Category Archives: TIL

On Paying For Professional Writing Critiques And Coaches

Starting With Caveats. How Typical.

Yes, yes, yes– of course, you have to have something written first (or at least a sizable portion of it). I recommend the words of Neil Gaiman as a source for this brand of inspiration.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”

― Neil Gaiman

This advice is even more relevant to me in the face of the experience report I’m about to offer. Trust me, my friends, I’ve written a glorious failure or two in my time. My draft folder is full of them. I have unfinished things too. It’s all part of the experience.

Thoughts, Reasons, and Ugh– Programmers.

I’m going to bring my experience programming computers into the frame. Why? Because as a group of people, programmers are perhaps the only individuals who can compare with writers in terms of being introverted, shy, and generally unwilling to work with others.

Let’s face it, we’re all just nerds of one variety or another. Yes, I made a broad generalization about almost everyone in my social circles.

My ostracisation is imminent.

A new programmer/coder/developer (or whatever you’d like to call us), straight out of college or someone going the DIY route, is green. When I was new, I’d finish an application, and it was not good enough. It was so obvious. I’d look at what I’d written a year, a month, or often only a day later, and I’d start to see the weaknesses.

The fastest way on earth for a programmer to level-up is to finish successful projects. You work and fight and research and scour the web and ask friends and eventually– you complete a fluffernutter. And it feels GOOD. Then, you give the fluffernutter you’ve built to someone who uses it.

What do they do? They break it.

They abuse your glorious fluffernutter.

They don’t use it in the ways you intended. It hurts. You created this fantastic fluffernutter so people could fluff nets with it, and they didn’t use it right. They didn’t understand. All because you didn’t know the best way to build it.

Sound familiar yet, writers?

Being a new programmer with the cloud or a mobile app store to deploy code to, is equivalent an indie author who publishes the first thing they write without any professional editing.

We’ve established that finishing is essential. Finishing helps us get to a state where real feedback is possible but isn’t there a way to improve quickly? There is for programmers. They engage in behaviors meant to amplify the cycle time of their learning.

Get Guidance From A More Experienced Person.

For coders, this can happen through pairing (sitting side-by-side writing the same thing together with only one person at the keyboard), code reviews, quick work cycles with smaller pieces of work, regular sessions with a mentor, or spending time in an apprenticeship.

Corporate America has all the incentive in the world to get programmers up to speed quickly. Coders are in short supply, they usually work at a company with peers, and hence, the development and use of all the methods described above.

Wait, You Just Said A Bunch Of Stuff About Computer Programming.
Is This A Trick?

In writing, we’re often an even more solitary crowd than coders, so what can writers do that maps most closely to code reviews and pair-programming and apprenticeships? Writers don’t usually have the benefit of working with a host of other writers unless they are working for some large publication or a school or a writers room for a TV production or some such thing. If you’re writing prose– hm.

There are a couple of options at your disposal:

  1. Join a writing critique group. If you’re lucky like me, the group will be an unending delight, but limited in their time to continually review your amateur work. **
  2. Pay for a professional critique by a writing coach, published author, freelance editor, etc.

**There are so many other reasons to join a writing group, but that’s a different blog post.

Gah! You Finally Mentioned Paying For Critiques.

Here’s the deal. As absolutely fantastic and essential a writing group is, those folks need time to write as well, and of course, you’ll want to reciprocate critiques/reviews. I’ve likely passed the halfway point in my life, and time is the only asset that really matters beyond having enough money to meet basic needs. We can never get more time, and it is always ticking away. It is unfair of me to demand more of it from my writer and editor friends than I have available to give to them. I also can’t rely on my family, because they are too close to me and don’t want to hurt my feelings.

Once I made these determinations, I decided if time was my limiting factor, then money was not going to be the thing holding me back as a writer. I’ve been writing plenty, but I have to wait interminably to go back and look at my own work before I can get past the “I JUST WROTE THIS AND IT IS AMAZING” glow and really learning anything from my mistakes. So, I started looking into paid critiques.

I might have been inspired by some anthologies and writing projects from Kickstarter initially. They had rewards like: “Back our book project for $100, and we’ll also do a professional edit on the first 20k words of your manuscript”. I researched some of the authors offering this service and found one (who shall not be named) who had an impressive resume of dealing with many of the hurdles I was trying to overcome in my WIP at the time, The Galaxy and All Her Charms. The Kickstarter method eventually paid off in spades, but it took a LONG TIME. It was about nine months later when I received extremely detailed, thoughtful, and beyond helpful notes and line edits.

Great. In Nine Months I Can Get Good Feedback?

Yes and no. You are indeed welcome to wait the requisite amount of time to gestate a human, but there are better, more direct ways to get this kind of feedback. During my 9-month wait, I ended up hiring another author/editor to do a detailed critique of the first 2500 words of Rue From Ruin. I received notes almost as long as the excerpt I sent for review, and it cost me $55.

So you can go this route, and you can also hire a writing coach (I recommend a couple folks I know: Lauren Sapala and Angie Fenimore. Look ’em up. They’re on the Googles.)

Hiring someone directly can be scary. If you aren’t sure you’re going to like the type of feedback you’ll get, ask them to review a sample for you before you pay. Most folks will agree.

Tightening the feedback loop and getting an earlier view on the kinds of mistakes I’m making in my writing is an immense help. It flattens out my learning curve, and I get over dumb mistakes far earlier. The only trick is having a bit of thick skin (a skill writers need anyway). My critiques have been professional, and even kind, and they also speak their mind.

Take it from a guy who almost always has to learn things the hard way, paying for professional eyes early in your writing process is worth it.

Why Do I Write For 15 Minutes A Day?

Why do I write for 15 minutes a day? Because it works for me.

You do you, fair reader.

What Came Before Was Terrible

Here’s my reasoning: I’ve spent countless days not writing a single word.

All those days when I wrote exactly ZERO words, I thought would be offset by days when I “finally have some reasonable time to sit down and focus on writing.” It turns out, that approach doesn’t work for me. I mean, I make some progress. I wrote around 3000 words of fiction over the course of the first five months of this year. Not super impressive, right? Well, it’s in part because I only found a couple of occasions to sit down for “at least an hour or two.”

When I did finally sit down to write for an extended time, I noticed two things right away:

  1. I couldn’t remember much about what I had been writing, and it took considerable time and effort to get back up to speed.
  2. Rusty doesn’t begin to describe the state of my writing when gaps of weeks or months come between sessions.

No bueno.

Where Did This Silly Idea Originate?

Which brings me to the inspiration for my idea to write 15 minutes a day. It is multifold.

I’m a programmer, a code monkey, or perhaps most applicable, a software craftsman by training. I don’t write a ton of code day to day anymore since I now manage several teams of folks doing it instead. As part of my experience and training as a software craftsman, I learned the tactic of practicing coding through the use of code katas. I don’t want to bore the non-technical folk, so suffice to say that katas are a something you spend maybe 15-30 minutes a day practicing to keep the old coding muscles in shape (or learn new things).

I took that approach and started applying it to learning Spanish (using the excellent phone app Duolingo). Hola, amigos. Yo hablo español un poco. No, no nececita hablo bueno, pero me hablo.

Anyway, it was going pretty well, and I thought, self– this Spanish thing isn’t eating up too much of my day. I mean, I’ve read/heard plenty of writing advice saying you have to write every day. I wondered how practical it would be to write for just 15 minutes a day. Probably not very, but at least I could get some of these ideas I’ve been hoarding over the past year or so out on paper.

Idea Meets Action

So I went to my notes and my voice memos. I wrote some fiction about several ideas I’ve been sitting on. Nothing earth-shattering, I assure you. But I did write. Next thing I knew, it was going so well, I decided I would move on to some former WIPs. I had Rue From Ruin in an unfinished state. Maybe I could finish it. At this point, I’d already put more words down in about two weeks than I had in the entire 5 months previous.

What did I have to lose?

So I applied the same discipline to Rue: sit down at the computer, start a 15-minute timer, and write like my life depended on it until the timer ran out. If you follow me on social media, you already know how it turned out. I finished Rue From Ruin in a few days. Note, it does need revising before I get it up on the blog. For any who are waiting, it’s coming.

Then, I felt like I was ready for something a little bigger. So I went on to one of the ideas I had written a bit about. I’ve been calling it GIAO.

I’ve been writing every day for at least 15 minutes for nearly two months now (**). What do I have to show for it? Confidence that I can finish my writing projects. Over 20,000 words (a quarter of the planned length) on a new book I’m really excited about. A bunch of great starters for other stories/books. A couple of new writing projects from external sources. How is this a bad thing? You let me know if you discover it.

The Method (For You TL;DR Folks)

For the sake of clarity and to put it in a friendly format, here’s what I’ve been doing:

  1. Sit down at a computer with my favorite editor (Scrivener in my case) open to the thing I want to write.
  2. Start a 15-minute timer.
  3. Write like my life depended on it until the timer ends.
  4. Perform steps 1-3 one or more times daily.

I hope it helps someone else the way it’s helped me.

** I wrote the majority of this article on 8/3/2017 and I’m leaving the word counts, dates, etc. from that time. Since this time, I’ve picked up some additional projects and seen them through the creation, writing, and revision process. I write almost every day, but not always on the same piece.

What to Expect During Your First Year of Writing Fiction

Welcome, friends, to a post about writing when you are new to the craft. First, let’s do a little housekeeping. You may have questions. I think I have guessed a couple of them. Let’s see if I’m right.

Isn’t it presumptuous of you to be giving writing advice when you aren’t published (indie or traditional)?

Yes and no. I’m not going to be telling you about “my sure fire way to get published”, “the top 10 things you MUST do as a writer”, or even “all the mistakes I made during my first year writing”. Believe me, do I ever have plenty of content for the last one.

But no. This is an experience report. An opinion piece on all the things I believe a new writer will probably notice as well. At least if they are half as dim-witted and brain-addled as I am.

Wait. Haven’t you been writing way more than a year?

Yes. Sort of. I’ll explain eventually, give me time. I REQUIRE TIME.

On to the experiences!

Your first year as a writer

The first year as a writer is one of the most frustrating things a person can experience.

You’re thrust from the world where people don’t see your thoughts, feelings, and ideas on display for full scrutiny. Now those same thoughts, feelings, and ideas are available in a format where anyone and everyone can analyze them at their leisure.

It’s like if you moved your funny bone from its semi-protected spot on your elbow all the way down onto your fingertips. Now every time you angry-text someone, you get a nerve zinger shooting up your arm.

Delightful.

It’s ok. Sometimes people are kind– oh wait. Sometimes Roy is right too:

You’ll spend hours revising and proofreading

You will spend hours checking the words you wrote. You’ll look for spelling errors, grammar gaffes, poor phrasing, long sentences, short sentences, too many sentences that all are the same length, use of all five senses, nice rhythm and flow, consistent persona and tense, and the list goes on and on.

Everyone goes through this. We all have to learn it. Good news: the longer we spend looking at these mistakes and fixing them, the less likely they are to get into our zero-draft work in the first place.

You’ll receive conflicting advice

You’ll get advice from other writers, much of it conflicting.

You’ll be drawn in different directions by people with more experience than you. Who’s opinion should you take on board? Who’s right and who’s wrong?

As a wiser person than me once said: there are very few absolutes in the world. What works for one writer may not work for another and vice versa.

Reserve judgment on the “facts” you see and hear. When a writer tells you that she thinks writing in 15-minute sprints is better than waiting for bigger blocks of time, ask her why she thinks that. If you’re lucky, you’ll get concrete reasons for the opinion, and you will have learned something. Collect ideas from more than one writer. Find out if there’s a consensus. Read the original material and do your own research. Take no-one’s opinion as gospel, but put effort into formulating your own.

Try some of the different ideas, but not all of them. You’ll be forever experimenting otherwise. Just be sure you quit the things that are not working.

You won’t know what to learn

Should you learn more about tactical sentence structure? Do you need to figure out how to make your characters life-like? Does creating a plot structure terrify you? How early should you start building a following and how do you do that? How do you world-build and how much world building is too much? Where do you find reliable resources on writing?  And if you have to learn all this, what order should you learn it in?

It’s a hard enough to learn just exactly what the list of things you should learn are. Worse, you also have to prioritize the list.

I’ve gone down some rabbit holes in my time. My best experience thus far has been when I’m writing new words every day, and I try to get answers to the things that come up as I’m writing.

Also, having a good writing group at your back is an immense help here. If you aren’t part of a writing group… be part of a writing group.

Your ego is in your words

You’ll feel that a failing in your words is a failing in you as a writer. If someone finds mistakes in your writing, you’ll feel it’s an attack on you.

Learning to write well: you need to get some less desirable words out on paper/screen before you’ll start writing better ones. There isn’t a way around it. Just accept that you’ll be writing poorly at times.

Writers with more experience stay a little more detatched. They’ve already written tons of words even they consider terrible. Try to welcome criticism. Look at it as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Man, sometimes I want so badly to get defensive about words just because I happened to be the one that wrote them. The good news is, as the old coding saying goes, your words are not your child. You can throw them out if they get unruly. No one will even bat an eyelash.

You’ll feel like you have to know everything

The good news is: you don’t.

You’ll probably quit a lot

Maybe you won’t. I did. This is the answer to the question above. I just now feel like I’ve really had a year’s worth of writing effort. I will say this (and break my rule about giving advice in this article in the process):

Don’t quit.

Quitting is how you lose. In fact, it’s the only way you lose. Keep writing. Write every day or nearly every day.

It will pay off.

———–

Thanks to Najaf Ali for setting up a great template in his article about the first year writing code. In more than a few ways, coding and writing are alike. I shamelessly thieved Najaf’s format for this post.

 

 

 

I’ll keep this short.

15MinuteClock120511300x300

K. M. Alexander posted a quote that struck a chord. For over a month now, my entire writing existence has centered around the idea he recently espoused here.

It works. I sit at the computer, and I say, “For the next 15 minutes there is nothing but writing.” Then I set a timer, and I go. Sometimes I get 350 words of total crap. Other times I can barely force 190 words, and none of them seem great. Other times, I feel like it’s all coming together. I feel like I’m writing something I would enjoy reading.

The other times are starting to outnumber the rest. It’s a good feeling.

Now back to work.

As A Writer, Never Ask For Help

Don’t run your ideas and concepts by others;
They might be stolen.

Don’t ask for help when you get stuck;
They might not understand the problem.

Don’t let others see your early drafts;
They might see weakness.

Don’t ask your friends and family for the time to write;
They might be angry with you.

Don’t do anything that could help you meet your goals;
They might be out of reach anyway.

——-

Ever have these thoughts going through your brain?

Don’t.

 

dontfoolyourself

 

It’s Not What You Do…

It’s what you don’t.

The inestimable Michael Ripplinger once pointed me to this video (that granted is aimed at a tech audience) at one of the many times when I was feeling overwhelmed in the past year. It was the right thing for me to hear both then and now.

The gist is this: when you have a purpose, stick to the things that will further that purpose. For example, if you want to be a writer, write. Don’t spend all day every day reading other’s fiction, trying to find the best tools, getting the perfect location setup, and reading *gasp* blogs.

Spend the majority of your available time actually NOT doing those things.

Spend it writing.

Here is the original video by Scott Hanselman: It’s Not What You Read

 

Now allow me to charm you with a “don’t” GIF of Andre the Giant.

andre

Use Your Opportunities Wisely

Hi.

It’s been awhile.

No, I’m not quoting a song intentionally. It just came out that way.

I’ve been inordinately busy of late. I won’t make excuses. Just know that if I could have taken the time and energy to keep my Tuesday/Friday cadence going, I would have. Now, let’s get back on track with a short post.

Spending a few days in San Francisco on business is a boon I needed badly. Free time is at a premium due to hours of talks in hotel conference rooms, however, just feeling the hum of the city and seeing, hearing, AND smelling the masses of humanity here is exciting. Yes, I live in Salt Lake, but it isn’t the same.

unionSquare.png

I’m in love with the concept of a walkable city where one doesn’t need to own a car. There aren’t many like it in the U.S., but San Fran is eminently walkable. I took the BART from the airport to downtown and walked everywhere. It is not only energizing, but it’s also enlightening. I’ve learned I’m out of shape, for one. I remembered that people come in a lot more varieties than generally show up in Utah. Also, I discovered that a lot of people here smoke weed walking down the street on their way home from work in the financial district. Blew my mind. The world is an ever-changing place.

On my walking trips, I spotted a dozen neat little shops, but the one that caught my eye was a hat shop filled with fabulous hand-crafted hats. As is my standing tradition, I bought one.

daHat

It is lonely and somewhat depressing to be away from family. Though sitting in a utilitarian hotel room and writing at night, with only the hum of the city to keep you company, does provide plenty of time.

All of these variations on life are experiences to capture for writing inspiration.

As a writer, I cannot afford to be frivolous. I must never leave my most peculiar days to the dismal gray of long-term memory.

And so I write.

See you Friday.