Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Writer's Block

For the first time in my writing career, I've experienced writer's block. I know it is impressive I made it so many years without experiencing this phenomenon which plaques seemingly every writers' existence. Yet writer's block has never been an issue that I had to deal with. Therefore, this post is going to be rather odd. It won't necessarily be helpful to people who deal with writer's block regularly in any least I very much doubt it. This is simply my musing on the topic because I can now say I have faced it.

I had reached a point in my current novel where I was simply stuck. I began this novel during NaNoWriMo last year and completed my 50,000 words. Yet the story was far from done, and throughout December of 2018, I continued writing. Now over 60,000 words, I entered January.

And that's when the magic stopped. I had a detailed outline telling me exactly where my story would end up. I already knew the climax and had 'written' specific scenes of the climax in my mind a dozen times. Yet I was stumped as to how to get my characters to that climax. I knew how the end battle was going to go down, but I didn't know precisely where or when, and that is what was killing my inspiration juices. If I don't know where, geographically speaking, to take my characters, they're basically stuck in their house--or this case, living as fugitives in Paris. And if I don't know precisely when that last battle takes place, I can't move the story forward simply because I don't know how many days--within the context of the story--it will take to reach my goal. Thus, my dilemma.

I have tried, off and on throughout January, to get past this roadblock. I failed. I might write a couple hundred words when I sat down, but they were meaningless, had little bearing on the overall plot, and certainly weren't complete scenes.

Today, I managed to get around this thing called writer's block--which up until now had never been something I faced. I did more research on 12th century Paris, and also on a specific historical person who features in my story, Eleanor of Aquitaine. And for whatever reason, which I could not possibly explain, that's what it took to open the dam. I suddenly knew exactly where and when the climax was taking place. And the words poured forth.

So...that was my one and only experience with writer's block, and I do hope I never have to experience it again. If you face this sort of thing regularly, I deeply apologize for your pain.

Happy Writing, everybody!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

5 Major Mistakes I Made Publishing my First Novel

So....that first novel was a doozy.

I love Lucy's Legend-A Robin Hood story. I love it because it was my first published novel. I love it because those characters have now survived two series with me and they're family. I love it because it was the starting point of this writing career that is my joy and passion. But let's be real: that book was terrible.

I wrote a book, and I was insanely happy about it, and I wanted my joy to be spread to the world. What should have been my first step--editing the book--did not, in fact, happen. So that was mistake #1. My siblings read it and a few of them offered some advice--though to be fair, none of them were English majors. I did not look for professional editors or even approach my family members who were, in fact, qualified to edit a novel.

The next step would have been researching the industry, both traditional publishing and self-publishing. I did not do any research of the kind. This was mistake #2. I didn't want to go the traditional route because it seemed like a lot of work. So I did a google search, found CreateSpace, and published Lucy's Legend. Just like that. Mistake #3 was rushing. I had my parents telling me to take a deep breath and slow down, and I for sure did not listen. I didn't even know how copyright worked back then. Or how to format a novel. Or anything at all. But I published it anyway.

Mistake #4: I did zero marketing. None. I didn't attempt to build an author platform online, I didn't garner interest in my community. Nothing.

I was 19 years old, knew nothing about the industry I was trying to break into, and I wasn't taking the time to research. Plus, I was 19...I know I already said that, but let that sink in: I was 19. My writing was terrible. Readable, sure. Showing potential for greatness, I'll give you that. But terrible nonetheless.

I also chose to write under my own name, Amanda Grace, without doing any research, or even a simple google search (which would have showed me what I discovered later). This was mistake #5. I found out after publishing Lucy's Legend, and its sequel Always in Shadow, that there are a lot of Amanda Grace authors in the world, and they all already had relatively large followings. It is hard breaking into the writing world and finding an audience but when you aren't unique it is even harder. Which is why, as you may have picked up on, I have changed my pseudonym.

So for newbies, here's what I would say: Don't publish your novel until you 1) research the industry so you know whether you want to go traditional or self-publishing and also how each of those work, 2) get your novel edited, 3) build an audience, and 4) do a bit of research before choosing your pseudonym. Plus, it might be wise to know, especially if you choose self-publishing, how the whole idea of formatting novels and creating covers, etc., works.

Since that first novel, I have actually researched the industry. What I discovered was that I was glad I went the self-publishing route, even though I had done it for the wrong reasons initially. I did decide it was what worked best for me. I also have every book edited before publication now: that's a big step you can't skip, case you thought you could. And I market my books, because if no one knows you exist how will they know about your books or have any interest in buying them? I also did a lot of editing/rewriting of Lucy's Legend for a second edition that is much less terrible than the initial book had been. I am also constantly learning new skills and doing research--on the industry, how to market, even taking writing classes to continue improving and honing my skills.

There is so much that should have been done with Lucy's Legend that wasn't, but I can say that I learned from my mistakes and am much better--more qualified and more professional--at publishing books now.

So, in conclusion, I hope anyone looking to publish a book will take heed and not follow in my footsteps of that first novel of mine. But know that if you do--or already did--you can come back from it and right your mistakes. It just takes a bit of hard work and determination, but if you already wrote an entire novel I can say with confidence you have what it takes.

Happy Writing, everybody!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

How To Write a Novel

Okay, so you have a brilliant idea and you want to write about it. You can't get this story out of your head. Plus, the world is going to love it, right?

So what do you do?

Obviously, you write your story. But how? Writing a book, while it can be fairly simple, is not an easy task. It takes a lot of hard work, self-discipline, and an ego made of steel--because you're going to face a lot of criticism, and most of it will come from yourself. And now you're thinking, okay Miss Mandi Grace, that's a whole lot of vague and nothing to work with. You're right. So let's get into the details. Fair warning though, this is a list of things that you need to do to write a novel but this is not a list of the specific steps (outline, first draft, etc).

The first thing you need to do is simply write. Spew words. They don't have to be pretty, just get it down on paper--or in a word document--so you aren't losing your mind.

Second, you need to understand words and how they fit together. If you have a basic understanding of grammar, great. Take some classes to learn more. If you're an expert, great. Find resources to expand your knowledge and grow your writing expertise. There's always room for improvement. I'm still learning, too. This is a vital step for you to write a book of any nature, because if you don't know the rules then you can't successfully bend them to make something beautiful. You'll just make a mess. So learn about words, and grammar, and all the nitty-gritty details that sound boring. It's important. Hand-in-hand with learning the grammar, learn how to craft stories. I regularly find resources--books, classes, articles, you name it--to stretch myself because I want to be an expert at what I do. So learn how to write a story, how to create vivid characters, how to showcase powerful dialogue, and utilize descriptions for emotional impact. Writing is a job, and if you want to succeed you need to know how your job works and what it entails.

Third, you have to write every single day. Five minutes. Five hours. Whatever fits into your schedule. If your schedule is too full for writing, make time. You won't write a book any other way. This is not the sort of thing that happens overnight. It takes months, sometimes years. You have to stay on top of it. But don't get overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of your project. If you love it, it will come easy--and on days that it is hard, keep writing anyway. One paragraph a day will get you a whole lot closer to a finished manuscript than zero words written.

Fourth, surround yourself with peers. Find other writers, be they published authors or newbies like yourself. Connect in person or online--whatever works for you--but build yourself a network of individuals who can encourage you in your writing, offer advice when needed, critique your stories to help you grow to be the best writer you possibly can be. You can't do this alone, so find people who can help you achieve your dream to the best of your ability. Don't settle for whatever you can manage on your own. Trust me, it will be that much more brilliant with a group of people pushing you to improve rather than letting you stagnate.

Fifth, do your research. Whatever subject you are writing about, whatever genre you have chosen to align yourself with...become the expert. I write historical fiction more often than anything else, so there's a whole lot of research involved in getting dates, settings, foods, and people of the time correct. But research is necessary in all genres. Are you writing romance? Take some psychology classes or read some articles and become fluent in the language of how the mind works and how people connect with one another. Knowing your material is vital to writing a credible, believable story. And having a credible, believable story is vital if you want people to enjoy your book because your audience is not stupid. They'll know when you don't have a clue what you're talking about. 

So that's five things that you have to be doing if you want to write the best book you possibly can. Write, and write every day. Learn how this whole writing business works anyway. Create a network of people who can challenge and encourage you to be a better writer. And be the expert in your field.

Sometime in the future I might go over the more specific things to be doing to write a novel, but for now...

Happy Writing, everybody!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

2019 Quarterly Writing Goals #1

It's a new year! Can you believe that? I can't.

With the new year comes big changes. I warned you all a while ago that I was changing my pseudonym slightly, and now it's official. All of my social media--unless I've accidentally overlooked one--has been changed to reflect my new pseudonym, and I've bought up the domains connected with my new pseudonym for my website (and so no one else can use terribly rude of me). Actually, while we're on the subject, buying domains is a lot of fun! I'd say I'd found a new hobby, but at some point I'll run out of "mandigrace.whatever" to purchase and my hobby will be dead.

The coming of the new year also means that it is time for me to make my quarterly writing goals! Let's start this off by explaining what exactly are quarterly writing goals: they are simply goals related to writing that I try to accomplish within a three month period. Write a book. Edit a book. Research a new publishing platform. Etcetera. I make goals because they motivate me and force me to be productive. And I post them online for a bit of accountability (and public shaming when necessary).

So, how did I do with the last quarter of 2018?

Goal #1 was to write A Promise to Keep, which is the sequel to Return to Sherwood--which incidentally will be published later this year! Keep your eyes peeled, folks! Anyway, the question is, did I write A Promise to Keep? And the answer is, I wrote most of it. I'm over 60,000 words into this novel, but I haven't reached the end yet. This is going to be my longest book to date.

Goal #2 was to become familiar with IngramSpark, seeing as I intend to publish Return to Sherwood and all future novels through them. I did not, however, do this.

Goal #3 was to update all things to Mandi Grace...which I didn't actually do in 2018. I started this project, but never finished it.

Goal #4 was outlining The Cure, a fantasy novel I hope to eventually write one day. I did not outline this novel.

Goal #5 was to world build for that fantasy novel I expect to write someday...I did not do this either.

Goal #6 was, of course, to keep up with social media and vlogs. This was hit and miss as always.

Well, the last quarter of the year looks on paper like I did nothing. But the fact remains that I wrote over 60,000 words in A Promise to Keep, and I'm not at all disappointed with my work ethic. Goals 4 and 5 were postponed until I finished the novel I'm writing, and I haven't finished yet because it is a much longer story than I anticipated.

Now, what are my goals for the first three months of this brand new year? And have I, in fact, already completed some of them? Why, yes. Yes, I have. That's a first.

Finish A Promise to Keep  I am so close to being done with the first draft of this novel! I just need to actually finish it.

Explore IngramSpark  If I plan on publishing anything this year, as I most certainly do, I definitely need to do my research and get comfortable with the publishing process on this new platform.

Outline The Cure  This all depends on if I actually finish what I have now dubbed 'the never-ending novel', but assuming I do reach a conclusion with A Promise to Keep, I will move on to my fantasy novel.

Change everything to Mandi Grace  Already done! Just finished that project today, in fact.

Worldbuild The Cure  A very important step to any fantasy novel...which will only take place if I finish A Promise to Keep. Sometimes I feel like I'm basically putting my whole life on hold until I finish that novel. We'll get there....we'll get there.

Edit Return to Sherwood  A crucial step to publishing a book. I am going to get Return to Sherwood out to my editors and see what happens. Hopefully it isn't the worst book ever written. We shall see.

Read/Edit books More than one amateur author has asked me to inspect their work recently, and I haven't been great about finishing those projects. So I will do that this quarter, for sure.

Of course I will be trying to keep up with social media and vlogs as well.

I didn't put "Publish Return to Sherwood" on this list because a publication date depends almost entirely on my editors right now. Therefore, Return to Sherwood will have to wait until the second or third quarter of the year. We'll see what happens. I'll keep you posted.

So that's that. I didn't do many goals in the last quarter of 2018, but I did write a whole bunch of words. I anticipate the first quarter of 2019 will be much more productive.

In the meantime, Happy Writing, everybody!