The Things You Learn

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in here, and I’m not sure when or if I’ll be writing more regularly. And this entry isn’t so much about writing, so if you’re wanting to learn more about that, please see some of my other entries! I haven’t had many topics that I’ve felt a need to blog about as far as writing goes unless someone asks me something, so I sort of hit a brick wall with that one.

No, this entry is about me and my disability and my journey with chronic pain. If that’s not something you want to read, I won’t be mad. After all, this really is a writing blog more than anything.

That said, I don’t think you have to be disabled to understand some of the lessons that disability teaches you. It’s just that being disabled means you don’t get a choice in learning them.

1) It’s necessary to say no.

Saying “no” has had to become a way of life for me. No, I can’t do this. No, I can’t do that. No, I can’t afford to do this or that. Even if I want to do something, I need to be aware of my limited reserves for what I can and can’t do, and I need to fiercely advocate for those reserves. That doesn’t mean I’m mean or rude, but… it’s okay and necessary to advocate for yourself.

2) How to advocate for myself.

Kind of piggy-backing off the last thing, I have needed to learn how to do more than just say “no.” I’ve needed to learn to stick up for myself against judges (I’m fighting for Disability), against doctors who want to do procedures or who will ignore what I say, against people suggesting I do Kale cleanses or other ridiculous things. For a very long time, I struggled with speaking up for myself, and I’ve learned how to do it the last few years in a way that is both healthy and effective.

3) The value of real friendship.

Until a friendship is tested, you can’t know how serious it is. When you’re disabled like I am, your friendships are tested. You can’t go to the movies as often. You can’t go out and do things. You can’t help them move if they’re moving. Of course, there are plenty of ways you can support and love your friends. A lot of the time I feel like I’m a burden to my friends because it feels like I’m constantly asking them for things or leaning too hard on them or… I’m sure you get the picture. That said, I am so, so blessed with amazing, loving, compassionate friends in my life. When I need to lean on them, they are there and sometimes know to catch me before I realize I’m falling.

4) Good days are all the sweeter.

When you have as many days where you need a cane or crutches to get to the bathroom as I do, you learn to appreciate the days where you can do things. Going out and sitting in my garden, enjoying a day where I can do something physical, having a good conversation with a friend, going out and seeing a movie. Most people take things like that for granted. They don’t need to wait for a special “good” day (that elusive unicorn) to do things like that. For me, I stop and smell the roses because a lot of the time, my garden’s pretty empty.

I know a lot of this sounds trite and even campy, but all of these things are true. I’ve had to learn them. And all of these things are valuable, and they become moreso when you need to rely on others for help the way I do.

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The Beat Sheet

Hey, everyone. I’m not dead, I’m just kind of quiet these days. I’ve been having some health struggles, and my livestream has been on hiatus pending some travel as well as a computer issue, so things have been pretty dead.

However, a friend of mine mentioned she’d tried to read about the Beat Sheet and felt a little lost in the explanation. I’ll be the first to admit that some people explain it in such a complicated manner that you’d need a literary degree to get it. And even then it’s questionable.

So, as per my usual thought process, my intent here is to break it down into simplicity. I did not come up with the Beat Sheet–that’s Blake Snyder, a renowned screenplay writer. In fact, the Beat Sheet was written for screenplay writers, so once you see this formula, you’ll never look at a story the same way again. I’d apologize, but I’m not really sorry for that. If you’re a writer, you need to look at story in an analytical manner. It can make going to the movies a little less exciting sometimes, since you can predict a lot of the plot, but I still enjoy it.

Anyway, for those of you who don’t know the Beat Sheet, it’s an outlining tool created by the aforementioned Blake Snyder. The essence of it is that it boils any story down into “beats”. These are the major points of the story. The function of this for writers is that it gives you a rough road map of where you should be and what your next beat should entail.

I know, you’re already squawking that it seems so limiting, and what about your creativity, and all that. But listen, we’ve been writing stories for thousands and thousands of years, and most of them follow the three-act structure. It’s just how we function as storytellers. This Beat Sheet is just a different distilling of that same structure that every story you’ve ever read (that’s any good) has. It’s how we, as a species, tell stories. I’m not limiting you, I’m giving you a canvas, paints, and a brush. You can put whatever you want in any collection of colors on that canvas, but the canvas and paints and brush and equipment are still the same.

Without further ado, let’s get into the Sheet.

Opening Image

This is the first thing we see in the story. In a movie, it’d be the opening shot or scene where we have our first contact with the world and with the characters in it. It should be something that catches the attention because you need to have something readers will want to stay in. This opening image is usually a scene. It’s not even a chapter long.

Set-Up

This is where we learn about the character’s life and world as it is, before the events of the plot, before things change. In video game terms, this is the tutorial. We learn about the way our world here works and what’s in it. You get a feel for things here and do a little world development. This is about a chapter, maybe two. (My chapters are about 1,700 words, so your mileage may vary.)

Theme Stated

This may have been done during the start-up. You don’t need to do this separate of the set-up phase. Though it can be done afterward. This doesn’t have to be a large section. It’s where you mention what the message of your story is. Don’t overthink it. The theme of your story might be something as simple as your main character wanting to find a love interest or something like that. While this sounds literary and hoity, it really means it’s kind of the space where you give the reader an idea of what kind of story you’re talking about.

Catalyst

This is where your story takes off. It’s where your female lead meets the man she’s going to marry or where the farmboy leaves the farm to become a great hero. Whatever kickstarts your story into happening is happening here. It’s the big leap from the world you’re in to the world you’re going to be creating through the story.

Debate

Change is scary. When the catalyst happens, your character will have some time where they have to figure themselves out and deal with what’s happening. They will deal with that reality in one way or another. Which is what the rest of the book is about. If they choose n ot to face whatever’s happening with the catalyst, then we won’t have much of a story. Even if they run from the catalyst, that can be part of the Debate.

Break Into Two

This is where we hit act two. That’s the hardest act for most writers to write. Welcome to it! This is where the character really starts their journey. We leave the world we established as their norm in the “Set-Up” beat and enter into where we are going. The character steps out onto the road and chooses to do the thing that will change their life.

B Story

This is where, if there’s going to be one, there’s a secondary story budding. If it’s a romance, we might be seeing the beginnings of a secondary plot. Maybe their conflict. If it’s another kind of story, it may prove to be a romance. Other times, it might be another things. “B” stories are a wide range of possible stories, and it’s a thing you can decide if you want to start or not. It’s not required.

The Promise of the Premise

This is the fun part of the story. It’s where the main character explores this new world, and the audience gets to enjoy it with them. This is exciting and a place where the reader and the character can enjoy the experience. It’s also where we get a full view of the world in the best way. If you’re going with the B Story, this might be where the romance is developed and begins to bloom.

Midpoint

Here’s where we hit a point in the story with two possible directions. Either everything in the world is great, or everything is terrible. Either the character has what they want, and it’s great or they don’t get what they thought they were at all and it’s awful. However, if they’re miserable it might be because they’re getting what they need and don’t realize that.

Bad Guys Close In

At this point in the story, all the negative things start creeping in. Whether the character was great or awful in the middle, things are changing. We have the antagonist, whoever (or whatever) this is, ramping up their work. Tension at this point needs to start climbing toward the climax of the story.

All Is Lost

This is the opposite of the midpoint, if everything is great. At this point, the character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained (or are afraid they have), or they realize everything they have now has no meaning. Whatever it is, they have a hard, sharp realization where something changes. Whether it’s the character being trapped somewhere and believing all was lost or whether they’re dealing with a huge falling out with the romantic interest or… what have you, it’s up to the story. But something big is going down.

Dark Night Of The Soul

Just after the realization that everything has gone wrong and that “all is lost” the character will grieve. They may feel hopeless, or desperate. They’ll be lost. And they are mourning. A mentor, a goal, a romance… something is gone, and they’re hurting from it. However, at this point, the closing of act two, they need this loss in order to pick themselves up and try again.

Break Into Three

They come through this period of mourning and discover a fresh perspective. Something changes and punches through whatever drew them into the dark night. They choose to try again and move forward. Things change. Progress is made because it can’t rain all the time.

Finale

This is where the tension is at its peak. The character has escaped certain doom and misery. They are now doing what needs to be done and finishing their fight. Everything between the “A” story and the “B” story is coming together here, and they are using that strength to create an ending for themselves. If this is a series, this doesn’t mean every single thread is wrapped up, but the main story is heading there.

Final Image

The last moment of the story where we see how everything has changed. Where the character is now. The moment that defines their future.

Update and Change of Scenery

Hey there, everyone! I’m sorry I haven’t been in here recently. To be honest, blogging has sort of fallen by the wayside. I may pick this up again at some point, but with how hectic life has become, I don’t know that I have the mental space for it right now.

The good news, however, is that I do a weekly live stream over on Insomnia Publishing’s Facebook page. I cover a lot of the things I’d cover in blogs here, and I answer questions live. The streams take place Sundays at 9pm. The streams are saved, too, so you can binge watch my insanity. I am also interviewing authors and other folk in the industry, so you don’t just hear my voice. Stay tuned for more of that in the future!

Using Social Media As A Professional

Social media is a seductress that sucks away tons of time we could be using for writing. However, it is also a useful tool for marketing. I’m not going to talk about limiting your time on social media or any of that. I’m also not here to talk to you about how to market using social media. That’s the realm of social media marketing guru, Kristen Lamb. No, indeed, my focus is a little different.

I have many authors, publishers, editors, and other professionals in the writing industry as friends on Facebook. They are also people whose news feeds are full of all kinds of things. Now, many of them use separate accounts (or pages) to distinguish their writing profession from their personal Facebook where they connect with friends and family. However more just use one social media account to serve both purposes. Most of this post will be focused on Facebook rather than the other social media outlets because Facebook is the one I am most active on. I find Twitter hard to follow and keep up with, and LinkedIn requires you to pay to play for a lot of their good services. Neither are bad platforms, but they just aren’t the one I’ve cultivated the most. However, this list of thoughts on social media use should be universal for all platforms.

1) Use your privacy settings.

I know a few people on Facebook who have their accounts set as public. That means everything they write goes to everyone in the world. While that can be useful and beneficial for some things, if you’re melding personal and professional that means you need to take an extra degree of care regarding what you post because everyone with an internet connection can view what you say. That means you absolutely should not  post very personal things on Facebook with that setting. If you had a fight with your partner, if you had a bad day you want to vent about, if you plan on using a lot of profanity (and that’s not part of your author platform)… you need to think about all those things and who is going to see them.

2) Think Before You Post

Before you put anything on your account, consider how it might impact your brand. For example, I do not post anything with profanity to my Facebook wall whatsoever (though if there’s some in an article, I’ll put a warning and maybe share the article anyway). I also explicitly avoid the topic of politics and do not permit political discussions on any of my Facebook posts. Why? Because they turn into arguments faster than you can say “this was a bad idea.” Now, some authors view their political activities as part of their world and don’t care if they are divisive enough to turn off readers whose opinions differ. That is a perfectly valid standpoint, but make absolutely certain that whatever you post, you do so with attention and care.

3) Know your posts will be scrutinized by potential clients/buyers

Yep. You can think, “Oh, this is my personal space to mouth off,” but you’d be wrong. The minute you start selling your book, you must begin selling yourself. That means everything you post in a public medium will immediately become a factor in whether or not someone will purchase your book or your service. If you’re a publisher or editor, authors will immediately start thinking about whether or not you are someone they want representing your book. This also includes whether or not you write in coherent English. If, as an editor or publisher, you are consistently writing posts that have major errors (which couldn’t be explained by autocorrect or typos), folks will throw red flags all over the place and not work with you.

4) Double-check all sources for articles

Due to the increased amount of scrutiny your page will receive by your audience, you need to make sure your sources and content are quality. If you are consistently posting fake news stories (the Onion doesn’t count), it will hurt your image as someone who can be trusted. This also includes industry stories and information. If you’re sharing information, make sure it’s vetted or at least overtly labeled as opinion. There’s nothing wrong with sharing opinion pieces, just make sure you aren’t sharing opinion as dyed-in-the-wool fact.

5) Know that everything you post reflects on your platform

Everything. When you are on social media, every single thing you post (and everything that could show in your news feed to others, like comments you make on friends’ posts) reflects on your platform and can either help or hurt. There’s a reason I exclusively post silly, positive, friendly things on my Facebook. That’s my choice, though, not something I’m mandating for everyone. Just make sure you’re aware that every single thing you post or share will impact the opinion of your readers. That choice is yours alone to make, however.

In the end, social media is what you make of it. You must make your own decisions about what you share or do not share, what you say, and what you do. If you rant and rave and curse and scream… well, that’ll impact the sorts of people who want to work with you or read your books. If you are sharing vulgarity, nudity, sexually charged material, or deeply political posts, that’ll affect them too. As an author, you need to view things differently because you are, essentially, a small business owner. The product you are selling is yourself and your work. If you want people to invest in you, work with you, or purchase your products, you need to be appealing. Your social media account (unless you separate one out that’s just friends/family) is no longer a private space for you to express yourself. Put that idea right out of your head. If you need a place where no one will judge, comment, or have the right to use that information to determine if they want to work with you then lock down your social media and/or get a diary. We all need to unload sometimes, but as authors we need to be careful how we go about it!

Crabs In A Bucket

I received a rather salty (unfriendly) comment on an old blog today that read as an author who had been either mistreated by the publishing industry venting or an author who hated published authors and everyone associated with them because they hadn’t been successful in that route. While I understand frustration when the industry mistreats an author (and saying “no, we don’t want your book,” is not mistreating authors), there’s no need to take it out on others.

I came across the phrase “crabs in a bucket” in a fabulous editing group I’m part of on Facebook, and I thought maybe it was time to address something I’ve been witnessing more and more as social media continues its roll into the gutters of human interaction: Authors being jerks to others because they feel it somehow validates them. Like so many other people in the world (and bullies on the grade school playground), there are those who believe that tearing others down will raise them up. Let me make it very clear: that does not work.

The term comes from a phenomenon where if you put more than one crab in a bucket, they will try and climb over one another in an effort to escape the bucket and, thereby, get nowhere. And that’s exactly what the sort of vitriol I received today accomplished: nothing. They received a polite response from me, because I don’t find it helpful or positive to be unfriendly in return, but their point is no closer to validation than it was before.

In this day and age, I have seen it happen everywhere that authors will teach each other down and kick each other as they try to gain the almighty dollar. Writing groups are full of petty, bickering jerks who make snide comments about work and writing without having understanding of the industry or the art. Twitter and Facebook are full of people ready to tear an author apart over a misplaced comma in a novel where there were 50,000 correct commas. We have developed this thought that if we see something we don’t like in someone else’s book that we have to tear them apart. It comes from this mentality that there is only so much attention to go around, and every author has to fight for the slightest shred of attention.

IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. STOP.

While it’s true that not every book will find its audience and there is a finite amount of money, resources, and reading time available, what will really set you apart from others is how good your book is, how well it’s produced, and how well you market it. Tearing down the author next to you is like punching the runner beside you in a marathon. It’s wrong, it’s not going to help you much in the end, and eventually everyone’s going to either ostracize you or get together and destroy you. Doing this kind of thing will hurt your brand. As such—STOP DOING IT.

That said, if you encounter something very wrong (an editor who is charging for subpar work, a publisher who behaves in predatory ways, a cover designer who takes off with your money, etc.) then you should by all means speak up about it. I’m not saying this to encourage people to be silent about real issues facing the industry and individuals who are taking advantage of others. However, we should address these things in a professional manner rather than making salty comments on the blogs of individuals. There are places and ways to make those things known and to research folks with whom you tend to work. There are also litmus tests you can do to see if the people you’re working with are legitimate. I’ve covered those in previous blogs and would be happy to do so again.

Authors, publishers, editors, typesetters, designers, marketers—we’re all in this together. We’re all in this to publish books and put them out in front of audiences. We’re all in this to make money (you wouldn’t publish otherwise). Other than expelling predatory folks from our midst, we should be in this to help each other. The more support we can provide one another, the better off the whole industry is altogether. Stop tearing each other down and work on your own skills, talent, and contacts. Improve yourself, and stop trying to yank others back because it will not improve your chances. You will not succeed that way.

When Writing Isn’t What You Thought

I encountered an article published by an author who has (according to this), given up the ghost when it comes to novels. The tone is bitter, angry, and selfish. While I wouldn’t critique someone’s private blog or Facebook rant about their frustrations regarding publishing, this being published in the Guardian is a little different. So, I’m going to write a response to the ghost of the author of this article because, honestly, I think this response has been brewing for years:

Get over it and grow up.

Writing isn’t a “sport” for the weak-willed and the narcissistic. You will be rejected often and hard, and you’ll have to kill your darlings. You have to give up the idea of your “opus” until you’ve been published at least a few times before. The thing is, the market doesn’t care about your artistic vision. It doesn’t care how you feel about your book. It doesn’t care about anything but whether or not the world wants to read it. I know that sounds jaded, but it’s true. If you are writing for external validation and for public acclaim, you will fail. If you write with an ego and expect the world to see your genius like you do, you will fail.

So what do you write for? What’s the point?

Because you want to get better. Because you have a story to tell. Because you’re passionate about writing. There are a hundred reasons to write, and they’re a hundred good ones. Write without an ego. Write without trying to live up to others’ expectations. Write regardless of what anyone tells you. Write a hundred novels no one but you will ever read. Pour your blood, sweat, and tears into your art for no one but yourself. Once you’re there, once you’re doing that, you’re starting to get the idea.

Writing is not easy. So many people assume you can just pick up and write without studying. Just because you can put coherent words into your word processor doesn’t make you a writer. What makes a writer is dedication. It’s writing through difficult times, it’s study, it’s practice. No artist of any kind ever produced pure gold without practice and study. So many folks seem to think writing is exempt from that reality, and it’s not. If you want to be a good writer then you need to do the same thing you’d do to learn to paint or learn an instrument. You find a teacher or mentor, you study, you practice, you learn how to use language and make it sing for you.

Writing is not something you can just pick up and do just because you feel like maybe you want to put something on paper. If you want to be a writer, if you want to be successful, if you want writing to be your vocation, then strap in, hike up your big boy/girl panties so high they’re at your chin, and join the rest of us in the trenches.

Tenents of Storytelling

My dear friend Helen keyed on a phrase I used in my last entry: tenants of storytelling. She asked me to enumerate them, and since then I’ve been trying to come up with a list of commandments for writers. Now, keep in mind that there is almost always a time to break the rules, but you need to understand them before you do that. These are also not rules for just the craft of writing, but for plot and story, so I’m going to leave my crunchy nitpickiness regarding the Oxford comma at home. You can thank me for that later. Winking smile Let’s get to it!

Don’t write yourself into corners through poor planning.

Many authors end up using poor storytelling because they didn’t make a plan for their plot before they wrote it and then didn’t know how to get out of the corner they’d written themselves into. They then rely on deus ex or other means to squirm out of it. The way you avoid this is by having a plan for your story before you execute it. That isn’t to say you need to plan every tiny aspect of your plot, but if you don’t have a clear goal to write toward (your ending), you’ll probably end up with problems.

Over-complicating doesn’t make your story “complex” in a good way.

Some writers end up coming up with too many ideas and trying to stuff them all into a single book. This leads to a book turning into a catastrophe with so many threads the reader (and even author) end up lost and confused about just what is happening in the world of the characters. That isn’t to say complicated plots with multiple threads all happening at once are bad, but take care that you aren’t being complicated just because you have story ADD and aren’t focused on readability.

Some writers also develop the mistaken impression that this kind of thing makes your story “complex” in a positive way (like Game of Thrones). While complexity is good in the right circumstances, it needs to be woven well. Complexity doesn’t happen just because you have a high quantity of things happening all at once.

Not keeping your pacing moving.

Some authors run into issues where the plot either goes rushing by so quickly the readers don’t quite follow it or they drag things on so long the reader develops cobwebs. Now, pacing issues can be a function of poor writing rather than just storytelling, but sometimes it can be due to storytelling. A writer might not quite know how to get from Point A to Point C, so they meander around in the swamp trying to find their way out. That’s fine to do when you’re writing a first draft, but too often writers leave that kind of thing in the final draft and try to drag readers with them while they try to figure things out.

Confusing transitional scenes or lack of transitional scenes.

I’ve encountered manuscripts where the writer gives the reader no transition whatsoever between one scene and another. One moment the character is on the subway, the next they are in a hotel. No scene break, no mention of the character getting off the subway and into the hotel, nothing. Again, recognizing that this is fine in the first draft (you should see how many things I leave out when I write a first draft!), folks often overlook them in subsequent drafts and never go back to repair that lack of transition. It’s confusing as heck because it’s like a camera cutting from one scene to another without warning or indication they’re entering a new place.

Inconsistency within the manuscript.

A character whose height, weight, name and personality change through the manuscript is going to raise red flags. That isn’t to say a character can’t develop (they should), but if it’s just because the writer forgot something, it proves an issue. However, if characters are acting inconsistent with how you have created them just because you have plot needs and didn’t put together how to make it work… Well, you can see the issue.

Relying on clichés is a problem.

Most writing will employ some measure of cliché. They aren’t, innately, a bad thing, but many writers rely on these tropes too hard and pidgeonhole their characters, which makes their work predictable. Now, anyone familiar with stories can often see the direction of a plot—that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean clichés like “the butler did it”.

Even the best plots won’t go anywhere with poor pacing.

Pacing is a difficult thing to get on point. You don’t want to crawl through a scene, but you also don’t want to sprint, either. Pacing is also not just the speed of the scene, but it’s also in the technical aspects of the writing (passive voice or passive construction, for example!), so it’s a many-faceted issue. I’m not going to dig too hard into pacing in this post, since I could write a whole blog entry just on pacing. Suffice to say, pacing is somewhat of a nuanced subject, but the thing that’ll trip up an author most is not being aware of it.

Now, ultimately, most rules of writing are loose in some ways. These, however, are pretty strict so far as I am concerned. They’re loose in the sense that you can avoid them in a myriad of ways, but these aren’t rules to be broken. The only one that gives you much wiggle room is the clichés one because you can use cliché in satire and some other genres if you’re doing it almost as a parody of the fact that it’s a cliché.

If you would like me to elaborate on any of these points, please just ask in the comments section, and I’ll talk your ear off for you!