Mesh Update – Beta Readers and Stuff

Fun fact: You can type the phrase ‘beta readers’ only using your left hand. These are the things you learn, slamming to a stop after months of writing, fretting, honing, and polishing your very own novel. Last Friday, I turned Mesh over to my beta readers and stood back to let them read, review, comment, and suggest. I’m already learning some valuable points about Mesh that I would never have seen on my own.

So yes, Jackson uses beta readers when he writes. Not every writer does, but I do. Let’s take a moment to discuss beta readers, so that if you write, or if you want to be a Beta Reader, you’ll have a sense of what is involved.

What is a Beta Reader?

A concise discussion on the topic is provided at the link above (Thank you, NYbookeditors.com). Books need beta readers like software needs beta testers. Nothing sucks worse than trying to get a book published only to hear crickets from agents, publishers and the general public. Beta readers will tell you if you suck, where you suck, why you suck, and how to suck less.

Remember, you will suck before you succeed.

Do you want to be a beta reader? I promise you, there’s some effort involved. Some readers are great at pointing out plot inconsistencies, while others focus on spelling and grammar. In any case, it’s almost like doing a book report. You won’t enjoy it, unless you like what you’re reading.

That’s why I’m profoundly grateful, having found some readers that are willing to help me. It’s not easy to do what they’re doing, but it’s absolutely necessary in the process of writing things people want to read.

Thanks folks! 😀

How Sci-Fi’s First Drop-In Should Work

Writing more Mesh this week, and thinking about this whole Sci-Fi’s First Drop-In thing. I feel like I should explain more of what I have in mind, and how it should work.

As I said before, there’s a weird dynamic in scifi where people – and I include myself in this group – are a little, shall I say, rambunctious to the new creators of science fiction. There are all kinds of reasons why this happens, some of them have to do with group dynamics and others have to do with basic negativity. But rather than complain about that, we should find a way to solve this problem.

First, let’s talk about what celebrating your first drop-in should and shouldn’t be. Some of these may seem obvious, but let’s write them down, anyway:

  1. Your scifi first drop-in (SFFDI) isn’t about self-promotion, it’s about putting yourself out there for the first time and building trust
  2. Your SFFDI isn’t about negativity, is about what happens when you break out of your comfort zone
  3. Your SFFDI isn’t about hating on someone or something, it’s about making something you can enjoy

I might add some more ideas as I think of them, but this seems to be a good start. We (the scifi community) should be able to celebrate, and be celebrated without turning it into a ‘look at me’ thing. We should be able to try, and try new things without it turning negative. We should be able to create without the mad rush to monetize, build brands, go viral. Scifi began as a community of creators that just loved to dream and create. We should be able to build a mechanism to continue that proud tradition.

I even thought of a hashtag we could use: #SFFDI – nobody seems to be using it.

Feel free to contribute your feedback. This is 100% a community effort.

Sci-Fi’s First Drop-In

My I don’t know if you were like me last week when I first saw this video. It’s a crowd of skateboarders celebrating a kid’s first drop-in, a move that takes a lot of trust and willpower for boarders to execute. My first reaction was “Oh, man … those skateboarders are so supportive. I wish someone was that supportive of my sci-fi.”

View post on imgur.com

I have no idea who these people are, or who that kid is, but I don’t have to. We connect with this video on a human level. We’ve all been that kid at one moment of our lives or another. He may have been scared, a little bit intimidated. What will the big kids think? What will the crowd say?

Where most people have experienced indifferent scorn the first time they try something, the kid is surrounded by people who are saying, in effect: “You can do it. We’re here for you!” And then he drops in. That boy will skate for the rest of his life, and wherever he goes he’ll take that formative moment with him.

My second thought this video was “I should blog about this. We’ll know that scifi has turned the corner when we can support new scifi creators like these skateboarders support this kid.” Imagine how much different the world would be if we all experienced that level of support on our first try. But that’s when I had my third thought, and that’s what “Sci-Fi’s First Drop-In” is all about.

My third thought was “Wait, why don’t I do that? Why don’t I support someone’s first try? Why don’t I become the change I want to see?”

So, here we are.

There’s a weird dynamic in scifi where people – and I include myself in this group – are a little, shall I say, rambunctious to the new creators of science fiction. There are all kinds of reasons why this happens, some of them have to do with group dynamics and others have to do with basic negativity. But rather than complain about that, let’s be a part of the solution.

So here’s my thought, and I’m inviting others to weigh in and participate. If you’re a first-timer and you want to show off your work, I’m happy to make room on Inkican to celebrate you. Not sure how it’s all going to work right now, people often think of problems I didn’t consider after I say something, but at the very least it might be a fun way for us to support each other in a non-threatening, consequence-free format.

Interested in participating? Have something to share? Reach out to me via Reddit or Twitter. Let’s see if we can make some magic happen.

 

Great Career Advice for Writers

Passing this along as I thought Jolene had some great insights about writing for a living. Career advice for writers, if it exists, tends to be along the lines of ‘Learn to be a writer now, pay me $24.’ If there are a million writers in the world, there will be a million-and-one scams to take their money. Happily, Jolene isn’t one of those people. She had some great career advice for writers, so it pleases me to pass along two articles you might find useful yourself:

9 Things You Should Never Say to a Writer

Yeah, seriously. Don’t. 

How to Get Started Freelance Writing

This was pretty helpful to me. I’m always looking for ways to supplement my income. You might be, too!

 

Unbelievable Free Author Tools

A common myth among non-writers is that authors’ words just flow from some magical brain faucet with no assistance from anyone, anywhere. I wish! No, the truth is a lot more boring. Authors rely on tools and many of them are free. It’s unbelievable how many of them are out there just lying around. It’s like stumbling on a garage filled with parts, just waiting for a mechanic to go to work.

Well today, that’s you and me. Here are six resources I found and I’ll add more as I go along. Feel free to make use of them yourself as you work to improve your writing:

Wordhippo 

Wordhippo is a thesaurus on steroids. Works great when you’re tired and you can’t think of another way to say “sarcastic.”

List of Adjectives to Describe Tone, Feelings and Emotions
Other Ways to Say “Roll the Eyes”: A Word List for Writers
100 Words for Facial Expressions
Cheat Sheets For Writing Body Language
37 Ways To Write About Anger

Got any others? Send me yours and I’ll add them to my list!

Your Writing Sucks – Here’s How to Fix It

“Your writing sucks.” I had to say this to myself today and to be honest, it kind of hurt. Sometimes I have to yell at myself before I’ll get better, and today was one of those days. Happily, that’s not the end of the story. Bad writing is a challenge we all have to overcome, so here’s how to fix it.

Like anything else you make, subjecting it to some simple quality control will shine a flashlight on what is not working. Just like a diamond must be polished, your writing must be stripped of everything that won’t make it sparkle. Where most people would hire an expensive editor, you can do the following four-step process for free. You don’t even need to work that hard, grab a cup of coffee, put on your favorite tunes and get cracking:

  1. Spell-check – Just a simple spell check in MSFT Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, Open Office … whatever tool you’re using. Don’t let a ‘teh’ get all the way to the book store. Fix the stupid little problems here.
  2. Grammarly.com – You can pay for a subscription, or Grammarly lets you copy and paste everything into a free online tool, even if it takes longer. Grammarly will examine your work for spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and other sins of the scribe.
  3. Hemingwayapp.com – Also another free tool that a best-selling author sent my way. Hemingway may not teach you to write like Hemingway, but dadgum if it doesn’t cut through lazy writing than Dawn cuts through grease.
  4. Finally, search your writing for words or phrases you use too often. In my case, my characters kept ‘shrugging’ and ‘rolling their eyes.’ I did a search within Windows and my characters were rolling their eyes every chapter. I fixed that. I have other writing hacks to share here, but that’s for another post.

So there you have it. Yes, your writing sucks. Acknowledging the problem is the first step. Bad writing will suck the energy out of your story, and it even makes it harder for you to write because in the back of your head, you know you’ve got this stinky diaper pile of words to clean up. De-clutter, clean up! It’ll actually give you the energy needed to tackle the next draft.

Use a Word Cloud to Write Better

Use a Word Cloud to Write Better

As I’m writing, one of the things I’m afraid of is using the same words, phrases, or descriptors over and over again. As much as I love Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels, it became a running joke in the first trilogy how many times he could use the word ‘sardonically.’ It bugs me to think that I might do the same thing, so what to do? I hit on an idea that seems to help and I want to share it with you: Use a word cloud to write better.

Scrivener has some tools to identify over-used words, and so does Grammarly. But what other ways can you visualize the words that your readers will see most often in your stories?

As a test, I tried this Wordcloud app in Microsoft Word on my existing draft of Mesh. These are the words that appear most often. Is that right? Is that wrong? I’m not sure yet. I have to make an author decision to either leave the words as-is, or go back and re-shape my prose.

Not a big ‘eureka’ idea, but I found it helpful and you might find it helpful, too. Write on!

Real Writers Have Day Jobs

After the Geoffrey Owens thing last week, I thought it might be interesting to talk about how creative people support themselves. Creators don’t exist in a vacuum, after all. We have bills, mortgages, relationships, and checking accounts. What am I trying to say? I’m saying real writers have day jobs, just like you.

I got curious earlier this week and decided to ask other writers about this. I started with a very simple question – “How Do You Support Yourself While Writing?” What I got back were a number of interesting insights.

Yes, real writers have day jobs. But what kind of jobs? It turns out, authors more often than not work a corporate gig somewhere. Keep that mind the next time you talk to your favorite IT guy, cybersecurity expert, developer, corporate trainer, or hotel A/V guy. They might be using your conversation as material, or turning you into a character they can murder.

I met one writer who is also an EMT, and one who works in probate registry. One way or another, many authors support themselves by helping others. Some writers teach English, like Stephen King, did. Other writers are in communications, are ghost-writers and marketers, or even chainsaw artists.

All that sounds cool on the surface but real talk: does working in writing hamper your creativity? Asking for a friend.

Many authors work in ways that are less white collar or career-focused. Some work at Trader Joes, like Geoffrey Owens did. Others are baristas or cafe managers. Sometimes this can suck, but if you have ‘easy hours and a great boss,’ you’ll get ‘lots of time/mental space to pursue your artistic endeavors.’ Still other authors are retired and living lean.

Finally, the last category – there are many writers like me, living with a disability. ” Before I got too sick to work I was finishing my masters in neurological psych and forensic psych, already had degrees in Criminal investigations and forensics. I was fast tracking for the FBI ViCAP,” says TwistedMune. “A lot of my ghostwriting jobs are psychological analysis and true crime books.” Reading that made me feel a lot better. There are a tribe of writers out there who know the struggle.

So if you’re considering a career as an author or writer, you may want to remember that writing is often what you do after you get done with work every day. It’s not all book-signings and late nights with William Strunk. However, if you’re up for the life, it can be quite rewarding.

It’s the ‘sex and cash’ theory of creative professionals. Find joy in the art, do the gig so you can do the art. I live pretty lean on my disability check, but that’s ok. I’m in love with making a chapter or a scene come together (Like the chapter of Mesh I’m working on right now, for example). The fact that I’m cruising EatCheapandHealthy for recipies is just part of the trip.

So I hope you found this interesting and insightful. Addtionally, if you’re looking for a job to support your writing, you might check out the suggestions mentioned here and here.

Write on!

Nerd Post: Bots Defeat Google Analytics

This isn’t directly related to writing, but it’s important if you run a website for your books (Looking at you, George R. R. Martin). This is a nerd post to talk about a source of frustration for me, and I imagine many other small-scale website owners: Bots defeat Google Analytics.

Anyone in the ‘writing for fun and profit‘ space will tell you that audience building is a key part of the game. You must get eyeballs and then get them to become interested in whatever it is that you’re offering. For me, it’s science fiction, but for you it could be antique cigarette lighters, bespoke suits, or Dukes of Hazzard TV trays. Who knows?

One of your key performance indicators (KPI) will always be web traffic. Like millions of other sites, I use Google Analytics. Every once in a while, I’ll fire up my GA tool to see what’s going on and I’ll find a table that looks like this:

Now let’s talk about what this table means, and what it’s supposed to tell me about my web page. Continue reading

/R/Writing Threads You Should Read Right Now

Say what you will about Reddit, there are some talented people out there, chasing the dream just like you. In writing Mesh, I’m running across many questions that have no clear answers. Swinging over to Reddit, I have my heart in my mouth knowing that it’s difficult to make connections some times. How happy I was to see that many other writers are struggling with the same questions. Maybe these will strike a chord with you, too:

Your first draft will suck. I guarantee it.

How do you fix ‘Show, Don’t Tell?’

How do you write protagonists that appeal to teenage boys? 

Short stories and breaking into the publishing world.

Reading some of these threads reminds me of the timeless advice given to Link in Zelda: It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.