As a number of my friends get ready to join the insanity known as NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d give you some of my tips for surviving it.
1. Outline your book. Do it before November. It’s not cheating. It’s being smart and giving yourself a roadmap.
2. Do you research ahead of time. Setting your story in an unfamiliar city/country? Look it up, read up on it.
3. Plan for each of your chapters to be about 2000 words long.
4. End your writing day on a cliffhanger. Stop just before something you really want to write. Sometimes, I stop writing in the middle of the sentence.
5. When you start up for the day, edit the last three paragraphs you wrote. No more, no less. That should get you back into the right frame of thought.
6. Be willing to give up TV and videogames. Be firm in your commitment to your book. Realize you’re going to have to contend with holidays and family visits. Instead of watching the entire game / movie you always watch, take an hour and write.
7. Ask your family, friends, roommates to support you and be respectful of your desire to write. Writing is work. It takes time. You need to concentrate on it.
8. Get a writing buddy. Challenge each other. Do word sprints. If you can’t write together at a coffee shop, see if you can write together online using Skype or a Google hang out.
9. Log your progress every day. Be aware of all you have written and all you still need to write.
10. Understand you just need to get the words down but also understand that, eventually, you’re going to have to go back and rewrite the book. This is your 50,000 word outline for the real book to come.
There’s more—make sure you sleep, make sure you eat, make sure you take walks—but all of it is based on what helps you the most. I can’t work with sound unless it is music without words. Bands like Midnight Syndicate, Two Steps From Hell, David Lanz, Arcanum. Other people must have silence or heavy metal. I do recommend a soundtrack and listening to the same set of music that inspires and enhances your writing.
In the end, whether or not you get to 50,000 words, if you try, you succeed and learn something. I’ve been a fulltime author for years now and I still try to do NaNo when my schedule allows for it. I don’t think it will this year. But even if it doesn't, I’ll be working on something. So know that I’ll be writing along with you all.
I was talking with Todd Gallowglas of the Genre Underground and he asked me how I advertise my books while not being annoying. The truth is, I’m not sure if I’m being annoying or not. But I do know none of my friends have pulled me aside to say, “Uh, Jenn, enough with the selling.” So, I must be doing something right. Here are some of the things I do:
Use social media with a personal touch – Twitter, Facebook, blogging, LiveJournal, GoodReads, etc. Be a real person on the social media of your choice. By this I mean, be personable. Talk about other things going on in your life. Yes, talk about writing and your books. Don’t forget the links to where to buy them but, overall, social media is about being social, not selling.
Participate in social media opportunities – This could be a Twitter chat. Or a blog interview. Or GoodReads giveaway. When given the opportunity to talk about yourself and your work by someone else in a finite, limited way, do it. And then give the readers something more than “this book is awesome.” Tell them about how you made it awesome. Or how your cat’s antics gave you the idea. Or a tip about working to your full potential.
Engage your audience – This is where you listen to the people who follow you. You ask them questions. You challenge them to a flash fiction contest. You ask trivia questions with your books as prizes. Yes, prizes are important. People love free stuff and if they are following you, they probably are interested in you and your stuff. Also, they probably want to be heard by you. I once spent a good hour on twitter figuring out how long it would take the world to notice if every person in a single state up and died. That became the basis of a book I’m shopping around right now.
Use all of the tools at your disposal – There are so many tools out there to get word of your book out there: reviewers, contests, release notices to magazines and newspapers, free fiction linked to the book, talking to your local bookstores and coffee shops. Heck, your sig file on your email is free marketing space. Writing a regular blog column either on your own blog or another’s blog. There are ways to get the word out—both actively and passively—without being annoying about it.
Support your fellow creators – Note that I didn’t say “authors.” By creators I mean artists, jewelry makers, script writers, sculptors, authors, and anyone who creates something whose work you admire. Social media and getting the word out is not all about you. Talk about other people who inspire you and why. We are all in this together, making the world a better place one creation at a time. Anything anyone can make that inspires another to dream great dreams is a hero in my book and worthy of lauding.
When you have had an active younger life with all the bumps and bruises therein, you get used to going through your day with pain. I have had back and knee pain for more than an decade now. Some of it due to injury, some of it due to my weight, and some of it due to getting older.
About a month ago, all that changed. My back pain flared up. Instead of being just part of life—background noise, if you would—it came front and center to the point of distraction. Also, I started having shooting pains down my legs in certain situations or my coccyx going numb after sitting for a while. This meant a doctor’s visit ASAP. Which turned into an MRI visit and painkillers/muscle relaxers.
Through it all, I had to keep working. I’m a fulltime freelancer. I don’t get sick days. Well, I do. It just means I don’t make money or advance my projects when I’m sick. September was scheduled to be stupidly busy and I knew it. This whole back pain thing was inconvenient at best. Fortunately, one of the best painkillers I know is writing. At least, until you stop writing and then everything is worse.
However, now that most of what I need to get done this month is done, I realize what kind of toll working through the pain has taken on me. I’m burned out and cranky because of it. I’m glad I’m recognizing it and have the opportunity to do something about it. I’m going to take the rest of the month off. I’m going to nap, read, watch movies, and only do what I want to do when I want to do it. That should help.
Just knowing that I’m giving myself permission not to work makes me feel better. I’ll still do email and phone calls and all that, but the rest of the time is mine to do with as I please.
Today I had an MRI for my back. I have always have back problems and am used to walking around in a minor bit of pain. About two weeks ago, things changed. The pain increased to the point of distraction. I have leg numbness or shooting pains down my right leg while I drive. After a lot of walking, my toes go numb. So, it was MRI time. I’m hoping it’s just a pinched nerve that can be fixed with physical therapy/massage instead of something that need surgery.
The place itself was nice. However, the MRI machine, not so much. I never realized I would be claustrophobia in tight, confined spaces. They started to put me in and my Lizard Brain when “Whoa, WTF?!” When I expressed discomfort, they gave me something to cover my eyes. I have a great imagination. What could go wrong?
I am a large woman. The MRI machine is a small tube. As they put me in, I was okay until we got to my elbows. As soon as my elbows were squished against me and it was clear I was helpless to get myself out of the machine, the Lizard Brain turned on again and what it said was “No.” Over and over like a mantra. I went from rational thinking brain to get-me-the-heck-out-of-this-thing-must-escape Lizard Brain.
The technician, for her credit believed me as soon as the first “No.” erupted from my mouth. I didn’t even know I was speaking until the tray was in reverse. Really, all higher function got shunted asside in that terror I didn’t know I’d feel until I was out of the tube. I apologized and admitted I wasn’t sure if I could do it.
The tech told me not to worry. We’d just put me in feet first. That would leave my head mostly out of the machine. In the end, it was my head, shoulders, and arms out of the tube. I was much more comfortable. The MRI started. It was 7 periods of 1-3.5 minutes long when they would take pictures and need me to keep still. While this happened, my Writer Brain and Lizard Brain had an argument.
Writer Brain: Wow. I didn’t know you were claustrophobic.
Lizard Brain: I’m not. I’m just afraid of being trapped and helpless and feeling like I’m being buried alive. As soon as my elbows got pinned to my sides, I realized how much danger I was in.
Writer Brain: Wuss. But what a feeling. Now you know what real terror feels like.
Lizard Brain: Fuck you.
Writer Brain: No, seriously. It’s harmless. There’s nothing to actually hurt you in the tube. No moving parts. I can so use these sensations in writing horror. There’s lots of things I can extrapolate out of this.
Lizard Brain: Goodie for you.
Writer Brain: We should ask, after the test is done, to go back in, head first. You know, to really get a sense of that confinement and fear.
Lizard Brain: Fuck you and the pen you rode in on. I’m not going back in there for nothing.
Writer Brain: But…
Lizard Brain: I will kill you while you sleep. You’re already going to have nightmares about this new terror you didn’t know existed. So, just stop. Seriously. No.
This whole argument happened while I was listening to gorgeous classical music. In retrospect, I realized I was so much more comfortable in the second position because my arms were out of the tube, I could see light, and if needed, I could pull myself out of the tube. Head first, I wouldn’t have been able to do ANYTHING if something went wrong. It’s a control freak thing.
And I don’t even get into the noisiness of the machine.
However, Writer Brain is correct. I really can use this new, unexpected terror in my writing. The sudden discovery of being afraid of something intellectually I know I shouldn’t be afraid of. The sensation of being buried alive. The sensation of my arms pressed to my sides with no way to move or control my body. It is great writing fodder.
But dammed if I’ll willing go back into the MRI tube head first. I’ll think about it real hard if I need to have another MRI for my back. And only if I can go in feet first.
I’ve been doing this social networking thing on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Livejournal for a while. I consider all of it to be an investment in my career. There is nothing more annoying about looking up an author or editor and finding nothing about them. Right or wrong, it makes me think that they either aren’t very good at the business or marketing aspects of being in the publishing industry.
That said, I always try to temper my business side with remaining a real person. I chat with people. Talk about stuff that isn’t work. Or talk about where I am in what I’m doing—the easy parts, the hard parts. I do like to be social. Some of the social stuff is play and I do like to play. I think I’m pretty successful at balancing the two.
About a week ago, after talking about work I’m doing on the Battletech web series, a stranger on twitter pinged and asked if I was open for a gig. I get this question a lot and my answer is always: “It depends on my schedule, the subject matter, and the pay rate.” Then we shifted to email for the rest of the conversation.
Short story still short, Robin Fitton has hired me to work on the fiction part of Gruntz. “Gruntz is a dedicated 15mm fast play wargame designed for skirmish level play with between 10 to 40 figures per side using combined arms (squads, support vehicles, tanks, VTOL's and artillery).”
I’m excited about this because I get to make up a lot of canon information about the Gruntz universe. Every faction will have signature leaders, houses/groups/etc. With 11-12 stories to come up with, I’m still deciding on how this will happen. But believe me, there will be a variety. I’ve got permission to go wild and nothing is off limits.
I love jobs like this.
I also love getting jobs like this because I’m just being me on Twitter.
As an aside, there is an Indiegogo fundraiser for an Gruntz Army Builder App that is already funded and is into stretch goals.
I’ve been a fulltime freelancer for over five years now and the business of freelancing still surprises me. I think one of the biggest surprises is how many publishers—RPG or fiction—have asked me to supply them with a contract for a writing gig. The conversation usually goes something like…
“We have this work we want you to do.”
“What’s the details?”
“Due date, word count, pay rate.”
“All of that is doable. I’m in.”
“Alrighty, send over your standard freelancer contract.” (Or) “Do you have a standard contract you’d like us to use?” (Or) “We don’t have a standard contract. What details would you like in yours?”
All of these have happened to me. It was shocking the first time a publisher asked me to provide them with the contract. I had no idea what to do. I ended up telling them, in my most professional-please-don’t-think-of-me-as-a-hack email voice, that I “preferred to start with the contract the publisher usually used and we would modify it from there.”
I chickened out in other words. And we did work with their contract and modified it and everyone lived happily ever after.
However, I suddenly realized that I needed to create my own boilerplate contracts. Ones that would be legally binding. Ones that wouldn’t screw me or the publisher. I ended up going to back to the contracts I already had and modified them. It’s surprising the number of contracts I now have to keep track of.
As an Author:
• RPG – set number of fiction words for a project
• RPG – RPG book as author
• Fiction – short story in an anthology
• Fiction – short story for the web
As an Editor:
• Anthology – buying a short story for an anthology
• Anthology – buying a reprint story for an anthology
• Anthology – selling an anthology to a publisher
• Anthology – commissioning art for the book cover
• Anthology – licensing art for the book cover
• Webzine – buying a short story for web
• Editing – Novel consulting
• Editing – Short story editing
That’s a lot contracts right there that I’ve had to create specific to me and make sure were fair, legal, and appropriate.
But wait, there’s more. Invoices are a type of contract between the freelancer and the person who hired them. It used to be that my employer would tell me how to log my hours and get paid. As a freelancer, you frequently provide your own invoices. This means they need to be clear, concise, and specific to the project so you don’t lose track of who has paid you and who hasn’t.
If you plan to freelance at all, you need to be prepared to provide your own contracts. You need to make certain they are legal and appropriate. Documentation is part of a freelancer’s world. I knew this from the start. I just didn’t know that I would be the one providing the contracts as well.
Cover design by Ivan Ewert
Industry Talk is a collection of two previously published columns by Jennifer Brozek, Dice & Deadlines and The Making of an Anthology. The collection also contains brand-new content including step-by-step instructions on how to pitch an anthology and advice on managing a freelance career.