Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tuesday Tips: Working with Word Counts

Last week we talked a bit about carving out time to write.  Regardless of whether you are setting aside thirty minutes or three hours to write each day, the goal is to make your writing time productive.  The question is how much writing did you actually get accomplished during that time? Anyone can sit at their desk for an hour or more.   As there are dozens of things can that easily distract writers from the task at hand, setting a realistic word count goal can help authors maintain their focus.

A word count goal provides an objective measuring stick that can help writers keep track of their progress.  At the start of a project, the end goal likely looks like a pin prick of light; however, as the work on your book progresses, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes brighter and larger.  Overall, this might help finishing a novel seem a little less daunting.  Regardless, as your word count total grows, your confidence in the ability to tell your story and finish the book should do likewise.

When setting a word count goal, there are two variables that you'll need to decide: the number of words to be written and the frequency.  Some writers are comfortable with higher word counts, others are unable to commit to a daily goal.  Weekly goals are fine, as you may write more one day than the next.  A good range for daily word count goals would likely be 400 words per day, which comes out to one page a day.  In 30 days, you'll have written 12,000 words; in a year, you'll likely have roughly 361.

This is not a hard and fast number; however, 400 words is a good starting point.  Some days you'll easily reach, or even surpass that amount.  Other times, life may interrupt your word goal count and you only manage 200 or so words.  That's fine.  The point is to keep writing.  Every word brings you one step closer to a finished manuscript.  

How many words are you averaging a day.  

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tuesday Tips: Carving Out Writing Time

While many authors aspire to reach a point in their career where they can earn a living from their writing, most writers have to hold down a day job. Without delving too much into the indie versus legacy publishing routes (there are plenty of other blogs that tow the line for either path), there certainly is an opportunity for writers to earn something from their literary labor.  Labor is the operative word here, as trying to write a novel while working is not easy.  

Chances are that you've developed some time management skills during the course of your career or profession.  Half the battle is showing up on time.  By tapping into this skill set you should be able to take an objective look at your day to determine where you can carve out time to write.  This may mean determining whether you have the time to write either before and/or after work.  Likewise, you might have the ability to find time during your lunch hour, depending on your work situation.  The demands of every job are different and certainly there are those where the idea of the traditional "lunch hour" is elusive at best.  With that in mind, if you are going to try and write during your lunch hour, use your personal laptop or bring your own pen and paper.  

Ultimately, it comes down to when is the most productive time for you to write.  I'm a night owl, and need to write in a relatively quiet space.  So I tend to write in the evenings after my kids are in bed or winding down for the night.  You might be more of a morning person, so setting aside some time in the morning before work might work better for you.  Just as with exercise, it's good to start out small: set aside 30 minutes a day, every day, to work on your current project.  As busy as you may be, there's no reason why you can't find 30 minutes each day to write.  

There's a temptation to devote all of your writing time to the weekends because you're just too busy during the week.  The problem here is that if you are also leaving the weekend to take care of your personal errands, leisure activities and also work on the weekends, your writing time is still competing for time in your packed schedule.  Likewise, writing is work; when you realize that, you stop seeing it in terms of a hobby or leisure activity.  This makes it easier to carve out time, just like you would for work.

The point is to develop a schedule that incorporates your writing into your life.  Like getting ready for work or your nightly ritual for going to bed, the goal  is to make carving out writing time a routine habit.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Author Goals for 2015

To say that 2014 whipped by at a breakneck pace is probably a bit of an understatement.  Regardless, it's hard to believe that another year has almost gone by and a new one is right on the horizon.  It has definitely been a year of highs and lows, both inside and out of my "writing world."  So it's probably a good time to pause, reflect, toss out what isn't working and give something new a shot and see where everything lands.  More than just a New Year's resolution (because those "always" work out so well), this is probably the best time to plan some goals for 2015.  Granted, of course I'd like to lose a few pounds (don't judge), even so I'll keep the following short and on the point of writing and striking a writing/life balance:

R.Q. Garcia's Goals for 2015:

1.  Read more: Many authors suggest that the best way to sharpen your pen is to increase your own library and never stop reading.  There are plenty of lessons to be learned from other writers and it's a great way to help prevent yourself from re-plowing old fields.  

2. Ask more questions: Some truly great stories were born from asking "what if."  You'll likely recognize a few familiar examples here: what if dinosaurs could be brought back to life today; what if an artificially intelligent super computer became self-aware; what if a boy, made an orphan by raiders, was raised as a gladiator?  

3.  Ask for criticism before asking for praise: Some of my best revisions have come from some pretty scathing critiques.  Likewise, sometimes there can be hidden gems in what some might consider a snide remark.  It just makes sense to develop a thick hide during the drafting and beta reader stage to weather the highs and lows of feedback on the finished product.  

4.  Make the most of my writing time: Time is precious and there's never enough of it.  I've learned that what used to inspire me to write for hours at a time just doesn't work anymore and ends up wasting time I don't have.  New minimum and maximums: 30 to 90 minute intervals, as time permits.  It's not about word counts and quantity.  

5.  Make writing my passion, family my priority:  The quest for literary success is a slippery slope unless and until you define what "success" is to you.  Honestly, I am still unsure about how I define it for myself.  This leads to a lot of time chasing after one thing or another, usually with little to show for the effort.  Ultimately, this is time that is better spent (a) writing, or (b) with the people who mean everything to me.  That said, family should always come first.  Follow that concept and you'll be amazed at how much more supportive your significant other and/or children become when it comes to following your passion.  

6. Finalize the print version to "Of Murder and Monsters."

7.  Finish and publish the sequel and prequel to "Of Murder and Monsters."  Yeah, I might be biting off more than I can chew.  Better to try and fail than to have never tried at all.  

8.  Write the very best damn book(s) I possibly can, because that's what the readers deserve.  

Needless to say, I'm excited to see what 2015 will bring. What are your goals and how do you plan on reaching them in the New Year.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Archetypes vs. Stereotypes

Last week I was driving to a client meeting and was stuck in traffic.  There's nothing worse than dealing with traffic except the realization that you'll eventually have to leave the car and it's cold and wet outside.  Likewise, listening to rock music while bumper to bumper on the I-4 is counterproductive to one's stress relief efforts.  So I decided to switch the radio to NPR and caught part of a segment of the Diane Rehm Show on "The History and Modern Relevance of Fairy Tales."  The piece is interesting in its analysis of some of the messages and themes hidden in some of these old stories, as well as the various lesser known versions (i.e. the bloody glass slippers that appear in some incarnations of the Cinderella tale).  

One discussion point that really stood out to me as being particularly relevant today: archetypes and stereotypes.  As most readers and writers know, archetypes are characters, actions, or situations that represent universal aspects of human nature or shared common experiences.  From these "molds" come multiple incarnations, which likely reinforces the idea/maxim that there are no new stories, just new ways of telling them.  And this is a great thing because these stories and the messages behind them tend to strike familiar chords with readers that stretch all the way back to their childhood.  Blending the familiar with a new presentation of the tale can open up entire new worlds or directions.  What if Red Riding Hood was a little boy, instead of a girl?  What if the story took place in feudal Japan?  What if Red was a samurai being hunted by a ninja from the Wolf Clan?  Silly?  Perhaps?  Now was there a moment there where you could actually see Little Red Samurai Hood?

There is usually a sincere attempt, I find, to strive for plumbing the depths of an archetype, while trying to steer clear of stereotypes.  It's difficult work, to be fair, because we are constantly barraged with stereotypes through the different media we consume each day.  Worse, if left unchecked, a writer can run the risk of embracing a stereotype without evening realizing it due to the insidiously subtle ways that stereotypes of seeped into television, music, and other forms of multimedia.  One need only open a magazine or the "shopper" section of a newspaper to and look at the various clothing and commodity advertisements.  There, we often get treated to ideals of beauty and prosperity depending on whatever scene the advertising designer wanted to convey.  Turn on the Tv for the holiday ads depicting one spouse surprising the other with a luxury car; it's almost always the driveway of a large home, rarely the parking lot of an inner city apartment.  It's not the place, but the people we envision doing these things that is the issue.  Certainly, there are plenty of stereotypes that confront us on a daily basis, whether they are based on appearance, religion or ethnic/cultural backgrounds.  The point, from a writing perspective is that while archetypes lend a thematic or deeper representative aspect to a character, stereotypes keep characters from growing or taking on any significant meaning.  Picture perfect people living picture perfect lives are boring because they are perfect.  Perfection implies an utter lack of tension between needs, wants, desires and danger.  

How many of you have struggled with stereotypes, whether in works you've read or written?  What are your favorite archetypes and how have you found new meaning within them?