2017 First Quarter Goal Check

This year has slipped away from me. I’m usually a planner, and a goal setter and a goal checker and yet I realised only late last week that we are into April and I haven’t been doing any of that.

I’m not writing, or very little.

I’m not checking my daily to do list, I’m rarely writing a weekly list and I certainly haven’t completed my first quarter review.

I have lots of reasons *excuses* for this. And good ones. But it is time to make a change and get back on track before I lose the road altogether.

 

So here is where I wanted to be at the end of March 2017 and where I actually am.

 

The Raven Crown Series

Book 1 – Raven’s Dawn

The plan – to be well into the second edit.

The reality – I’m still working through the first and not nearly as often as I should. I want to every day (or planned to) but in reality I’m doing an hour a week and sometimes not even that.

 

Book 2 – The Caged Raven

The plan – start reviewing the draft

The reality – I’ve pushed it so far down the list it fell off. I tried to justify this with the fact I need to finish the revision of book 1 first, due to the number of changes I’m making for any edit of book 2 to be useful. Probably true, but still disheartening.

Add to that that I have put up my hand for an anthology and I wanted to write a Raven Crown world short story. The deadline for this is the end of May. I do have a very detailed outline and the beginning and end written; so I’m hoping this should be completed without too much drama – it just needs time.

 

Iski Flare Series

Episode 5 – no name yet

The plan – it should have been drafted by the end of March.

The reality – I have three pages. Iski’s not playing nice, he’s moochy and grumpy and pissed off with the world. Which is kind of how I feel when I sit down with him, but it helps neither of us.

 

The Flow of Ink

The plan – irregular (maybe monthly) blog posts and a regular monthly newsletter.

The reality – only produced one blog post so far this year. On a positive note I am getting out the monthly newsletter (small win) and reaching more and more readers.

 

Extras

I have been doing more marketing activities, such as advertising the first Iski Flare and the Mark of Oldra. I’ve been applying to review sites and newsletter swaps.

I’m trying to be more interactive on social media and read more books but that is inconsistent and sporadic.

 

Overall I feel like I’m failing as a writer so far this year.

I’m tired, all the time. I’m enjoying my day job (which is nice) but it takes far more of my energy than my last day job did and I haven’t yet worked out how to work around that, or write around that.

I’m wasting time. Very clearly when I look at my tracking, I’m not writing nearly as often as I could. I get a weekend to myself and I watch hours of tv (Netflix) instead of writing.

 

I am trying to turn this around slowly.

I have started reading every day again, and my daughter is reading out loud in the car and that is certainly a good way to start the day. It also saves on audio books and I’m working up to asking her to read from my Kindle.

There is not a lot I can do about the day job; but I’m trying to get more sleep, taking multivitamins and getting back into exercise to get my energy levels back to where they should be. I’m just feeling like an old lady and we haven’t hit winter yet!

I’ve set out what I really want to get done and strengthened deadlines. I’ve also revisited the idea of making appointments with myself to write. I’ve done this before, but it slips away. I think the key is not to overdo it. For example, my daughter is away this weekend, perfect quiet time to write. But I already know that I won’t write Saturday night. I’d like to, but I won’t. So I haven’t blocked it out for writing on my schedule, instead I’m going to take some quiet time with a movie I’ve been wanting to watch and an early night so that I can make the most of Sunday.

I want to spend at least two hours a day writing; and when I get the chance I can very easily disappear into whichever story I’m working on. The problem is getting to the computer in the first place when procrastination, worry and then guilt sets in. Writer’s guilt is very much like mother’s guilt and it is just one of those things we have to live with or work through.

I’m planning the time and trying my best to show up. I’m not always getting to every writing appointment I’ve made but I’m working on it.

 

How is your writing year going?

 

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Working with Beta Readers

Chapter 8 editingI recently sent my novel out to a group of beta readers. In the past I have begged a few friends to read for me; this time I put out an official request for volunteers on Twitter and the various Facebook groups I belong to. And I was really stoked with the response.

I warned readers from the get go that it would be a short turn around and the dates I wanted it read. In all I got 10 beta readers sign up.

Not everyone was going to love the story but it was a good cross section and I thought it would provide a great range of views.

To make life easier I used Mail Chimp to send it out. That way everyone had the same file and instructions and there wasn’t the chance of leaked email addresses. But I came across a couple of problems.

Firstly, if an email was incorrect and bounced it was then deleted from the list. Thankfully I had downloaded the list before the send and so I could see who was missing but it took me a few days to work out why they were no longer on the list, then track them down and check details.

What I would do in the future is have a section in the list that tells me where I captured the reader from. And I need to check regularly after the email goes out to see that it all went well.

Secondly, Mail Chimp does not like gmail addresses. I remembered vaguely reading this somewhere but although it says it sent the email it doesn’t seem to arrive at the other end. I had to individually send out emails to two on the list as they didn’t get it with everyone else.

But the overall benefit that all the information was kept together and secure made it worthwhile.

Then it was the waiting and waiting for them to come back to me with comments and the like. Although it wasn’t really that much waiting as I had a two week turn around and other things to do while they read.

Once I had most returned I combined all the comments into one document via a fancy trick I picked up for Word. This allowed me to read through and correct as I went with all the comments in one place. Other than the one friend who printed hers out and used a pencil, but that’s ok too (I manually added hers).

 

What I discovered was:

Firstly, not everyone will follow through. There were some non-responders and several after the deadline. It is worth setting a dead line a bit sooner than what you actually need (something to remember for next time).

Secondly, a week was a stupid amount of time to get the responses together and make corrections and send to the proof reader. I was going to need a lot more time to make sure this story was as good as it could be.

Thirdly, everyone reads differently. I had a couple of responses that just picked up the typos and marked where they got a little lost or confused or a sentence didn’t read well. Others found the timeline tricky, the setting not detailed enough, some characters shallow and the plot not thick enough. All of these comments were excellent and raised some really interesting points.

 

What I did with the comments:

After the panic subsided as to how much work I really needed to do on this book, I remembered I had the same experience with my last novel. And clearly I hadn’t learnt from that experience.

I pooled all the comments together and then glanced through them.

Had another panic.

Then, with a deep breath, I took in what they were saying and dissected the novel. I marked out each chapter, the POV, the main conflict and possible problems/issues and the main structural points I should have been seeing.

As I did this some solutions came to mind. Ideas about changes to the plot (mostly small), things characters could do differently to show their thinking better, changes in setting, extra scenes, scenes to delete or change POV.

There was a lot swirling around in my head. But although there was a lot to do I was only looking at what would make this stronger.

 

Where I am now:

I am starting the process of actually rewriting/editing the novel to implement the changes outlined above. Part of this is an edit, either moving scenes around, expanding them or killing them off.  Part of this process is writing, creating new scenes or ideas and fitting them in. I am reviewing the main plot points to make sure they are clear and relevant to my protagonist.

The best piece of advice I have received through all of this is from one of my beta readers, who got it through a course he did.

That is to keep asking myself as I write/edit/plot –

“Why is this scene needed? Why is it needed here?”

I am trying to take that into account as I work through this edit.

 

When will you get to read it?

As I first pulled the comments together I really hoped I could get this work done before Christmas. I need to be realistic about the amount of work required, the reviewing process, proofreading, preparing for publication and so on.

I want you to get the best book I can create, so as I go I’m reviewing my plan and timelines but it looks like early next year at this stage.

 

Beta readers

No matter the comments they are all useful. If you are writing, I would strongly suggest a getting a group of readers to have a look. To make sure it does flow on the page as well as it does in the mind of the writer. And it doesn’t have to cost you. Ask around, you might be surprised who puts their hand up to have a look.

2016 Writing Retreat Report

2016 Wiring RetreatThis year was a disaster – for a start my writing buddy left the cottage, actually went outside, to walk in the fresh air every day, and exercise. I found the break with tradition distressing. And I should have joined her.

But other than that, we actually got quite a lot done. As always, I came away with the feeling that I could have done a little more, but then I did complete what I planned to: the final edit of Raven’s Dawn. It was such a relief to get it finished and ready for beta-readers on my return to the real world.

There were some odd little things that popped up. As I read through the last of it before the final edit on the first day I discovered a problem. I had cut an earlier scene that had a key point that carried through the rest of the series. In a late scene in the book when someone refers to what was said earlier I realised the mistake, for the earlier comment no longer existed. I made a note, found where it use to be in an earlier draft and carried on.

I worked hard through the last edit, moving slowly through each chapter and then revising it as a whole before moving on to the next one. Some only took half an hour or so, others took much longer. But I was happy, the story was working well, the characters appeared on the page as they appeared in my head. Little typos and strange punctuation were tidied up.

And then I swore.

I had come across the same problem. I still hadn’t inserted the conversation into the story to fix my little error. I just needed a couple of lines. I had inserted a new scene with the key characters and so I went back and inserted the required dialogue into that conversation. Re-read. And yes it flowed. Or at least it appeared to.

I finished the edit to elation and fist pumps and a little happy dance that I won’t subject you to again. But I was sure it wasn’t too bad, it might even be good. I have put quite a lot of work into this, although not quite at the pace I could have, but it was a good story and I was happy.

Fingers crossed the beta-readers feel the same.

I realised on that last day of the retreat, that I was so keen to get the work done that I hadn’t even photographed the first day set up as I did every year. But you can be assured that despite my writing buddy’s deviance from tradition, we did sit on the same sides of the kitchen table we did every year, we gravitated to the same couches and despite my offer to change it up, we had our usual rooms (mine musk, hers green).

The kitchen table on the last morning.
The kitchen table on the last morning.

We discussed families and frustrations, American grammar and whether we should be writing toward a particular continent; as well as other projects that would bring in the cash so that we could live our dream and write full time.

Despite talk of trying somewhere different, we feel comfortable there. It is our own little hideaway, that isn’t quite as deeply buried in the bush as I originally thought, but it is distraction free. I didn’t have to worry about the kids or the cats, the ballet exams and the piles of washing. I could concentrate on just the writing and that is what I did. I may have consumed too much sugar and maybe a little more wine than my usual weekend. But I got to live in my pj’s for a few days, sleep well, soak in the bath or simply tie back my crazy curls and sit on the couch with the laptop.

We are going back next year. We’ve already decided. Although, my mother threatened my life is she had to supervise participation in another classical ballet exam; we might just need to double check the dates before we book.

Planning for My 2016 Writing Retreat

Last year's retreat Day 1
Last year’s retreat Day 1

It is time to start preparations for our annual writing retreat. This will be our fourth year away and I think we have it reasonably well organised.

Each year our time away grew and so did the amount of stuff we took with us. But then every year we bring just as much food home as we took – or so it seems. This year we are away for four nights and we are just taking what we know we will use.

In previous years I have taken note books, text books, white boards and far too many pens. This year I am just taking my Raven Crown Series note book, white board and laptop (plus relevant chargers). Other than the writing supplies we don’t need too much, and we get to live in our pj’s for the whole time we are away. Wine and treats is all we need to plan.

Despite the talk of chocolate we are going away to write, and my main aim for this retreat is the Raven Crown Series.

 

Raven Crown Book 1 – Raven’s Dawn

I want to finish it as best I can. My current edit has got it reasonably close but there is still some work to do.

I have booked a slot in with the proof reader for my return so the pressure is on and I’m hoping to have my beta group ready to go.

 

Raven Crown Book 2 – The Caged Raven

I have been working on the first edit, as I drafted all three together.

It runs directly on from book one but I am still working through scene order and finding the plot holes (some of which are huge).

If all going well and I get my work completed (fingers and toes crossed) for Raven’s Dawn, I’ll spend the remainder of my time on this edit.

 

I always say that I should journal more, but never do. While I’m away at the retreat I do at least keep a very good record of what I do and how it is or is not working. As I am electronically isolated while away, I have a great record to create a report for you about the retreat on my return.

I’m so excited. I always come back refreshed and energised despite hours of writing. It strengthens the writing muscles after all.

Managing my writing time

When I returned to work this week, to beginning of year requirements, end of year reporting and two weeks to catch up on; panic followed
Image via www.katharine-writes.com

My recent holiday was lovely but I didn’t get any writing done; or at least not enough to really talk about. So when I returned to work this week, to beginning of year requirements, end of year reporting and two weeks to catch up on; panic followed.

I was getting behind on my deadlines, I was still searching for a title for Iski Flare episode 3 and I haven’t passed that on to my cover designer. And only a week to the release date I still don’t have a cover.

I did receive my draft cover for the first in the fantasy trilogy, Raven Crown Series, that I’ve been talking about for years. It looks fantastic. But I’m still only part way through the second edit.

In fear of going crazy and not getting anywhere with anything, I took a deep breath and went back to my writing plan. I have an hour in the morning which I have booked out for Iski and then I spend an hour of an evening with Raven’s Dawn (the first in the Raven Crown Series).

So far so good. I’m not getting near Twitter or Facebook, but I am spending at least half an hour while we watch the telly after dinner, checking and responding to emails. As soon as my daughter is in bed the telly goes off and the work begins.

It is amazing how quickly we can lose the practice of writing every day. And once it slows down it is hard to pick it up. There have been nights when I’m too tired, but I still sit down at the computer and before long I’m lost in the process.

I usually talk about time management in conjunction with energy management, but at the moment I’m not allowing my energy levels to come into it. I’m sitting down to write at my allotted times, even if I think I’m falling asleep. And so far it is working. I’m writing (well editing) loads. I might crash next week, but so far so good. I’m a little like Dory – I just keep writing, no matter what.

 

Just keep writing:

  • Write every day – working the writing muscles keeps them strong
  • Turn off the TV (I’m recording the important stuff to watch later; and then there’s Netflix; write first, watch second)
  • Set writing times/appointments and keep them, no matter what.
  • Talk to the family/loved ones/cats about your need to write – on weekends I spend some time with my daughter and then I get writing time, and I can alternate that, with a little housework, over the day.

 

PS I know cats don’t listen, well they do, but they don’t care. Mine only want a cuddle when I sit at the computer and as long as they aren’t lying across the keyboard, or chasing the mouse, I don’t mind.

 

I would love to hear what you do to keep writing even when you think you can’t. Click reply and share.

 

My Current Writing Plan

My Current Writing PlanAs we get close to the middle of the year I am looking at where my writing is at. I will share my mid-year goal review at the end of the month but in the mean time I wanted to share what I have been doing with my current planning.

Before this year started I mapped out what I would like to achieve and how I thought I would do that. This process included producing a schedule for each stage of every project so that I could work out what could overlap and maximise my working schedule.

This has changed as the year has progressed due to slippage. That is because some stages have taken longer than expected and some weeks I’m not spending the time I thought I would on each project.

As June started I looked at where I wanted to be, what I had completed on those main projects and what I could seriously achieve.

I picked one project and, using my time keeping notes, I determined how much time I would need for each stage. And then worked out, with all my other commitments what I could put in each day (I have to make the time, not hope it is there) and so determine how far I could get with each.

I printed out a blank calendar and, armed with a pencil, I mapped out what I could do each day toward each stage of the project. Then I went back, took the next project and did the same.

Amongst all of this I have a blog to maintain and a newsletter to produce, so I worked out how I could squeeze a little time in each day to draft those. I find it easier to just dot down notes for my topics for the month, then push out a rough draft, before I find a photo to go with it, and research appropriate links if needed, and smooth out the text. Sometimes in 15 minutes I can have the bare bones of two or three blog posts. And 15 minutes isn’t too hard to find.

So after all of this work – and a lot of pencil sharpening – I had a clear and achievable plan for June. This planning process does take time, but it makes life easier because each day I have a clear idea of what I need to do to continue to meet my writing goals and publishing schedule.

And it reminded me that I need to focus on what is important and ensure I make the time every day to reach my goals, not sit back and wait for time.