Getting Started: Writer Problems Edition

Why do so many people who talk about one day writing a book fail?

Because finding those first words to mark on an otherwise empty page is a thousand times tougher to do when you decide this time you are going to start getting serious. Instead of writing anything, you simply sit there, staring at a white screen or a blank sheet of paper until you either get too frustrated, bored or otherwise called away by the real world. It can be brutal.

It’s not quite as hard as it is to stick with a novel weeks and weeks later when you’ve reached that saggy center typically devoted to world building, supporting character development or introducing the occasional red herrings, and all you want to do is move on to the next big idea, but pretty darn close.

But back to the empty page.

One of the reasons it is so difficult to get started is that many writers, myself included, feel pressure to shine with the very first line. There are a hundred, gazillion articles and pieces of advice out there (that’s likely an underestimate) on what you should do or not do when opening your story.

Don’t start with your character waking from a dream.

Do start with a flashy first hook of a line that will make the reader want to continue.

Failure to follow these rules, or open your story right will cost you, readers. credibility, sales. The love and respect of your family (who you suspect secretly wish you’d abandon this whole writing for a living dream and focus your effort on something more realistic – like getting the kids to school on time or paying bills). So, there’s no pressure to get it right or anything.

It took me a couple of tries, but eventually, I figured out a trick for getting over this fear –

Write the ABCs. Write your grocery list. Write absolute garbage. Just write something. I’ve found that words are like guests at a party. No one wants to be the first on a dance floor, but once one or two are out there and appear not to have a care in the world, the rest will follow.

That being said, I am now faced with an entirely new and unexpected writer problem.

You see, one of the benefits of my nice shiny new home is the fact I now have my own dedicated office where I can do all sorts of writerly things rather than force-fitting a forty to sixty-hour working week into a two-foot by two-foot square, partitioned from a larger room. The drawback is I haven’t had a clue what to do with all this extra space. It’s like the blank page staring at me, and I’m having a difficult time knowing where to get started.

The desk my other half so painstakingly made for me was built into the walls of our last place. Meaning, I am working with a relatively blank slate at the moment as far as furnishing goes. More specifically, I’m working off a card table.

Oh, and the zero key is still missing. Yes, its nothing but the best for me.

Logically, I know I solving at least one of those problems should be easy. I just have to find a desk I like and hope that the rest of the room’s design will soon follow. However, this is proving to be no simple task. It needs to be wide, but not too wide, as I want to be able to walk around it. With storage for my style guide and other tools, and I want it to be made of wood, but not the manufactured wood that falls apart the second you try to move it.

In short, I want it to be perfect. Hence, here I am, weeks later, paralyzed by indecision, still writing out the word zero and trying not to jostle the surface too much so as not to knock my coffee over. Even so, I’ve somehow managed to write close to 70K words on my latest work in progress (the third and final book of my Project Gene Assist series).

Part of me now worries changing my setup now will upset the creative muse (she is a fickle thing indeed), while another part is pretty sure I would be further along if I’d made a decision sooner. In either case, while I still have a long way left to go before I can say I am finished with this one, it’s, at least, a start. And the start is the hardest part indeed.

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The Move and a Bittersweet End To an Era

How much stuff can a single family acquire over a span of fifteen years? Quite a lot actually, as I’ve found out.

We’d been considering moving for a number of years – really ever since my youngest came home from the hospital when the diaper boxes alone threatened to fill a room, but there was always something. The timing was bad, the lot wasn’t right, or the location too far away from our jobs. So we’d put it off, and put it off, and put it off.

Though we eventually didn’t have to worry about rooms full of diapers, we still had plenty of other clutter to find places for. My husband heard about minimalism and gave it a try, clearing out his closet of all but the essential. He tried to work on mine too – but I’m not quite as committed to the cause.

We found new homes for baby toys, only for the free space to be filled with Hot Wheels. We sold off furniture that wasn’t being used. Big boy beds took their place. We got creative with things like Murphy desks and multi-use space. Our kids were inconsiderate enough to continue to keep growing.

But our kids weren’t the only things to change over the years – our house started to show its age too. First, the water heater went out. Then there was the indoor waterfall (though in defense of my house, that one wasn’t entirely its fault). Then the air conditioner failed – twice. Not to be outdone, the furnace went out too. It was one thing after another. Suddenly, I felt less like I was in my home and more like I’d fallen into the plot of the movie, the Money Pit.

Even so, I loved my house. Or at least, I loved my location. I loved how close we were to the greenway, the series of wooden paths that run through my city where you can go when you need help visualizing what the world might look like after the collapse of civilization. (Necessary research in my case). As much as I wanted more space, part of me didn’t ever want to move.

I loved my neighbors and the fact my kids could run out at nine in the morning and be outside all day without me worrying about things like traffic or sketchy individuals. Seeing them play with kids next door and down the street brought back memories of my childhood, back in years we won’t mention when the news was a lot less scary. The last thing I wanted was to jeopardize all that.

But as I said, the darn kids kept growing and no matter how much my husband (and to a lesser extent, I) was able to offload or rehome, it never seemed to be enough. So, love it or not, we kept an eye out for something else. Then one day, quite unexpectedly, we found something that checked all the boxes. As much as I hated the idea of moving away from our block, it was a place where I could envision an equally memorable future.

We arranged for movers. A representative walked through our soon-to-be former home and gave us an estimate, saying it wouldn’t be too bad as we didn’t have all that much. Later he would learn just how wrong he was.

The day of the move came. Our neighbor snapped a picture of the truck leaving, captioning it with a sweet goodbye. However, the joke was on her – we had to come back for three more loads before all was said and done.

I’m still in the process of unpacking and learning where the new light switches, scissors, and curiously enough, the trusted zero key on my keyboard are (the latter being particularly annoying), but the place is starting to fill more like my own. As much as I hated the physical process of moving fifteen years of stuff from one location to the next while wondering why I kept so much of it for so long in the first place, I’m looking forward to this next chapter.

I just hope that in fifteen years time, if we move again, I’ll take more memories with me than clutter.

 

Dragon NaturallySpeaking – A First Take & Quick Review

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One of the continuing challenges I faced over the years, and particularly so over the last several weeks leading up to the new year, has been trying to find time for my personal writing when more and more of my time was being taken up by other things. Luckily for me, Santa was kind enough to bring me a Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software.

Dragon is better than something like Word’s built-in word recognition because it not only asks you for your language during setup, it also asks you to specify your accent. The downside is it still isn’t omniscient out of the box. Therefore, in order to get it to work fully, you have to take the time to train it so it can adapt to you your dialect and your particular speaking patterns.

There are a few versions of the software: Home, Premium, and a version designed for medical transcription as well as variations that differ by included equipment. Mine came with a corded headset and installation disk, though I understand there are other versions out there with Bluetooth enabled devices for people who prefer to walk and talk.

I have a PC and was somewhat concerned that it wouldn’t support my operating system as it shows only Window 7 and Windows 8 icons on the box, especially when the program took ages upon ages to install. At one point during the installation, I started to wonder if I had missed a step. Maybe in order to get the program to launch, I was supposed to hold the box and walk into a firey pyre like Dany did in Game of Thrones in order to hatch her dragons. However, the installation meter did eventually move forward before it came to that and, at the end, I saw an ‘installation success’ message appear on my screen.

I’ve been playing with mine for a couple of weeks now and it’s getting a little less awkward each day, though I now suspect Her Royal Highness is rolling her eyes behind my back at my hypocrisy considering I always am asking her to tone it down when she talks to herself during the day. In my defense, her barking monologues don’t magically transform into written text on the screen.

Thus far, I haven’t had to add too many words to my dragon’s vocabulary, though I’ve been studying up on how best to train it (there are books on the subject specifically for writers). I can’t decide if it is a compliment regarding enunciation or more praise of the software’s programming. (I’m guessing the latter) That being said, it didn’t recognize the word Megalodon and instead returned ‘medic for all,’ when I said it. You might think this isn’t exactly a word that comes up in daily conversation, however, you don’t know my youngest. It comes up in our house. It comes up a lot.

(It also hasn’t recognized any of my swear words either – not that I use too many of them. Clearly, my dragon is of a genteel nature.)

Based on that experience, I realize that it may be a while before it (and I) am ready to tackle more traditional epic fantasy writing based on character names alone. Even so, I managed to write a full day’s personal word count quota in half the time, which is super promising. That even includes all the times I’ve had to go back and add punctuation manually as remembering to say the word comma or period while dictating isn’t natural for me yet either.

As a result, I am feeling quite good about what I might be able to achieve this year. I might even finish the first draft of book three in my Project Gene Assist series before the weather warms. Who knows?!? But if nothing else, at least know I’m trying.

Now, how about you? Are you trying anything new this year?

The Top Ten Tips for Writers That Have Day Jobs

Where do I find the time, is probably the number one question I get as a writer, full-time employee, and mom. These are some great tips for anyone who wants to write but isn’t quite ready (or able) to make the leap to full-time. Thanks, Don for putting this all together (and yes, I want to hear more about this marketing resource of yours).

Author Don Massenzio

Top ten text with shadow, word

Someday I would love to be a full-time writer, but for right now, I have a 50-60 hour a week day job that requires my attention so that annoyances like bills, mortgage payments, and insurance can be provided for. I’ve written and published ten books in the past five years while satisfying the demands of my day job. People always ask me how I do this, so here are some tips to help others that might be in this same predicament. I will expand on each of these within this post:

  1. Think about your writing during every minute that you have available
  2. Maximize your idle time
  3. Travel and free time
  4. Use your daily experiences to help you
  5. Claim your non-work time
  6. Sleep less
  7. Work on multiple writing projects simultaneously
  8. Outsource your marketing/advertising
  9. Automate your social media campaign
  10. Don’t give up

I hope this list is helpful. There may be other…

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Making the Best of the Heat of the Moment

making the best of the heat of the moment - www.alliepottswrites.comDo you ever have those moments … the ones that make you realize everything you’ve done over the past several weeks if not months was preparing you for this one specific day or hour?

I had one of those moments recently.

To properly tell you about it though, I need to go back to this summer. We’d invited another family over and decided after the sun began to set, we’d send the kids upstairs where they could watch a movie while the adults continued to chat downstairs.

I escorted the kids to the top of the stairs where I walked into an invisible wall of sauna-like heat. It quickly became apparent that our heater had taken it upon itself to rise up and rebel against the shackles of its thermostatic-overlord’s imposed peace treaty and instead do battle against its arch-nemesis the air conditioning unit. When I’d walked into the fray, both climatic titans had been doing battle for some time, however, the AC was now in a state of retreat.

We shut the unit off and opened all the windows, hoping beyond hope that the artificially heated air could find its way to the greater outside. It was too much to hope for. The ninety-degree temperatures lasted much of the night, and well into the following morning.

We called an HVAC repairman who let us know that a wire had gone bad. A few moments later the AC was once again running as it should. I thought peace had returned. I was wrong.

Fall decided to cut its time with us short this year, hopping over to winter before the leaves could even finish changing their colors. My husband grumbled and moaned about it but after listening to the children and I complain about the chill he begrudgingly went to turn on the heat. Only the heat didn’t come on.

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How is it already November?

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A day passed. Warmer than the last. Then another day. The chill returned. After a few more days of the atmospheric roller coaster, I asked my husband when he’d scheduled the follow-up appointment with the repair service. I learned he hadn’t. Then it grew colder.

My doorbell rang, sending Her Royal Highness into a frenzy. It was the same technician as the one who’d serviced the unit in the summer (who was deathly afraid of dogs – which of course meant HRH wouldn’t leave him alone). He told me it had to be the thermostat. I questioned that as I’d noted the thermostat wasn’t getting power so thought there had to be another problem.

Then he told me it could be the control board on the furnace or maybe still the wiring. He could fix it, he said, but it would be a two-man job and so he’d have to come back another day – which could be a while as they were rather backed up at the moment with other job orders.

I reluctantly agreed and found a sweater. What other choice did I have?

The downside of working from home is the fact that you don’t have the benefit of escaping to another location when things like this happen. While my kids got to thaw at school during the day and my husband was able to work up a sweat running his business, I, on the other hand, spent the next several days trying to write while I huddled next to an ancient space heater.

The weekend arrived. We’d agreed to go camping with the kids’ scout troop back when we thought we’d still be experiencing a Fall this year. It was in the sixties when we arrived at the site and set up our tent. The sun began to set as the troop built up a fire. The temperature dropped. And dropped. And dropped some more.

It was cold enough to allow me to see my breath inside my tent as I burrowed deeper and deeper into my sleeping bag and still the night grew colder. The temperature inside my home, unpleasant as it was, was nothing compared to this. What had we been thinking, agreeing to go camping in mid-November?

But we survived the night and returned home with memories of s’mores, camp songs, and a new pack of dental floss (an award from a campout game), so it wasn’t all bad.

The house was still chilly when we returned home – but it was far better in comparison to what we’d just “slept” through. The technician came back – this time with help. Unfortunately, even with help, the overall the system was still broken. I soldiered on. After all, I’d been through worse.

That is not to say I gave up and accepted my lot. Instead, we called another service who actually managed to correct the problem, though it cost a little of the extra money I would have rather spent on Christmas gifts. However, ten minutes later, I heard the magical whirl of a fan coming back online as heat descended from the ceiling vent. It was glorious.

When I stood around the campfire that night, I’d joked with the other campers that our heat situation had helped acclimate my body to the cold – as if all the days of shivering by my computer were leading up to this moment. However, the hours that followed, proved me wrong. This story doesn’t end with me being able to grit my teeth and deal with larger adversity thanks to a series of trials leading up to this grand event.

No, instead, what I’ve realized is it’s not enough to deal with and work through unpleasant surprises. You also have to be able to keep yourself from settling for less, when it truly matters, even if that sometimes means starting over. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again, and each time it has gotten a little less scary. And that’s a thought that may just keep me warm for many more days to come. (Though finally having a working HVAC system sure helps too.)