Today Only, Get The Sam Branch Christmas Special Free

photo credit: Joseph Jayanth via photopin cc

photo credit: Joseph Jayanth via photopin cc

Because it’s Christmas Eve and I’m feeling jolly, today you can get your free e-copy of The Sam Branch Christmas Special. Right here! But better grab it quick, because after today, they come down!

For Kindle: Get it HERE

For Nook and other .EPUB friendly readers: Get it HERE

Happy Holidays everyone!

Update: Free day has come and gone. Hope you got your copy while it was free! Merry Christmas everybody!

 

Dispelling the Writer’s Block Myth

photo credit: Jonno Witts via photopin cc

photo credit: Jonno Witts via photopin cc

One of the recurring subjects in writing is the dreaded writer’s block. As I understand it, for most people, writer’s block seems to be the inability to get the work moving. The blank page or screen sits there, mocking you, until it becomes so oppressive that you walk away. Other versions, which I actually don’t think are writer’s block, include not being able to figure out where one specific story goes next or not being able to get one of the multiple ideas you do have off the ground. In my experience, writer’s block is a myth.

I’ve had moments where I couldn’t figure out what happens next in a book. I’ve had stories that never seemed to go anywhere. Plenty of false starts, unfinished novels, and bad writing in my past, but I have never experienced, in close to 15 years of amateur and professional writing, a flat out inability to write.

What I have experienced, and suspect most people mistake as writer’s block, is a lack of passion for what I’m writing. I either don’t care what happens next, wasn’t interested in the topic in first place (think informational articles on some very dry topic), or am simply having an off day.

It was never that I couldn’t write. I just couldn’t write in that fiery heat that early 20th century writer’s waxed rhapsodic about. The muse wasn’t speaking. Or, as Stephen King would put it, the guys in the basement were taking a day off. None of which impaired my basic abilities to construct serviceable sentences, reason my way through plot problems, or deliver finished work. I just had to MAKE MYSELF DO IT. You know, like going to work when you’re hung over, or tired, or just don’t feel like it.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what separates the serious writers from the dabblers. You don’t have writer’s block. What you have is a passion deficit. You can still write. You just need to accept that it’s going to feel like work that day, maybe the next day, and maybe for weeks at a time. Here’s the thing, though, the writing will get done.

More importantly, because your essential skill set hasn’t changed, it will be about as good as everything else you write. It’s just harder to do. So, stop fretting about writer’s block, stop waiting for the muse to fill you with creative fire, and start putting words on the page. Do it today.

5 Tips for the Aspiring Writer (or any other creative type)

photo credit: laughlin via photopin cc

photo credit: laughlin via photopin cc

As someone who’s been at this making a living at a creative endeavor thing for a while, I feel the occasional compulsion to offer “sage wisdom” from my time in the trenches. Like all advice, you can and should take or leave whatever parts of this advice suit you.

  1. What you’re doing matters. With that said, it may not matter as much as you’d like or to the people you want it to matter to. Being creative and putting it out there for the world is the definition of leading by example. Even if your book or art or music isn’t changing the lives of millions of people, if you’ve ever gotten a positive review on Amazon, sold a painting or received some likes on that YouTube video where you did a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” (and kudos to you if you did cover that song, you madman) you reached someone. You jolted them out of their grind enough for them to take the time to say something or do something. That is huge! Don’t underestimate it.
  2. You should expect poverty. Being wildly successful and making (insert your fantasy sum of money here) is unlikely. There is no accounting for why some things sync with the cultural or international zeitgeist and some things don’t. By all rational measures, The Shawshank Redemption should have been the highest grossing, most Oscar-winning movie of the last 20 years. Every movie with the name “Twilight” attached to it should have made exactly $0 and gotten relentless trashed by anyone with the mental development of the average 3rd grader. Yet, Shawshank bombed at the box office and was ruthlessly snubbed by the Academy. Twilight was, as of late 2013, closing in on $5.8 billion in total revenue and still being defended by fans with a cult-like zeal. Maybe that’ll be you, but don’t bank on it.
  3. You can make a living with your creative endeavors. It is possible to achieve that goal. It isn’t easy. It isn’t always reliable. It is, however, entirely possibly to make enough to live on from year to year. Tens of thousands of people are doing it right now.
  4. You’re not as good as you believe you are. I know, I know, that sounds mean and cruel, but it’s almost always true. It’s the rare bird whose actual skills are in line with their perception of their skills. In the early days, you’re almost never as good as you imagine. Later…much, much later…the asymmetry sometimes goes the other way, but assume your work is about 50-75% worse than you think.
  5. Persistence pays off. Creative fields are a nightmare to break into because the margins are wafer thin for most of the places that buy that kind of work. They aren’t looking to bring along a promising talent. They’re looking to slap recognizable names onto the cover of the magazine or the front of the theater because that brings in paying customers. If you give things some time and you’ve got any real talent, you will start to book gigs, get clients, sell stories and see your work out in the world.

There you have it. Five tips for aspiring creative types. Did I miss something you think should be on here? Think I’ve got something on here that shouldn’t be? Got a good recipe for Tiramisu? Drop a comment below and let me hear about it.

Fear of Failure

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Here’s a universal truth for you: everyone fears failure. Here’s another universal truth for you: failure is inevitable. I believe those two truths are responsible for more people not pursuing their dreams, writing or otherwise, than almost anything else.

We fear failure, rightly, because it’s emotionally difficult. Those sloppy, ill-considered, early attempts at something new don’t seem to measure up. We look at our heroes, compare our work to theirs and are struck by shame or inadequacy. We just aren’t good enough. We’ll never be that good. What the hell were we thinking even trying this new thing?

That negative self-talk leads to one inevitable conclusion. Go back to what you know. Go back to what you’re good at and never try something new again.

Of course, there is also the inevitability of failure. We go into most new things cognizant that we probably won’t succeed the first time or the second or probably even the ninth or tenth times we try. That inevitability paralyzes us because we also know, going in, that we’re going to feel like crap when we do inevitably fail.

The thing about failure is that it’s largely a matter of perspective. The first novel I tried to write…in point of fact, the first three novels I tried to write were awful. I’m talking awful on an epic scale. Aside from a few concept level things that I cannibalized for other works, there was almost nothing redeeming about those books. By my current standards, those novels were failures. The operative phrase in that last sentence is “by my current standards.”

At the time, I was writing as well as I could. From my perspective, then, those abandoned attempts at novel writing were not failures. The words I put on the page were trite, contrived, pretentious, clichéd and derivative words, but no more so than any other novice writer cutting his or her teeth. They were not failures, but learning experiences. Incidentally, if you can avoid being self-critical, all failures are learning experiences in the long run.

Since I took my first swing at novel writing, I’ve had a lot of practice at writing. If I had to take guess, I’d say a couple million words worth of practice. Practice taught me a lot. Study of the craft hasn’t hurt either. I’ve probably read tens of millions of words in the intervening years, which was a learning exercise in itself, as well as reading some excellent and not-so-excellent guides on craft. All of that has given me a very different view of what comprises good writing.

Here’s another truth, the sting of failure fades. It doesn’t necessarily fade quickly, but it does fade. The sting of regret, on the other hand, lasts for a lifetime.

Link Roundup – Tech and Software

photo credit: EssjayNZ via photopin cc

photo credit: EssjayNZ via photopin cc

As a writer in the Age of the Internet, you have two choices. You can either hire/beg someone knowledgeable to handle all of your technical/software/website issues – a perfectly valid and even wise course of action – or you become tech savvy. Of course, as a writer, the lion’s share of your time is probably spent on writing, not picking apart the pros and cons of the latest WordPress update or theme. So, here are some resources that I found helpful in navigating the brave new world of technology and software.

WordPress Hacks – How To: Move Your WordPress Blog to a New Domain

The info in this one is getting a touch dated, but I found it invaluable for getting started when I moved my blog from one domain to another about a year ago.

SiteGround: cPanel Tutorial

If you’re running your own website, there is a good chance you’ve been confronted with cPanel. It’s one of the major interfaces that hosting providers use to simplify website management for customers. cPanel can be daunting at first glance, but the tutorials found at SiteGround walk you through most of the essential functions.

Codecademy

Sometimes your website does weird things and you wish you knew how to fix it. Well, that’s what Codecademy is all about. It offers free training on HTML, CSS, Javascript, jQuery, Python, Ruby and PHP. Odds are good that whatever problem you’re dealing with is rooted in one of those languages. Even if you aren’t interested in becoming an expert programmer, understanding the basics of HTML and CSS will let you deal with a lot of the website issues you’re likely to bump up against. Plus, the courses cater to the rank novice.

Copyscape – Plagiarism Checker

Even the most honest writer can trip over the line into plagiarism and never even know it. With so much written content in the world, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up with sufficiently similar phraseology to trigger a plagiarism alert at some point. Copyscape is the go-to plagiarism checker for pretty much anyone buying content from freelance writers with the intention of publishing it online. It is a paid service, but remarkably cost effective at 5-cents per scan. That nickel is some of the cheapest peace of mind I’ve ever bought.

Write or Die

When it’s hardcore, do-or-die, you must get the words on the page this instant and keep at it until you’re done time, there is no substitute for Write or Die. When set to “consequence mode,” this little bit of software will literally start deleting your words, which means you have to get it down on the page (or screen) without stopping for pesky typos or to polish that awkward sentence. This is not for the faint of heart. If you’re ready to step up to kamikaze writing, though, it’s absolutely worth the $20.

There you have it, five of the most useful tech and software resources I’ve run across in my years as a writer.

Is there a tech or software resource you’ve found especially helpful? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!

Good News and Bad News

photo credit: Nessmuk51 via photopin cc

photo credit: Nessmuk51 via photopin cc

Good News: It’s Labor Day weekend! I hope everyone has a great weekend, spends some time with friends or family, and barbeques something.

Bad News: SyFy has cancelled The Wil Wheaton Project. I can’t say that this has come as any kind of shock to me. After all, this is the same network that decided to air “professional” wresting on a channel ostensibly devoted to science fiction. A show that catered exclusively to nerd culture – you know, the people who watch science fiction – was on life support from Day 1. Still, it was fun while it lasted and I’m sad to see it go.

Short Story Publication and Other Updates

photo credit: SpreadTheMagic via photopin cc

photo credit: SpreadTheMagic via photopin cc

Earlier this year, I mentioned that I’d set a goal to get three short stories published this year. I’m now one step closer to that goal. My short story, “Memory Makes Liars of Us All,” was just published in the August 2014 issue of Stupefying Stories. The issue is available over on Amazon, for Kindle, for $1.99. I also hear tell there may be a print version in the works, but I don’t have details on that. Either way, there are some great stories in that issue and you won’t want to miss it!

Getting that story picked up was especially meaningful for me. Of all the short stories I’ve written over the years, it’s one of my personal favorites. It took a long time to gestate. I wrote the first, much less sophisticated, much less polished version of that story years ago. It’s gone through a lot of drafts since that first effort. Along the way it’s lost some weight, about 3000 words worth. The original ending is gone, as is the original beginning. Also missing are so very many awkward sentences and stillborn ideas. It’s not a perfect story, no story ever is, but I’m very proud of it. I hope you enjoy it.

I also had an opinion piece that I wrote about America’s uneven response to the issue of big data collection picked up over at Global Comment. It isn’t just the NSA that engages in big data collection. We should all think hard about who we trust with our information. I’m quite proud of that piece as well and hope you’ll take a few minutes to read it.

On the Sam Branch front, my revised draft of Rises is out being looked over by my woefully underpaid, but supremely talented, volunteer editor. I’m letting Branch take a nap in my head while that happens, but the new novel is coming.

I’ve got some projects in various stages of doneness. There is a freshly minted short story in a first draft form, along with another that’s about halfway there. So, with any luck, I’ll be able to find homes for one of those. I’m still playing around with a couple of the non-Branch novel ideas I have, but I imagine that work will start on one of those very soon. I’ve also got a couple of other opinion/essay type things that I’m testing out in the uncertain world of submissions. If I get anywhere with those, I’ll let you know. Promise!

8 Steps for Getting Amazon to Send Customers an eBook Update Email

ereader screen with text

photo credit: Andrew Mason via photopin cc

If you’re like me, you occasionally revisit your kindle content. You probably find errors that need to be repaired or you want to add content to the eBook, such as preview chapters for a new book. While the process to for making changes to the content is pretty straightforward, getting Amazon to send out an update email is less straightforward.

Amazon offers some instructions for it, but they aren’t exactly clear as glass. To begin with, while the update to the content is more or less or less automatic (assuming no critical errors in the file), that’s all that happens. New customers get the updated version of the file, but anyone who bought it before the update is still wandering around with the old version.

To get Amazon to send out an update, you need to inform them that you’ve made the change. This isn’t straightforward either. Here’s the steps you’ll need to take to make this happen.

  1. Go the instruction page
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of that page where you’ll see a “Contact Us” button to the left.

It looks like this: Amazon Contact Button

  1. That will take you to a menu that looks like this:

Amazon contact menu

(Unfortunately, there is no update email option, so you have to gamble a bit here.)

  1. I recommend selecting the Publish Your Book option and selecting the Corrections tab. It should look something like this:

Corrections option

  1. Fill out the subject line with something along these lines: “Requesting Customer Update Email”
  2. Enter the details in the box below
  3. Be sure to include salient information, including the title or ASIN number and the major changes you made to the book
  4. Send

It’s important to note that this process is not a guarantee. Amazon determines whether or not the changes you made constitute a “major” or “minor” change. Major changes result in a customer update email. Minor changes do not.

Assuming Amazon does send out an email, it can serve as an excellent way to draw reader attention back to you and your work. You might even pick up some sales for your other work.

Hubris Is Not a Bad Thing For Writers…Except When It Is

photo credit: nWoSyxx via photopin cc

photo credit: nWoSyxx via photopin cc

In most situations, hubris is catastrophic. It leads you to overestimate your competence, which undermines your credibility. This inevitably leads to job problems and, potentially, to problems in your personal life as well. For writers, though, hubris may not be such a bad thing. In fact, it might be essential for aspiring novelists.

Slaving away in solitude for months or years, depending on your process, requires a special kind of arrogance. You need to believe, deep down, almost zealot-like, that you are writing something extraordinary…something people will want to read…something that people will want to spend money on. Devoting that kind of time and energy to a project, especially for indie authors and first-time novelists who lack a fan base to shore up their egos, in short, requires hubris.

You need overweening pride in yourself, in your work, in your imagination and there is nothing wrong with that. Without that hubris in play, most books would go unwritten or unshared. You can’t do without it and you shouldn’t try. The problem with necessary hubris, and you had to know a problem was coming, turns up after you finish the first draft.

That same hubris that let you sustain the work can also lead you to believe that it doesn’t need the attention of an editor, or that the novel doesn’t have structural issues, characterization issues or simple language issues. You are, of course, wrong about that. No matter how well-crafted your novel’s first draft is, it needs work. Always. Period. Do not pass Go; do not collect your Pulitzer.

The hardest part of being a writer is seizing your hubris by the tail and hauling it in once the writing is over and the revisions begin. You need to be able to put away the pride and look objectively at the work. If this sounds a bit schizophrenic, well, it is. You’re a writer. Get used to cognitive dissonance. It’s what you signed on for. Think of your hubris like a tool. Not every tool is right for every job. Hubris is a tool for sustaining the process. Objectivity is the tool for seeing it through to the end.

The Difficulties of Writing a Novel Organically

photo credit: rthakrar via photopin cc

photo credit: rthakrar via photopin cc

Writing novels is hard work. Everyone who thinks otherwise is either not trying hard enough or has never tried it at all. None of which to say writing novels isn’t fun. It is, with the possible exception of some manga series and Aaron Sorkin’s run of scripts on The West Wing, the most expansive form of fiction a writer can embrace. You get to take all the space you need to tell the story you want to tell. That is incredibly liberating, but can also be problematic for an organic writer like me.

I don’t like outlines. I never have. I used to drive my professors crazy in college with my obstinate refusal to write them. Seriously, unless I was looking at a full letter grade drop on a paper, I just didn’t do them. For me, outlining is a lot like giving myself spoilers for the whole book.

Once I know, I mean really KNOW, how it’s going to turn out, I lose fire for the story. It becomes an exercise in following instructions (even if they are from me, to me) and nothing sucks the joy out of writing faster – for me – than extensive directions.

So, when I go to write a novel, I don’t outline. At most, I try to have an idea of where the novel needs to end, in general, and then I write. Granted, I try to write in a way to aims at that end point, but the rest is a mystery. The whole process becomes one of discovery for me, which I find exhilarating and fun.

Writing a novel that way does, however, pose difficulties. For example, I never know how long it’s going to be, which means I can’t anticipate how long it will take to write. I find out how long the book will be when I write the last sentence. That makes it very difficult to make announcements about when the next book is going to come out, since I have to finish before I know how long edits will take.

That uncertainty proved especially problematic as I worked on the latest installment of my Sam Branch series. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. The page count swelled to 250 pages. Then it went to 300…350…400. Just before I got to the 400 page mark, I was living in active fear.

I literally didn’t know how the book was going to end or, at least, not how to get the characters there, with over 100,000 words already written. Fortunately, insight hit and I managed to wrap it up around the 450 page mark, but it was still huge. In fact, in my head, it had swelled to monstrous, unwieldy size.

Surely it couldn’t hold the attention of readers at that length. Surely, it must be bloated with useless, unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs and scenes. Had I, setting out with the best of intentions, spent the better part of a year writing 450 pages of crap that I would need to throw out?

My lack of an outline also denied me the comfort of knowing that I had stayed on task. All the assurance I had were my instincts that the book was written to the length it needed to be. No longer. No shorter. As it turned out, my fears were the only things bloated beyond all proportion or reason. My alpha readers all enjoyed the book, festooned with typos and grammatical errors though it was.

While I firmly believe my novels are better without outlines…since I quite probably wouldn’t write them if I wrote outlines…it makes it hard to play fair with readers. I can’t tell them things they want to know, because I sincerely have no clue. Of all the difficulties of writing organically, I find that one the hardest.