A look at character sexuality can take you in any number of directions.
First of all, you need to listen to your characters. Are they telling you who they like? Maybe they are, or maybe they’re a little shy about that. Can you see your characters with someone of the same sex, or with anyone, for that matter? Because remember that your own characters’ sexualities need not reflect your own.
So consider how you will present it. For a great, matter-of-fact presentation of character sexuality, just look at Sulu in Star Trek Beyond. Because without saying a word, all that happens is, he is greeted by a man with a little girl, he hugs the girl, and then the three walk away as Sulu and the other man (it’s unclear whether they are meant to be married, so I’m hesitant to use a word like boyfriend or husband) go arm in arm. And that’s it. It’s subtle and loving and sweet.
And of course people protested. Because change can be scary to a lot of folks, I suppose.
Flipping Your Own Personal Script
You have probably been the same sexuality for much of your life. And while gender and sexuality can be fluid, that is not the case for everyone. However, there is a spectrum. Hence even if you have been, say, heterosexual your entire life, you may find you are not completely, 100% ‘straight’.
Furthermore, consider a thought experiment. Why am I suggesting this? Because a writer should be able to think about any number of characters and types of characters. And that includes those who have differing sexualities from the writer. After all, don’t we write about men if we are women, or women if we are men? Stephen King wrote about Dolores Claiborne. Harper Lee wrote about Atticus Finch. And even though most writers aren’t in their league(s), you can still make the effort.
Hence this means also looking into not only gay and lesbian characters, but also asexual characters, bisexual ones, and even characters into other things, like, say, S & M.
Character Sexuality: Some Takeaways
None of this is required, of course. But a thought experiment, I feel, is never a bad idea. You may find a character who speaks to you and who you really want to write. Or maybe you won’t. Only you can know that.
Character creation is rather personal. It depends on how organized you are, and how much you like to plan. So character creation will vary. This is what I tend to do. However, my methods are not necessarily the best or the most consistent ones.
Your mileage, when it comes to character creation, will undoubtedly vary. And that is perfectly okay.
This is actually a picture of me from 2015, by the way.
Origins for Character Creation
For me, characters arise in a few ways. One is just that I can ‘hear’ their ‘voices’. Or I might see a face clearly. Lots of situations or activities can create a focus. So I might walk around my neighborhood and consider what I see. This is whether it’s something from nature or just someone’s illegally parked car. Music in particular can be helpful for this, although it is not absolutely necessary. For a fanfiction bad girl character I named Pamela Hudson, her personality came barreling in when I heard the Amy Winehouse song, You Know I’m No Good.
And sometimes, characters just appear, fully formed. I tend to consider names in the context of how they sound and what they mean. Hence a character like Marnie Shapiro Chase came out of nowhere because I liked how her name sounded. Then I worked on putting her together. The same was true of Colonel Craig Firenze. He started off sounding good and I built from that.
Character Creation: Ethnicity
Still other characters might arise out of names and ethnicity. Or even national origin. Jazminder Parikh and Akanksha Kondapalli are both Indian women, but Jazzie is a doctor, whereas Akanksha is an attorney. I also tend to like someone to be from the southern US. Hence Jeannie Louise Scutter and Patricia LaRue arose. Characters from the UK might be Dave Shepherd, super-spy, or Dr. Devon Grace. Plus there are also scullery maids Frances Miller and Ceilidh O’Malley. So it runs the gamut of rich and poor.
In addition, I try to write some characters of races different from my own. These run the gamut from Dr. Elise Jeffries and Dr. Mei-Lin Quan to Solar System President Fankald Williams and her sister, Tamara Woods.
What’s in a Name?
While draping a character around the meaning of their name is kind of silly, it can sometimes help to inspire. I liked the name Ceilidh O’Malley, and it was a bonus that her name means a type of jig. Hence someone who grew up in grinding poverty had a rather frivolous name. So I gave her the middle name of Aisling, which is Irish Gaelic for dream.
Dave Shepherd didn’t originate as a protector in the Obolonk universe, but as I wrote him, he became one.
Other characters just almost tell me their names. This was certainly the case with Craig Firenze and Kitty Kowalski in Mettle. In Mettle, the two bratty tweens were always going to be Kitty and Mink. Tathrelle was another name that sprang up, for Untrustworthy. Frances always existed in The Real Hub of the Universe, but her surname started off as Marshall, not Miller. Her name was changed as a character named Marsh was mentioned too often with her.
Other characters are named for people I know, in whole or in part. The Enigman Cave is particularly chock full of such characters. It’s everyone from the Chief Veterinarian to a space defender to the Chief Engineer. The Real Hub of the Universe has some, including the Chief of Police. Plus the Ashford baby is named for a man I know.
Character Creation: Show Some Emotion
Characters also exist to make the main character feel something. And this isn’t always something good. Ben Chase exists to piss Marnie off in The Enigman Cave. Johnny Barnes exists in The Real Hub of the Universe to terrify Ceilidh and force her into action. Jeannie exists in Mettle to anger Craig and eventually make him not feel too bad about getting on a plane. And one of the reasons Dave Shepherd exists in the Obolonk universe is to help Peri get over Charlie.
Plus there are always love interest characters, even if they don’t last. That’s Lex Feldman in Enigmans and Dalton Farouq in Time Addicts, the 2019 NaNoWriMo novel.
Shapiro, Shapiro, Shapiro
As a kind of personal ‘tell’ and Easter egg in my works, every longer piece (except for Untrustworthy, as none of those characters are human), somebody is named Shapiro. This is even true in fan fiction, where characters Ethan and Rebecca Shapiro (father and daughter) figure prominently in the overall storyline.
The Obolonks series has Greg Shapiro. He’s a wisecracking cop living in Connecticut. The Enigman Cave has Marnie Shapiro Chase, the captain of the spaceship. Marnie’s kind of frumpy and nerdy but also very smart. Then in Real Hub of the Universe, the name is subtle. Blima Shapiro Taub is a character never actually seen ‘on screen’. Blima is known more for her jealousy than anything else. In Mettle, Shapiro is Eleanor Braverman’s maiden name. Eleanor suffers from Alzheimer’s.
So you can see that the Easter egg characters are all rather different.
In the November 2019 NaNoWriMo novel, the name shows up as a the married name of a sibling of the protagonist.
Character Creation: Purposeful Characters
Sometimes characters are necessary to fulfill some purpose or another. Technically, that’s supposed to be the case with all characters (oops!). Either advance the plot or be background exposition. Hence Noah Braverman’s fellow reporter, Francine O’Donnell, serves to give him a bit of a reason to express his thoughts out loud in Mettle. Ben Chase serves as Marnie’s foil, but he also makes a big discovery which helps drive the Enigman plot. And I needed Livia Thorson in Obolonks to explain some of the robotics, just as I needed Ned O’Malley in Real Hub to explain how Ceilidh was going to get to the states.
Sometimes purposeful characters come in the form of radio or TV show hosts, or nameless people reading news stories aloud or commenting on them. How many times have you stood in line at a coffee shop and heard people discuss the events of the day? Even if it’s the sports section or politics or whatever, it can still help to orient readers as to time and place.
In Untrustworthy, Ixalla started off as a kind of explainer character, but then the role grew when I turned her into a revolutionary.
Why do you need a character? Do you like them? Do they drive the plot? Will you kill them off if you have to? Make characters to fulfill these purposes or to add depth and background. Give your story dimension with people who feel real.
The Dish came from a dirty plate in our kitchen sink. Therefore, it proves you can get writing inspiration from just about anywhere.
Also, without a doubt, it serves as an utterly passive-aggressive study of human nature. Essentially, you first. No, you. I insist. I’m not gonna until you do it first. Etc you get the idea.
The main concept behind this plot serves to almost warn couples but also provide a bit of a primer on how to really be passive-aggressive. The narrator is never named and is only barely described as being female but there is nothing else.
Hence she remains a cypher, as does the cause of whatever the argument was initially all about. Also, the husband remains a cypher.
A plate is an odd place for inspiration, but the truth is that a plate had been sitting in our sink and I was getting annoyed by that. However, I didn’t make any moves to take care of this tiny mess. Neither did my husband. We are only talking about a few days here. The plot, of course, takes some liberties with the time, as this is fiction and not reportage.
The only character is the unnamed narrator although she does refer to her husband, who is also unnamed.
I am, despite my flaws, what they used to refer to in the old days as a ‘good woman’. And I am! But then there’s that dish again.
As I noted previously, inspiration can come from nearly anywhere. And while this little story could perhaps stand some improvement, people tend to like it wherever I have posted it. For I did use it as a sample of my non-scholastic writing for a course when I was getting my Master’s.
By the way, yes, that’s really one of our dishes. And I think I was the one to rinse it off and put it into the dishwasher.
It’s the kind of story I tossed off rather quickly and then it kind of took on a life of its own.
This story started because I had stayed at my childhood home and noticed something odd in the front yard. And the truth is, it was nearly nothing. However, I sometimes have an overactive imagination, and so I took this idea and I ran with it.
What did I notice? It was only a few ruts near a flower bed. They were nothing, really, and were most likely made by a hoe or a rake. However, in my mind, I decided they would be tire tracks. And then the fun started.
The Plot of Revved Up
A holier than thou narrator tells the story to an unnamed police officer. The plot circles around the narrator’s elderly parents’ next-door neighbors. And the narrator refers to them as the POJ Family. That is, the “Pair of Jerks”.
As the story progresses, our narrator gets more and more self-righteous as the POJ Family continues to perform more and more outrageous acts in her parents’ sleepy, leafy Northern New Jersey suburban street (Note: my folks live on Long Island and they don’t even live in the inspiration house any more).
Sharp-eyed readers should be able to follow along, at least in part. The narrator keeps a lot of information close to the vest, so it pays, actually, to read the book again. And no, I’m not trying to inflate read counts.
No one is actually named in the story. The main character is the narrator, who is telling the story to an officer of the law. The other characters are her elderly parents, her son and daughter, various neighbors, and her next-door nemeses, the so-called POJ family.
The narrator is a divorced middle-aged woman and that’s all a reader learns about her. Her children are teenagers; her parents, elderly and coming to the time in their lives when they’re just about ready to move into assisted living.
As for the POJ family, they have a decidedly more earthy philosophy than our heroine. And so she takes matters into her own hands.
I returned to my parents’ home and the three of us began washing the many plates – eighteen in all. My mother declared that perchance these city people did not understand our ways and so she carefully hand-lettered a number of delicately-worded thank you notes to everyone in the neighborhood. We knew who had provided the apple pie, the cherry cobbler and even the New York-style cheesecake.
The story’s sole posting is on Wattpad, where became a Featured Story a few years ago.
This story has had better traction than nearly anything I have ever written. With (as of the time of the writing of this blog post) over 58,000 reads and over 500 comments (many of which referenced the surprise ending), Revved Up remains an unqualified success. Of course having had Featured Story status helped a great deal.
Could I sell it? I have toyed with that idea, but the story is so odd and it’s really too short for a novel. Plus it does not really lend itself to a sequel. While sequels are far from necessary, it can help if that’s an option. But I am totally fine without one.
So at the time I wrote the story, I had no idea what had happened to Rich. As it turned out, a mutual friend did some sleuthing. And so, I learned the truth. It was what I had been afraid of; he was dead.
Rich was the first gay man who ever came out to me. And I consider that to be one hell of an honor.
The Plot for The Boy in the Band
So the story is more or less accurate. Hence it wrote itself. And I was merely there to take mental dictation. And the title, of course, comes from the film.
In 1981 or 1982, my friend Rich asked me to the movies. And I had a crush on him and thought – this is great! He chose the films: Cabaret and The Boys in the Band. So I had no idea what I was in for. My innocent nineteen or twenty year old soul thought we were going to see a pair of musicals.
I swear to God this is true.
The characters are the narrator, Rich, and Paul. He was Rich’s boyfriend at the time. But unfortunately, I have no idea if they stayed together. Since I do not know Paul’s last name, I can’t even look him up.
I gamely watched with Richard. Maybe he meant for it to be artsy? I had no idea, but then the Cowboy character showed up – a male prostitute. And so Richard asked, “What do you think of him?”
I replied, “He reminds me a bit of Rocky from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“Which do you think is cuter?”
“So we will agree to disagree.”
And then I knew.
The story has a K rating.
Upshot for The Boy in the Band
So this one was highly emotional for me. And then when I learned, later, that I had been right, it all hit me rather hard. See, because of when we knew each other, it was the dawn of the age of AIDS. And I knew he was, let’s just say, a bit loose. Since no one really had any idea what was in store, and AIDS was a 100% painful death sentence at the time, being ‘loose’ was being foolish.
Yet it apparently did not kill him. At least, I can tell myself this. I think I’m right. I hope I’m right. But there is only so much the internet can tell me.
He did not even live long enough to see 9/11, President Obama, or even the Red Sox win the World Series (:)). So he is frozen in time, at age 39. And before I knew this much, he was frozen at age 21. Forever young.
First quarter 2018 proved to be a good time to write. Since this is the first of my writing progress reports, here are the details.
I write all the time or at least I work on something to do with writing. The process generally runs from idea to percolating that idea or combining it with other ideas, outlining, drafting, preliminary editing, and reading aloud to my husband (a HUGE help for spotting flow errors). Then it’s beta readers sending feedback which I work out, off to the pro editor, write the query letter, query, wait for acceptance or rejection.
Accepted work? Then it’s time to work on promoting it. Rejected work? Then it’s time to regroup. This may mean more editing on my part, or changing the query or just shelving a work for a while.
First of all, I worked on a number of new short stories. A lot of these had been drafted on paper and so I spent some time fixing and polishing them.
Here’s what I created and improved.
I wrote well and regularly this month. It was a great kickoff to first quarter 2018.
January 1 – 7
During the first week of first quarter 2018, I wrote a piece every day. there are two pieces over 2,000 words long: The Resurrection of Ditte and A True Believer in Skepticism. Another four are under 2,000 words: Short, Sharp; Dragon for Sale, Cheap; Too Tired (tiny!); and The Landing. The seventh was also under 2,000 words and is a little scene from The Real Hub of the Universe trilogy: Snowy Allston.
Of these seven short stories, Dragon and Landing are both comedies. Allston is kind of melancholy. Tired was really just so I could get something written that day. The other three are somewhat ironic and all of them give off a Twilight Zone sort of vibe.
My favorite for this week is a tie between Ditte and Skepticism. They both having something to say about the human condition.
January 8 – 14
Then I wrote more stuff during the second week of first quarter 2018. All of the pieces are under 2,000 words. I wrote: The Forest; I Used to be Happy; The Star; I Hate Promises; A Kitten; The Outside World; and The Meeting.
Of these seven short stories, The Star; I Hate Promises; and The Meeting are comedies. The Forest and The Outside World are more like fables, with the former being about helping a stranger and the latter about being curious about freedom. A Kitten is heartwarming and could be read to a child.
My two favorites for this week are I Used to be Happy and A Kitten. Both should make a reader think, and I love writing like that.
January 15 – 21
And I wrote even more during the third week of first quarter 2018. These are all under 2,000 words: The Other, Canada Saves the World, Worthy, Nothing Good Ever Happens at 3 AM, Who Do We Blame for This?, None of this is real, and Inventory.
Of these short stories, The Other is another fable. Canada Saves the World and Inventory are comedies. None of this is real is more of a nascent romance. Nothing Good Ever Happens at 3 AM and Who Do We Blame for This? are both tragic first contact stories. Worthy is kind of an odd story about what is a sort of dystopian society that has lost its way.
This week, I had a lot of favorites. In fact, the only one that wasn’t a favorite was Canada Saves the World as it was just kind of silly. Even Inventory was better.
January 22 – 31
So I wrote a lot more during the final ten days of the first month of first quarter 2018. Everything was under 2,000 words long. And there stories were: Soul Rentals, And the Horse You Rode in On, The Guitarist, The Metuchen Mystery, So Long, Will’s Dog, I Used to be Cruel, Just Married (sequel to The Meeting), Justice, and This is My Child.
Of these short stories, Soul Rentals is kind of spiritual. And the Horse You Rode in On is historical. The Guitarist is YA. The Metuchen Mystery is fantasy. So Long is tragedy. Will’s Dog and Just Married are more fluff pieces. Justice is dystopian. I Used to be Cruel and This is My Child are both drama.
For these last ten days, my favorites were pretty much everything but The Metuchen Mystery, which felt too light and silly. I’m not a fan of dragons, even if they are in New Jersey. The Guitarist was a particular fan favorite. I wrote almost 29,000 words during this month.
By design, I did no writing. However, I edited Mettle and The Enigman Cave. I didn’t do any promotions although I was busy with some work for Wattpad (I’m an Ambassador there). Working with beta readers was iffy/spotty at best. Since I do my best to nurture those relationships, but I also need to get a lasso around version control, I created a Facebook group and started using Google docs. So far, that’s had a mixed reception. Plus I didn’t work on promotions. It’s not so much that I was busy; it was more that I’m just kind of burned out on that.
Beta readers, so far, have enjoyed The Guitarist, The Obolonk Murders, None of This is Real, and The Forest. Who Do We Blame For This? got a mixed reception, as did So Long and This is My Child. I’ve been trying not to be too pushy but unfortunately Facebook algorithms require a lot of activity. I’m still trying to find a good groove there while, at the same time, respecting everyone’s time and interest levels. And my own, too!
Plus I worked some more on the plot for Real Hope of the Universe.
There was even more writing!
March 1 – 7
I started off the month with a bang, writing Kelvin 505.928, Oh Little Town, Almost Shipwrecked, Courage, Hot Mess, Enchantment Street and Clay. These were under 2,000 words long.
So of these short stories, Kelvin 505.928 is science fiction. Oh Little Town is horror. Almost Shipwrecked is humor and is a lot like The Meeting. Hot Mess is a prequel to Almost Shipwrecked. Courage is a romance with a twist. Enchantment Street is kind of dreamy and it’s one of the more positive stories I’ve written this quarter. Clay is a kind of odd deep future type of time travel story. Yeah, it’s weird.
My favorites this week included the one-two punch of Hot Mess and Almost Shipwrecked, plus Courage is a sweet story.
March 8 – 14
And then I kept it up by writing Blue Card, Protection, Shadows, The Path, Guinea Pigs, Loud, and It’s Five O’clock Somewhere …. These were under 2,000 words long.
Hence of these short stories, Blue Card is dystopian and might even be the Nazis or something like that. Protection is a bit of a true crime story. Shadows and It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere are both time travel stories and they are representative of how I’ve been thinking about that premise lately. The Path is another dystopian story but there’s a bit of hope in there. Guinea Pigs is a weird science fiction story that’s kind of underdeveloped.
My favorites this week included Blue Card as it’s evocative and creepy at the same time. I also liked Shadows and It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.
March 15 – 21
During the following week, I wrote Space Con,Daybreak, AM/FM Ghosts, The Interview, Modern Sonnet, The Witness and How Much?…. These were all under 2,000 words long.
Therefore of these stories, Space Con is something of a science fiction true crime story. Daybreak is a medical miracle. AM/FM Ghosts plays with some urban fantasy I’ve been considering. The Interview and How Much? are both truly creepy science fiction. Modern Sonnet is a touch of poetry. The Witness is a little crime drama.
This week’s favorites included the matter-of-fact vibe of Space Con and the creepiness of How Much? But the big winner is also the fan favorite: The Interview. Beta readers told me they wanted to see more, which is always a great sign.
March 22 – 31
During the final 10-day period, I wrote Appealing, The Cause, The Invaders, Halfway, Merciful, Wicked Ways, and A Trip (there are three more but they’re being posted after this blog goes live) … These were under 2,000 words long.
Hence of all of these, Appealing is an after-prison story which I admit I cribbed from my own fan fiction. The Cause and Halfway are historical. The Invaders is a little bit of unexpected humor. Wicked Ways and Merciful feel like they relate to each other, as an oppressive society turns to good. A Trip is similar to a work I did for an Alzheimer’s charity Anthology, called Props.
This week’s favorites included Appealing (one beta reader liked the main character’s strength) and Halfway. I also like Merciful; it’s a hopeful story. During this month (apart from three stories which won’t make it to this blog post), I’ve written just under 19,000 words. The big drop-off in production makes sense as work ate me alive.
Also, I have written over two and a half million words (fan fiction and wholly original fiction combined). So right now my stats on Wattpad for wholly original works are as follows:
How to NaNoWriMo – 5,662 reads, 74 comments
My Favorite Things (like kibble) – 969 reads, 133 comments
Social Media Guide for Wattpad – 11,870 reads, 587 comments
The Canadian Caper – 436 reads, 37 comments
The Dish – 248 reads, 24 comments
There is a Road – 188 reads, 28 comments
WattNaNo’s Top Picks 2018 – 236 reads, 8 comments
The current WIPs are as follows.
The Obolonk Murders Trilogy is a futuristic crime story where our society is divided into three parts – humans, semi-sentient and sentient robots, and aliens. I may end up writing a sequel trilogy. I’m not sure, so stay tuned.
The Enigman Cave takes place about a half a millennium from now and imagines a first contact where the aliens are at the level of Australopithecus.
The Real Hub of the Universe Trilogy takes place about 140 years ago and covers an Earth overrun by alien factions during the Victorian Era.
Mettle takes place only a few years from now and is the story of how society crumbles when metals begin to disappear.
So currently, I have been working on some writing prompts to keep me sharp and keep the words flowing so first quarter 2018. My intention, for this year’s NaNoWriMo, is that I will probably write the third novel in the Real Hub trilogy. But I need a plot! So a lot of this year will be spent on that. And – heh – I might actually have a different plot for this year’s NaNo, taking place in, of all things, the Obolonks universe. But I really should finish Real Hub. Really. Shut up, plot bunnies!
This Quarter’s Productivity Killers
Work, and what else during first quarter 2018? I am working on a ton of things and since that is also writing, it can sometimes burn me out. Plus I have all sorts of offline junk going on, including house renovations and the inevitable lousy New England weather which means shoveling snow and also running the car when it’s really cold out so it won’t stall.
Another productivity killer was my own mood. Not only does winter do it to me (I get Seasonal Affective Disorder), it’s also that, as I mentioned above, I’ve got some burnout. Sometimes the writing days did not come so easily.
I hope you’re interested in writing progress reports. Because I will be adding them.
I love to write and I try to do it on a somewhat regular basis.
For 2018, one of my resolutions (a fancy word for plans) is to write a lot more like the late, great Ray Bradbury. Bradbury did two things.
He wrote something like 2k words per day.
He wrote whether he was feeling it or not.
And that’s a great attitude right there. For Bradbury, there was no such thing as writing 52 bad short stories in a row. Because, yes, those weekly writing sessions would turn into short stories. I am certain some of these did not sell nor see the light of day. Others did, and became parts of The Illustrated Man, etc.
Practice Makes Perfect-ish
So the chances of writing a good story vary, of course. However, the chances of writing a good story if you do not write at all are, naturally, a big, fat goose egg.
Writing is also good practice for more writing. And I have also found that, at times, I have cribbed from an older work and stuck it in a newer one where it worked better. But I would not have had that bank without writing the older story first.
A Word About Fan Fiction
Egad, I wrote a ton of it! As in, over 2.5 million words – no lie! It wasn’t until around 2014 or so where I came to the conclusion that I had learned everything which writing fan fiction could possibly teach me, so it was time to let it go.
However, that cribbing I mentioned, above? I’ve done it with fan fiction the most. Obviously, I don’t copy the canon stuff which other people created. Instead, I use my own in new ways.
You’ll be seeing a lot about current WIPs (works in progress). The truth is that any work not yet published is technically a work in progress, for it can be altered at any time up until release, and that’s even after a successful query (a query is where you fling your work off to a publisher or an agent to try to get it published). A WIP even encompasses works tossed into drawers and kept from the light of day for a long time. So those will be in these writing progress reports although, I admit, sometimes they’ll just be a placeholder for “nothing much happened”. Because not everything is worked on all the time.
Writing is not all that there is to writing. Uh – what? What I mean is, you don’t just write. You research and plan. And you also edit and send out work to beta readers and address their feedback (which is sometimes to reject their feedback, by the way). Plus you put together queries and send them. In addition, you promote published works and collaborate with a publisher or an agent, a cover artist, etc. Or you self-publish. And you handle rejection. And bad reviews.
All of these are important activities. However, they are also all dependent upon writing. You can’t query without a written project. And you don’t get reviews on the dreams in your head. So writing is paramount, a good chunk of all of it. But these other things matter as well. If I may, I think this is a pretty decent breakdown:
Idea generation 5%
Research and outlining (planning) 10%
Preliminary editing 5%
Beta reader contact, nurturing, and addressing feedback 10%
Work with a professional editor 10%
Querying (including creating the query letter and blurb) 5%
Working with a publisher or agent (or both), and a cover artist 10%
Handling reviews and rejections 5%
Idea generation, preliminary editing, querying, and dealing with reviews are all small because they shouldn’t take too much of anyone’s time. Ideas are everywhere. Usually you’re stuck trying to choose among them. Preliminary editing is really just for glaring errors as you run spellcheck and also handle anything you know is a problem for you (for me, it’s the word ‘that’ and also too many characters saying ‘all right’). Querying is small because you really can’t simultaneously query most places, so you send a query out, wait a month, etc. Handling reviews, etc should also be fast. Don’t get cocky with glowing reviews and acceptances, and don’t let rejections and bad reviews get you down. Learn from all of these things and move on.
If you’re self-publishing, then querying is 0% and working with a cover artist should probably be a quickie 5%. The 10% you just saved should be shunted off to promotions because you’re it.
The Middle of the Road
Middle ground activities like outlining, working with beta readers, working with an editor, and with a publisher and cover artist, etc are middle of the road because you’re often working on someone else’s timeline. Plus outlining isn’t for everyone. If you don’t outline, then that time should be split between preliminary editing and working with beta readers.
Beta readers are important and perhaps I should give them more weight. It kind of depends. Some give detailed, helpful feedback. Others say nearly nothing or are s..l..o..w. Same thing with pro editors, and I do mean pros. Editing should be paid for. But if you’ve done good preliminary editing and gotten (and acted upon) good feedback from beta readers, then pro editing should take less time. And it might even cost less. As for time spent with a publisher, these days they are rather hands-off and that is especially true for newbie authors. Unless you’re JK Rowling, you’re probably not going to get the royal treatment. Particularly because publishers are so hands-off these days, you’ll have to pick up the slack when it comes to promotions.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Of course writing is the big one – it’s why we’re here in the first place!
I will do my best to write at least 1,000 words every day during odd-numbered months (January, March, etc.). This includes NaNoWriMo in November, when that number should rise to at least 1,800 words per day.
I will do my best to work on the ancillary activities for at least one hour per day during the even-numbered months.
Oh, and you’ll see writing progress reports at the end of every quarter, so look for the next one at the end of March of 2018. You will also see stats if I can put them together. And I will occasionally give you the specifics about the WIPs and published works (and will try to keep those spoiler-free) so you’ll have a better idea of what the heck I am talking about in these writing progress reports in the first place. Thank you for your kind support!
Sue Jenkins’s Web Design All-in-One for Dummies serves as a decent resource for improving your website and even for starting your own web development business. It’s chockful of ideas but one glaring omission was a CD. It would have made some sense and improved matters considerably if some of the concepts could have been shown not only on the page but also on a computer screen. There were references to the Dummies website but that’s only semi-helpful.
But that’s a fairly small quibble.
The book spends a lot of time talking about the web development business, and gives tips on how to deal with clients. This is all well and good but does not work for someone such as myself who is building a site for my own purposes but not as an entrée into a new career. Furthermore, there is something of an overreliance on Dreamweaver. For amateur web designers not interested in forking over nearly $400 for the software, those sections of the book were also eminently skippable.
Plus it helps a great deal if you already know some html and css. These are both explained but not in depth.
However, these caveats aside, the book is a helpful resource. Interesting tips abound. These include how to make a plain printing stylesheet for a page needing separate printer formatting, like a resume. There is even a small section on SEO. However, it does not cover everything that can be done. For that I would recommend Michael Fleischner’s book.
While this book is somewhat more advanced than a beginning web development work, it struck me as being intermediate in scope. It ended up good for a lot of things, but perhaps a bit incomplete. For more advanced techniques and ideas, I’d recommend looking for works on not only design but also on usability. But this is a great place to start.
True influence requires two things: audience and advocacy. Advocacy is driven by the depth of conviction, and influencers typically are less committed to the product or company than are actual customer advocates.
In the world of aspiring authors, advocacy isn’t limited to just influencers. Nearly everyone is an advocate, but it’s the influencers who have the audience.
Amateur authors love to write and would love to be published (and quit their day jobs), but many are terrified of being seen as wannabes. In the NaNoWriMo community in particular (NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge to write a novel of at least 50,000 words during November), there seems to be a fear that the product created at the end of the month is somehow ‘not good enough’.
For these aspiring authors, the ability to interact directly with their literary heroes is a means of seeking and obtaining a degree of validation.
Within NaNoWriMo, the organization leverages its network of authors (not necessarily ones who have ever participated in the annual event) to write Pep Talks. Neil Gaiman, in 2007, wrote –
You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
For aspiring authors ready to throw in the towel, Gaiman’s words ring true. All NaNoWriMo is selling are buttons and a few other products sporting their logo. Plus they are hoping participants will contribute to the site.
Inspiration isn’t easy to bottle, but Gaiman’s words (and the words of other authors such as Jim Butcher) are helpful. The aspiring author realizes he or she is far from alone. Even the people who really did quit their day jobs struggle at times.
#MSWL is a Twitter hashtag meaning ‘Manuscript Wish List’. Instead of waiting for a slush pile’s worth of unsolicited manuscripts, agents and publishing houses reach out directly to the writing community and make their desires known. While #MSWL is more active in February, the most recent tweet (as of the creation of this blog post) is from freelance editor Libby Murphy –
REALLY want a romantic comedy featuring hockey players! Bonus points for an enemies to lovers conflict.#MSWL
Murphy’s tweet provides writers with exactly what they need. If they’ve got a manuscript tucked away with Bobby Orr as the protagonist, then the writer’s next step is obvious.
Is everyone who uses #MSWL an influencer? No. But the clear request is a win-win. It wastes time and goodwill if an aspiring author doesn’t have a hockey story but queries Ms. Murphy anyway, or presents their Alexander Ovechkin-inspired romantic comedy to another. #MSWL has been so successful that it has spawned WordPress and Tumblr blogs. Most of the buzz behind #MSWL comes from agent Jessica Sinsheimer.
Twitter, though, is the place to be for literary agents, and not just when #MSWL is most active. Even Sinsheimer, who invented #MSWL, admits she uses the hashtag even when there’s no event going on. It’s that convenient.
How Organizations Can Best Use Influencer Networks
For NaNoWriMo, tapping their influencer network is a way to shore up fragile aspiring authors’ egos and, maybe, get them to purchase merchandise or donate or both. Further, the use of pep talks – on-point evergreen content – means influencer names are associated with NaNoWriMo and remain so in perpetuity.
For looser confederations of publishers and literary agents, using #MSWL gets them connected to online influencers in a way that they weren’t before. It doesn’t hurt that the hashtag is practical, too, and cuts out wasted time as aspiring authors are directed to query agents and publishers interested in their nascent masterpieces.