Rogue Outlines and WordPress Themes

writing-lessonI would’ve loved for this post to be pretty and poetic, but frankly, I’m cranky, tired, and have poisoned myself with eating one too many doughnuts . . . for like 5 days. By the time I get back to the gym, I’m gonna look like Jabba the Hutt, but for right now, I want to focus on two things that are both infuriating and enlightening at the same time, hence, the euphoria and hysteria in equal doses.

Outlines that Go Rogue

Yes, the hint is in the title. This week I have hit the mother of all pains in the life of a plotter – my outline has decided to go the way of the dodo and is kaput. How does this happen? How can several months of labor and sweat just disappear you may ask?

Four letters and for once it doesn’t begin with “F” although frankly, you want to punch her in her face: your M-U-S-E

Yes, even us plotters from time to time are inspired, and find ourselves going off piste. The danger in this action is that you forget what sort of damage that can do to your carefully layed-out plan until it’s too late.

For instance, in this particular example I have allowed a new character to run away with her dialogue, and therefore, introduce a concept that wasn’t supposed to be her idea at all, and was scheduled to happen organically later on in the story. Problem is now that it’s written in, it makes sense, but all that follows has to be adjusted for this change in events. By the way, “adjusted” is just writer’s denial for STARTING OVER. With the outline mind you, not the book. So today I spent my day not writing, but sweating over a broken outline trying to figure out how to splice it all back together, but also, having to re-think character motivation as some actions had obviously changed.

Yes, it’s sucks. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass when you are working in the urban fantasy realm where you are dealing with not only plots and subplots, but multiple worlds, physics, mythology, and a whole ton of rules that you have to keep up with because they aren’t real. It’s a lot to juggle. You really don’t want to start messing around with it once you get the train moving on the track.

Oh, did I mention that I hate outlining?

Having said all of this, I do think most of the time, some of your best work can come from letting things just happen in your writing, even if it means having to re-think the rest of the book. Although I swore and carried on, and have literally eaten everything there is to eat in the house, I think the outline is better for the changes, and it forced me to look at some of the weaker chapters and come up with better ways to move the story line along.

Fingers crossed, back to writing tomorrow. So much catching up to do.

And my second thing . . .

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I never like to do things the easy way. Ever. And in never doing things the easy way, I create a ton of work for myself and invariably for the husband, too, since he’s my technical back up. And Joostie. Joostie also serves as my web guy most of the time, but having him in a European time zone does make things somewhat difficult.

Anyhow, the gist is this: through sagely advice given to me by an independent consultant, I’ve decided to update my wordpress theme to something that is less of an agony aunt column and more akin to a professional author site. It will be the first time I’ve done a theme update ever. (Yes, I’m still using like twenty-ten or something like that)

Problem is, as anyone who’s got a pre-existing site especially one with custom CSS in it knows, it’s not as easy to convert your old site over, as every template company claims. In fact, it’s a royal pig and will have you pulling out your hair because no two templates are ever set up the same, and what works in one always seems to throw a wobbly in the other.

While Divi by Elegant Themes looks amazeballs, and I love the plug and play action, actually getting my rather simple blog transferred over without having items sprout up where they shouldn’t go isn’t working out very well. Of course, the simplest thing would be to activate the theme and be damned and then frig around with it until you can figure out why it’s adding say “categories” to you main tool bar. But being 200 miles from home with no techie love to back me up, it’s a daunting task that I will need to save for another day and likely a distant weekend.

It’s times like this that I wish I’d stayed a web developer so I knew what the hell I was doing.

 

 

Bad Reviews

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I recently made the comment to another author that “Goodreads is a nest of biting vipers“.

I kinda meant it. Sorry, not sorry.

See, here’s the thing. As an author, you have a moral responsibility not to be a public asshole. Let’s face it, you are a writing professional, you are meant to be taking the higher ground. We’ve all seen the author who disregards this adage and ends up as the internet poster child for public shaming. Oh yes. It’s not a pretty sight, and it never ends well. EVER. Because let’s face it, you will never win, you’ll say a bunch of shit that you will utterly regret, and even your mother will be tsk tsking you. If you don’t believe me, I have two books you should read So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and Social Media is Bullshit. Great books. Spot on. Also very scary.

Because here’s the thing us authors don’t realize when we sign up for this gig

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all

That, that right there, that utter morality bullshit doesn’t exist on the internet. All bets are off when you put your work on display. If you are a sensitive petal then being an author may not be the best career for you, and I say that as a sensitive petal myself.

Having said that, there are some rules that I live by that help keep me from slitting my wrists:

  1. Don’t EVER read your Goodreads reviews, ratings, reactions, etc. It’s fine to have an account, I’d even actively encourage you to set one up as an author because a lot of businesses and blogs require you to have one and it’s another outlet for readers to find you.
  2. Do not stalk the reviewer who shat all over your book and whatever you do, don’t send one  single  word  to  them. It’s not worth it, and they will gather all their p(r)etty friends, too, and make your life a living hell. You will be the unreasonable, egotistical maniac who needs to be put down. Not them and definitely not their review.
  3. Buy a bottle of wine and gather your pretty friends and have a whinge fest. You’re allowed.
  4. Focus on the important thing, like your positive Amazon reviews because Amazon is da king. Goodreads is the ugly stepchild to Daddy Warbucks, and if the haters wanna hate, that’s probably where they’re going to be – not Amazon. Amazon takes its reviews very seriously and if there are issues where you have a bonafide grievance, you’re probably more likely to get a result. Amazon knows that reviews sell things. Selling things is Amazon’s business.
  5. Before you quote me with Amazon customer support, let me state this disclaimer: If you have a ton of bad reviews, it’s time to do some introspective house cleaning so to speak – one bad review could be an asshat, many, many bad reviews probably means they have a valid point. Be opened minded to the criticism and be ready to fix the problem.
  6. People are people, and everyone has a bad day. It’s unfair that you got the brunt of it, but sometimes we end up being the punching bag for whatever freudian-bad-day-from-hell someone is having. Again not fair, but chock it up to the experience gods and move on.
  7. When in doubt, your books and even your fans will have your back. You actually wrote a book. Hell, maybe you’ve written a dozen books. Congratulations! You’ve accomplished more than that person who keeps saying “I’ve always wanted to write a book”, but never has. So try not to be hard on yourself. Be proud of your work and your fans. It’s more than many can claim.

I might actually get shafted over this post, but life isn’t without risks, and if I get one author who actually has a good laugh rather than a cry over their next bad review then it will have been worth it.

 

xo

shawnee

#AmWriting

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I’m back in the writer’s seat this week after TNEE lit a fire under my butt. Nothing inspires fear like being around other writers who are knocking out three, four, or hell, maybe even six books a year. Holy macaroni. Talk about a “coming to Jesus” moment.

Having said that, being back on Betrayer has given me a bit of insight into my own writing style, which I’m going to record here for posterity:

I am a plotter not a pantster

There are generally two type of writers – those who are organizers, who outline everything, who don’t write a word without having a strict plan of where they’re going in their story, and then there are those crazy people who just go for it, hope for the best, dig right in without a care in the word, and generally laugh at all of us OCDers.

I have a lot of envy even respect for pantsters. Not in a million years could I write a whole novel without a map. Possibly a short story, but never something that is going to be almost 300 pages long. I’m just not capable of staying on course that long. I could start out writing a vampire romance and end up in a high fantasy with elves. So for something as complicated as The Shining Ones series where I’m balancing multiple sub-plots plus two fictitious worlds (spoiler alert) and of course, the main story line, I have to be on my toes, and the only way for me to do that is to outline, outline, outline.

And unlike what pantsters may think, we plotters do have grand moments also where the trolley goes off the track into a glittering, sparkly over-the-top mound of pure creative genius, where characters take control or something so utterly unexpected happens that you wonder if you’re channeling your inner Stephen King. Just because we plot doesn’t mean we don’t get carried away in a good way. Even with a iron-tight outline, Watcher did not end up where I expected – both in a good and bad way.

Editing monster

On both my previous books, I was an editing monster, and what I mean by this is that I would edit the hell out of the book every step of the way. Not just once, not even twice, but mulitple reads, multiple large edits. Every day. All the time. Before I’d start writing for the day, I’d be editing.

Even though it goes against the grain for me, I’m gonna say it out loud: Editing during the first draft is not a good idea. It’s chokes creativity and slows you down. Don’t do it. Get it all out on paper first, write faster than you ever have, and then start the editing process once you get the words “The End” on the page.

I have not listened to this advice twice now, and it’s has completely shafted me. It will take you forever to finish and burn you out before you even get to the major edits with an editor. Don’t get bogged down in the minutiae until you’ve got your draft finished.

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Steady as she goes – 2K/day limit

The most words I’ve ever knocked out in a day is around 10K. That was probably one of the longest days of my writing career and an anomaly to say the least. It just doesn’t work that way for me (see below). I also found that after pushing myself that hard my next couple of days were hardly what I would’ve described as “productive”; they were, in fact, a mini burn out. I pushed too hard and paid the price for the remainder of that week.

There are some authors where 10K words a day are normal. I’m not one of those authors, and there’s definitely no way that I’ll have 10K of quality words either. Not only did I kick my own ass writing too much, but I probably threw away half of that work when it came time to editing. And that sucks.

I’m a big believer in pacing my creativity. My motto is if I can get 2K of words done a day that have quality and substance then I’m quids in. 5-6K of words that I just end up throwing away doesn’t do me any good and only serves to frustrate me further. Also, side note, it’s not an efficient use of my creativity.

So that’s what I aim for – 2,000 words a day.

Scene by scene

If I think too hard about writing a 300 page book, I still panic. Even though I’ve done it twice now, that anxiety hasn’t gotten any better, and there are days, like today, where I want to punch my inner muse right in the face for even remotely suggesting writing a series in the first place.

The only way I know how to deal with that level of anxiety, especially at the start of a new book, is to avoid thinking about the big picture, and start thinking of it in smaller chunks. In other words, while my heart may be screaming, “OH MY GOD. THREE HUNDRED PAGES!” at me over and over again, my brain has gone for a much more reasonable approach of “You can do anything for a week. Just write this scene this week then you can stop.”

And it works. I trick myself into taking it scene by scene (hence the outline, people) and by the time I’ve gritted my teeth and made it through that scene, I’m ready to start the process over again, and hammer my way through. Before I know it, I’m five or six chapters in and at this stage, have bought in, so I’m good to go for about 70% of the book. Don’t ask about the last 30% – that’s another blog post.

But the point is that by breaking my chapters down into multiple scenes and focusing on them one at a time, I can push my way through the anxiety/writer’s procrastination and get the job done. I highly recommend it to any author struggling alone, and a book that talks about this in depth is Make A Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld. Great book, worth reading.

Back to the grindstone. My next post this week will be about reviews. Trust me, it’ll be a doozy.

 

xo shawnee

 

 

 

 

TNEE roundup

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I’m home. After a 9 hour journey and more mileage on my car then I care to think about, I made it home from TNEE 2016 in Atlanta. I’m still super tired, and I’m back on Betrayer today, but I wanted to give a quick re-cap for those who’re interested in my first ever con event.

This is my low down:

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Be the person everyone else wants you to be

Contrary to usual wisdom, I’m going out on a limb here because let’s face it, most writers aren’t exactly extroverts, and we need all the help we can get. If you’re going to go to any event where it’s not just the public, but actual readers or god forbid, your personal fans, you have got to be the person they want you to be even if you have to drag it out of you kicking and screaming. That means no hiding in the corner, no aloofness, no holier-than-thou-you-will-bow-down-before-me sort of attitude. It will get you nowhere. If you go to any convention or show, you must be flexible and prepared to roll with the punches. In addition to this, you must actually enjoy yourself. No, really. They are there to see you and get to know your work. Let them in and everyone will be happy that you did.

SWAG is king

It’s the candied crack that we hand out at shows to get fan attention. I didn’t really understand the extent of this until after I got to the show. Now to be fair, I didn’t come empty-handed. I was smart enough the read the hell out of the FB author page to get a small glimpse of what we were talking about here so I came with totes, pens, bookmarks, stickers, biz cards, and personalized M&Ms. Yep, M&Ms with my name on them. But still, it probably wasn’t enough. Yeah, everyone says swag doesn’t matter, it’s all about you, but honestly, we have all drank the kool-aid. There is an expectation for authors to pamper the fans, and that’s what this specific event is about – connecting directly with readers. Next time, I’ll come more prepared. It’s time to up the ante in the swag wars.

Romance fans are wild

I already knew this from lurking around some romance panels at the Virginia Festival of the Book, but to go into the trenches is something else. There is a level of dedication to me that is astounding. I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll say it again. There is no one quite like a romance fan – they are all in. And loyalty? Yeah, no need to even talk about it. I had a blast hanging with all my girls even though technically I’m not a romance writer. Still, even with that, they accepted me and that’s pretty groovy.

I’m not a romance writer

I always pegged myself as someone who straddled between the genres of urban fantasy and paranormal romance: urban fantasy with a refreshing romantic twist so to speak. After being at TNEE and having an in-depth conversation with Melanie Marchande about what constitutes romance, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am definitely not a romance writer by standard definition. I don’t guarantee HEAs (happily ever afters) and I sure as hell don’t engage in menage since somewhere my dad is probably reading this very post (ps – he’s a big fan). So how do I feel about that revelation? I’m not sure. It sort of reminds me yet again that I don’t fit in any one place, but no one seemed to point a finger at me at TNEE and say, “Where is the naked man on your cover? You shall not pass!” (Tolkien nerd alert)

So even given that admission, I’ve signed up for AAD in Savannah in August. We’ll see how it goes.

Peace out.

xo shawnee

 

Dear Hazel

Dear Hazel,

My heart is broken. I woke up this morning to the sound of clicking toe nails on the hardwood floor only to realize that is was in my head. It couldn’t be you because you are no longer here.

IMG_0685You and I have had such a journey. I’ll never forget sneaking down to the Orange County animal shelter, and telling your soon-to-be dad, “that I was just going to look at her” – her being you since I saw your picture on Petfinder.com – “just going to look, I’m not going to get her.” At least I didn’t the first time.

Yes, I walked away that first day even though you were stuck on me like glue. I was afraid your dad was going to divorce me after the Siamese cat drama, but that’s a story for another time. Still, I perservered and drove the forty-five minutes to the shelter every day to look at you and pet you, and ultimately, to fall in love with you.

hazel_early daysOf course, there was a little drama, too. Your dad was going away for a big business trip, and wanted to wait until he got back to make a decision on even getting a dog. This is where your grandma comes into play. When dad left, grandma said, and I quote: “Just go get her, honey, and see how it goes. If it makes you panic or doesn’t feel like the right fit then you can take her back before he gets home.” It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, and so I followed her advice and went back to the shelter to get you. They only took cash so I had to go down to the local gas station, and get cash out of the local ATM, which is probably the only time in my life that I’ve used my debit card. Thank god I could remember my PIN number because I never have money in my wallet much less the $65 bucks required for your adoption fees. It must’ve been fate because the number worked, and less than an hour later, you were riding in the back of my car, both of us unsure of what was going to happen next.

Those first couple of days were rough. I won’t lie. After giving you a bath, wow you were really stinky, and feeding you three cups of dog food, god, you were ravenous, I didn’t know what to do. And the panic set in, too. I’d gone against your dad’s orders, and knew I was in big trouble when he got back plus now we had a dog and lots of responsibility. What had I just done? And how was I supposed to entertain you? So I cried. A lot. And panicked. A lot. I finally broke down and called your dad to tell him what I’d done, saying I’d made a big mistake. He was in a taxi in Chicago with some EA big wigs going to dinner. You can imagine how that conversation went, but your dad was never one who panicked (that’s my job) and so he said we’d deal with it when he got home less than 24 hours later. That made me feel better, and somehow you and I survived those first two days by ourselves.

Your dad wasn’t overly happy with me when he got home so your grandparents said “Bring her to us and we’ll take her. She sounds like a good dog.” So we got in the car and went to see the grandparents. Once we got there, not only was it obvious that you were a great dog, but also, you didn’t leave my side the whole time, and wouldn’t let grandma’s two dogs anywhere near me. (Less than three years later, one of those golden retrievers would become your brother even though we didn’t know it at the time.)

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Snowmaggedon 2009 with Bailey

Needless to say, we kept you and you’ve pretty much stayed by my side ever since. At first, you weren’t very keen on your dad, and we had to get Karen the trainer in to help. We were never sure if you were abused by a man, or were just an anxious dog by nature, and you’d pee on the floor in the house on Locust Avenue every time your dad tried to put a leash on you to take you for a walk. Never for me – always for your dad. But we got through it, and became a family of three. You settled in nicely in our routine and we took you everywhere with us. You still weren’t keen on kids or crowds, but it didn’t stop people from remarking on how beautiful you were or how well-behaved, and honestly, you were so well-behaved, probably the best, well-mannered dog I’d ever seen. You aced all your training classes, and you could’ve easily been a service dog if it wasn’t for your anxiety. You tried so hard to please me.

Your health, of course, was never perfect. You were Lyme’s positive when we got you, but that never went away. You also had a bit of a limp some time, but you never let it slow you down no how many times dad threw the chuck-it squirrel or the tennis ball. You’d drop dead of a heart attack before you’d let it get away.

It wasn’t always easy. We had some moments along the way. Louie the cat picked on you a lot, and no matter what we did, he seemed to have an axe to grind with you. Luckily, he didn’t stick around long, and the whole family was relieved to see him move onto greener pastures. There was also your increasing arthritis. You had mostly good days, but as you got older, your elbow bent out more and more until you looked like you were paddling down the street. You were also a notorious food stealer on occasion, and we still can’t figure out how your petite lab frame was able to get all the way to the counter and pull off a loaf of bread and eat the whole thing except for the plastic. You always knew how to get the wrappers off like somehow you grew fingers instead of toes. Even the pound of butter was no match for you although you promptly threw it back up on the cream living room carpet, which never quite looked the same after that.

IMG_0314This letter would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Bailey as you know. We weren’t expecting to take in another dog, especially not an overweight 116 pound goofy, golden retriever who was so out of shape that he’d foam at the mouth just trying to walk down the street. But man, he adored you. From the moment he got here, he was all about you, and eventually you were all about him, too. The two of you were two peas in a pod – where you went, he followed. He also used you as an impromptu pillow most days, but you didn’t seem to mind. Yet, it wasn’t all one-sided. Bailey really did bring you out of your shell: you were better with your dad, better with strangers, and generally less anxious all around. If Bailey was our gentle, goofy giant, you were our old soul who always seemed wiser for your years. You were our serious dog, and you made us work for your affection, but it was a sweeter victory for all the effort.

And now you’re gone.

It’s so hard to write this part without the tears. Waking up to find you missing felt like someone had stabbed me in the gut over and over again. To see all your beds gone, your medications removed, to not let you out even before I got my first cup of caffeine . . . all those things are slowly killing me today. All the gaps where you used to be, all the times where you came first, and now there’s only me (and dad). Your last moments yesterday before Dr. Cook administered the injection are permanently etched in my brain – I would’ve done anything, made a pact with the devil, to keep you if only for a little bit longer.

But you were tired, so tired. The kidney failure that had begun to eat away at your life couldn’t be kept at bay any longer. I had always worried about how we’d know when it was time, and I constantly fretted about that, drove your dad nuts in fact on a daily basis, wondering how we would ever be able to gauge that point.

Even now I doubt myself. Even after you stopped eating on Thursday, even as the falls got worse, and you laid on your bed all day sleeping and hardly moving. Even when on the final morning when I had to pick you up and move you to your comfortable bed in the living room so you could be closer to us. Even through all the signs, my heart held on. Because this is my truth:

You are the heart of my heart

You and I were inseparable, and now it feels like a piece pf me is gone. It was bad enough when Bailey left, and I thought I knew grief, but the loss of you feels like part of me is dying. I wish I believed in god or an afterlife just so I know I’d get to see you again, but I know that you are truly gone, and it’s broken me.

People will say that you’re just a dog, and in time, I can get another, but our bond can’t so easily be replaced. You were mine and I was yours, and I truly believe that that sort of connection is a rare and beautiful thing.

IMG_0976I miss you already, Hazel. You will always be the heart of my heart.