What I Read This Week (Nov 17 – Nov 23)

The End of Babies – The first time I’ve read a piece that so deeply and incisively describes my anxieties when I consider becoming a parent. (And that’s coming from someone who once dreamt of having a big family for years.)

Julián Castro: If Democrats Don’t Elevate Voters of Color, ‘Why The Hell Are We Democrats in the First Place?’

All Summer in a Day – A classic Ray Bradbury short story I’d managed to never read until this week.

‘I don’t know about normal love’: A church leader’s abuse and a woman’s years-long struggle – Content earnings for rape, sexual assault, grooming, and religious abuse.

The Magic Kingdom – “Capitalism, like all abusive relationships, creates a sense of learned helplessness in its victims. We are complicit in what it makes of us: we want so badly for what it tells us to be true.

The Middle of Everywhere – A writeup on the importance and beauty of vanishing tallgrass prairie,

The Quiet Rooms – What happens when children as young as 5 are put in “isolation rooms” for misbehaving at school? If I hadn’t already been a prison abolitionist, this piece would’ve done it.

Asians in California don’t believe hard work and determination alone equal success

Will There Ever Be a Me Too-Styled Movement for Bad Bosses? We are taught to take socially imposed power structures as a piece of nature, to believe our place within these systems as symptomatic of our strengths and shortcomings, to understand any drive to succeed and in so doing, get more power than other people, as the ultimate goal (and reward) of working life.” I liked this piece, but also feel it ignores the labor movement and others who have been pushing back against “bad bosses” and bosses in general for a very, very long time.

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June 2019 Update

It’s six months into the year and I’m having a very “well, this has been a 2019” sort of feeling. Which is wild considering that I’ve actually accomplished a fair amount this year. (But of course never as much as an over-achiever like me would like.)

This year I’ve:

  • Started a new job with great pay where I’m learning all kinds of stuff about content management and content strategy
  • Written another 1/4 of the webcomic project that should come out later this year (it’s! so! pretty!)
  • Joined the Oakland teachers when they went on strike
  • Almost joined the ISO as a full-fledged member just before their complete implosion
  • Joined a local crocheting/fiber-crafting group and started to learn how to crochet
  • Read some books
  • Actually filled up an entire composition book journal and started on #2 for the year

It’s not the most exciting list, but considering the fact that most of the time I could swear to you that I have never accomplished anything in my life, much less in the past six months, I’ll call it impressive.

Right now, I’m reading A Wizard of Earthsea and agog at how lazy of a reader I’ve become. I’m enjoying it very much, but it’s not exactly an easy read. It takes brain power and more commitment than I’ve been able to muster for a book in a while. But I’ve been soldiering on, reading through a few pages during my commute and at lunch, and I think it’s doing me some good. Stretching my brain-legs a bit.

I’ve also been exploring vegetarian foods a bit more this year, both for health reasons and to try to handle some of my climate change anxiety. I definitely haven’t given up meat, but it’s been fun to revisit some of the vegetarian staples I grew up with (Mom, I’m sorry for hating on your veggie burgers all these years) and also try out other recipes that are completely new to me. A new household stable is pitas filled with spiced roasted sweet potatoes and other veggies along with this really tasty harissa mayo sauce. It’s simple and delicious and satisfying, which is all a girl can really ask for.

With a new job and a longer commute, I’ve also tried to figure out new ways to make my own life easier. I can’t say that any of them have really stuck, but I am still really enamored with things like cleaning schedules and bullet journaling.

I can’t say my bullet journal gets used every day, but I do look at it most days. It’s been a good tool for organizing to-dos and some other things, like writing down books I’m interested in reading or reminding myself what TV shows I’ve started and haven’t finished. For those of you who struggle with focus or get that “I just can’t hold everything I need to remember/do/check in about in my head!!” feeling, I highly recommend it. I’ve used a lot of different methods for remembering tasks and other things, but pen and paper tends to be more accessible and easier to remember for me. If you’re interested in learning how to set up a bullet journal, check out this post by Kendra over at The Lazy Genius. I followed a lot of her advice, minus buying a fancy journal and getting new pens. (I just use ballpoint pens and composition books.)

Also, in a similar productivity/brain management vein, I started using the budgeting tool YNAB (You Need A Budget) and I’m kind of in love? I’m going to write a longer review at some point, but if you’ve been frustrated with other budgeting tools, use the trial. As someone who gets pretty overwhelmed by numbers but who also low-key finds budgeting kind of delightful, it’s my favorite budgeting tool I’ve ever used.

All of this is to say: I’m living the life of An Adult and it’s complicated and deeply exhausting, but I’m still out here getting things done, even if I doesn’t always feel like it.

 

How to Self-Publish a Book

Self-publishing can be an extremely rewarding experience, both financially and otherwise. It allows you to write on your own schedule, set your own deadlines, and have a hand in every step of the publishing process. At the same time, it also means you won’t really have anyone to hold your hand and help you as you publish your book. Luckily, I’ve written up this handy guide that will teach you the basics and help get you started on your self-publishing journey.

I’m going to cover the basic steps involved in prepping your work for self-publishing, tools you can use for different parts of the process, and tactics for getting your work out there. While this covers the basics of what you’ll need to know, there is always more to learn. If there’s something you have more questions about after you finish this post, leave a comment so we can chat further!

Editing – The First Step to a Finished Product

Writing your story is only half the battle. Editing your work is the first step of many to self-publishing your work. I have a few posts about the process of editing your work on your own that start here. I am a big fan of doing some self-editing before asking for help. Once you’ve gone over your story yourself, though, it’s very important to get some fresh eyes on your book. If you want your work to truly be its best, it’s also important that those fresh eyes belong to a professional.

There are lots of different kinds of editors. Some (like me!) are line editors who willing and able to help at all or most parts of the editing process. Other editors focus on specific areas, like developmental editing or proofreading. This article at The Helpful Writer gives a good general overview of different kinds of editors and the services they provide. A professional can give your story the polish it needs.

Paying for editorial services can get expensive, though, especially if you’re hiring more than one person for different parts of the process. If you really don’t have the extra cash to hire an editor, ask friends and family if they’d be willing to help. Check to see if your library or local community college has a writing workshop. Poke around the internet to find critique groups, both online and off.

Whether you pay an editor or get feedback from friends, honest feedback from people who understand story structure and grammar will be your best friend. Get really good at listening to critiques of your work and seek out a LOT of it. It can be hard to have someone tell you “this character doesn’t really leap off the page” or “I found this chapter confusing.” There might even be times when you disagree with the feedback and don’t end up using it. Still, hearing it is good, and getting diverse perspectives on your work is helpful.

Digital, Physical, or Both?

After the editing is done and you feel like your book is ready to go out into the world, you need to figure out whether you want to release your book digitally, as a physical book, or both. Consider your goals for your work and how much capital you have to invest in the initial publishing process.

Digital publishing is going to be the cheapest way to publish your book. Digital publishing is basically free once you’ve gotten editing and cover art out of the way. You don’t have to have an ISBN (more on that later!) as you do with physical publishing. For an indie author who is just starting out and doesn’t have a ton of cash, this is likely where you’ll start.

Physical publishing is a bit more capital-intensive. Your cover will need to be more than just a simple cover image–you’ll need a design that covers the front, binding, and back of your book, which requires more work and skill to create. Then, you’ll need to purchase an ISBN for your book. After that, the process is much the same as it is with digital publishing: you’ll research distributors and choose the ones that work best for you and sell your books.

The ideal option for most writers is to do both. Doing both gives you the broadest possible audience to market to and ensures readers will be able to get your book in whatever format they prefer. Still, a lot of that comes down to your goals for your work and how much you can invest. If you decide to publish both digital and physical editions of your work, you’ll need to make sure you purchase 2 ISBNs, one for each edition. While this will give you more avenues to distribute your work, particularly for your digital edition, it does require some up-front investment.

Every option available to you is valid and they each come with different benefits and drawbacks. The great thing is, you don’t have to stay married to one option or the other. When you’re self-publishing, you have the flexibility to publish a different edition of your work later on. If you start out purely digital, nothing is stopping you from eventually getting into physical publishing. The same goes for starting with physical publishing. Regardless, you should know what editions of your book you’re going to publish when you start out. It’ll make some of the decisions you’ll have to make down the line a little easier.

Cover Art – Because We All Judge Books By Their Covers

Obtaining cover art is an integral part of the publishing process. Whether we admit it or not, a book cover can make or break a reader’s decision to buy your book. A quality cover results in more sales.

For those of us with limited design skills (ahem), this part of the self-publishing process can be nerve-wracking. Fortunately, you can find a cover artist who specializes in the kind of cover you’re looking for.

Hiring a cover artist is especially important if you’re planning on having your book printed or using print-on-demand services. Physically printed books require some extra help in order to make them look truly polished and professional, as I mentioned earlier. Rather than just a standard rectangular book cover, you need someone to design your front and back covers and the spine of your book. If you have the money, paying an artist to create a great cover for your book is 100% worth it.

If you don’t have the cash up front to pay an artist, there are simple ways to make an attractive-looking cover. Photoshop and InDesign are amazing for creating DIY covers, especially if you have a template to work with, but they’re expensive. My two favorite free resources for making any kind of graphic? Canva and Unsplash.

Canva is a simple, free tool for creating graphics. They provide thousands of free templates for every graphic you can imagine, including book covers. It’s easy to learn and won’t cost you anything. They also have a phone app that’s super functional and easy to use. Unsplash is a great source of beautiful stock photos that you can use for any purpose for free–including popping them into a book cover template on Canva. With those two tools, it’s easy to make a simple, attractive ebook cover. Caveat: Canva doesn’t have any built-in templates for physical book covers, so it works best as a tool for ebook covers. However, there are ways to make it work. If you download a book cover template from CreateSpace, you can upload that template to Canva or another tool like Photoshop or InDesign and use the template as a base.

No matter what option you choose, make sure it looks good! Get feedback on your cover from people you trust to make sure it’s eye-catching and attractive to more than just you. God knows there are times when you’re working on a graphic for so long you totally lose perspective. Extra eyes are a huge help.

Formatting – More Important Than You’d Think!

Formatting is an oft-overlooked part of the self-publishing process. Depending on the channels you will be distributing your book through and the format your book will be published in, you will need to format your book in specific ways. Most distributors will provide you with simple guidelines for formatting ebooks. Very simple formatting works well in ebooks, so if you’re only publishing digitally and your book doesn’t contain complex graphs or images, you can definitely do it yourself.

Formatting for physical publishing takes a bit more work. This write-up over at DIY Book Formats is an excellent overview that can help you figure out how you want to format your book. (Seriously, I learned so much from just that one post.) There are also some really good examples of what certain print formats look like elsewhere on the site, plus more detailed instructions on how to format your book using Word and InDesign. It is totally doable to format your book by yourself, and that’s what most self-published authors do.

Of course, some people prefer to outsource this work. There are professionals that specialize in formatting ebooks and print books. If you’re not the most tech savvy, don’t have much of a design eye, or would prefer to hand this work off to someone else, look into hiring someone to handle this part of the process for you.

ISBNs – What the Heck Are They and Why Do I Need Them?

If you are only planning on publishing an ebook, this is a section you can skim. However, if you’re planning on having your book physically published or are interested in wider distribution for your ebook, listen up!

First, a definition: ISBNs (or International Standard Book Numbers) are unique numbers that can be used to identify your book worldwide. ISBNs are not required for ebooks, though they can be helpful and boost your visibility as an author. For physically published books and audiobooks, though, ISBNs are a must. Giacomo Giammatteo explains how ISBNs work and the process of purchasing them in great detail here. (One important detail that he mentions that I want to emphasize: you should purchase your ISBNs directly from Bowker or whoever your local provider of ISBNs is rather than from CreateSpace or a similar company. Purchasing your own ISBNs gives you more freedom in terms of distribution avenues.)

If you’re in the US, you’ll need to purchase your ISBN through Bowker at this link. Bowker offers discounts on bulk purchases of ISBNs. They also provide barcodes that you can print on your book, which are required for many physical distribution channels. Keep in mind that you need a separate ISBN for every edition of your book. This means that an ebook would get one ISBN, a physical book would get another, and an audiobook would get a third. If you come out with a new edition of your physical book that’s in a different size, that would need another ISBN.

As a budget-conscious writer, I can’t really justify spending the money on ISBNs at the moment, especially since I want to focus on ebook publishing. However, as Giacomo points out in his article, ISBNs can allow you to include your book in more distribution channels and therefore earn more. By skipping out on an ISBN, you miss out on potential sales through libraries and services like OverDrive, even if you’re just publishing digitally. Weigh your options and decide what’s best for you. You can always purchase an ISBN for your ebook after you publish it.

Picking Distributors

There are a huge number of distribution options for a self-published book.

Amazon Kindle is often the first choice of many authors. It’s easy to use and gives you access to millions of readers all over the world. But there are a whole lot more self-publishing options than Kindle, and they’re all worth looking into. Aside from Kindle, you can publish through Apple iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press, the Google Play Store, and more. Working directly with each of these channels is possible and ensures that you’re getting the maximum amount of profit out of your book. Still, managing all those individual channels can be exhausting. That’s where aggregators come in.

In a nutshell, aggregators allow you to publish your book through them. They then get your book into a whole bunch of distribution channels without you having to do a whole bunch of extra work. It’s a good way to maximize the number of eyes that will see your book. The drawback is that aggregators take a cut of every purchase, usually somewhere around 10%. For the amount of work they handle, it seems fair. Aggregators are also usually non-exclusive. You can use multiple aggregators who have different distribution channels to increase your book’s footprint.

There are also lots of options for aggregators, and new ones pop up all the time. The one you’ll hear about most often as an indie author is Smashwords, which distributes to all of the channels I named in the paragraph above along with numerous others. This blog post gives an awesome overview of the top aggregators in the market.

Most of those aggregators are focused on ebooks. Ingram is the top distributor for many physically published books, and is used by indie authors and publishers. Ingram distributes both ebooks and physical books and has a worldwide reach. They are trusted by independent bookstores and chain retailers alike. Amazon’s CreateSpace offers similar services, and many recommend that authors use both CreateSpace and Ingram.

And, Finally, Publish Your Book!

Once you have all your ducks in a row, publish! your! book! Give yourself a pat on the back, go grab a mimosa, and relax for a bit. You earned it.

Have more questions about the self-publishing process? Have some information or resources on self-publishing you’d like to share? Let’s talk in the comments!

A Simple Guide to Self-Publishing

A Guide to Digital Publishing

If you’re a writer who is just starting to seek out publishing opportunities, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Should you self-publish? Go traditional? What about digital publishing? It’s a lot to take in. The publishing world isn’t easy to navigate and it can be difficult to understand exactly what you’re getting into.

Thus far, my career has been entirely in digital publishing. I more experience in this field that most people could not lay claim to. That said, I still find digital publishing to be one of the most confusing parts of the publishing landscape. I worked with dozens of authors who had varying levels of experience with a bunch of different digital publishers, as well as people with no experience outside of free publishing sites like Wattpad and Archive of Our Own (AO3). Some people came to me with lots of great questions as they tried to learn more about the industry and their options. Others seemed to scared to ask anything at all.

In this day and age, a guide for digital publishing is a necessity for any writer, even if you’re planning to query traditional publishers. Read on to learn more about how to navigate the digital publishing world.

So, what is digital publishing?

When I say “digital publishing,” I don’t mean self-publishing sites/tools like Kindle or iBooks, at least for the purposes of this post. Though works published through these services are published digitally, I consider digital publishing to be something else entirely. In the same way that there are traditional publishers like Hachette and Penguin Random House, and self-publishing tools like Kindle, there are also digital publishers like Radish, Tapas, and Inkitt. Digital publishers are similar to traditional publishers in that you are usually working closely with an editorial team that works for the publisher and not simply doing all the work yourself.

You have to sign a contract with a digital publisher the same way you would with a traditional publisher. Digital publishers also provide varying levels of help. Some will provide line editing services, help you get a cover made, and most of them will help promote your story on their site, app, and social media. Because of the services they provide, digital publishers wind up being a kind of middle ground between self-publishing and traditional publishing. This makes them very appealing to more inexperienced authors who feel that they are not quite ready to start querying agents or publishers. They can also be great places to build a paying audience (something difficult to do on free sites like Wattpad).

How does digital publishing work?

I can only speak to my experience working with one digital publisher. Usually, we sought out authors whose work we wanted to publish. We would send authors a contract and talk it through with them to make sure they understood it. (Always read your contracts thoroughly and ask lots of questions! Don’t be afraid of being annoying. I loved answering authors’ questions. It let me know that they were really reading the contract and fully understanding everything.) After that, we would begin the editing process and start working with an artist on a cover. Once the editing and cover were done, the book would be published on our site where readers could purchase the story chapter by chapter. Authors would receive 50% of the revenue on each purchase.

From what I know of other digital publishers, many of them work similarly in that authors make money off of the number of reads they get, either through ad revenue or making money off of direct purchases by readers. Each publisher is different and has their own specialties. Radish, for example, sees more success with erotica, so they promote that more heavily. Tapas tends to focus on romance. Inkitt has a little bit more variety, but they also don’t have the best reputation. There are also other small presses that are now digital-only that will get your book out into digital markets like the Kindle store. I have less experience and knowledge when it comes to that breed of digital publisher. Fortunately, this article gives an extremely detailed and helpful overview of what you should keep in mind when looking into digital publishers, whether they are small presses or a more app-focused publisher like Radish.

Why should I work with a digital publisher? Is it something I should even consider?

It really depends! What are your goals as a writer? If you’re just looking to share your work but aren’t all that interested in making money off of it, then posting on Wattpad or Royal Road might make the most sense for you. But if you’re looking to make money, you either need to self-publish (which is a whole other post), go the traditional publishing route, or go to a digital publisher.

There are pros and cons to each option, which I will detail below:

Self-publishing: Self-publishing gives you the most freedom when it comes to your work. You don’t have to worry about who has the copyright or publishing rights because you never sign them away to anybody. You don’t have to worry about your publisher asking you to make changes. On the flip side, though, you don’t get free editing services, help with covers, or any help with marketing. Paying for these kinds of services out of pocket is expensive, and for a writer just starting out, it can be difficult to produce a book that would rival what they could produce with a publisher behind them. This isn’t because the writer’s work isn’t any good, but because polishing a first draft is difficult without outside input. Still, it is possible, and if you’re willing to put in the extra work in order to have more freedom and keep a larger chunk of the profits for yourself, it’s totally worth it.

Traditional publishing: This is the holy grail for writers. Every author’s dream is to eventually be published by a publishing house (be it big or small) and become the next George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling. Traditional publishers have more resources to market your book, a whole team of people who can help you polish your book until it shines, cover artists, people to format the ebook, people to format the print copy, the money to offer you huge advances… basically all the resources we hope to have when we publish a book.

Still, now that self-publishing is so simple and the services used to sell self-published books are often the same as the ones the traditional publishers are using, a traditional publishing deal may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Traditional publishing is by no means dead or bad, but writers should see it as one of several paths rather than the One True Path. Why? Traditional publishers often ask for significant rights to your book. (Writer’s Digest gives a great rundown on what kinds of things publishers might request in a contract here.) You lose the kind of freedom you might have if you self-published or digitally published, but you also get a ton of resources to help you produce your book.

However, even that is often hyped up more than it probably should be. Many writers who aren’t big names don’t get big advances. You’ll get the standard editorial services and help with covers and formatting, but that huge marketing machine might not do a whole lot for you. Most big publishers expect their authors to do a lot of the legwork. You’ll also earn a smaller percentage of the profits in the form of royalties, especially when compared to self-publishing. This can make it difficult to earn back advances or make much money at all. Still, the fact that traditionally published works continue to dominate the literary market, and the fact that self-publishing your work seems to decrease its value in the eyes of both readers and the wider literary community, means that there are still a lot of benefits to a traditional publishing deal.

Digital publishing: This is similar to traditional publishing in that there is some expectation that you’re going to be doing some of the work besides writing the book. Digital publishers are usually not large enough to provide the kind of financial backing that traditional publishers can offer. You’ll be giving up some of your rights in exchange for having your work marketed to their audience, but you’ll likely have to handle the marketing outside their site. You’ll have to split your earnings with the publisher, too. The ways those earnings are split will vary depending on the digital publisher you work with.

While digital publishers often have a smaller audience than a traditional publisher, they likely have a broader readership than you have on your own. They can send people toward your work and give it their stamp of approval, which helps convert their readers into your readers. Getting organic, targeted traffic to your book is incredibly difficult, and digital publishers have it in spades. You do lose some freedom (the amount you give up and for how long depends on your contract), but you also gain a broader audience.

Some digital publishers can also handle the editing process for you, pay to have cover art made, and possibly even give you an advance. And, because their overhead is usually lower than that of traditional publishers, digital publishers can offer more competitive revenue sharing. (The standard split for the company I worked for was 50/50, which would be unheard of in the traditional publishing world.) They can also help you with adaptations of your work into other mediums, like comics or movies, and potentially help you land a deal with a traditional publisher. However, they often only ask for the digital publishing rights at first, and some will even settle for non-exclusive digital rights.

In short, digital publishing is a middle ground that can help you take that next step toward living off of your writing. It’s a good space for new writers, and though it may not suit everybody, it’s an option worth considering, particularly if you can get a non-exclusive publishing contract and continue to pursue other sources of income from the same work.

 

How can I be sure this digital publisher isn’t a scam?

There are a lot of ways! The first thing you should do is look into their track record. If you can, try talking to authors who work with that publisher. Ask them if there are things they wish they’d known before they signed. If the publisher is promising things, like that they’ll get your book physically published or help you broker a movie deal, do some research to see if they’ve actually put any deals like that together.

You should also get to know the platform before selling anything to them. This helps you understand the kind of content the publisher is interested in, what’s popular on the platform, and how your work fits in. If you sign with them, it will also help you figure out how to market to that specific audience in the future.

Once you’ve done this detective work, you should have a solid idea of whether this is a publisher you want to work with. If you’re still interested, you can start asking one of their representatives questions. Ask to see a sample contract as early as you can and have someone you trust look it over.

You should carefully read any deal you’re about to sign, no matter who it comes from, and always do your best to negotiate the best deal for you. If there are parts of a contract you’re uncomfortable with, either voice your concerns or walk away from the deal. Even though the playing field might not feel even, you have to realize that you have something that they want, and in the end, you’re the one who has the power. A publisher may not be willing or able to give you what you want, and that’s okay. You can choose to either shift your expectations to suit a particular deal or hold out for something that feels right. If their contract asks for anything beyond digital publishing rights without giving you anything in return, pay attention and make sure you’re comfortable with giving them those rights. You’ll also want to keep an eye on how long the deal will last. Are they going to own these rights in perpetuity, or just for a few years? What rights do you have to end the deal? Are they open to negotiation?

If the contract looks good but they haven’t given you information about how you might be paid, given you a way to check how much revenue you’re owed, or otherwise indicated that they are going to compensate you in return for signing your rights away, that’s a huge red flag. If they tell you that you need to pay them in order to publish on their site, you should run as far and fast as you can.

Basically, if you get a terrible contract and zero room to negotiate it, you have no idea when or how you’ll be paid, and the publisher who is offering you a deal has a well-known track record for screwing over writers or lying to them about the kinds of opportunities they can provide? It’s a scam, and you should look for another opportunity.

How do traditional publishers feel about stories that were published digitally first?

This varies depending on what you’re writing and who your audience is. A lot of traditional publishers really like it when authors come to them and already have an audience behind them. However, while they might like your audience, they may want to publish a fresh, new title that the public hasn’t read yet. Still, this varies depending on your individual situation.

If you’d like to read more about this, definitely check out Phoebe Morgan’s write-up about whether to publish digitally or in print first, and the benefits and drawbacks of both. Jane Friedman also has a ton of great insight on the subject. (The long and short of both of these articles is that publishing digitally first is unlikely to hurt your chances unless you’re working in a niche market, like literary fiction.)

How do I submit my work for a digital publisher?

Look into their submission guidelines! It’s different for every publisher (as with traditional publishing), but they will probably have an email you can contact them at, as well as some basic guidelines for submitting. Follow their guidelines as closely as you can. Keep your email professional and focus on selling your story–they want a strong synopsis that lets them know whether your story will be the right fit for them. Talking about the book’s following (and your own) can also be helpful. If your story is posted online, provide links. You should also attach a PDF of the first few chapters and the synopsis.

Have more questions about digital publishing? Have some experience you’d like to share? Let’s chat in the comments!

 

A Guide to Digital Publishing

How to Edit Your Own Writing Like a Pro, Part 2: Know Thyself

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Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

For part one of this series, “The Basics,” click here.

We all have quirks in the way we write. For some of us (*cough* me), those quirks include long sentences, overuse of commas, and overuse of em dashes. One of my best friends always used to mistype “minute” as “minuet,” not because she didn’t know how to spell the word, but because her fingers tended to jumble up the E and the T. Other people tend to mistype certain phrases – “all of a sudden” becomes “all the sudden,” for example.

Quirks like these are perfectly normal, and sometimes they can even be endearing. Unfortunately, a lot of people’s written quirks are pretty grating and can affect their audience’s experience negatively. Luckily, with some extra attention to detail, most of your more annoying quirks/repeated misspellings/regularly broken grammar rules will disappear.

So, how do you fix things?

The first step to fixing these issues is really analyzing both your own writing and other people’s writing. If you’re a novelist, read some high-quality novels and really take time to look at how they word things. If you’re a blogger, read some blogs written by professionals that have a really strong grasp of English and see how they put things together. Once you’ve done that, go back and look at your own writing. Older pieces will be better for this, as you’ve had some time away from them and they’ll feel a bit more like they were written by someone else. This will help you see your writing with new eyes.

Once you’re looking at your own writing, get really nitpicky about it. Are you using that word correctly? Are your paragraphs and sentences too long? Too short? Are they all one length with little variation? Are you using extra words you don’t need? (“Just” and “suddenly” are often used unnecessarily.)

Identifying these shortcomings can be difficult if you haven’t practiced it or if English isn’t your first language, but it’s a vital part of becoming a better writer and self-editor. Finding out what mistakes you make most often in your writing will help in two important ways. First, it will make your existing writing higher-quality and easier to read. Secondly, it will keep you from making those same mistakes in the future. This will allow you to update old posts and make them easier to read and increase audience engagement in the future by ensuring readers aren’t turned off by easily-avoided errors. With a little editing, everyone’s happier!

How To edit your writing

30 Things and an Outline for #Preptober

As you can see from the picture above, I am hanging on to my October decluttering challenge by the skin of my teeth. Last night, I took a few minutes to pick out 30 things to get rid of. I’m still way behind, but something in me just does not wanna let this challenge slip away unfinished. I’m sick and in a metric ton of pain graciously provided by an ill-timed strep throat infection, so just plain existing is hard enough. But I’m trying not to let being sick have me completely incapacitated. I still have goals I want to achieve this month! Even though the wind has kinda been taken out of my sails, I still need to get to where I’m going.

Aside from decluttering, my main goal for October was to get prepared for NaNo. I’m also pretty behind on that, but I do have the very beginnings of an outline started. That’s honestly a whole lot further than I assumed I would get this month. And I still have a week to go before my planning time runs out, so all is not lost.

For anyone else planning on taking NaNoWriMo on next month, I am going to be hosting some NaNo writing events for work. If you’re interested, feel free to join us in our Discord chat room. I have 3 events planned over the course of the month (on the 1st, 15th, and 30th), but I’ll be doing my best to keep things lively throughout the month. Feel free to drop in!

#Preptober Continues!

There are twenty-two days left until NaNoWriMo. I’m getting a little more scared, but also way more psyched up. My boyfriend and my dad have both decided to participate, which is exciting. I’ve never really done NaNo with anybody besides me, myself, and I. I’m also going to be living in the city while really-for-real-not-quitting-after-three-days participating, which is also awesome. I’m a Real Adult now and the idea of going to write-ins or other local NaNo events isn’t completely scary now. I’m also doing some NaNo-related stuff for work, which means I’m thinking about NaNo all the time instead of just when I’m in productive leisure mode (the rarest mode of them all).

The most exciting piece of prep I’ve done so far this month has been writing a synopsis for my novel. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, considering that I haven’t been 100% sure what my story was even really going to be about. But I tried to treat it like I used to treat thesis statements in my college essays. It’s a possible roadmap for where I’m going that will get me asking the right questions, but I may go down a back road and find something totally unexpected but way better than what I started with. I may end up writing something entirely unrelated to the synopsis/thesis and end up having to rethink it altogether. And that’s fine. The point is that I have a starting point and have told myself what direction to start going in.

Here’s the synopsis so far:

 

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Add me as a Writing Buddy on NaNoWriMo.org! My author name/username is missbluestocking.

 

In writing just those first few hundred words, I learned some new things. The city people are definitely going to be some of the main antagonists in this story, but I didn’t have a fully realized idea of how that would happen. I still think I need to rework some of my ideas about them. Like, for example, I don’t necessarily want to write a story where violence is the answer/the main conflict. But the premise I’ve given myself leans that way. So my current options are: 1) continue with this premise and then subvert the violence paradigm by having Masha always choose nonviolence and use more creative problem-solving, or, 2) change up my premise and have the issue be more internal. The girl that Masha picks up – she’s damaged. She’s been stewing in a deeply toxic ideology for a long time. Maybe that girl causes problems because her social training just doesn’t work in a society so radically different from hers. Maybe she tries to apply city rules to the community she moves into and it causes conflict.

It’s an interesting choice to make. I’m not entirely sure how I want to go about it. I have this idea of what I want this book to be, what I want it to say and mean, but I haven’t yet figured out how to get there. I’m really happy I’m already thinking about these questions, though. This story has been rattling around in my brain for months, but this is the first time I’ve actually really put pen to paper and done anything real with it. I definitely think that that’s worth doing before November 1st, especially if you’re a Planner rather than a Pantser. (That is, if you prefer to plan ahead for your novel rather than flying by the seat of your pants.)

I still have a lot of questions that I need to ask myself in the next few weeks, but I feel really happy about where I’m at right now. Definitely feeling more confident in my ability to finish this year than I have ever felt before.

How are you preparing for NaNo? Are you a Planner or a Pantser? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

 

How to Edit Your Own Writing Like a Pro: Part 1 – The Basics

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Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

When it comes to writing, fresh eyes and a second opinion are invaluable tools. Having someone who can look over your writing and make it flow better and catch all the typos and misspellings you weren’t able to catch on your own can take your blog post, short story, or novel from “meh” to “amazing.” (Trust me, I know – the majority of my job is taking the work of okay writers and making their writing sound like it was written by a great writer.)

Fortunately, you usually don’t really need a professional copy editor like myself to fix the biggest issues with your work. A lot of the problems I see are simple fixes, and with a little practice on spotting those issues, you’ll be able to fix half the issues in your work so that when you actually do have someone go over it, they can focus more on the quality of the content rather than fixing a bunch of easily-avoided errors.

The absolute most important part of this is taking the time to do a first edit yourself. I know that probably sounds like common sense to a lot of you, but for those of you – or, if I’m being honest, us – who want the instant gratification of our stuff being Out There For People To Read Right Now Immediately, this can be challenging. But most blog posts only take a few minutes to read, and investing five extra minutes in your blog post or the latest chapter of your story on Wattpad is not going to kill you, and it will improve your audience’s experience. Whether you take some time to read it out loud or just read over it and check for mistakes, it’s worth it.

“But what do I look for when I’m editing?” you ask. “How am I supposed to tell when something doesn’t sound right or isn’t working? I suck at grammar!” My simplest answer to this is reading out loud. It’s a lot easier to catch when something’s funky in your writing when you have to say it and hear it, especially if you’re a native English speaker. You just know when something isn’t quite right. This works great for issues like:

  • Tense switches, where authors can’t seem to decide when their sentence is taking place. Like this:

I was walking down the street and then we see each other.

The word “was” tells me that this sentence is taking place in the past. But then the word “see” tells me that this sentence is taking place in the present. It makes for a very confusing experience as a reader and an editor, because I often have to use context clues from other sentences around the problem sentence to decide whether I need to change this sentence to “I was walking down the street and then we saw each other” or “I am walking down the street and then we see each other.”

  • Grammar issues, like punctuation being outside of quotation marks, or apostrophes in the wrong place. If you have trouble with things like grammar and punctuation, your best bet is honestly to google it. I do it all the time. Every time a teacher or professor has tried to teach me grammar, I have really struggled to understand it. It goes in one ear and out the other. (What’s a past participle? Hell if I know.) I understand how the English language works and what sounds right, but I can’t always explain why. Knowing why can be really important in editing, because English is a mutant language with a ton of exceptions to all of its rules, not to mention a ton of rules you have to memorize in the first place. If you’re unsure about a rule, the easiest thing to do is go to Google. It will often lead you to places like Grammar Girl’s articles where different grammatical concepts will be explained to you in a simple way that is usually pretty easy to remember. But if you don’t remember, it’s totally okay to look it up again. (And again… and maybe a few more times after that because grammar is hard.)
  • Problems with sentence structure. I will see a sentence that’s just weird. Usually these sentences aren’t wrong, exactly, but they just don’t quite come out right when you read them. I’ve been guilty of this. There’s a lot of different ways that this can happen, but here’s an example:

How foolish that was I have no words to express.

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with this sentence. (At least, as far as I can tell – someone correct me if I’m wrong!) It just sounds weird. And there’s a better way to write it so that it flows better: “I have no words to express how foolish that was.” See how nicely the second version flows? Just changing the words around a bit made the meaning of the sentence much clearer and easier to read.

And that’s really the whole point of editing: you want to make your writing easier to read. We could get really nitty-gritty and talk about every possible issue your writing could ever have, but the details aren’t as important as it is for you to keep the goal of making your writing as accessible for your intended audience at the forefront of your mind.

Have specific questions about editing? Feel like I missed something important? Leave a comment and I’ll answer your question in a future post!

 

White Men's Grooming Pinterest Graphic

Yes, It’s September, and Yes, I’m Already Prepping for NaNoWriMo

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Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

It honestly feels weird to have already started prepping this early. The 4 other times I’ve started NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar with the challenge) I have waited until the absolute last minute to get started. November 1st rolls around, I remember I made a commitment to myself to do NaNo again, and I just wing it and see what happens. I’ve finished twice this way, and failed another two times. While it’s fun to just let myself type out whatever comes to mind, I feel like I’m not really the kind of person who wants to deal with the stress of pulling two thousandish words a day out of thin air as I hope for the best anymore. My time is a lot more limited and I need to be thoughtful about how I work to make sure I can actually accomplish my goals and not feel overwhelmed.

So, for the first time, I’ve been planning. I have a setting sketched out (a post-apocalyptic America where everything isn’t a gigantic mess and people are actually doing pretty okay–I’ve gotten lots of inspo from the solarpunk movement and have done a lot of thinking about non-capitalist economies), I have a main character (her name is Masha, she’s butch as hell and flies a solar-powered airship), and a general conflict (City People are weird and holding too tight to the old ways, while everyone else just does their best to avoid the City People, but, of course, trade happens between those groups, and things get ugly at one point).

Every time I get an idea, whether it’s for plot stuff or character stuff or setting or whatever else, I make sure to write it down in my journal so I can go back to it later and not forget it when it’s crunch time in mid-November and I’m losing my mind trying to figure out where this story goes and how it works. And it feels really good to be taking care of that ahead of time and feel like I’m setting myself up for success rather than just chugging along and hoping I don’t fail.

I’m also really excited about this story. I feel like I haven’t had a “good” idea in a long time, but my brain popped this one out and it felt like I absolutely needed to do something with it. It’s a culmination of a lot of my interests and sensibilities, with a main character who has been rattling around in my head for a while but just didn’t seem to fit anywhere, in a setting I really care about. So maybe it’s way too freakin’ early to be trying to plan out my book for NaNo, but it’s exactly the right time for me to be getting pumped about spending a month churning this novel out.

Non-Zero Days, or, Why You Should Be Using Habitica

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Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

I’m proud of the amount of original writing I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been writing a lot of blog posts for work lately. I’ve also been mentally preparing myself for taking on NaNoWriMo again this year (I want to finish a 3rd time!) and doing some other small writing pieces. I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks, though,  especially after putting together this post about creating productively. When discussing tips for increasing one’s productivity, a lot of what gets said is stuff that you’ve heard from people before, but I tried my best to present information that we all kind of know in our hearts as writers and bloggers and creatives and make it feel more attainable and positive. I feel like a lot of posts advising creatives to improve their habits and increase productivity tend to be sort of negative. They often read more like someone telling you off and ordering you to “stop being so lazy” or just make you feel terrible for not being able to be a Perfect Bastion of Creativity every second of your day. Like, bro, depression is real! Being tired is real! Having other things on your plate and not being able to dedicate an hour to your craft every day is a fact of life!

Rather than admonishing myself for all the things I haven’t been able to accomplish, I prefer to do my best, encourage other people to do their best, trust that they are doing what they can, and accept whatever the outcome is. I firmly believe that all you can do is try your best. Which is why I really appreciate both Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) and the philosophy of non-zero days.

The non-zero day philosophy is outlined in the comment ryans01 posted, but I’ll just state the basic rules here:

Rule 1 – No more zero days. A zero day is defined as a day in which you don’t do anything to achieve your goals. A non-zero day is one in which you do something – even something very small, like writing one sentence or doing one push-up – to achieve your goals. The idea is to accumulate non-zeros so that you know you’re moving forward and you don’t fall back into the abyss of not doing things and having zero days.

Rule 2 – Be grateful to the 3 Yous. That’s Past You, Present You, and Future You. You want to thank Past You for doing things that are benefiting Present You. You want Present You to work to benefit Future You. And you want Future You to thank Present/Past You for doing things that made life better/easier.

Rule 3 – Forgive yourself. Sometimes we have zero days. It’s okay. Forgive your past self and devote yourself to being better in the future.

Rule 4 – Exercise and books. Exercise improves your body and your cognitive function, which improves your overall outlook and makes it easier to do other things, and reading expands your mind and teaches you new things.

These rules are simple and easy to follow, and honestly how I live my life most of the time. Motivating myself with outside pressures doesn’t work very well for me. I have to do something because want to do it. If I don’t feel like doing something, there’s very little that is going to get me to get up and do it. But telling myself that my future self will be grateful, or just knowing that I’ll get the satisfaction of knowing I moved a little further towards my goals? That’s really motivating.

Unfortunately, though, I also tend to get bogged down by self-doubt if I don’t see obvious results for a while. Like, sure, I finished reading a book, but how did that really help me? Is that $10 I put into savings really going to make a difference? Did that run I went on really do anything for me? Was that blog post I wrote really worth my time? It’s easy for me to be doubtful when I don’t have something to look at that shows me my progress. Which is where Habitica comes in.

habitica

Habitica is, at its core, a task manager. It allows you to create habits (things you want to do, but don’t necessarily have to, and would like to do every day or every week), daily tasks (things that you want to do every day), and to-dos (one-off tasks that you would like to get done at some point). It allows you to “purchase” rewards with gold, which you earn by completing tasks. Those rewards can be in-game items, like armor and weapons for your avatar, or customized rewards that you come up with yourself, like an extra thirty minutes of watching your favorite show or buying yourself that new book you want.

It’s very simple, which is what makes it so appealing. It’s also very easy to customize and use exactly how you want. I use mine to encourage myself to floss daily, exercise more regularly, eat more green things, read, and do a number of other things. I’ve joined guilds like the Financial Discipline Guild, which encourages me to be smarter with my money. My partner and I made a party together, which allows us to keep each other accountable, because every time we complete one of our daily tasks, it deals damage to a monster we’re fighting together, like the Feral Dust Bunnies or the Basil-List. It gamifies the act of completing daily tasks that would otherwise feel like a chore and I get to watch my avatar level up and grow stronger as I achieve more in my real life. I can seek out support networks through guilds tailored to my interests and needs (seriously, it feels like there’s one for everything, from learning languages to writing to knitting to walking to Mordor).

To put it simply, Habitica makes it that much easier to ensure that I have a non-zero day. Because in addition to following the principles of non-zero days and encouraging myself in that way, I am also held accountable to my Habitica avatar and the other people in my Habitica support network. I also have a way of quantifying my success. My avatar levels up as I gain experience from completing tasks, which reminds me that my real-life self is leveling up, too, just in ways I can’t see as well. If I don’t do what I said I would do for the day, my avatar loses health and eventually dies, which loses me a level. It gives me consequences without punishing me in a way that actually harms me, which helps me forgive myself for not completing tasks while motivating me to do better in the future.

I honestly recommend taking the time to really absorb the non-zero philosophy and set up a Habitica account. I would never have imagined that I’d be the kind of person who flosses regularly, has a physical journal for work and life tasks to help me keep track of things that I write in nearly every day, and exercises more than a handful of times a year. It seems silly that this little game could make such a difference in my life, but it has.

Seriously, you owe it to yourself.