to go to, say, Austin. Because I don’t live near enough to Austin to walk there or take a bus, I must take a car.

Now would it make sense for me to grab a tank of gasoline and say that this tank, by itself, will get me to Austin? No! I would need to put the gasoline in the car in order for it to be any use. Gasoline is useless without a car to put it in. Likewise, a car cannot get anywhere without at least a little gas in its tank.

Think of positive thinking as fuel. By itself, positive thinking doesn’t do much except make us feel better about ourselves. But if we let it fuel our actions, like how gas fuels a car, then it is extremely useful and even necessary.

For example, positive thinking by itself won’t make me a professional fiction writer. I wish it would, but by itself it can’t do much and may actually be harmful because I can trick myself into believing I am doing something important or necessary when in fact I’m not doing anything at all.

Instead, I use positive thinking as a way to help me learn from my mistakes and to take the steps necessary to achieve my dreams. When I run into a problem or have to learn something that seems daunting, I remind myself that I’ve done this before, that I’ve learned difficult things before, and that it will work out so long as I keep at it and never give up.

If you use positive thinking in this way, then you have a better chance at success than you would otherwise.

What do you think about positive thinking? Has positive thinking helped (or is helping you) get past certain failures or challenges in your life? Share your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

More thoughts on worldbuilding

In an earlier post of mine, I wrote about the importance of keeping worldbuilding in perspective for speculative fiction writers. I wrote it because too often, I see speculative fiction writers (fantasy writers in particular) worrying far too often about some obscure detail about their world that may or may not be important to the story and not enough about the story itself. I was hoping to reach out to other speculative writers with similar opinions or at least let other people know what I thought.

One thing I forgot to talk about, however, is how you should worldbuild. Personally, I am against the idea of sitting down and planning out the entire world before you write the first word of the actual story. I find that method is a good way to kill your love for the story, mostly because it uses up all the creative energy that should have gone to the story itself.

Instead, I advocate worldbuilding through writing. That is, coming up with details about your fictional world or universe as they are needed in the story itself.

That’s how I’ve been approaching my upcoming novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock. I started out with only the barest knowledge of the world I was writing in, enough to get the story going but not enough to crush my imagination and creativity. Beyond those few basic details, the rest of the setting was a complete mystery to me.

And boy, was writing the first and second drafts fun. Both drafts came spilling out of my fingers like the ocean tide. New worldbuilding ideas constantly came to me, both while I was writing the drafts and while I was doing other things unrelated to the novel. In fact, I’ve come up with so many ideas that I doubt I’ll be able to showcase all of them in the novel itself (which is good, actually, because not all of the ideas are important to the story and not all ideas are equally interesting). I imagine that I’ll get even more ideas when I start work on the third draft later.

Now I didn’t worldbuild entirely through writing, mind you. I took some time out of my day to do a little bit of worldbuilding outside of my writing time, but even then, I was working mostly from what I’d already written in the story itself. Also, I didn’t let these details bind me down. If I came up with a better idea while writing the story that contradicted something I wrote in my worldbuilding notes, then the idea in the story became canon and the one in my notes was deleted.

Another important point I’d like to emphasize when using this method is taking notes. You will undoubtedly come up with a lot of worldbuilding ideas when writing, some major, some minor. To keep your ideas straight, I suggest writing down these little details in your worldbuilding notes, either during or after your writing time, and referring back to them when necessary. It will cut down on revision later and make you world seem far more consistent.

If you remember to do that, you might have a lot of fun using this method. So far, it’s been a lot of fun for me, much more fun than sitting down and figuring out every last detail before I write the actual story.

As usual, I must add that this method probably doesn’t work for everyone and that if you’ve already tried it and found you don’t enjoy it that you shouldn’t do it. There are no right or wrong ways of writing a story. Only what works for you.

Nonetheless, I suggest trying it out at least once. You might just enjoy it.

How do you worldbuild? Post your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim