My NaNoWriMo Experience

For those unfamiliar with the term, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, a “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing” according to the NaNoWriMo website. I had heard of it before but had ignored primarily because whenever November had come around in years past was when I was in a writing lull. Capture

This year, I opted to participate for a few reasons. First, I was reminded of it from an email from IngramSpark, a service I’ve used to self-publish several of my works. IngramSpark had a promo to waive title setup fees by using a NaNoWriMo promo code, even if the work wasn’t produced during NaNoWriMo. I happened to have finished all of the pre-production for my novelette Childhood, so the timing was great. But the reminder also caused me to check out the NaNoWriMo site.

Second, I was gearing up to write Fatherhood, the full-length follow up to Childhood (which serves as a reader magnet to introduce the characters). Why not see if I could write 50,000 in a month?

A couple of caveats: I’m not endorsing the NaNoWriMo site – I used it to track my progress, nothing more, nothing less. I do plan to learn more of their mission but, honestly, writing 50,000 words in a month doesn’t leave much time for any other discretion time activities.

Also, I technically did not start at zero words. I had completed about 8,500 while I was working on Childhood this spring. However, because of changes to Childhood during the development editing process, I needed to rework those first six chapters, plus my outline. That’s reflected in the graph above; once I finished that (nine days in), I started to track.

As you can see, I made it, but not without a few significant pushes. I took a couple of days off from work around week three to write, completing over 5,000 each day. That helped to put me at a manageable but still difficult 2,800 or so per day pace to finish, which I stayed on consistently until the end. The last day was a Saturday, so I knew I could spend more time writing, and therefore took a break Friday. I knew at that time I’d make it.

A few lessons learned:

  • Having an outline was critical to success. I was determined not to write fluff. While this is obviously the first draft and will require much editing and revisions, the plot stayed on point because of the outline.
  • It became easier to write more. I got into a groove, a regular cadence of crafting a scene (typically 600-900 words), taking a break, then repeating until the goal was met.

This has also primed me to finish the novel draft this year. My previous novels have landed right around 80,000 words. With 30,000 to go, I launched another challenge for myself beginning December 2nd (I took the first off) – 1,000 words per day. Thus far, writing 1,000 per day has been relatively easy. I just completed one scene of 723 words and will complete the rest (part of the next scene) shortly after posting this.

Bottom line, for me NaNoWriMo helped kickstart my project. If all goes well, I will have completed an 80,000-word novel in two months, though in reality, it took ten months to prepare, including writing the novelette.

Childhood Cover Reveal and Offer

The cover is complete for Childhood the novelette prequel to my upcoming novel, FatherhoodChildhood follows young Katie Whetley’s quest  to find her place in life as she grows up in the small West Tennessee town of Maynard. Childhood will be released later this year.

The good news is that you can get a free eBook copy of Childhood before it’s released! If you have enjoyed one of my previous novels (Forgiveness, Leaving Darkness) and write a review on either GoodReads or Amazon, I will send you the eBook file once completed. Just email me (greg.schaffer@secondchancebook.org) a link to the review and I will add you to the list. As always, I appreciate your support!

Three Attributes Every Writer Needs

One thing I have learned is that every writer seems to have advice but there is no one-size-fits-all set of rules or guidance. Still, I believe there are three core attributes every writer must possess to be successful: authenticity, tenacity, and business acumen.

Authenticity
Whether fiction or non-fiction, I believe a reader can sense the genuineness of an article or book. The passion poured into the creation of the words transfers through the reader’s eyes to their heart and mind. Conversely, lack of authenticity, in my opinion, results in a substandard product.bernard-hermant-621390-unsplash

This isn’t much different from the common “write about what you know,” advice, except knowledge doesn’t equate to passion. I suppose this makes no difference when writing a textbook or Wikipedia article. But when the reader feels the author believes in their work it compels them to read more. I don’t think you can fake that.

Tenacity
Writing is easy. Writing well is difficult. I have painfully experienced, particularly with self-published works, examples published before sufficient polishing. It takes time to learn the trade. What is the oft-quoted rule of thumb, ten-thousand hours to become a master of anything? With my years of writing experience, I am unsure just how close I am to that mark.

There’s more. A huge mistake new authors (myself included) make is assuming once published the work is done. No, readers will not magically flock to your book. Writers speak of their platform, essentially their (mainly digital) reputation and exposure. It takes time and determination to build that. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Business Acumen
Writing is a business, even if it’s a hobby, and writers need to approach it as such. That begins with keeping detailed financial records, to track your expenditures and income and to generate information for tax filing if so fortunate (if you have to file income taxes based on your writing, you’re making money).

Then there’s marketing, dreaded more than rejection letters. You not only need determination to market, but you also have to market correctly. That can require trial and error and learning from mistakes, which in turn requires some business analytical skills to interpret marketing action results. Twitter ad analytics is a great example.

I’ve been writing for many years now, off and on (recent years more on) since I was in high school in the 1980s (this post’s stock photo is reminiscent of the old Smith-Corona typewriter I used back then). It’s only been about a year when I became serious about my craft beyond a fun hobby, which required the attributes above.

Incidentally, all three attributes above apply to entrepreneurship as well. I launched a small consulting firm two years ago and would not have achieved the success I enjoy today if not for authenticity, tenacity, and business acumen. In fact, extending that successful model to my writing life was an easy decision.

What about you? Do you agree with these? Any others?

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

 

 

Blessings of Abundance

I often get down on myself for not meeting writing goals. Didn’t hit 1,000 words. Didn’t write a single word. Didn’t blog for five days. Didn’t finish my crits for my group. And so on. Then comes the other points of reality that stab at the fledgling indie author. No sales today – this week – this month. No reader magnet downloads. No comments on my blog posts when I do post.

Oh, woe is me.

This describes many indie and trad authors lives. At least with trad, there is more than just the author on the team to create and promote (but all authors, indie and trad, bear the weight of most if not all marketing unless you’re of the Tom Clancy status). We mope and whine and then somehow pull ourselves together the next day with a fresh cup of coffee, a hearty breakfast, and an attitude to again conquer the world.

How much we take for granted.

IMG_7580In the United States, we are so very blessed with the abundance of fresh meat and produce and clean drinking water. This morning I biked to my office, chose from among 20 or so different varieties of coffee from our office machine, and dined on chicken breast and raw carrots (yeah, not typical breakfast food, but I’m on a sort of health kick).

As I sat at my office computer pondering today’s #8AMPrayer tweet, still moping about my Amazon Author Central stats, I stared at the chicken and the carrots and the coffee.

I hadn’t even given thanks for them.

I took them for granted, hung up in my “first-world” problems.

I can do better.

I tweet the #8AMPrayer every workday around 8 AM Central to help center myself on the true purpose of the day – serving Him. Sometimes I am late with the tweet, but always when I do tweet I have moments like today when I realize the blessings I have and the opportunity to be a blessing for others.

Lord, let us appreciate and give thanks for these blessings and pray for the elimination of hunger and thirst worldwide. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

It Takes a Community

Whatever endeavor in life, community multiplies the efforts providing results that cannot be achieved alone. Yesterday, this smacked me in the face – hard.

Because of a calendar mistake I made six months ago, I nearly missed an event I was supposed to be at – in this case, a technology conference (that began at 7:30) for which I was manning the booth for our company. Well, it was at 9:59 AM when I received a text from a colleague that asked if I was fine because as he wrote, “I see you did not make it today.” I texted back within a minute “Make it where?” and right after I sent it, I realized with horror what he referred to.

I had mixed up the days.

I thought the vendor portion of the conference was the second day, not the first.

I had blown it.

IMG_7563I called my colleague and he assured me he thought it would be fine to set up so long as it was before lunch. The conference center hosting the event was about a 40-minute drive – add in driving home from the office to change, I made it onsite in just over an hour and set up in a few minutes. As it turned out, the planned morning break for attendees to visit the vendor area never really materialized. In the end, I missed very little.

Had I not been active in my professional community, I would not have built up the relationships whereby someone would have noticed my absence and reached out. If I had played the game alone, I would have only realized my error by arriving the next day and finding the vendor area empty.

IMG_7568After the conference day ended I returned to my office, dimmed the lights in the common area, grabbed a beer left over from the afternoon networking event, and enjoyed the view of the old town square – all while realizing just how blessed I was to be an active participant in community.

Writing is the same. We cannot create literary masterpieces without input from colleagues, editors, and beta readers. We need each other as we hone our craft and our works, else we never reach our author potential.

Manuscript Critiques

I’ve begun to work with a critique group with the American Christian Fiction Writers to both help find issues in my WIP and to assist others. Often when we write we become blind from familiarity to both simple and not-so-simple mistakes that others may pick up on. We are burdened by the entire vision of the story in our minds, and if we don’t successfully translate that vision to words, we haven’t succeeded in our goal. That’s where a critique group provides value.patrick-tomasso-71909-unsplash.jpg

This is the most formal such group I’ve participated in to date. All undergo a week of training to ensure that there is complete understanding of the processes and expectations. After that the critiques begin – first the writer critiques others’ submissions, then they submit.

I have found this to be an extremely helpful and supportive group. I have so far critiqued six submissions and received five for my first submission. All comments provided value for which I am appreciative. While I was unsure at first, now I am eager to submit more.

Perhaps too eager.

At lunch I prepared my next submission, chapter two of my novelette Childhood. The feedback from chapter one influenced my review, as it should. I made changes, small at first, then more significant, then to the point of splitting chapter two into two chapters. Finally, I stopped, removed my fingers from the keyboard, and leaned back in my office chair.

I was rushing the process, and the writing suffered.

I was reminded of a small yet significant lesson today – don’t rush for the sake of an artificial timeline. I would like to finish the novelette in a month, but a rushed lackluster manuscript is much worse than a polished one that took three times as long to complete. I’m not racing against anyone but myself. My goal is quality, not quickness, so the next submission will have to wait – be it a day, two days, or longer, whatever it takes.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Today is the Day!

This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24 New King James Version (NKJV)

Today is the day! It is the day the Lord has made! We only have today – yesterday has passed and tomorrow has not yet come. Embrace today!

This is one of my favorite snippets of scripture. The abundance conveyed in sixteen words is incredible. For within directs both our gift and our purpose for all of our lives, because our life is a long string of individual days.IMG_7520.jpeg

Human nature is to fail. We are not perfect, and never can be. Yet our sins must never distract our focus on serving the Lord every day as a gift to Him for providing the day for us. Mistakes and bad decisions are forgiven therefore we shouldn’t dwell on them. We should rejoice!

The pre-sunrise early morning speaks of the promise of the day. Everything is new and fresh. We have not yet addressed the stresses of the workday. I am guilty of often jumping from bed to shower to car to work without stopping to give thanks for this day and to promise that I will utilize the talents also gifted to me to serve. That’s a primary reason why I tweet the #8AMPrayer every workday, to remind myself not to forget my purpose here.

Obviously, that extends to writing. I recently read a tweet that promoted the idea that fiction should entertain and not contain a message or a lesson. That seems like a waste of a great opportunity – why not strive for both? The written word is a powerful influencer, a tool a gift from God. For me, I choose to offer it back as a gift in my writing, be it an 80,000 word novel, a 10,000 word novelette, or a 140 (or 280 now) character tweet.

I stated this before – a Christian fiction writer has a responsibility to advance His kingdom. That goes beyond entertaining. Today is the day He has made – I rejoice in the opportunity to help others through writing this day!

Bible quote from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Picture by Greg Schaffer

Writing Tools – BookFunnel

A common theme among authors, especially indie authors, is frustration of lackluster sales and exposure. Luck is the product of preparation and opportunity. We don’t know when we will “get lucky” with our marketing efforts, but we can prepare for the opportunity when it arises (or when we create opportunity through marketing efforts). There are many preparation paths.Bookfunnel

BookFunnel is an eBook distribution platform. There are several levels of membership but the basic level ($100) allows for up to two pen names and 5,000 downloads per month – that is the level I signed up for.

I was introduced to BookFunnel when preparing for my first blog tour promotion of my novel Leaving Darkness as one possible method to distribute eBook copies to reviewers. I went a different route as the $100 fee just to allow for distribution I deemed excessive. I didn’t see much value for BookFunnel beyond that – at first.

One strategy for building email lists is to offer a magnet, a giveaway that others may value in exchange for an email address. In that sense it’s not free; you are “selling” for an item of value. Publishers and agents consider email lists as one indicator of the strength of an author’s platform (and therefore marketability). I realized I needed to begin collecting email addresses.

I did not market my first two novels at all out of nativity and ignorance, and am only now working to catch up to where I need to be as an author. I’ve understood the magnet concept for most of my life but its importance from the marketing side never clicked for me until recently. I decided to offer a magnet. but what, and how?

The answer to what was easy – my first novel, Forgiveness. I wasn’t worried about lost revenue from sales impact because there was no sales to begin with (a consequence of that lack of marketing I mentioned). But I believe it is a solid novel that many would enjoy. At the very least, my exposure would increase by the dozen or two that may download it, and I’d have a few email addresses that, ideally, most would convert into fans.

The how to offer the magnet presented a challenge. I opted to try Facebook ads, as I had success building my author page following with ads several years ago (okay, I did try a bit of marketing then I suppose). I was pleased with the initial success as I began to receive signups for my email list in exchange for the download.

Up to this point, I had planned to just email the eBook in the format they specified, but I realized this would take a lot of my time, so I looked at BookFunnel again and decided to try the basic plan. In the end, $60 of ads produced 57 contacts – a nice number, but costly.

It wasn’t until the end of the ad period that I explored BookFunnel further and came upon the promotions section. One author set a promotion theme and invited others to join to fill limited spots (I believe this promotion capped at 26). With nothing to lose and low expectations, I signed up.

My expectations were not only met but exceeded. In 12 days Forgiveness was downloaded approximately 170 times. With minimal effort and zero additional capital, my email list had about quadrupled. No surprise – I’m sold on BookFunnel now. Even if there are no other features that I opt to use, BookFunnel has already proven its value, as far as I’m concerned. Note I have no connection to BookFunnel beyond the customer relationship.

Image snipped from BookFunnel’s web landing page at https://bookfunnel.com/

 

 

Writing on the Road

I find it difficult to write when on the road. I’m only referring to business trips, not vacations, because trips away are just that. But when traveling for the job, I do try to set aside some time for writing activities. Sometimes meetings, conference activities, and the like end early enough to allow for an uninterrupted block of time in the hotel room before retiring, sometimes not.luke-stackpoole-578017-unsplash.jpg

I try to write some in the morning. In addition to the #8AMPrayer tweet (that I don’t always get out at 8:00 in the morning), my goal is to publish my daily blog post by then before digging into the work day. Some days I don’t get to the blog until midday or later. I always try to post something, though, because part of this is about maintaining discipline.

That’s where part of the challenge is. When in a routine, scheduling is much easier. When traveling it is difficult to maintain a routine beyond eating three meals (and even then, sometimes a meal is eaten later, if at all). It becomes all too easy to just put the writing discipline aside.

Addressing a Work In Progress (WIP) is the hardest for me. Unlike a tweet or a blog post, I have to take a bit of time to center my thoughts, get into the story, and relax to begin the creative flow. In the rush of travel schedules, that often is not possible. In those times, I abandon the effort. I’ve tried to push through, often with substandard results. Forcing time to write then becomes a waste of time.

For me, yes, it’s about discipline, but it’s also about patience. As God has called me to write, He will also provide the situations to write in His time, not mine. While I suffer from impatience, He does not, because time has only meaning to me, not Him.

Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

Writing Tools – AutoCrit

Ah, AutoCrit – I have a love-hate relationship with you! No, not hate, maybe frustration at all of the possible ways you present to me that I may improve my manuscript. But that is also why I love you – and love wins out with you.AutoCrit

I need to issue a warning – AutoCrit will provide the writer with a tsunami of information. Everything from repeated words to verb tense to passivity (is that even a word?) to too many adverbs for the genre, AutoCrit is a very powerful diagnostic tool for the fiction author. And therein is one of its limitations – it is structured for fiction, not non-fiction. No, not limitation, feature – AutiCrit does not pretend to be something it isn’t.

AutoCrit examines a manuscript against industry averages to determine alerts on too many adverbs, sentence length and variation, and other variables. Is it perfect? I suspect not. But it does provide many paths the author ma choose to investigate.

That’s the key – “may choose to investigate.” Don’t choose them all, there’s simply too much information, else the writer will spend more time fine-tuning the manuscript to satisfy AutoCrit and not the readers. Never forget the readers are the primary concern.

I often say that AutoCrit has helped me become a better writer. I tend to use less adverbs and therefore produce tighter works. I also have shaken most of my passive bad habits. Not all, but I also catch them often before running an AutiCrit analysis.Adverbs, passive

AutoCrit won’t help with a bad story line – it’s not a developmental editor. Nor will it point out Point of View (POV) issues. You’ll have to diagnose and correct plot deficiencies and head-hopping yourself, or go the preferred route, hire developmental and copy editors. I did just that and learned much more, especially from the developmental edit process, but that shall be a post for another day.

Bottom line – I love AutoCrit. I have no interest beyond promoting a good product.

Screenshot from AutoCrit https://www.autocrit.com/