Latest: Lotus
Did You Miss This? Laminated Map of the World

Some Really Bad Writing Advice

I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve read this sentence:

Swimming lesson. Not.The best way to learn writing is to write.

It comes mostly from pantsers who don’t want to learn story structure, who think it’s a straightjacket for producing formulaic pablum and they want no part of it.

When my middle daughter graduated from high school she wanted to write songs. We got her a small keyboard and I offered to give her lessons.

“No, that’s okay. I know what I’m doing.”

She was echoing what I’ve heard dozens of songwriters say: “Learning music theory will destroy my spontaneous creativity.”

Really? So you’re saying that me and Mozart and Dylan and Donald Fagen are drudges? I’m not the genius those three are, but I write better songs because I learned music theory, not in spite of it. Listen to Donald Fagen talk about composing the Steely Dan song Peg:

Continue reading “Some Really Bad Writing Advice”


How My Writing Process Saved the Day, and How it Can Save Yours

More about planning and process: a guest post over at Bane of Your Resistance. Drop by and say hello, and watch for details about the process (new and improved over my previous version, I might add) in next week’s guest post.


Interview with Author Meg Wolfe: How Do You Write?

MegWolfe

After I’d read An Uncollected Death and An Unexamined Wife by Meg Wolfe, she let me pillage her brain for thoughts on how she pieced together the stories, the mysteries, the characters.

How long did it take to sort the plot details for book 1? Creating the bits of the mystery, I mean. A month? A year?

It took me sixteen months to write that first book—there were two two-month spells where I couldn’t do any writing because of health and family problems, but of course I kept stewing it over in my mind even when away from the computer. There was a lot of time spent on learning to plot, then changing from a four-part to a three-act structure, which “felt” better to me. I was also learning to use Scrivener.

I developed the characters along with the plot. It really is character-driven. What happened was that I had many, many strands of interrelated stories that I braided together, changing and tweaking details by working backwards, then forwards again. The last third, Act III, went really quickly, once I got the first two acts properly braided. The same thing happened in the second book, and in this third one, as well. The second book took me a little over eight months to write. This one has taken me ten–I had some health problems again during the summer which really slowed me down.

Why the French Resistance? Special existing knowledge on your part, or just interest?

Continue reading “Interview with Author Meg Wolfe: How Do You Write?”


You’re Not Getting Your Writing Done Because You’re Building the Wrong Habit

Tom’s cat. No, it’s not a tomcat.
Editor Tom asks how we manage to start writing projects without bedeviling ourselves.

Short version: make it a habit.

Slightly longer version: make it the right habit.

Full version:

After 18 months of experimentation (following 18 years of dabbling) I’ve made writing my habit. It’s part of my daily routine.

Every morning, Best Beloved and I have our tea and a chat. Then, I go downstairs and write one scene (+/- 1,000 words is where mine seem to fall.)

Continue reading “You’re Not Getting Your Writing Done Because You’re Building the Wrong Habit”


How I Write

Or, more accurately, how I begin the process of moving toward my books.

Planning is a left-brain process. Creativity has to have a healthy dose of right brain. You need both. The apocryphal Hemingwayesque “write drunk, edit sober.”

many-books

Here’s a very short version of my story-generating process, which thus far has given me good results blending left and right, analytical and creative: Continue reading “How I Write”


Free is Not a Price and Hope is Not a Business Plan

Prepare for a long rambling rant with overtones of self-analysis.

I have written before about using free as a strategy, not a price.

Please, make business decisions based on evidence, a plan, not hoping and wishing.

I’ve read mention of people giving away tens of thousands of digital downloads of their book, and receiving a few dozen reviews and the equivalent of $700 in related sales.

If the effort involved is minimal and the reward is $700, I guess I can see that. I suppose I have to reserve judgment until I have more data.

Yes, I want lots of people to read my books.

What I don’t want is for lots of people to just line up and download my books. It’s not the same thing.

free-get-in-line

Continue reading “Free is Not a Price and Hope is Not a Business Plan”


400

400Post #400.

That’s 400 articles.

144,849 words about writing, indie publishing, and commonsense zero-cost DIY marketing for authors.

Thanks for showing up every week and reading them.

By a wide margin, the most popular post yet has been a list of a bunch of other posts. Seems y’all like things packaged neatly, and I respect that.

What else do you like? What’s been missing? What would make this place so valuable you’d stand in line to pay for my help?


Dreams Are Not Enough

dreamingSeth writes about Harper Lee’s double miracle at The Domino Project. You should read it. I’ll wait.

# # #

I hope you read it or what I write here will make less sense.

Dreaming is wonderful. It’s vital to an artist. No dreams, no art.

Dreaming is not a business plan.

Continue reading “Dreams Are Not Enough”


Faster Horses II

holy-grail-of-author-marketing(Faster Horses was the title of this month’s newsletter. This is more on the same subject.)

“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘Faster horses.'” — Henry Ford (attributed)

When I asked authors what they wanted, the universal response was “Someone to do my marketing for me.”

I’ve been racking my brains pondering a technology automation tool I could create to give struggling authors an effective marketing service they could afford.

Because, y’know, that’s what authors said they wanted.

Continue reading “Faster Horses II”


When is it Appropriate to Offer Unsolicited Criticism of Someone’s Art?

cat-up-a-treeThere’s an old story about a chap who goes on vacation and leaves his dull-witted brother to care for the household.

After a week, he calls home and asks how his cat is faring.

“Cat’s dead,” his brother blurts.

“What? It’s what? That’s no way to tell someone their beloved pet died! Ya gotta work up to it.”

His brother, eager to learn, asks how one might do that.

Continue reading “When is it Appropriate to Offer Unsolicited Criticism of Someone’s Art?”


Following Every Rabbit Down a Hole: The Endless Search for All the Marketing

I started reading an article about how Amazon search really works and why authors need to know this.

I had to look up “lemmatisation” and shortly thereafter my eyes glazed over and I gave up.

this is not that

Maybe I’m a lazy slacker. Maybe I just want to write and then hope books sell themselves.

Maybe there’s only so much one person can do.

Continue reading “Following Every Rabbit Down a Hole: The Endless Search for All the Marketing”


Learn to Love Marketing, or Give Your Books Away (or Both)

left, right, or middle?Almost every author I talk to wishes someone else would sell their books for them. The few exceptions are those who, by nature or training, enjoy marketing their books. They’ve learned enough to have a plan and to execute it consistently, persistently.

Even my wife‘s clients, who pay her large sums for social media marketing for their books, engage fully in the process. Those who don’t quickly become frustrated because she isn’t selling their books well enough, not realizing that’s not how it works (despite having that clearly explained at the outset.)

Here’s the good news: if you hate marketing and you don’t want to sell your books, you don’t have to spend another second on marketing.

Continue reading “Learn to Love Marketing, or Give Your Books Away (or Both)”


Gathering Structural Support

I’m gathering resources to create some kind of structure checklist for my writing and wanted to share 3 useful lists and concepts I’ve encountered the past week.

structural support

Continue reading “Gathering Structural Support”


In Praise of Robert McKee’s “Story”

In the past few years I have started, but not finished:

  1. A coming of age story with a strong musical element
  2. The first mystery in a new series with a rather artistic protagonist
  3. The first mystery in a new series with a female protagonist
  4. A Jeeves & Wooster/P. G. Wodehouse-inspired light comedy with a mysterious twist.

They are unfinished, not because they aren’t good, but because I didn’t know how to make the last 1/3 (or 1/2 or 2/3) as good as what was already written.

Not because I don’t know how to use words. Never been a problem. I was reading at college level when I started Kindergarten back in the Jurassic Era.

What I didn’t know was, once you start building a bridge of story from over here and it spans half the chasm, how do you keep it from collapsing into the ravine until you can make it land over there?

In other words, what is the structure of a story?

Continue reading “In Praise of Robert McKee’s “Story””


Respect Your Reader’s Intelligence

now where are those rutabaga chips?When someone tells a joke and then explains the punchline, does it make the joke funnier?

When you’ve made a dumb mistake and someone points it out, is that helpful?

I am reminded of of a scene from John Cleese’s brilliant Fawlty Towers where Basil Fawlty reacts to his wife Sybils’ comments: “Perhaps we can get you on Mastermind; next contestant, Sybil Fawlty from Torquay, special category, The Bleedin’ Obvious!

Continue reading “Respect Your Reader’s Intelligence”