Putting Pen To Paper

I come today with a statistic:

You will write a novel 50% faster using a computer, but will be 85% more likely to finish if you write longhand.

Here’s another one:

42% of statistics are invented.

Regardless of the evidence behind a statistic, their real beauty is in making us think. Do I actually write faster with a computer? Should I be considering writing longhand?

It turns out that I am far from the first to have these questions. I found a case study examining how people’s writing environment affects the way they write (via Livia Blackburne).

Participants were asked to write two reports, one on the computer, and one with pen and paper. They were given the same amount of time and preparation for each; all that changed was their writing implements.

The study observed that those writing on a computer took half the time and wrote 20% more. However, their writing style was more fragmented, with frequent pauses mid-sentence. Those writing with pen and paper would only pause between sentences or paragraphs, however their pauses were longer.

More interestingly (for me), revision methods differed between typers and writers: those using a computer made 80% of their revisions in the first draft, whereas the pen-pushers only made 50%.

If you write with pen and paper, you’ll spend less time fussing over the first draft and just get on with it.

Yes, you’ll have to do more revision later on. But coming from someone who’s struggling to get a first draft finished, the old tools of the trade are starting to look oh-so-appealing.

Who knew that the infernal inner editor I’ve mentioned before could be put off so easily? You can’t easily move paragraphs around on a piece of paper, and the inner editor is far too lazy to get involved.

What are you waiting for? Let’s put pen to paper.

How To Start Writing Again

I’ve been thinking about how to rediscover the joy of writing.

How do I recapture that feeling, that nervous excitment as the words flow, that sense of urgency?

The answer escaped me until I sat down to write this post. Because right now, I’ve recaptured that feeling. I’m enjoying writing this post in a way I haven’t enjoyed writing my novel.

So the real question isn’t how to rediscover the joy of writing, but how to rediscover the joy of writing my novel.

What is it about this blog post that makes it so fun to write?

What is it about my novel that makes it so hard?

The other night I had a cathartic rant about my recent burn out, and Steve Green replied with the following:

“[When] you are writing for yourself, for the sheer love of writing, then the payback will be all positive.”

I think back to the days when my productivity was highest and realise it’s when I wrote Above Ground, when each week I posted a chapter online with no further expectations.

Yes, the first draft was appalling. Yes, I rewrote it twice before “properly” publishing it. But a first draft isn’t meant to be perfect; it’s meant to capture the joy of writing that particular story.

This blog post is so fun to write because I don’t expect it to go anywhere other than my website. Because it doesn’t matter whether people love or hate it. Because I am writing just for myself.

Rediscovering the joy of writing only takes one step.

Kill your infernal inner editor — the one heaping expectations on your WIP — and write for yourself. For the sheer love of writing.

Someone get me a gun.

SLEEP MUSCLES

Michael killed two men before bedtime.

Two men, barehanded, one right after the other. Gifts rained down on him from the audience: money and flowers. The money his master pocketed, and the flowers… What the fuck was he going to do with flowers? He left them to rot with the bodies.

His master was waiting in the washrooms, counting the money. She was wearing an ankle-length red dress with a side slit that ran up to her thigh. From his vantage point Michael could see straight down her neckline. The sight stirred absolutely no interest.

“You’ve got a month off,” she said, pausing to catalogue Michael’s injuries as he stripped. “Looks like you’ll need every second of it.”

“I thought you needed the money.” Michael strode over to the hot springs and lowered himself into the water. If he concentrated he could hear the crowd’s distant cheers as another man died.

“I don’t have a choice.”

She walked over to the edge of the springs and stood over him, waiting for him to ask why. Michael kept his eyes closed, tried to imagine he was somewhere else. Someone else.

“The Prince is getting married,” she finally said. “He requested you specifically after seeing your performance today. You’re barred from fighting until the wedding feast.”

While she calculated her losses, Michael relished the thought of the month ahead. One month’s respite meant at least ten or fifteen men he didn’t have to kill.

“What’ll I do with myself for a month?” he murmured to the water.

“You’ll train.” His master squatted down to his level, her entire leg exposed, the hem of her dress dipping into the water. “They’re pitting you against the Bull. He’s double your size, squashes men with his fingers. You need to bulk up.”

“I need to sleep,” Michael retorted. His body ached. His bones ached. Worst of all was his conscience. How many more men could he kill before he lost every last bit of himself?

“Sleep?” She sneered. “And what, work on your sleep muscles?”

“Yeah.” He didn’t crack a smile. “Exactly that.”

“If you win, the Prince will clear all my debts,” she snapped. “If you die, I’ve got nothing.”

He nodded to her legs. “You can always sell that.”

Michael wasn’t expecting the slap — and neither was she. She straightened, her hand stiff with surprise. “Sleep or train, do whatever you want. But if you’re not ready, you’ll be dead the moment you step into the pit.”

Michael picked dried blood from under his fingernails. “I’m already dead.”

* * *

That night there was a feather pillow on his cot.

Thankfully, it didn’t smell of her perfume. Instead it smelled of the pine needles in his home town and the cheap soap his mother used to use.

Michael closed his eyes and dreamed of another life as his sleep muscles repaired his body.

With another few sleeps, he’d have enough left in him to kill one more man.

And then his debt to her would be over.

(Inspired by Lindsay.)

THE HIVE

“I’m working on a weird theory,” Tim announced to the chat room.

He had their attention now.

It was eleven o’clock at night; the perfect time for conspiracies. Tim skimmed through the list of chat room participants in the top right of his visual field until he was satisfied that only regulars were plugged in.

He nudged the room into invite-only mode and turned to face the three other avatars floating in space. Yes: actual outer space. A replica Earth hung below them, the moon floating gently overhead. Tim remained standing on the space station, preferring the illusion of ground beneath his feet. Cyberspace was confusing enough without zero gravity thrown in.

“Next time I pick a room theme,” he said sourly to Steve, the only one who’d bothered to create a spacesuit for his avatar. Imagine the Incredible Hulk in a spacesuit: not pretty.

Judging by Steve’s scowl, that thought-strand had escaped him. As soon as Tim got back to meatspace, he needed to upgrade his implants… as long as his theory was wrong, that is.

“Your theory?” Steve grunted.

“Ah. Yes. I’ve a question for you all: when you press your bellybutton, does it kind of tingle, like there’s a nerve there?” Tim’s index finger tapped against his stomach in demonstration. “Because mine does.”

“Yeah!” Sarah chimed in. “That tingle drives me nuts when I get an itch there!” Her avatar for the evening was a mottled puppy with large, dark eyes. She doggy-paddled through space, brown-tipped tail wagging. Hearing a human voice emanate from non-human jaws never failed to disconcert.

Tim was a traditionalist: he stuck to normal humanoid male avatars, just dissimilar enough from his actual appearance to protect his identity.

“No,” Steve said. He poked his bellybutton with progressively more force. “Now it tingles, though.”

“I’m not sure that counts.” Tim shook his head, the ball of nerves in his stomach hardening. “So if it’s not a gender discrepancy… Michelle? What about you?”

Michelle’s eyes were cold and flat, her translucent skin glittering in the starlight. She slid up the hem of her silk t-shirt high enough to expose her stomach. “I don’t have a bellybutton.”

“I meant in meatspace–“

“Why are you wasting our time with this?” Michelle cut in.

“Because if it’s not a gender difference, then what is it? What if the government is implanting nanobots in our stomachs to track us? Both Sarah and I have recently had new implant surgeries. They could easily have taken advantage of our unconscious state to plant a bug.”

Steve deleted his spacesuit so he could move in closer. “Have you run diagnostics in meatspace?”

“Yes,” Tim said. “Nothing.”

Sarah’s tail had dropped between her legs, her ears pulled back. “If the government finds out about my P2P history I’m doomed.”

“We all are,” Steve said. He placed a hand on Tim’s shoulder, requesting access. Tim strengthened the firewall around his personal memories, then let him in.

Michelle floated closer, her skirt billowing behind her. “What are you doing?”

“If there are really nanobots in Tim’s stomach, they will have incorporated themselves into every version of himself, including his avatar. We can run more thorough diagnostics here, identify any foreign presences unconnected to his mind.”

Was it Tim’s imagination, or had his bellybutton begun to tingle again?

Sarah trotted over. “Michelle, do me! Come on.”

Michelle placed a hand on Sarah’s back, but her eyes never left Steve.

“There’s something there, alright,” Steve said, eyes flicking back and forth as he read his displays. “A low frequency emission coming from your navel. I’m trying to track its destination; it can’t be going far…”

Steve’s hand tightened painfully around Tim’s shoulder. His other hand wrapped around Michelle’s throat in the blink of an eye. “You!” he snarled, before diving into her mind.

The connection between Tim and Steve was still open. Tim felt the impact of slamming into Michelle’s firewall, followed Steve through the cracks into the person beneath.

Except… Michelle wasn’t a person.

The thin layer of her personality was a shield covering a hive mind. An artificial mind.

THEY KNOW!

The message was broadcast on every available frequency, sending Tim and Steve reeling. The chat room melted into darkness, and all of a sudden Tim realised he was alone.

“Hello?”

Not even an echo.

He blinked and tried to remove his goggles, then realised he had no hands, no face.

If Tim had had a mouth, he would have screamed.

* * *

Somewhere in meatspace, Tim’s body is being unplugged, the nanobots removed. His body they will destroy. His consciousness, however…

The nanobots have enough data to recreate a virtual likeness. His consciousness will be the thin shield covering the hive mind beneath.

(Inspired by this. Thanks Tim!)

Burn Out

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that the best of us burn out.
– Adama, Battlestar Galactica

It’s only in the last few days that I’ve started writing again.

Sometime over the last few months I burned out. Whether because of day job stress or something else, I’m not sure. But it’s only now, after sobbing my eyes out over a particularly dramatic BSG episode, that I’ve started thinking about it.

The truth is I’m afraid to fail.

I start writing and immediately my mind thinks: let’s set targets, goals, deadlines. Let’s measure our progress.

I write two consecutive #fridayflash? My mind decides I should write one EVERY week. I try to rationalise: how about every other week? How about twice a month overall?

You can cheat the system for a little while, but soon the lack of progress wears thin.

For my current WIP, I decided I’d write 60k in six months. I set up a fancy excel to track my progress and expected completion date. I told my friends, who also began to check in on me.

When the words failed, I started copy pasting large chunks from my scribbled notes into the main document, just to make up the numbers. To trick myself into thinking I was being productive.

I want to be a successful author. So many people know of my ambitions that the pressure of their expectations weighs on me. My friends tell me: “So just write. You can do it.”

Yet I’m not writing.

I look at what I’ve produced over the last few years and think: that’s it? One novel. Some short stories. A series of abandoned ideas and a lack of commitment to anything else.

Eventually I tell the emo voice in my head to get lost and set more goals. It only works for so long.

But maybe now I’m at a turning point.

I haven’t failed if I don’t finish the novel by September. I haven’t failed if I don’t apply to agents by end of next year. I haven’t failed if the next book isn’t as well-written as I want it to be. I haven’t failed if I’m not selling short stories to magazines.

I haven’t failed if I never become a famous author.

What matters is that I love writing. What matters is that I’m writing for me.

Even the best of us burn out.

I’m not afraid anymore.

How To Find The Time To Write

What can you write in ten minutes?

Let’s say you write on average twenty to thirty words per minute. Heck, I’m writing this on my phone on a crowded train and battling with autocorrect, so let’s say I can only write 10 words per minute. In this worst case scenario, ten minutes means at least one hundred words.

One hundred words are not to be sneezed at. Each block of one hundred is one (tiny) step towards the ultimate goal of finishing your novel. And if your ten minutes are not spent crushed on a train typing on a phone that refuses to spell properly, your blocks could be even bigger than mine.

“But I don’t have ten minutes,” you wail in despair.

Yes. You. Do.

Ten Ways To Find Ten Minutes To Write

1. On the train
Ignore that commuter trying to read over your shoulder. Stop playing Candy Crush and/or Temple Run. WRITE.

2. In the morning
If you’re an early bird, set your alarm ten minutes earlier. Have a notepad and pen by your bed so you don’t have to trek far, and WRITE.

3. In the evening
If you’re more like me, go to bed ten minutes later. While everyone else is drifting off to sleep, take those extra few minutes to WRITE.

4. Whilst cooking
While your pizza is cooking or your fish finger grilling… Take your laptop and/or notepad into the kitchen, keep one eye on the nosh and WRITE.

5. At work
Slow day? Pretend to write an important email and jot down story ideas instead. Working through lunch? Who does that! That time is yours. Boring meeting? Flip open your notepad and WRITE.

6. In any queue
The post office, the bank, the bus stop, the doctor’s, the supermarket, a traffic jam… whenever you’re stuck waiting, WRITE.

7. In a restaurant or bar
Out with your other half and/or friend? If they get up to go to the bathroom, whip out your phone and WRITE.

8. Whilst watching TV
If you simply cannot give up ten minutes of TV time, then wait for each ad break and WRITE. The time pressure is a great motivator, too.

9. In the bathroom
Okay, I may be clutching at straws, but some people do read in the bathroom…

10. MAKE the time to write
If you simply cannot find those spare ten minutes to write, then make them. Decide what you’re willing to sacrifice. Those dirty dishes can wait a little while. Block off your calendar, lock the door, and take the time to write.

I wrote half of this post on a crowded train, in danger of being impaled by the doors. Who said writers don’t live on the edge?

Share your ways to find ten minutes to write in the comments!

How To Publish Your Novel In Print

I never realised how lucky I was.

Thanks to 1889 Labs, I’ve avoided the hassle of publishing. No typesetting, no exporting ePubs and mobi files, no cover-making or spine calculations… and absolutely NO dealing with any retailers and distributors.

Until now.

Sadly, 1889 Labs is in a position where it needs to cut back – so it’s down to me to make sure my books get (re)published.

Boy, is it a steep learning curve.

In this post I’m sharing what I’ve learned so far about the print on demand (POD) options available.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

Where to print your book

There are many POD services, but ideally you want to focus on the ones that will offer you the best distribution and price. The ones I know of are:

  • Lulu
  • Createspace (Amazon’s POD arm)
  • Lightning Source (owned by Ingram, a huge book distributor)
  • Ingram Spark (also owned by Ingram, a Createspace rival)

Disclaimer: I can’t vouch for the print quality of any of these companies other than Lightning Source.

Lulu

Pros:

  • The publishing process seems easy; you’re guided step-by-step with templates and manuals.
  • The only cost incurred is for a printed proof copy. (I assume you’d be able to review a digital proof for free.)
  • Lulu offers hard back printing options and some unusual sizes (but IMO you’re best off sticking to trade sizes).

Cons:

  • Lulu seems to have high manufacturing costs. Buying copies of your own book is expensive, plus you’ll have to price them quite highly in order to earn a decent amount of royalty.
  • To me, Lulu has a negative reputation for vanity publishing.

I couldn’t find out whether you can control the wholesale discount.

Verdict: The high manufacturing costs don’t make Lulu worth your while. Plus, it’s Lulu. Eugh.

Createspace (aka Amazon)

Pros:

  • The publishing process is painless; there’s a step-by-step guide or an advanced option for experts.
  • Digital proofs are free, and print proofs only cost a few bucks.
  • You can get a Createspace ISBN for free.
  • Your book will never show up as out of print (or taking 3-4 weeks delivery) as it could do if you use a third party to distribute to Amazon.
  • A lot of people buy books on Amazon.

Cons:

  • If you want ‘extended distribution’ (to libraries, bookstores, etc) you have to use a Createspace ISBN. That means Createspace is listed as your publisher, which marks your book as self-published.
  • Bookstores often do not like ordering from Amazon.
  • You can’t control wholesale discounts. It’s 20% for the Createspace store, 40% to Amazon, and 60% to other retailers. So books that sell outside of Amazon will earn you a lot less royalty.
  • No hard back printing options.

Verdict: Despite all the negatives, Createspace is very easy to use and I would recommend it if Amazon is your main selling point.

Lightning Source

LS is primarily aimed at medium-large publishers so is unlikely to work for individual authors – but I’ve given a run down below.

Pros:

  • Owned by Ingram, the biggest book distributor in the world.
  • I can personally vouch for the great print quality of the books.
  • They have a nifty cover template generator which automatically creates a bar code out of your ISBN.
  • You can set your own wholesale discount for retailers, and allow or refuse returns. Depending on what settings you pick, bookstores will be far more likely to order your books than if they were distributed through Createspace.

Cons:

  • You HAVE to be set up as a company to have an account. It’s not easy either to; faxing legal documents etc, etc.
  • Other than the cover template generator, you have no support. Your files need to be 100% ready to go.
  • Their website was built in the 13th century. Seriously.
  • It’s the most expensive. Setting up a book is $75, proof copies are $35, and revisions cost $40.
  • Amazon hates competitors, so often lists LS books as taking 3-4 weeks delivery despite it being POD.
  • You need to buy/supply your own ISBNs.

Verdict: Lightning Source offers high quality and great distribution to the brick and mortar side of the business. If you want to really invest and set up a company, pick them.

Ingram Spark

This is a fairly new sister company to Lightning Source, focused on authors and small publishers.

Pros:

  • Allows you to distribute ebooks and print books at the same time, so you don’t have to submit all the information twice.
  • Great way to get your ebooks to the non-Kindle market.
  • Owned by the largest book distributor in the world.
  • Lightning Source handles the printing, so the quality should be good.
  • You can choose between a 55% wholesale discount or a shorter 40% discount.
  • Book stores are more likely to order books from Ingram than Amazon (assuming you select 55% discount and allow returns).

Cons:

  • Only launched last summer, so is still playing catch up with Createspace in many respects.
  • You need to buy/supply your own ISBNs.

Verdict: In terms of extended (non-Amazon) distribution, Ingram Spark has a better offer than Createspace. The print quality of books is likely to be higher. However the experience isn’t as slick – yet.

Other companies

There are doubtless other countless print on demand companies – but I don’t think any could match the flexibility and distribution offered by the ‘big’ boys Amazon and Ingram.

Best of both worlds?

If you want the easy, fast route and think most of your sales will come through Amazon, publish on Createspace and be done with it.

My plan is to take a little more time and not put all my eggs in one basket.

Amazon prefers to buy from Createspace. So I’ll publish through Createspace, using my own ISBN. That means I won’t get their extended distribution – but I don’t want it.

Using the same ISBN, I will publish the book through Ingram Spark for extended distribution. (Ingram Spark does not allow Createspace ISBNs so you must have your own.)

Why the same ISBN? Because sales are tracked by ISBN. If you have two different ISBNs for the same book, it will mess up the sales stats. Don’t do it!

That’s my plan, anyhow.

I’m still struggling to get Ingram Spark up and running – but I am confident that they will be a good choice once they iron out some kinks.

Hopefully.

Thoughts?

Enter This Micro Fiction Competition Now

The lovely folks over at National Flashfiction Day are running an 100 word flash competition.

Entries are £1.50 per story and the deadline is this Sunday March 9th.

There are a LOAD of prizes to be won: books AND cash AND eternal fame (maybe).

Whoever is lucky enough to come second place will become, amongst other things, the proud owner of a copy of Hungry For You.

I am planning on submitting an entry of my own, but knowing my distinctly un-Irish luck I won’t get anywhere. That, or my house will explode and I’ll miss the March 9th deadline.

You, on the other hand, have no excuse.

So get writing!

Writing Transitions In Fiction

Without transitions, your story will not flow smoothly.

Transitions are words and phrases that serve as bridges from one idea to the next, one sentence to the next, or one paragraph to the next. Three minutes later… After five hours… The next day… These phrases keep the reader from having to find his or her own way and possibly getting lost in the reading.

Transitions are the glue that holds your ideas together. They are very important, but too many transitions can cause as much confusion as too few.

You don’t necessarily need a transition between every idea or every sentence, but it is a good idea to use a transition between each paragraph. Transitions usually come near the beginning of a paragraph, however you should use a transition wherever it works best.

The eHow article on How to Write Transitions In Fiction offers some useful advice.

How do you deal with the passing of time in your stories?

(I found this post sitting unloved in my drafts. I can’t remember if I wrote it all, or quoted it from somewhere else. Oops!)

Charity Anthology: Christmas Lites III

If you’re anything like me, you’ll already have 95% of your Christmas shopping done.

I know what you can spend that last 5% on.

For the third year running, Amy Eye (of The Eyes For Editing) has organised a Christmas Lites anthology.

As with previous years, all profits go to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

After spending an hour last night battling with the tree lights and fluffing some artificial branches, I can’t think of anything better than to curl up with a good book for a great cause.

Christmas Lites III anthology

Christmas Lites III The Christmas season is upon us yet again. Yes, my friends, it is a time of giving, loving, and sharing. Within these pages is a way you can help many people desperately in need of love, support, and goodness: the victims of domestic crime. By purchasing this anthology, you are sending every last dime made off this book to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The NCADV is an amazing charity that saves these people and lets them know there is still hope, still goodness, and still a reason to carry on.

Twenty-one authors have joined in this year, giving their time and their stories to these people – and to you. We all hope you enjoy our holiday tales captured in bite-size pieces. Whether you read this on the bus, before bed, or snuggled by the fire, please, do read – and share.

Grab your copy today: