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How do I get started writing?

How do I get started writing?

Get started writing – how?

Every writers’ forum I’ve spent time in has had someone, sometime, show up asking ‘how do I get started writing?’ At this point I always find myself needing to take my hands off my keys and wrestle down a sarcastic response like ‘Start typing’.

After a few months of feeling vaguely guilty every time the situation occurred, it came to me that while the question that kept triggering my sarcasm reflex was a dumb one, there were possibly a few underlying questions more worth offering time to.

Ignoring the fact that some people really do show up on forums and ask stupid questions simply for attention, writing a book can be overwhelming. Here are some thinking points to make it more overwhelming.

Hubble, bubble, boil and trouble

If I were to write a 101 Guide to Getting Started Writing, some twenty years of fiction writing later, I’d have to say that there are a few vital ingredients that need to be tossed in the pot if you hope to make the magic happen.

  • A dash of crazy. No sane person decides to write a book, spends a year or so of their lives writing, editing, and formatting it, and does all this knowing full well that they’ll never get paid for their time.
  • A heaping teaspoon of inspiration. You’re crazier than I am if you’ll waste months or a year of time for no remuneration and without something to write about that gets your blood pumping, whether it’s space battles or how to come up with the perfect hall decor.
  • A solid dose of grammatical understanding (substitute a silly amount of money here if you have it). If you can’t be bothered to learn or look up basic grammar and punctuation rules for your language of choice, or don’t want to pay someone who does to edit your work, stop writing now and back away from the manuscript slowly. There’s a difference between idiot savant and idiot.

What genre should I write?

Doesn’t matter, it’s not catching.

If you have a good story to tell, it doesn’t matter if it’s about terraforming Mars or a half-siren ‘acquisitions specialist’ being paid to acquire the Peaches of Immortality. Good story-telling never goes out of style. On the topic of trying to follow writing ‘fads’, check out Writing Myths: slay the dragon.

I know someone who manages to mix sci-fi, steampunk, and fantasy – and I can’t put their books down. I also know someone who invented the entire genre of elfrotica.

If you want to know more about genres of writing, I suggest you pull up a search engine and dig in. Wikipedia is always a good place to start. If someone’s harassing you to come out of the writing closet as a certain genre, I suggest smiling sweetly and telling them that you aspire to be original.

But which writing house will the Sorting Hat put me in?

Writers tend to gravitate to one end or other of a spectrum that ranges from ‘pantser’ at one end to ‘plotter’ at the other. Read on to discover which school of writing wizardry best suits you.

To avoid any embarrassing misconceptions, it may be important to note at this point that ‘pantser’ in this context refers to one who flies by the seat of their pants. It does not necessarily relate to their state of dress or undress whilst engaged in the practice of writing.

You may be a pantser if you have voices in your head, a setting, and no idea in the world how it’s all going to end, but you can’t stop thinking about it and you’ve already had detention for drawing spaceships in class.

You may be a plotter if you have a ton of post-it notes arranged in careful patterns on your wall, detailing the main idea, the sub-ideas, the plot arc, the chapter beats, the sub-arcs (with the kinky bits inserted on the hot pink notes) and have a file on your protagonist detailed down to their first word and the exact position of the mole on their arse.

Which is best? That’s the great thing – there is no ‘best’. There’s the approach that works for you, and the others, which don’t. Most people fall somewhere in between.

Give me facts! I cannot make bricks without clay!

The fact is that the amount of actual money to be made from writing hit rock bottom about a decade ago and then started burrowing. Think I’m kidding? These guys did the math: The Authors’ Guild – The Wages of Writing.

Additionally, traditional publishing houses are taking on fewer and fewer new authors, while trumpeting ever louder that independent authors, or ‘indies’ are the leeches on the underbelly of professional writing. Therefore, starting to write books with the idea that fame and fortune await is delusional, so you’d better have another reason for doing it (see the heaping teaspoon requirement).

If those facts haven’t put you off, then at least you’ve got the dash of crazy. Congratulations (…I think).

So how will I know if I’m doing it right?

Assassin’s Creed II

Assassin  “Where other men blindly follow the truth, remember…”

Initiate: “Nothing is true.”

Assassin: “Where other men are limited by morality or law, remember…”

Initiate: “Everything is permitted.”

This quote is particularly applicable to writing. The way I do it won’t be the way you do it. The way J. K. Rowling does it will be different from both of us. None of the three of us is ‘wrong’. Some people use a pencil, others touch-type at 100 WPM, others again dictate to voice conversion software.

Write whatever way blows your skirt up. There is no set of commandments. The only restrictions are your imagination and your writing ability.

Self-editing for dummies, or how to not annoy your readers

Self-editing for dummies, or how to not annoy your readers

Self-editing

First seen on the By Rite of Word Blogspot

Readers are picky beasts, and just because they couldn’t necessarily correct your writing, it doesn’t mean that they can’t recognise and be annoyed by constant technical issues. Leave enough editorial screw-ups in your manuscript, and not only will you lose readers, but arsehole book reviewers, like me, will call you on it in public. Actually, so will Amazon.

Yes, editing is expensive – or time-consuming. And boring, for the most part. But no, people won’t cut you slack just because you’re indie – and nor should they have to.

When you publish a book, you’re producing something you’ve spent months or years on. You owe to yourself, not to mention your readers, the respect of doing it properly.

You may not be able to afford to have your 350-page manuscript professionally edited at $45/hour.

However, there are a number of things you can do yourself.

Will this self-editing be as good as having it done professionally? No, probably not. But at least you can minimise the chance that someone’s going to use your precious manuscript for toilet paper because the typos, homophones, and other easily-avoidable technical eff-ups are making their brains hurt.

Step 1: Eliminate the obvious

I use MS Word, but whatever word-processing tool you use, either find the native spellcheck option or mug someone for their computer and load your MS up into software that has one.

  1.  Highlight your entire MS. (In Word, Ctrl+A.)
  2. Select the dialect of English (or whatever language you’re in) that you want your MS to use. I use UK English.
  3. Go through your entire MS and check out all the errors.
    • If a word, phrase or sentence has a coloured line under it, that means you either have a spelling error or a grammar error – or the spellcheck thinks that you do.
    • If you write fantasy / sci-fi, or some other genre that you’ve made up words for, I recommend adding them to your dictionary. It saves you having to ‘ignore’ them several times a page.
    • Spellchecks can be wrong. If you aren’t certain that your red, blue or green wavy underline is actually right, go online and do your research.
    • Spellcheck, for the most part, will not catch homophones (words that sound identical but mean different things). You’re going to need to figure out that a horse doesn’t have reigns yourself.

Step 2:  Use your brain

Go back up to the very first sentence in your MS. You know, the one you hoped never to see again, because you agonised over it for weeks.

  1. Re-read your entire MS. Don’t skim. Read it as a reader.
    • If a sentence makes you pause, highlight it.
    • If you see an error you missed and the spellcheck missed, either fix it or highlight it.
    • If something doesn’t seem logical, highlight it (possible plothole).
    • If you find yourself starting to skim, ask yourself if it’s because you’ve inserted four words, four paragraphs, or four pages of unnecessary yak. Highlight it.
    • Does your scene suddenly change view-points? Highlight it.
    • Got sections where the hero’s rugged face took on a look of surprised dismay before he began to reach out to gently touch the heroine’s velvety, petal-like cheek? Highlight ’em.
    • Be consistent. If you hyphenated ‘cloud-filled’ in chapter 1, hyphenate it in chapter 20. If you spelt it ‘adrenalin’ in chapter 3, don’t use ‘adrenaline’ in chapter 4.
      • If you find yourself wondering about a word or words each time, make a list of the things you keep having to back-check on and use the list to stay consistent.
  2. Go back over all the sections you highlighted.
    • Could you rephrase the sentence / paragraph / section to get rid of whatever made you uneasy when you read it? For example, have you used the same sentence structure multiple times in a row? Is there a pet word that you’ve just used too often? Is the sentence structure just clunky?
    • Get all the weird and wonderful things that spellcheck missed and you highlighted. Spellchecks are tools, not a substitute for your brain.
    • Check the places where something struck you as not logical or missing something. Maybe you need to add an explanation or tie up a loose thread.
    • Check the spots were your eyes started to unfocus. Do you really need them in the book? Or are they pacing disasters that are going to put your reader to sleep?
    • Check your point of view. If you needed and planned to head hop, fine. If you’re just slipping from one character to another at random, or sliding into the omniscient view-point, re-write.
    • If you think that a lot of adjectives and adverbs enrich your writing, please think again. They’re like spice. Add none, and you’re bland. Add a bit, and you’re great. Add too much and you need to start freezing toilet rolls.

Step 3: Use someone else’s brain

Yep. Really. Even if you can’t afford a full edit (we get it: they’re expensive), there are a number of options that won’t cost you $3,000-plus.

  1. Beta readers. Get some. Beta readers are free, if occasionally difficult to come by. Ideally they should be people who read your genre, but who don’t know you, don’t care about you, have never seen your manuscript before, and will tell you the absolute truth. Try Goodreads as well as the options in the other links.
    • Give them some guidance (The Killzone Blog questionnaire is a good start)
    • Give them a timeline
    • Give them a free copy of your spell-checked, re-read, re-edited manuscript
  2. Get a manuscript critique, or partial manuscript critique. This may probably will cost money, but it’ll be double digits to low hundreds money, not thousands.
  3. Friends / family. Not ideal because they will for the most part want avoid hurting your feelings, but they’re usually easy to come by. Again, if you choose to go this route, give them some guidance (like the Killzone Blog questionnaire). Tell them when you need the feedback by.
  4. Join a writers’ group. Again, the standard on these varies wildly, but they’re another free option to get some feedback.
  5. Read some bloggers who publish editorial hints and tips. Here are a few to get you started:

Most important: while the manuscript is out with your critiquers / beta readers / Aunty Mae … don’t open it, don’t edit it, don’t read it, don’t think about it. 

Step 4: Use your brain some more

First off: Thank your betas / friends / family. You’re not obliged to agree with what they had to say, but all these people did donate their time to try and help you.

And now … oh yes. Now that you’ve got your beta read feedback, your manuscript critique, your Aunty Mae’s 4,000 word essay on why she never reads science-fiction except when it’s yours … grab a beer / cup of tea / relaxing beverage of choice and open up all the emails / documents / spreadsheets where people have taken their best shots.

Throw a pity-party, get over it, and spend a few profitable and possibly pleasurable minutes duct-taping your ego to the bedframe. I’m not judging.

Then, go through all the feedback. I recommend sorting it into at least two categories (1) things everyone, or more than one, of your sources is saying; and (2) the things only one person has noted.

If more than one person has highlighted something, put a big red circle around it for serious consideration. If only one person has it as a pain-point, well, it’s worth considering, but not agonising over.

Now … Yup! You’re going to read your manuscript again!

The good news is, the time while your readers were doing their thing means you haven’t seen it in a while. That means you will have got a bit of distance from it and you’ll probably be much more efficient (and ruthless) with the remaining errors.

Re-read it with the feedback, especially with the feedback where multiple people had the same thing to say. Implement what you feel needs implementing.

Keep in mind, however, the beauty of being indie: if you truly feel, after reviewing a bit of feedback and your book that you prefer your original set-up … well, you’re indie. Your call.

Now that you’ve added, deleted, struck scenes out altogether, spell-check it again. (You remember how that works, we did this already.)

Then, if you’re using Track Changes, get the final view, or print out a clean copy, or copy the whole thing into a 5x8 print template – make it look totally new and different – and repeat Step 2.

Step 5: Publish your masterpiece

This is the easy bit, right? You’ve got your cover, you’ve decided if you’re going Kindle Select, or Kindle and everywhere else you can get your book formatted for, you know if you want to do print-on-demand or not …

Good luck and thank you from all your prospective, un-pissed-off readers.

Astrid Tuttle Winegar, Galaxy of Authors

Astrid Tuttle Winegar, Galaxy of Authors

Astrid Tuttle Winegar

‘There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.’

Buy the books!

In the beginning…tell me what made you decide to start writing?

I had just finished my masters degree and was dreading trying to enter the teaching market, especially since I was in my mid-forties and there was a hiring freeze at the time. The thought of all the licensure requirements was daunting. I had made a Middle-earth cookbook project as an undergraduate, and my mentor/professor mentioned to me how much she wished I could expand this and try to publish it. This sounded good; three years later I had a book ready. So, I basically wrote a book to avoid the entering the real world.

Tell me about your book.

Grown-up comfort food recipes inspired by Middle-earth and Narnia.

In Cooking for Halflings & Monsters: 111 Comfy, Cozy Recipes for Fantasy-Loving Souls, Tolkien scholar Astrid Tuttle Winegar has created ‘eleventy-one’ original recipes to inspire you. Lovingly illustrated and written with dry humor throughout, this charming cookbook is sure to delight you and your family, friends, and any other lucky halflings (or monsters) who show up in your kitchen. So crack open a beer, rustle up some “Gündürnüb’s Grüb,” and come along on this epic culinary journey. Your quest for delicious recipes is complete!

The eight chapters of this cookbook each imagines a restaurant (inn, café, or bistro) which caters to particular archetypal characters in the fantasy genre and presents a delicious meal for them. But don’t worry—you don’t have to be a gourmet monster chef! You simply need to love comfort food to enjoy all the recipes within.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have a crazy book about my emergency gallbladder removal surgery and the diet plan I followed after that. I will probably never publish it, because it’s full of humorous and embarrassing moments; and as my former agent said, I’m not a doctor so I have no authority on the subject. I do still follow the diet I invented for it, however. I am working on a second volume of CHM, which I would estimate is about 60% finished. I’ll be shooting for a Halloween, 2019, release.

What’s your opinion on the practice of ‘banning’ books?

A ridiculous, fascistic practice that leads to artistic oppression and repression. On the other hand, nothing makes a book more popular and desirable than being banned. Forbidden fiction will read that much more sweetly.

Indie, or traditionally published – and why?

At the moment, I’m favoring indie, mainly because I am a control freak. I was burned by a medium-sized publisher, then my second small-size publisher went out of business. The thought of trying to find another agent and publisher is exhausting. Why bother, when there’s IngramSpark and Kindle? Plus, I already take lots of time to write anything. Dealing with other people just prolongs the whole process. Of course, then you have to plan all of your designing and marketing, but publishers don’t market much for you anyway, do they?

Are you a plotter, or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?

I start with a plot, or in my case, an outline of ideas that generally become chapters or sections. Some of that is fairly rigid, but I like to allow myself the pants-flying. The structure leads to other ideas, and I build on those.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Yes, I have all sorts of cheeky references to Tolkien’s works in my recipes and anecdotal materials. If you’re familiar with his stories, you’ll find them. They have to be cheeky, because the Tolkien Estate originally sent me a polite cease and desist request, which prevented my original cookbook from existing. They said I could talk about the works, but I couldn’t quote anything or name any dishes after any of the characters or locations. As it is written currently, the cookbook has lots of hidden references to Middle-earth.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m currently writing Cooking for Halflings & Monsters, Volume 2: A Year of Comfy, Cozy Soups, Stews, and Chilis. My husband is really tired of eating soup…

What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?

I’ve been reading many indie books that, unfortunately, do fit that stereotype. However, I’ve read plenty of indies that have been edited well and have pleasing and consistent layouts. It is concerning that many indie authors become caught up in the possibilities of the self-publishing world and they obviously rush to put out products—but you can see it on the page. That gives indies a bad reputation, and we all probably suffer somewhat for that. I believe if you are going to pour your heart and soul into a book, of any genre, you should strive to help its presentation as much as you can; within your financial means, of course. I know that can be a rough situation for many writers, but poor editing and layout can distract from your words. Obviously, this is all subjective; what bothers me might not bother somebody else. And even if a book is badly edited, I can overlook this to get to the meat of the story. I’ve read some books with errors from big publishers and best-selling authors, so there you go.

Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what do you like?

Never; I like my surroundings to be as quiet as possible.

Tell me three unique things about you.

  1. I have a rather annoying interest in politics which mostly manifests itself in a severe hetero-crush on Rachel Maddow.
  2. I participate in various crafting media and have a shop on Etsy called “Elegant Sufficiencies.”
  3. I am a high-functioning introvert who used to brood—now I merely ponder. Nevertheless, I laugh frequently.

Astrid, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!

Etymology Excavation: fascinating

Etymology Excavation: fascinating

Well, I haven’t done an etymology excavation in quite some time, and it occurred to me that now would be a good time, because I recently found out where the word ‘fascinating’ comes from…or at least, I think I have, and it’s epic.

So why ‘fascinating’? Usually I look at phrases, where they come from, how they could be adapted to fiction, how they often get misused…well, I reckon actually that you may be misusing ‘fascinating’ without even knowing it.

Fascinate is originally from the Latin half of the English language, from fascinare. Feel free to run that through a few web searches, but originally to bewitch (or to hex, curse), to irresistibly attract, and also to deceive or to obfuscate (hide). You can see how that set of meanings vaguely relate to each other.

So that’s what the origin word meant, and how it got used down through today, when it’s used pretty much interchangeably with ‘interesting’.

However, I put it to you that fascinate shouldn’t actually be used as a conversation-stopper when whats-his-face will not STFU about whatever…fascinate deserves much better than that, and here’s why: I feel there is a solid argument to be made that fascinate, and fascinare, come from the name of  an ancient Roman deity, Fascinus. See the header for a few images of a fascinum amulet…

If you’re thinking that a fascinum amulet looks startlingly akin to a donger with wings on, well, you aren’t wrong. Ancient Romans, eh. Very similar to modern culture in so, so many ways…

But long story short, unless whatever you’re saying is fascinating is at least as good as a flying penis that wards off the evil eye, you’re probably using it wrong and blaspheming to boot.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

Websites and sub-domains and Jollyleaf, oh my

Websites and sub-domains and Jollyleaf, oh my

What do websites and trees have in common?…Well, Jollyleaf, of course.

Back in April, I went on a serious hunt for a new hosting provider for my websites. I had been with GoDaddy, and I was tired of paying through the nose for Outlook 365, having to call someone every time I wanted help…you name it. I also wanted to move my sites onto servers outside the USA, as the privacy legislation for non-US citizens took some damage in 2017.

Some intensive hunting brought me to Jollyleaf, a UK-based hosting provider that also handles domain names.

First point in their favour – very proactive business dev team that managed great outreach without being pushy. I whined (once) about my hosting provider hunt on Twitter, and a friendly message from an actual human popped up in my Twitter inbox.

I checked them out, and I may have blinked. At the time, I was paying upwards of $500 a year for four domain names, hosting for two websites, and two email addresses with GoDaddy. It looked as if Jollyleaf’s Oak package would give me all that for under $50 a year – plus the transfer fee for the two domains I was actually using. They were also offering a free SSL certificate – something that GoDaddy had been trying to upsell me on for $70 a shot every time I had to call them for a year.

Ten times less money? Hell yes. I suspect there are still skid marks somewhere on GoDaddy where I pulled out full speed ahead.

I wanted to rebuild my author website from the ground up in any case, since it had been the website I ‘learnt’ WordPress on, so I went ahead and migrated that over, set up my author webmail, and found with delight that Outlook 2007, which would only allow one of my Outlook365 addresses to handshake with it, would cheerfully handle any number of webmail accounts.

A week later, I backed up my review site, and discovered that I had no idea exactly how that would fit into the Jollyleaf structure. There were a lot of worryingly flexible options available to me in the cPanel with my account, but nothing that screamed ‘plug second website in here’. Incidentally, I can’t over-recommend the UpdraftPlus software for a simple, hassle-free (and actually free) website back-up tool. It’ll send full website back-ups zips and the database (do not omit the DB – really) to the file storage of your choice (I use Dropbox), and once you reinstall the plugin in your virgin WordPress, it’ll handle re-install of your site.

I then learnt about the wonderful world of sub-domains (see my Websites 101 post, covering the basic information I wish I’d known in April). Suffice it to say that after a few hours where I was sure I’d overwritten my brand-spanking-new author site with my review site, and another few hours where the images zip upload ate all my bandwidth and finally skewed altogether and had to be manually installed in the relevant sub-folder in phpMyAdmin, I turned out to be the proud owner of a site and sub-domain site, and two working webmail addresses, both showing up in my Outlook client on demand.

Overall, now that I’m set up, I have to say that Jollyleaf was a great find. If I’d known word one about the backend of website set-up (and I make no apologies for my ignorance, my partner works in programming and had no idea of some of what we found out either), transition would have been a lot smoother. They don’t yet have all the endless help articles and how-tos that Wix and GoDaddy have to guide the uneducated through set-up. Key words to look for when setting up a second site on Jollyleaf – ‘sub-domain’ and ‘addon domain’. Jollyleaf does have very available and professional support people, available through an email ticketing system, who will try and talk you through your panics.

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