Writer’s Block

Writer’s block – does such exist? I can say for sure that when I finally found a moment this morning to sit down and create today’s blog post I stared at the blank wall behind my computer, then the concrete support pillar next to my office desk, then at the desk itself, then I checked email, Twitter, the weather…road-closed-sign-2079685_1920

Nothing.

Then the revelation – I’ll discuss this block thing. It’s not a topic I like to address, because you can really only do so once. Kind of like using the Go to Go card in Monopoly. You won’t have it available the next time you need to bypass your adversary’s hotel-laden Boardwalk and Park Place.

I had several topics in mind last night, a few of which I remember:

  • Information security and writing – we need to keep our IP (Intellectual Property) secure. We also need to keep our email lists secure (particularly if they contain any European Union personal data – see the GDPR). But I work in information security all day. I love what I do, but writing is supposed to be a break from infosec. Perhaps another day.
  • Bike riding – I’ve begun to ride my bike to work each day, about 5 miles each way. The threat of rain this afternoon nixed that idea. No one wants to be on a road bike on he road when it’s pouring.
  • Word count fixation – It just hit me as I began the third bullet, at 227 then and I aim for 300-500. I strive for 1000 per day for my WIP but that’s not practical some days (remember, I have a full-time job). I didn’t hit that goal yesterday, we will see what today brings.
  • Morning prayer – I’m trying to intentionally invite God into my work life by Tweeting a prayer every morning at (or around) 8AM. It helps me, and maybe it may help others. Whether it’s an ask or a praise, it is important to keep God central in my life. I use the hashtag #8AMPrayer. Actually, that is a nice topic, but maybe for tomorrow since my word count fixation just informed me I’m well past the self-imposed 300 minimum.

Pounding out this blog has presented two revelations. First, when at the writer’s block wall, just write. Babble on the keyboard on an endless stream of consciousness. The first moments of exercising when having been inactive for an unusually long period can be difficult, but eventually the expertise will flow, just like riding a bike. I needed to get a cliche in.

Second, and more important, how blessed is it to have writer’s block as my primary problem at the moment. For me, it’s time for another prayer, this of thanks, for blessings. True, it’s not 8 AM (10:51 Central at the moment), but prayer is great 24x7x365.

For the 8AM Prayer and other great content, follow me on Twitter @newtnoise – and say hello when you do!

Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

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Plotter or Pantser

If you’ve been writing for some time the chances are high that you’ve heard of the terms Plotters and Pantsers or at least understand what both are even if you didn’t know there was a word for it. This post at The Write Practice explains both concisely.daniel-mccullough-146145-unsplash

I’d classify myself as primarily Plotter with some Pantser elements, although I’ve approached novel writing in a variety of ways. I had a general idea of the plot for my first novel and constructed around that plan.

My second novel all I started with was the end, as it was a prequel to the first novel. A great example is Rogue One to Star Wars: A New Hope. The writers of Rogue One had the exact ending in mind (even to the point that its last scene immediately precedes the first scene in A New Hope) but had to create most of the entire backstory. For me, that was Pantser in reverse, and a methodology I will not return to. I posted about the process and lessons learned in late 2016.

My third novel, Leaving Darkness, I meticulously planned out every chapter by  first roughing out the three acts, then dividing each act by two and repeating until I had 24 chapter synopses. While the end result was not exactly 24 chapters as I opted to separate POVs per chapter after mapping out the story, I stayed reasonably true to the outline. I wrote about this process that served me well two years ago.

For my WIP, with the working title of Fatherhood, I’m blending the two much like my first novel creation process but with a much greater experience base and many more tools available. I sketched out the three acts – I think that, for me, is an absolutely necessary process, and have completed the first chapter (in addition to a 10,000-word, five-chapter prologue that I intend to release for free as promotional material at the proper time).

Thus, at this point, I have the story framed and the main characters defined. Each act I’m approaching with a heavy dose of Pantser. I enjoy the freedom to create new character and scenes that fit the moment without being constrained by a detailed outline, all while keeping within the guardrails of the plot (yes, that’s a cliche but I like it and besides this is a blog post not a novel).

I’ve concluded that the best process is whatever works best for you is appropriate, but it’s worth dabbling in both styles with different mixtures of Plotter and Pantser to find what is an individual’s best combination. I’ve also allowed myself to be flexible and change that recipe as I desire. After all, writing is supposed to be fun, right?

Leaving Darkness is available at https://www.amazon.com/Leaving-Darkness-Greg-Schaffer/dp/1973644118/

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

Novelette

I’ve never written a novelette before but read somewhere that creating one for a book is a great way to market a book and your brand. I’m working on building my email list, something honestly I should have done several years ago when I wrote my first book, Forgiveness. Live and learn.ben-white-197668-unsplash

I’m working on a new novel tentatively titled Fatherhood and will share more about that book as it develops. Childhood is the novelette I’m developing as a prequel to Fatherhood. Fatherhood is told from the father’s point of view (POV), while childhood from the mothers. Childhood, as the title implies, presents how the couple met as children and the development of their relationship through college.

My main purpose for writing Childhood is to have a freebie to give away in exchange for a mailing address to build my mailing list. I understand that agents and publishers look closely at that as part of the author’s platform (a term I did not know of until my first writer’s conference a week ago, the Mid South Christian Writers Conference). Therefore, my plan is to create this 10,000 word or so novelette (complete with professional editing of course), add a nice cover, and self-publish through Ingram Spark as I have done with several other works. It may even generate some revenue, but it’s email addresses I’m interested in.

As I’ve written the first draft the past few days (5000 words, so about half done) I’ve realized another important benefit. I’ve progressed significantly with the development of the characters and the world building. I see this as such an important offshoot of the novelette exercise that I will probably continue to do this for all of my future novels. When I began five days ago (my goal is 1,000 words on average per day, so I’m right on track) I didn’t even have names for the two main characters. Now I have that, their background, some personality traits, and a great foundation for the conflict that Fatherhood will create.

I’ll announce here when the novelette is available. I don’t have a timeline, as I need to ensure its quality and therefore don’t plan to rush its release. But the process of creating Childhood has certainly been positive and exciting.

Interested in a freebie now? Receive a free copy of Forgiveness at https://dl.bookfunnel.com/kc5ix83t35

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash 

Time to Write

What is your best time to write? Without doubt, I find the early morning to be when my creative juices flow best. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m sure it’s in part due to being a morning person. I routinely wake up before 5 AM and am often in the office before seven. Incidentally, this is a complete flip from my college years. I joke that now I wake up around the time I used to go to sleep.federico-respini-314377-unsplash

I have daily writing goals measured in words, as with most authors, when I’m working on a novel. For me, since I have a full-time job (I own a small virtual CISO firm), I don’t have the luxury of time to have lofty goals of 5,000 words or more. No, for me if I can reach 1,000, on average, for weekday mornings that’s fine. Weekends I relax my goals somewhat; if family time permits, I’ll get in some time to lay down words, but if not, that’s fine. Balance is key.

Sometimes people assume that my job is highly technical but that’s not the case. Yes, there are technical elements for sure, but more so I focus on strategy and my clients’ business goals, not the minutia of what most people think about with regard to information security (firewalls, antivirus, and so on). At times I’m called on to invoke my writing skills as well, mostly when crafting policies and assessment reports. However, I  don’t get a chance to exercise my creative side, at least not in the creating fiction sense.

I think that’s a prime reason why I am a morning writer. By the time I’m thinking about, say,  how the GDPR may affect a client’s operation, my brain has shifted its creativity to security and privacy strategic mode. It’s more difficult for me to shift to creative writing in the middle of the day than to start at it fresh in the morning. Plus, and I have no proof to back this up, just a feeling, creative writing to start the day seems to fuel my mind for the other security and privacy tasks at hand.

Therefore, I try to block the first hour I arrive at my office for creative writing. It’s quiet as I’m usually one of the first to arrive at my office suite. I don’t have the distractions of writing at the home office. So long as I can resist the urge to check work email, if I can give myself an hour of uninterrupted time before tackling the day’s duties, I usually meet (or often exceed) the 1,000 word goal.

I wonder if a study has been performed to see when fiction writers prefer to practice their craft, and why – anyone know?

Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash

A Change of Direction

I just typed the title and already I realize it’s misleading. Perhaps “A Refinement of Direction” or “A Clarity of Direction” would make more sense, given what I plan to write about. But I’ll stick with what I’ve got, as unraveling uncertainty is part of today’s theme.IMG_7464

I attended my first writer’s conference today, the Mid South Christian Writers Conference (that’s me at my book table on the right). It at least met if not exceeded my expectations in every way except one (more on that in a moment). Without going into too much detail, I learned much about my trade, and perhaps more importantly that there is much more I don’t know, and even more I don’t know I don’t know.

I wrote “trade” because today I realized, or may be accepted, that writing is my trade (not my only one for sure; I need to pay the bills after all, and my writing trade experience just isn’t there yet). But I see the word “trade” as the migration from hobby to profession. With that comes greater responsibility, and greater goals.

I chose this conference as my inaugural one because 1) it was not too far a drive (about 4 hours) and 2) I had decided recently that my trade calling is not just writing fiction, but Christian fiction. And not just Christian fiction, but Christian fiction on dark, tough topics to show hope. That may not have been my first choice for my specialty, but sometimes when God calls you to write it isn’t what you expected.

Leaving Darkness (about healing from depression) began that path for me. As I’ve written about here before, writing that novel (and now marketing it) was and continues to be a direct response to God’s call. It’s a good idea to respond positively when called, in addition to being an honor. Well, I’ve become fairly certain this past week what my next novel will be about. For now, I’ll just say it’s another heavy topic with a Christian message and lesson.

I decided this directional change, or refinement, or clarity before the conference, but what I received today was validation through conversations with those much further along in their direction. Therefore, some aspects of my public-facing writing persona, including this blog, will change, I hope for the better. To that end, let me emphasize I love feedback, good and bad.

As for the one expectation not met? I didn’t sell any books today. It’s tough to sell to an audience of writers, but what I didn’t get in sales I received more in encouragement, advice, and directional coaching. That’s worth much more, “in my book”.

A Long Day and a Beer (Or Two)

I’m sitting in a pizzeria located on the first floor of my office building, drinking a beer (Atom Bomb IPA or something like that), trying to unwind from a 12-hour workday. I’m exhausted not because I don’t like my job, but because I love it. It’s a blessing to be doing what you enjoy and getting paid for it.

Still, I have a hard time shutting down. I’m in this eatery with this IPA because I’m not done with work, but the shared office space I use is hosting a meeting of a political party. People mingling about my cube is not conducive to reviewing a SOC report (not that a pizzeria is much better, but at least I can order a beer here). For those uninitiated to the wonderful intricacies of information security, a Service and Organization Controls (SOC) report is a summary of an audit on controls of a business to protect information. It is also documented as an effective cure for insomnia.

About 14 pages into this 75 page SOC report (and about halfway into my IPA) I lose what final thread of interest I had in the SOC report. My report on the report to my client can wait a bit longer when I have fresher eyes and a reinvigorated spirit tomorrow. Besides, I have writing on my mind.

The manuscript for Leaving Darkness Leaving Darkness Cover Conceptis in the copy edit phase. That means that I am paying to fix errors caused by all of the times my attention wandered in seventh grade English. I’m fine with that because working with a competent editor helps to sharpen the writing skills I have and introduce others I missed along the line.

But a manuscript is a deeply personal creation, and the thought of someone else changing it in any way is unsettling as well. I have all the confidence in the word that the result will be fantastic, nearly ready for the publisher. Then I will feel relief. This project began over a year and a half ago, and I’m ready for it to be over.

I don’t mean that in a negative way, though I am a bit burned out from the process of countless revisions. Isn’t it amazing that you can read the same sentence dozens of times and miss a glaring error that you should have caught in seventh grade? Oh, yeah, those times of gazing out the window during Mrs. Klein’s English class coming back to haunt me 40 or so years later.

If you’re waiting for the point of this blog, there is none, really. I just needed to get away from the SOC report and everything else information security that I have been concentrating on for my clients over the past 12-plus hours and muster some measure of a creative outlet (whatever that means). I can’t work on Leaving Darkness while it’s in another’s hands, and I’m not going to start a new project until this one is completed. I do have an idea of the next project – the only hint I’ll give is the working title is Desert Death.

Well, my time writing this lasted long enough to necessitate ordering a second beer. Perhaps that was my true motivation after all.

Note – The cover illustration is a concept, hence the iStock watermark. We may end up using that image, or something else.