Tag Archives: tools

Writing Toolbag: Expectation Management

Sometimes your expectations can lead you astray...
Sometimes your expectations can lead you astray…

We’ve all been there, you’ve got all these grand ideas and images, you’re certain you have the best story, best thing ever.  You’re going to write it and awards, accolades and money are going to shower down from the heavens…

And then as you sit there in front of the computer, you feel that your writing is crap, that no one wants to read this drivel.  You try to write, but you’re too busy, you fall behind on your writing goals,

This is sort of how your loved ones feel when you're cranky about your writing.
This is sort of how your loved ones feel when you’re cranky about your writing.

you come to hate writing, even come to hate the people who said you should write.  Then the next thing you know you’re hacking a door down with a fire ax.

Okay, that last part might be a bit of an exaggeration.

The point is, you need to have some realistic expectations about your writing, your sales, and things in general.  Don’t expect things to be like the movies.  You aren’t going to write the perfect manuscript on the first try, send it off to a publisher (or self publish), and then be overwhelmed with money, awards, and film options.

Writing is hard.  This is something that all writers realize.   Most of us hit points in writing each book where we severely question what we’re doing.  The “Dreaded Middle”, writing humps, writer’s block… everyone runs into parts where they sit down in front of their work and feel like they can’t go on, that what they’re producing is terrible.

What happens with me is that I’ll want to do something else.  Anything else.  My wife realizes I’m hating what I’m writing when I’m asking for the third time if the trash needs to go out or sorting my socks.  Sometimes this leads to me writing on other projects or

The key thing here is that words on the page are what will get you through.  It doesn’t matter at the time if everything you write feels like crap.  That’s what editing is for.  And trust me, some of the “worst” scenes I’ve written when I come back and look at them with fresh eyes have been much better than I thought.

Don’t view writing as a complete process.  Never assume that what you write is final (not until you publish it).  There’s always editing, tweaking, and perfecting.  The goal of writing a novel, novella, or short story is to  get it done.   Once you’ve written the whole thing, you can worry about rewrites.

Also, don’t think that your first novel is going to be the best.  Writing is a continuous effort towards improvement.  You always have room to improve, to challenge yourself.  I’m not talking about gimmicks like writing a certain number of words a day, I’m talking about improving your craft.  Writing better characters, crafting a better story, a tighter plot.  Acknowledge that what you’ve written has room for improvement and move on.

I’ll take a moment to mention sales.  Sales (and reviews) will always be frustrating.  When you sell a huge number of books for no apparent reason one day only to have zero sales (or one, which can be more frustrating) the next.  Sometimes you’ll have a dozen reviews for your book pop up over a week… other times you’ll fight to get even one review for a book which has sold a thousand copies.

You have to just accept your sales for what they are.  Promotion, self promotion, advertising, these are all tools, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to individual reader preference.  People being people, they’ll buy your book if they want… or not.  Don’t get wrapped around sales, especially if they’re not where you want them to be.  Religiously hitting the update button on KDP or your publishing platform of choice to see if you’ve sold a book is not only OCD, but it uses up time you should be using for writing your next story.

The key part to all of this is to set realistic goals.  Don’t tell yourself you’ve got to write the entire novel in a week if you’ve only managed a few pages over the past month.  Don’t get too wrapped up in the quality of your writing, especially not for your first (or second or third) novel, especially not on the first draft.  Cut yourself a little slack.  Writing is hard.

In the end, writing is emotionally taxing.  If you can manage your expectations, if you can set realistic goals, you can manage the emotional and mental cost of writing.  You can be more productive (and happier with yourself) if you go into it with a clear understanding of what you expect to get out of it.  At the end of the day, that’s what you want, right, to be happy?

the-shining-1
Writers just want to be happy people…
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Author’s Toolbag: Maps and Drawings

The number one job of an author is to tell a story.  In this sense, illustrations such as maps and drawings can be excellent tools for an author, particularly when they are used to immerse the reader more fully into the world.

I’m the type of reader who spends hours, sometimes days pouring over the maps, imagining myself in those worlds and feeling a bit of a thrill as I follow the characters along their journeys.  While I also enjoy the occasional drawing of a character, location, or item, seldom do these things resonate with me as well as a good map.

I’m also the type of author who is into world-building: creating a living, breathing world… and maps are a key part of that for me.  I’ve had the world layout for Eoriel mapped out for almost twenty years, tweaking details, changing names of cities and mountain ranges, altering coastlines slightly, but always with the same general layout.  The same can be said for the Shadow Space Chronicles, I’ve had the general layout of the universe in mind for years, and I’ve spent countless hours drawing out star systems, planet orbits, and the typical routes that ships travel.  I do this because I want to know what path the characters will take and why.  I want to know what language the locals will speak when the characters stop into a bar or tavern.

What does this have to do with the story?  A bit of nothing and a bit of everything.  It doesn’t matter in the slightest what language they speak in the bar… but the fact that they have a culture and language adds a level of richness, of reality to your writing.  So to, does having a map, of knowing that the characters can take the dangerous mountain pass in the dead of winter or divert two hundred miles to a  fortress held by enemies which is the only other way through.   Knowing that the characters will need three weeks (or three months) to travel to the next star system not only gives you a way to pace your story, but adds all kinds of fun plot developments and character arcs.  What do they do to pass that time?  How do they get along together on a tiny ship?  Which character(s) snap under the pressure?

Drawings, in the same way, not only help the reader to visualize the world, but it helps you as an author too.  Even a crude sketch can help you to develop what a character looks like in order to better describe them, or whether that city in the mountains is nestled in a valley or sprawls across a hilltop.  For a reader, a nice drawing can be an added bit, a way to fill in some of the details or even to add to the layer of mystery around something in your story.  As they say, a picture can be worth a thousand words.

How do I approach both of these?  Well, to be honest, with a map, I want there to be reasons for conflict.  Natural boundaries are frequently the dividing lines for nations… but sometimes those nations may disagree on which dividing line they are prepared to accept.  A nation that lives and thrives in the jungles may come into conflict with another nation which clearcuts the jungle to establish farmland.  Mountain tribes might raid lowlands where the growing season is longer and food is more plentiful… or lowlanders might send conquest parties to seize mineral rich valleys for mining.

Rivers, coastlines, bays, and lakes all serve as methods of transportation and as boundaries.  Mountains serve as boundaries and have profound effects upon rainfall and local climate.  Forests and jungle can act as barriers or havens, while swamps and marshes serve as foreboding locations and obstacles for characters or refuges for those who need to hide.  Deserts too, can serve as both obstacle and refuge, depending on the cultures of the people involved.

Drawings can hint at cultural themes, with stylistic emphasis in order to accentuate descriptions in your writing.   A well drawn illustration at the start of the book can set the mood or establish a theme for the reader, putting them in the right mindset.

Maps and drawings are both tools.  Learning to use them right is an excellent way to develop your novel and take it to the next level.