20% Work for 80% Improvement: Applying Pareto’s Principle To Your Writing

My fiancé works in quality control and safety. A year or two ago, his company sent him to some training, which was based heavily on Pareto’s Principle, which he explained to me as “if you fix 20% of your problem, the results will improve 80%.” For him, I believe the principle was used to demonstrate that 20% of hazards cause 80% of injuries.

More generally, Pareto says that 20% of the cause equals 80% of the outcome, and this is often applied to wealth distribution in society or the client stable of most businesses (80% of wealth is owned by 20% of people, 80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients, 80% of crime is committed by 20% of criminals, etc.) What’s funny about the 80/20 principle is how universal it is for every discipline. It is such a consistent rule of the universe that it occurs naturally like sacred geometry. It’s kind of eerie.

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I feel creeped out already.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, some have said that 80% of your success as a writer will probably only come from 20% of your writing. The other 80% of your work might never be published or will bring you little success – except practice and perseverance are valuable things to gain from writing, period, so this really isn’t a loss. I think this rule can be used during your revision process though, to prioritize how fixing small/moderate problems can result in vast improvements. It’s a bit more nebulous, because you can’t really measure whether something is 70% or 80% better in quality, but in general I’ve found that fixing small things goes a long way to making me feel like I’ve written a totally different book.

I have been told that the weakest part of Paradisa is my characterization. I have (thankfully) not created a bunch of unlikable emo crybabies that the reader wants to throttle, but I have tried so hard to keep my characters likable that they’re bland. The emotions are told instead of evoked (darn my right brain self). They’re a little underdeveloped. We don’t get a good sense of their ordinary world. We aren’t ever sure how they’ll react in a given situation because we don’t know them well. My Pitch Wars mentor has given me some great tools for how to fix this, and it inspired me to go back to the Pareto Principle and finish this post I started long ago.

Because roughly 20% of a book is characterization. The rest is probably 20% plot, 20% style, 20% world building, and 20% everything else – pacing, diversity, research, continuity, conflict, tension, etc. We’re talking pure craft here, not how much is important to you when you pick up a book. So I’m going to treat plot and style equally, as they do matter and are judged just as harshly when you hand your manuscript to an agent.

By fixing the characterization – this fifth or quarter of what makes my book a novel – I probably will improve Paradisa by 80%. Think about it – a good book with okay characters versus a good book with great characters. One might stick with you for the rest of your life while you’ll probably forget about the other by next year. Careers are made or destroyed based on that audience response. It’s not trivial. And it’s so easy to fix, compared to that result gap. You don’t have to rewrite the whole book or reinvent the wheel. You just have to zone in on that 20% and carve it to the fullest potential.

This works for plot too. My plot stunk in Act I for several of my drafts. It felt like the characters had no agency. They were invited to be the characters of a fantasy novel and they said yes. Once I fixed the character motivations, oh man. Such a breath of fresh air. A couple of rewritten chapters and that plot was flowing like Dune spice.

Even if you don’t buy into the raw numbers or statistics, this is still a good message to take home for anyone in the Pitch Wars 2016 Revision Club, or those who are simply editing their long suffering manuscripts. If you’re staring at the page wondering why it’s not coming out right, try to focus on improving one sphere that doesn’t work. The results from that one improvement could raise the whole book to another level.

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Cthulhu smiles upon me

Our lord and savior Cthulhu can be a temperamental being. But maybe he’s feeling lenient now that his presidential campaign is going so well. Just when things were starting to get crazy, and I was worrying how I’d have enough time in the day, the stars were right again.

Two of my video projects got delayed – one a week, and the other a month. But it works out. Instead of having an extremely front loaded August, I now have an evenly spaced August and an evenly spaced September. I’ve picked up one, maybe two contracts to fill in the gaps in early August, and I’m definitely on track to meet my goals for the year. Contracts are getting signed, invoices are coming in, work will (eventually) make it to my portfolio for show-offsies.

I am impatient, as you all know, but I’ve already got half of my year end profit goal on the books, and the other half will probably come with my highly likely but still unsigned leads. Honestly, if I did not book another lead for the rest of the year, I would probably meet my goal. And it may have to reach that point. I have a couple of really big projects coming up. I have two clients who, assuming one actually hires me and the other continues hiring me, could theoretically supply 2/3 of next year’s goal alone. Dunno if I want all my eggs in that basket, but we’ll see how much time I will need for it all.

Paradisa is now with a professional copyeditor, the amazing Leona Wisoker. Leona and I met through AtomaCon and she loves diverse SFF and supporting female writers. I read her first book, Secret of the Sands, and thought she had the most wonderful writing style I’ve ever read and a perfect grasp on psychic distance. Plotwise, we couldn’t be more different – her book was an epic length, slow burn quest adventure while mine is very commercial, short, and very urgent. But I didn’t find that to be an important distinction in choosing her as my editor, because I’m fairly comfortable with my choices in how Paradisa is plotted. To say that much maligned phrase – it is what it is, and the audience will subjectively gravitate towards it or not. What I objectively needed help on is voice and narration and POV, and Leona has that stuff for days, ya’ll.

I’m also participating in #PitchWars! Which could really throw me for a loop if I actually get in, because all of a sudden we’ll have two very fast months of lots of Paradisa revisions (hopefully the copyedits will be here by the end of October, so I’d be able to add them into my #PitchWars revisions too). There are two mentors in particular who I think I’ll see eye to eye with, and two others that are a bit of a gamble. The likelihood of getting picked is low, but I’m hoping to at least get some feedback. I will probably upload my PitchWars bio sometime this week (maybe even today).

Everything else happens during the in between moments. I’ll cram Unreal training in there. I would like to get Devil’s Advocate uploaded to Film Freeway and start submitting it to some film festivals (one’s deadline is today, so I might still have some time…) I submitted to a pub today after an exclusive got rejected. On and on it goes.

A Good Start To April

As I said last week, I handwaved March and vowed to get myself together in April. Unfortunately, my body decided that it was not done being sick and that I was going to have a clogged sinus valve of some kind that left my eye pussing for three days and a constant pressure system roaring in my skull. Luckily my sinuses got their crap over with quickly, and I was (mostly) back on my feet by April 1st.

So I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve made strides on some projects. I also got to feel the validation of a few completed tasks as well. That always does my motivation good.

  • The Shadow of Saturn: I need to write 50k words this month to finish my first draft, which is basically NaNoWriMo. And hey, it happens to be camp NaNoWriMo this month, so maybe I should sign up! I’ve already logged 1200 words, and pretty much have to write 2000 words , 6 days a week, to keep up with this goal. No easy feat, but not impossible either. When I wrote the first draft of Paradisa, I was pushing out about 3600 words a day. Hard to believe I ever managed that!
  • Video Business: Almost done with the website. Need to order business cards this week, and make a couple demo reels. I was randomly shooting things with my new DSLR and can hopefully compile that footage into a sizzle reel.
  • Animation/Webseries: So, I haven’t spoken much about this, because I don’t like to talk about projects that are only in the idea stage. And this was a project that, despite my excitement, seemed too ambitious for my skill set. However, I have officially moved past the “in my head” stage to the “I have actually accomplished a kernel of possibility”, and I’m ready to start track this project officially ^_^ Having downloaded Fallout 4 on PC this weekend and leafed through its resource files, as well as tinkering in Source Filmmaker, Silo 2, and the Unity/Cry/Unreal engines, the idea of doing a fanseries is actually within reach…because as much as I’ve moved on to original properties, you can’t take the fandom out of the fangirl :P. More on this later, but I’ll spend most of this month trying out various programs and reassembling a few of the game assets in them. Maybe by the end of the summer, I’ll have a proof of concept together to show off to the fanbase.
  • Indie MoCap: I let this slip last week because of my illness, but I tried out Twitter Promotion and gained 25 followers over the weekend – much more than I anticipated. Not sure it was worth the money, but I guess it was a worthy experiment.
  • Kindle Shorts: Changed my keywords again for Book #1, as sales slipped again. You can check out my first monthly report here, where I break down stuff that worked and stuff that didn’t. I finished Book #2 yesterday, so I’ll publish that early this week.
  • Reading: I’m halfway through Rollback, so maybe I’ll get to 4 or 5 books this month.

Just need to catch up on Dead Air, Paradisa, and the two short stories I plan on writing this month. I still want to make that Cecil B. Demille story happen. I just don’t know where I’m going to go with it.

Cheers to a good April, folks!

 

A Better Week – Sort Of

Thanks for all the well wishes last week. I’m glad to report that this past week was (relatively) pain free, aside from oh my god it is pollening so hard outside, I can’t breathe and my head hurts. There was one day where I was basically bedridden after work because of lower back issues, but mostly I was just plagued by lethargia. I don’t know if it was my autoimmune system flaring up to fight away a virus I picked up, or if it was just my sinuses, but I didn’t want to do much.

Luckily, I feel pretty great today. And since I have Friday off and I took Thursday off as well, it is an abbreviated work week. If this won’t get me back on the saddle, nothing will.

Some highlights of what I got done last week: (it’s not much, but it’s something)

  • 4000 words of The Shadow of Saturn. I am officially caught up to March 1. But I still 21,000 words behind. Eek.
  • Paradisa edits, as usual. Still on track for this. If nothing else, I’ve been editing Paradisa consistently!
  • Indie MoCap, one article per day and continuing to build my social media platforms and email list. I wish this was growing faster, but these things take time.
  • Video Business, looked into getting a bank account and discovered that I need an IRS form. Trying to get that sent to my house this week.
  • Kindle shorts, wrote 1500 words of Short #2 and changed my keywords around for Short #1. Sales slumped drastically last week, so maybe some new keywords will help. I rank very high in all of the new ones, and I even rank #1 in one of them.
  • Reading: Finished Ready Player One. I have lots of thoughts about it that I need to articulate. I may actually write the rare book review it. I started on A Vision of Fire, which was my Bookcase Club book of the month, but it’s pretty lame so far and I might switch to the assuredly-better Rollback.
  • Submissions: I actually managed to submit to 3 literary marketplaces this week. Woohoo.

I didn’t edit any Dead Air, work on my video website, work on freelance or AusmAtari, work on my short story, or do animation tutorials. I mostly played a lot of Fallout 4, because it was the only thing I had the energy to do. I’m also aware that tomorrow will be eaten by the release of some Fallout 4 DLC, so I’ll probably do Tuesday’s work tonight. ;)

It may be worth mentioning that I did some spring cleaning yesterday too. I sent a load of clothes to Goodwill, purged my cosmetics cabinet, washed my clothes and sheets, and got groceries. Not fun or artsy stuff, but a necessary part of Adulting.

I’m ready to say sayonara to all this March pain and blandness. I have things to do, darn it!

My Time of Perfect Health May Have Run Out

March has been difficult. All that momentum I built up has been lost to a combination of personal responsibilities (a couple concerts, some social outings, doing my taxes) and feeling generally unwell since the month began.

I’ve had sciatic nerve problems since I was 18, but it’s been rare. Maybe a flare-up once every 3 months. I’ve also had back issues for about two years, but only enough to make me creaky in the mornings and for my shoulder blades to sting if I look down at my phone for too long. But for the last month, I’ve noticed the sciatica becoming more frequent – once a week, then twice a week, and now some spike of it nearly every day. My lower back continually aches, and that pain echoes down my entire lower half. The joints in my arms and fingers and knees hurt too. I feel inflammation everywhere, and am left sore all over.

Autoimmune disease runs in my family. Rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, mostly, but also lupus and narcolepsy. It exists in my cousins and aunts, but also in my grandmother and mother. My 23andMe genetic profile even claims I’m at higher risk for the autoimmune disorders of MS, ankylosing spondylitis (which is basically RA of the spine), narcolepsy, and ulcerative colitis.

So, an autoimmune disease someday plaguing me is not a question of “if”, but “when.” And I’m starting to wonder if “when” is “at the age of 24, because seriously Michelle, you aren’t a teenager anymore.”

I’m planning to see my mother’s rheumatologist soon and get some tests done. It might require a referral, which could take some time. Either way, this has interfered with my life to the point where I’m less productive at my day job – even taking some PTO one day because I was too sore to really do anything – and absolutely unproductive in my home work.

That’s not to say I haven’t made some progress, though. For what it’s worth, here’s the status quo for most of my projects:

  • Indie MoCap: Officially launched and growing. I’ve kept up with posting every weekday, I’m building my Twitter following, and my email list has a few subscribers. As long as I keep plugging away at it, the site should continue to grow and be impossible to ignore.
  • Video Business: I obtained the keys to my PO Box. Honestly, this was so that I don’t have to use my home address on my Indie MoCap mailing list (or any other mailing list). But I may use it for business purposes as well. I also sent in for my tax returns this weekend, and will get my work bonus tomorrow, so I will have enough cash to purchase all my videography equipment this week. Huzzah! It’s all in my Amazon cart waiting to be purchased.
  • Kindle Self Publishing: I’ll show my records in detail after a month has passed, but sales have been shockingly decent. Over 10 days, I have made about $11 in royalties with virtually no promotion and no backlist. I’m ranking #4 in one of my keywords too. That doesn’t seem like much, but I’ve heard so many horror stories about authors making one sale or no sales at all. It’s also worth noting that sales and KU rentals have been steady, with activity occurring almost every day. For this story to basically be selling itself has made me very happy. Someone even took the time to leave a review (which was well rounded and generally positive, but did said there was too much erotica in my erotica story. To which I’m like “…what?”) I’m halfway through my second story and have the cover finished, so that will go up under my other pen name soon.
  • Dead Air Webseries: I missed my editing session last Wednesday, but this episode is an easy edit. I should still have it finished by April.
  • Paradisa Edits: I finally rewrote what two of my betas dubbed The Worst Scene In The Entire Book, ha. I had been procrastinating on that one, so I’m glad it’s out of my hair. Still on track to be done by April.
  • The Shadow of Saturn First Draft: Blerg. I have used up all of the text from my first attempt and now must write from scratch. I am about 10,000 words behind now. I might have to eat my loss on this one and work harder in April. After all, so long as it’s finished in its entirety by May, I’m still good.
  • Side Hustles: Earned some in ShopKick, Ibotta, Receipt Hog, Swagbucks, and Inbox Dollars last week. I think I’m officially passing on iPoll and Qriket because they’re kinda useless. Honestly, once I get a few of those Kindle stories out there, I will probably drop these entirely. Publishing has made me loads more passive income.
  • Short Story: This is a bit unplanned, but I am working on a submission for the “Strange California” anthology right now. It involves Cecil B Demille and the excavation of his Ten Commandments set. Right now I’m in the research stage, but I’d like to write this next weekend.
  • Reading: I’m still on Ready Player One. I might be able to make it through The Call of Cthulhu and one other novel by the end of March. At this point, I’m almost certain I won’t make it to 4.

And then let’s not even talk about animation practice, short story submissions, freelance, or AusmAtari. I’m way behind on all of that.

All things considered, I can lick my wounds and move on. My most important projects are still chugging along. But I can’t really afford to have another dead week. I particularly need to make up ground on The Shadow of Saturn and I need to put more effort into my short works. I’d also like to launch my vid biz to the public in April, which means I need to finish the website and throw some demo pieces together.

Wish me luck and good health, friends. Mentally, I’m in a good place. It’s just frustrating when the body won’t cooperate with it!

How Did I Do In February?

Darn good, as it turns out. No, not 100% on point with my plans, but probably 90% there. Which is pretty awesome, considering my realistic goal was about 70%!

Rather than taking you through the things I did this week, I’m going to summarize how my overall goals for this month fared.

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  • The Shadow of Saturn First Draft
    • GOAL: 30,000 words
    • ACTUAL: 23,000 words, but the day isn’t over yet. I’m sure I can get to 28,000 tonight, which is close enough. I am still on track to finish this first draft by May.
  • Paradisa Edits
    • GOAL: To be halfway done with developmental edits
    • ACTUAL: This is a bit hard to quantify, but I did schedule all my edits between now and March 31, and I met all of those goals. I also decided to devote April to line-editing, which takes off some burden. Originally I wanted my past tense conversion and all line edits to be done within this next month, but I’m going to focus on developmental editing only.
  • Short Story Submissions 
    • GOAL: Submit 12 poems or short pieces to 12 publications.
    • ACTUAL: Achieved! And two are in the “final round of consideration” for two different publishers. I will hear back from both in April.

Overall writing grade? I’d say an A. I was a pretty studious writer this month.

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  • The Con Runner’s Handbook
    • GOAL: Brainstorm the book.
    • ACTUAL: I did brainstorm it. I thought my goals were more lofty on this one, as I felt bad about not having it fully outlined. Looks like past!Michelle knew that would be a bit too much for the time being, and already set the bar low.
  • Kindle Shorts
    • GOAL: Write and publish four shorts for Kindle.
    • ACTUAL: I completed one of them, and hope to publish it tonight. The other three were consumed by Sundays that went to other projects. I’m not going to beat myself up about this, especially as writing the first one was a lot of fun and not terribly difficult. But this first one is taking me awhile because the process is new to me. Once I can get into a routine, I’ll hopefully become more prolific. Additionally, I’ve decided to devote 1 Sunday every month to writing a short story for publication, so that will reduce my Kindle burden too.

I’d say a B for this one, as I technically completed my Con Runner’s goal and I am exploring the Kindle Short publication process. Perhaps not as quickly as I’d hoped, but it’s coming.

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  • Video Company
    • GOAL: Work on website, research equipment, and file for an LLC.
    • ACTUAL: I did manage to file my LLC, ha! I am now officially a business owner. I also researched equipment, and narrowed it down to two DSLR cameras (the Canon 70D and one of the Canon Rebel EOS t series. Any opinions?). I designed my logo, linked my domain to my Squarespace account, and started designing my website. And best of all, I secured two “gigs” for when I purchase my camera (nonpaying, but it will help my reel). I still hope to launch the site officially on April 1st (no joke ;D) and I feel that I’m on track. I get a bonus at work this month, which I’ll use to purchase my equip.
  • Dead Air Webseries
    • GOAL: Complete Episode #4
    • ACTUAL: I did it, aside from some color correction and sound balancing. On to the next!
  • Indie MoCap
    • GOAL: 20 articles, a completed March newsletter, functional social media accounts and a site launch on March 1st.
    • ACTUAL: 9 articles, plus two secured interviews with some wonderful people in the industry. March newsletter is complete. My Twitter is thriving, although I need to get my YouTube, Google +, and Facebook accounts going. The site launch has been pushed back to March 7th, but I’ve been working diligently on the site, mailing list, forums, and many other features.
  • Animation Tutorials
    • GOAL: 4 animation tutorials complete
    • ACTUAL: 1 complete, plus some tinkering with Black Desert Character Creator, downloading Source Filmmaker, and the start of a 2nd tutorial. Mondays were rough. I’m going to move animation to Thursdays in March, and maybe put my Indie MoCap stuff on Mondays (as I….sometimes get that stuff done at work >.>)

I’m very pleased with how things are going. The prospect of my video company becoming a thriving business is incredibly exciting, as is the growing interest in Indie MoCap. I modified my schedule to make animation more of a priority, and I will continue to work diligently on finishing Dead Air in time for my video company’s launch. \o/

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  • Freelance
    • GOAL: Have talent, make money?
    • ACTUAL: So, you can see why I failed here. I didn’t have any concrete goals! I threw Freelancing onto the burner end of my schedule – Friday nights and Saturdays – which I normally use to relax. I did start interacting with the Freelance Writers Den and doing research, but I didn’t set up my profiles on Odesk and such. With all of my film goals thriving, I’m starting to wonder if freelance writing and graphics is too much extra effort. Or if I need to approach this a different way. Perhaps in March, I will resolve to 1) set up my profiles and 2) write an essay or article to pitch to a few different magazines.
  • Side Hustles
    • GOAL: Earn $100
    • ACTUAL: I earned enough through Google Opinion Rewards to pay for my YouTube Red subscription (I think it was about $13 total). I am up to $15 on Inbox Dollars and $15 on Swagbucks, as well as $13 on Ibotta. I think I’m at $4 on ShopKick. Total, that’s $60. I didn’t put nearly as much effort into this as I could have, and I haven’t cashed out yet. I think I’ll lower my goal to about $40 in March and see where that goes.

Big C for this one, gang. I need to decide where to take my Freelance work and accept that my side hustle apps are pretty low priority.

otherstuff

  • AusmAtari Retro YouTube Channel
    • GOAL: 8 videos
    • ACTUAL: 5. It would have been 6 or 7, but Austin’s setup gave us massive technical difficulties on Saturday. At least the 5 we have turned out really well!
  •  AusmAtari Retro YouTube Channel
    • GOAL: A book every week
    • ACTUAL: I did it! I completed Chris Kennedy’s Self Publishing For Profit, Leona Wisoker’s The Secret of The Sands, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s These Broken Stars, and Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. All of which were quite good, although TSotS was long and has scared me away from books over 100k for awhile (it just took me a long time to get through, and I don’t want to get behind on my 50 book goal). This week, I’m reading Ready Player One. Also in the pipeline for March is The Call of Cthulhu by Lovecraft, If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Calvino, and Rollback by Robert J Sawyer.

 

Usually after a productivity attempt, I totally overhaul my old methods and come up with something new. However, I think I’ve finally struck gold with this schedule. Aside from swapping my Indie MoCap and Animation days, and consolidating The Shadow of Saturn to 4 days instead of 7, this schedule will remain the same. I am also reducing my load on Fridays, as I find it to be the most unproductive day of the week. Overall, I do not feel any sense of fatigue or burnout. I did a lot of fun things this month, from playing several hours of Fallout 4, to going to a friend’s party, to going to the movies three times and watching plenty of Hulu and YouTube.

We have to know ourselves honestly to achieve that which we strive towards. I have to accept that I am useless on Fridays. I have to accept that technical difficulties happen sometimes. I have to accept that sometimes, projects require more work than I originally planned and may require a week or two of delay. And don’t be afraid to reevaluate your plans and consider if they’re what you really want (like my freelancing). If you really want something, you will make time for it. You’ll have vision for it. If something keeps getting pushed off, you and that project may not be right for each other after all.

Cheers, kids! What are your proud of from February, and what are you looking forward to doing in March?

 

Productivity Progress Report Week 2: I Need A Time Turner!

Last week began excellently, but I threw it away in the 4th quarter. Chalk it up to Deadpool, Valentine’s Day, and my general fatigue over the weekend (Deadpool, by the way, was quite good. I don’t normally enjoy R-Rated humor, but it was funny and edgy while still being….tasteful? You’ll have to wait until December for my Movie Report Card to hear more of my verdict, but I massively undercut my prediction on this one.)

Anyway, here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly for my second week on this schedule.

THE GOOD

  • Indie MoCap Newsletter: I actually finished this for the entire month, meaning my next two Thursdays will have an hour freed up. Whoo.
  • AusmAtari Retro YouTube Channel: Once again, we filmed two Let’s Plays on Saturday afternoon.
  • Cover Design For Kindle:  Already had my cover designed for the current WIP.
  • Dead Air Webseries: Still on track to finish an episode by the end of the month.
  • Editing Paradisa: I exceeded my plans! I had two medium level edits, one new scene, and one easy edit to make. I think I did all of those and an additional 2-3 edits on my list. I might actually have this finished before March 31…
  • Camera and Equipment Research: I let this slide on the first week, but did plenty of catch-up. I am torn between a Canon DSLR and a Sony HD cam, leaning more towards the Sony now. In a perfect world, I could get both. Alas.
  • Animation: Learned how to set up a reference photo box in 3Ds Max and began a tutorial on character box modeling. I got a bit stuck on the tutorial I was working on, but I figured out my issue after mulling a bit. I also downloaded Source Filmmaker and picked up the PC version of Fallout 4 during Steam’s Lunar sale, mostly to play with its resource files.

THE OKAY

  • Indie MoCap Website: I set up my BlueHost account and installed WordPress, along with transferring my domain. It will take a week for the transfer to go through, so I couldn’t actually edit the website yet.
  • Writing Submissions: I managed to edit one of my stories and submit it to Okey Panky. Now that it’s fixed, I need to send it off to some others.
  • Aether Motion Website: Set up my Squarespace account.
  • LLC Research: I still haven’t filled out my paperwork, but I have a list of all the steps I need to do and a pdf of the Articles of Organization. It’s just a matter of doing it.
  • Reading: My reading improved this week. I am almost finished with Secret of The Sands.
  • Indie MoCap Articles: Once again, I finished two and started on a third.  I’m starting to think that Thursday nights might be for my long form articles and all my other articles will be written on the spot before posting. The idea of writing five in one night is daunting.
  • The Shadow of Saturn First Draft: I wrote some, but am currently 4000 words behind. I was too busy with Indie MoCap stuff on Thursday, and I didn’t even want to look at my computer over the weekend. Luckily, I’m still pulling words from my original draft, so I’m certain I can catch up this week.

THE BAD

  • The Con Runner’s Handbook Outline: Didn’t work on this at all. Not a big deal to skip a week, but I still want an outline complete by the end of February.
  • Freelance Video and Writing: I did not progress much. I agreed to devote some of my freelance time to editing the AusmAtari videos, but I didn’t even manage that.
  • Side Hustles: Didn’t do much for these at all.
  • Writing For Kindle: Probably my biggest disappointment of the week. I had full intentions on Sunday morning to tackle the 3500-4000 words I had left to write for this….and then I spent five hours finishing Austin’s V-Day present and it exhausted me. Alas, I know there wasn’t much of a choice here. I needed to finish that present! But by 1:00, after setting up dinner and finishing that, I was pooped for the rest of the day. Which is why I was like “screw it, let’s just go see Deadpool.”

Unfortunately, this week will not get off to the easiest start, as my Monday night will be monopolized by seeing former President George W. Bush at the local arena (one of my bucket list items is to see a President in person, and my mom surprised me with a ticket. May as well, right? Especially on President’s Day!) Despite my bucket list having one more check, I will be another 1000k in the Shadow of Saturn hole and still trailing on animation.

I am also entering this week with a lot more fatigue in general. This work is not coming as easy as it did the first two weeks. I don’t feel burnt out or overworked from an inspiration standpoint, and mentally I’m in a good place, but my body is bedraggled and my neck/skull area has been in a bit of pain. Heh, might need more caffeine and vitamins this week. And maybe some cheering on from my lovely readers ^_^

 

Camp NaNo, Here I Come?

Several of my writer friends are participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month. Camp NaNo is a laid back, set-your-own-pace version of November’s 50,000 word sprint. Unlike the regular competition, Camp NaNo encourages short story writers, and people revising a previously written novel, to participate along with those writing a novel from scratch.

I didn’t concern myself much with the news, as I’ve never participated before. To me, NaNoWriMo is a November thing. I participate mostly out of tradition, and to beat my previous goal every year. I also use it to kick off new projects, which isn’t of much interest to me at the moment. I’m still fully devoted to Paradisa.

But Camp NaNo actually showed up at a good time for me. After some serious thinking, I’ve decided to rewrite the first 40 pages of my book, which I estimate to be about 25,000 words. I don’t want this rewrite to take 7 months like the previous one did (although, luckily, this rewrite is not as extensive as that!). I know that if I put my mind to it, I can probably knock out 25,000 words in just a couple of weeks.

So I signed up. I set my goal at 25,000 words. That means for less than 1000 words a day, I can have my major revision complete by May 1! Of course, I was planning on writing these 25,000 words anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to have an extra fire under my butt. I’m all outlined-up and ready to go!

Some writers are pro enough to set such goals unofficially and carry them out. I was like that about a year and a half ago, despite having a full-time job, but I think my writing productivity tanked around the time I started cohabitating with my boyfriend. We’re now on the same sleep schedule  which leaves me less productive time to write (going to bed far too early, at 10 PM) and I’m naturally drawn to more collaborative activities rather than solo ones now. When I lived alone, I could plop myself in a chair for four hours and forget the rest of the world. When there’s someone else’s feelings to consider,  that’s basically impossible now. Hopefully when we move into a bigger place in the next couple months, we’ll have more elbow room to do our own things in our own time. He’ll be getting his own office in the new house, which he doesn’t have now.

Until then, I think I can set aside a half hour every evening and get 1000 words out. Little goals seem more obtainable than big ones, no? And having a sophisticated word count system (I could rave about NaNo’s statistics system all day, ya’ll. It’s probably the #1 reason I keep doing this) helps motivate me as well.

Feel free to become my writer buddy on the Camp NaNo website. I am under the moniker “musemorgan.”

 

When An Old Project Surprises You

It’s never fun to shelve a project. To admit temporary defeat. To say “all this work I’ve done isn’t paying off in the immediate future, if ever.” But in order to keep improving our craft and using our time wisely, it is a necessary part of being a writer. But the fun part is picking up such an unfinished story a year or two later and saying “Wow. This is actually really good.

The project I speak of is The Shadow of Saturn, a dramatized memoir about my time as a NASA intern. I cranked out 50,000 words of it for NaNoWriMo 2012, rewrote most of those 50,000 words (see Thomas, I do sometimes stop in the middle of a draft and go back! :P), then shelved it indefinitely. I just wasn’t ‘feeling’ it anymore. I was feeling Paradisa more, so I started Paradisa and didn’t look back.

This book was my first attempt at writing after a three-year hiatus. I cringed at every word. I hated writing it because I felt so self-conscious about my style. Which is why I was so delighted to pick up that unfinished draft yesterday, flipping through it, unable to stop reading, constantly thinking “This is actually a decent start.”

I already have a full outline finished for this book, although it is way too long. One of the reasons I never finished it is because the outline puts it at about 150,000 words. That is longer than this novel has any right to be. So maybe I’ll futz with the outline some this week. After my Paradisa edits, of course :P But I’ll need something to work on during my next beta round so…perhaps this is a worthy side project.

As I read, I just kept thinking, “I want other people to read this book.” And because it’s a memoir, I need to get it all down before my memory starts waning. I’m already three years removed from the experience. I don’t want it to grow much longer.

Anyway, thought I’d chime in with a happy Monday post ;) You can see my scene counter has gone down slightly in the sidebar. Just 11 more to go. How was your weekend, Pressworld? And have you ever dusted off an old project with delight?

What Happens After This Draft? – My Revision Process

As I approach the end of my next Paradisa draft, I’m already thinking about the steps that will follow. “Spell check it and send it off to beta readers!” says the village fool. Actually, completing a draft is just the first step – a few other “semi-drafts” will follow, plus a heck of a lot of re-reading.

There are a few types of drafts that I operate in at separate times. That seems like it takes too long, but trying to accomplish all of these tasks at once is just too much to me – I would get stuck on the same page for weeks, picking it apart, when I should be writing the rest of the book. So, splitting it into multiple steps is a much more refined process.

1. The Rewrite. A rewrite is a draft that is formed from a new outline. This is absolutely the roughest draft to slug through, because it basically requires me to write a new book (or a third of one, at least.) Unlike many authors, I do not start with a completely new document, riffing from a completely new outline, utterly ignoring all words used in the previous draft. I do pull massive amounts of content – all I can pull, really – from my last attempt. But when you want Plot Point A to occur three chapters before it did in the last draft, and when you want to separate your characters into two all-new locations for the big mid-book fight scene, and when you want to totally restructure your ending…there’s a lot of new content to be whipped up. This is honestly why Draft Five has taken me 4+ months. I am not only rearranging and cannibalizing so much of the existing text, but I’m adding over 30,000 words of new scenes.

2. The Big Picture Revision. Once a rewrite is done (assuming it was needed in the first place – hopefully 5 will be the last real ‘rewrite’ I do, and that all future edits will be minor), I reread my draft on my tablet. Reading as an ebook gets me into the mental state of a reader. Contrarily, reading it as an editable computer document makes me too much of an editor. I do keep a notebook beside me though, documenting all character, plot, pacing, continuity, setting, and structural issues with the novel. Does each scene have a purpose? Does each scene end on a cliffhanger? Does each scene begin in a way that sets the reader into the scene? Does the novel have a good hook?

Now that I’m past my first beta round, I will also revisit my previous critiques during this stage. I will make sure that all valid concerns from my betas have been addressed in the rewrite. When I’m happy with my re-read, I will annotate my Word doc with comments pertaining to all these concerns.

3. The Seasoning. This is where I trudge through and address all the comments. Sometimes it means changing some dialogue in a scene. Sometimes it means deleting or swapping a scene. The most “writing” I’ll do at this stage is to add paragraphs clarifying intent and setting, or to build pacing.

After this, another reread. Steps 2 and 3 may need to be repeated, depending on how much I like the new version of the book.

4. The Style Revision. I have yet to do a style revision for any previous draft. Now, I feel that the book is ready for a line-by-line analysis, in which I make sure every word is used to its full potential and all lines are my own. Ditch the clichés, ditch the redundancy, ditch the awkward phrasing. My style is very functional and inelegant right now – I have yet to regain the naturally beautiful way I wrote as a teenager (which I swear is due to my lack of reading in recent years, but hey, I’m working on that part!) Until I can turn on good style at a whim, this is the gritty alternative.

5. The Copyedit. Just for grammatical and typographical errors. This is my final read through before other humans see the book.

So basically, five ‘drafts’ in one! I will probably start considering this Draft Six around step 3 though.

And while some may warn me of over editing, fear not – as I said, this is my very first time editing style at all, and that is where over editing rears its ugly potential. I don’t think one can go wrong by making the story a more enjoyable one. I’m kicking myself a bit for taking five drafts to get where the plot needs to be, but part of me knows those previous four trials were all necessary. It’s like a scavenger hunt – you can’t jump to the end until you’ve found all the clues.

I do hope to start Beta Round Two in the spring, but you can see I have a lot of work ahead ;) I feel like it’ll all be downhill once I finish the rewrite though. Ugh. Rewrites really are the hardest part.

What is your editing process like? Do you revise your novel in multiple ways at once or break it down into steps?