My terrifying timeline

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Knole Park, 2016
Fighting through problems, and smashing deadlines.

Do I dare? Do I dare put dates and deadlines to what I’m trying to achieve, and have to acknowledge publicly when I miss or make those targets? Is my book, my weird Young Adult Arthurian Genderfluid Fantasy Coming Of Age novel really going to become accountable?

Yeah, why not? Chris Baty is big on accountability. Also deadlines. He invented Nanowrimo around those core principles in 2000 and that is now a venerable institution.

In Nanowrimo you write a complete 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I’ve participated eleven times, aced it seven times, (one story is now a Sherlock Holmes time travel Dracula fanfiction love story here) and it taught me how to write fast.  So given that writing fast is what my next goals require, this should be a cinch.

  • Middle section – approx 20000 words – by end of July
  • End section – approx 40000 words – by end August
  • First draft generally whipped into shape, to be a novel of perhaps 90 000 words- by end September.
  • Sit back and take a break. -I’m kidding.
  • October – Start the rewrites.  My aim is to have something on the Kindle shelves by the end of the year. This year.

Yes, these are quite distant deadlines, by Self Publishing School standards. SPS founder, Chandler Bolt, reckons you can outline, write and launch a Kindle book in 90 days. I’m sure you can. But I’ve learned a lot about myself these last few years, and I know that the next 90 days are pretty likely to hold a few brick walls from Real Life. Worrying about work deadlines doesn’t help climb over those walls. So there’s leeway here. Maybe too much leeway? What do you think? Am I being soft?

My real issue is that I have other writing projects ongoing as well. Some purely for-fun ones which I nevertheless want to complete (three of them, two nearing the end and one really not…) plus my ongoing involvement with The Write Practice; plus I want to continue to make short stories and submit them to possible markets, just for the practice of the craft.

So OK. I have these deadlines. Are they crazy – crazily lax, crazily tight, or what? I don’t know. Let’s find out.

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Like the plague: why you should avoid writing groups

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Horse Plinth Trafalgar Square 2016
Is being in a writing group just flogging a dead horse?

I’ve followed Joanna Penn for a little while now and found her website and its writing resources very helpful. So the chance to hear her advice on publishing, specifically self publishing, at the SPS summit in June was too good to miss.

Everything she said was relevant and informative, but one thing leapt out. She obviously knew it might be controversial but she went ahead and said it anyway:

Avoid writing groups for critique.

I spluttered my coffee when she said this – in approval, not outrage. Because with one notable exception, every single writing group I’ve been involved in has been utterly useless for learning or improving as a writer. They have mostly been useless for anything at all.

Joanna knew the reason why. Because the people in your writing group are not your target audience. Simple.

To explain: in a writing group, everyone writes in different genres and styles; ranging from literary fiction or poetry to fantasy novels and category romances. So the criticism offered is influenced by writing and reading taste, and might not reflect the quality of your work within its genre. Essentially, the people in your writing group are, as Joanna put it ‘not familiar with the tropes of your genre’ and so can’t judge whether you’re using those tropes well or badly.

I almost fell off my chair. Of course! So obvious. And it also explains why giving criticism is so hard in writing groups. You read the poem, you can see there’s something going on with it, but it is Not Your Thing.

This is precisely why my exception to the rule, The Write Practice, works for me. The Write Practice is BIG. There are plenty of writers involved and a fair few of them write in my genres of fantasy/speculative fiction. There are also poets and romantic novelists and YA novelists and many many others.

This means I can choose some writing in my own genres to critique, and give knowledgeable feedback. It also means the stuff is fun to read.

If I see something rather highbrow and literary I can engage if I wish, but there are a bunch of other people better qualified and more interested, who can do that for me. And if my honest response would be Please Stop, it is much better if I don’t have to mince words to avoid crushing someone’s dreams. It’s not necessarily a reflection of their writing skill, only of my deep dislike of highbrow, literary things. That’s what 3 years of Eng Lit will do for you.

But if you’re not signed up for The Write Practice, then what?

Joanna’s suggestion was to seek out readers/writers within your genre, within your target audience, and get feedback from them. She personally prefers to hire experts for specific critique – the examples she gave were of an expert on Maori culture, and an expert on Mumbai – and also to hire editors to do the kind of line-by-line picking that writing groups might offer. All this struck me as sound. Joanna suggested, shock horror, the internet as a brilliant resource for finding your genre experts and critique partners.

Just to be clear, she didn’t say writing groups were horrible – only that the people in them are by definition all amateurs (she put it more nicely). If you were learning to drive, you wouldn’t get in beside your non-driving friend and say, Well, let’s try this, and encourage each other when we seem to be doing something right. You would pay an instructor or seek out an experienced mentor.

I quite fancy having Joanna Penn as my mentor. Hey Joanna, pretty please?

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Scrivener and Joseph Michael – 9 tips from the Scrivener Expert!

Reading Time: 2 minutes
The Conwy Mussel Sculpture, created by Greame Mitcheson, stands on the quayside in Conwy, North Wales.
Nothing says success with writing software like giant mussels. These are in Conwy, Wales.

I recently attended several sessions of Chandler Bolt’s online writing conference, the Self Publishing Success Summit.  All the sessions I watched were excellent, offering high quality advice from experienced authors. One session though, offered even more – the tutorial given by Joseph Michael, AKA Scrivener Guy.

Joseph gave us an hour of highly-condensed video tutorial on Scrivener for books or blogs. I wrote a million notes, some of which I’m sharing here, but I encourage anyone struggling with Scrivener to visit Joseph’s website Learn Scrivener Fast and get some help from him.

Some info I gleaned from this brief but packed online session.

  1. Scrivener for Mac seems to have a LOT more in it. I love my PC but Joseph’s screen was all shiny with extra features – like being able to sort your content in the Outliner by their status. Envy!
  2. Generate automatic summaries for your scenes using the Inspector area.
  3. Why not use card labels in the Corkboard view to indicate the point of view character for that scene? And then add colour. You can see how thrilling this might become.
  4. Add the URL from web pages you’re using for research, straight into the Research folder, then use that area just like a browser.
  5. Work with split screens to show research and writing side by side.
  6. You can set scene and project targets and track your progress. In Mac you can see your writing days too.) Motivational!
  7. Drag an image directly into your scrivener text, too, for example for an ebook cover.
  8. Prep your book instantly for Kindle with Scrivener’s Compile feature, and choose what to include/leave out of each compile.
  9. Import directly from a Word document – and use hashtags in your Word doc to indicate where you would like Scrivener to make a split between this scene and the next. Genius.

There was a ton of stuff to learn from the session, and I can recommend Joseph’s style and expertise without hesitation. I now feel so much more confident with Scrivener, and use it to track and store my blog posts as well as book plans.

The SPS Summit was awesome all round, so I’ll be posting more about what I took away from the sessions I attended. The Scrivener freebie though was my top session, in a tie with the one from Joanna Penn, of whom more later.

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