Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 18, 2014

The Learning Curve

I spent a very enjoyable few hours talking with a new writer a couple of weeks ago. A recently retired teacher, she wanted to focus her new-found free time on her writing. However, she had very little knowledge about the business side of things, and wanted a primer about the landscape of publishing today.

I always like to chat with other writers, and her questions made it clear to me that I had learned quite a bit about the business side of publishing over the years. It surprises me, how much I have learned, really, because it happened as a slow accretion over time. I didn’t take a course, I just listened to people farther up the mountain than me and read a whole lot of blogs written by people respected in the publishing sphere.

People have said that I am a “resource” and sometimes treat me like I have some special talent or something because I know all of this. I suppose I am a resource, and I enjoy sharing what I know with other writers. But there isn’t anything special about my knowledge. Any writer can accumulate the same knowledge. It’s a matter of paying attention and immersing yourself in the information available.

When I first started learning all of this, I’ll admit to feeling completely overwhelmed. There was so much to learn about the publishing business! And it changes so fast! It’s hard to keep up. But after about 3 years of reading 40 blogs or more a week (I often collate the weekly Top Picks Thursday blog post for Author Chronicles), I found I knew stuff. Certain information had taken root, and I had built upon it over the years.

Learning the business side of authorship is not negotiable in our era. Whether using self-publishing, traditional publishing, or a hybrid model, authors have more responsibility for their careers than at any other time in history. If you want to find success, get smart. Knowledge is power, and it gives you options.

It is a lot of work, especially at first, to gain the knowledge you need. There are many blogs that have weekly compilations of links to business and craft articles—our Top Picks Thursday is just one. Find and follow round-ups you like, and then individual blogs that have solid business information. Read. Read. Read. At first most will fall right out of your head again. But slowly it will stick, and accrete, and grow.

And one day, you, too, will be a “resource.”

More importantly, it will put you in the best possible position to make your career a success.

What blogs do you follow for great business advice?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 11, 2014

Does Writing Get Easier?

For 22 years, my father and I took the same 2-mile walk in the evenings. Since this walk was meant for exercise, not as a stroll, the route included 3 of the most brutal hills in our neighborhood. And they were killers—very long, very steep, and one right after the other.

The weird thing was, in 22 years the walk never got easier.

We would have thought that at some point we would have been in such good shape that the hills would have become easy. But they never did. We chugged our way up the same way every night.

Sometimes writing feels that way—like it never gets any easier.

That feeling is true—and it’s false.

Writing doesn’t get easier—it’s just that the parts that are hard change. When we first start out, the amount of craft we have to learn is tremendous. As time goes by, we master this bit, then that bit, then another bit. And slowly those bits get easier. But there’s always another bit that needs work, so the process as a whole doesn’t seem any easier.

I realized this while I was working on my WIP this weekend. I’m almost at the midpoint (yay!), and I am writing in full on first-draft mode—knowing some of the scenes weren’t great, but just getting them on the page. And that was the revelation—I knew as I wrote which scenes were going to need help. I could sense which ones had weaknesses, and sometimes even what those weaknesses were—description, specificity, conflict.

That knowing feeling was new for me. I usually couldn’t tell until I went back to revise what problems I had—or even that I had problems. So I guess I have finally internalized enough to reach a new sense of craft.

Maybe someday I will have internalized enough of the craft that I get more stuff “right” in the first place, making the revision process shorter and cleaner. But I’m still not sure that will make writing “easier.”

I think it will just be a new level of hard.

What about you? Has your writing gotten easier over the years?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 4, 2014

S is for Stubborn–and Success

There’s no shortcut to success. It’s just a lot of hard work. Unless your definition of success is laying on a sofa eating chips and watching TV all day. That’s not a lot of hard work. But for those of us with slightly higher goals in mind, hard work is an unavoidable prerequisite for reaching our goals.

But the thing about hard work is that…it’s hard. And often boring. And a lot of people give up their goals and walk away when success doesn’t happen fast.

So I think one of the biggest factors in success is stubbornness. Not like a 4-year-old temper tantrum “I-don’t-wanna-clean-up” stubborn, but that plodding sort of stubbornness that never looks heroic while it’s happening. You know the kind that makes you think, “What the heck am I doing this for? I’m not getting anywhere!”

Hey, as long as you’re moving forward, you’re getting somewhere.

I have a long way to go in reaching my goals, but I am a miles closer to them than I was a few years ago. And it’s all because I’m stubborn. I made my monster To-Do lists and chipped away at them. I faced pages of edit notes and chipped away. I connected with one person, then another, then another, to create a network of colleagues (and now friends) to help me along my path. I wrote in the scattered moments of free time my child allowed. I created an outline for a new book that seemed an insurmountable 62 chapters/scenes long and simply wrote one chapter at a time (I only have 48 left to write).

In other words, I never stopped moving forward. Sometimes I crawled, sometimes I inched, and sometimes I simply clung on for dear life, but I never went backward.

Stubborn.

And I’m close to realizing my goals and dreams.

So the next time someone calls you stubborn, thank them.

It’s a compliment.

Do you think the stubborn factor is necessary for success?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | August 28, 2014

Energize Me: Going Solar

I have never been a high-energy person. Not one of those “dynamos” you hear about. I always just plugged along through my days. Since I became a mom almost 5 years ago, my energy level has reached new lows. It’s not as bad now as when my daughter was an infant needing feeding every three hours, but I still feel in great need of a nap most afternoons (my daughter stopped napping AT ALL in January).

So I would love to find a way to up my energy that does not involve chemicals or caffeine. I can’t drink caffeine because it sets off my anxiety and gives me panic attacks.

Where else can I find some energy?

How about the sun? We’re getting solar panels put on our house. Tapping into the limitless power of the sun is an awesome idea. Cutting our power bills while lessening pollution? Fantastic. I love doing my part to combat climate change—and show my daughter that I am trying to do right by her, her generation, and our planet.

The other cool thing, for me, is that in case of a power outage, we still can access some of the power from our array (during daylight hours, of course). Not much of it—just enough to charge cell phones or laptops and maybe run a fan if it’s hot out. Not enough to run the fridge or microwave or stove. But to know that even in a Sandy-like power outage I can still write on my laptop? Huge!

So I am happy to be moving forward with energizing my house. If only I could find a way to energize me! My master plan is to figure out a way to bottle my preschooler’s infinite energy, sell it, and become a bazillionaire.

Or maybe I could just install a solar panel on my forehead…

How do you stay energized?

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My daughter has been obsessively watching Disney’s Peter Pan (1953) the past few weeks. And it struck me suddenly that I like Captain Hook, in spite of his villainy. I’ve seen my share of Disney movies, and he’s the only bad guy I empathize with. As a writer, I started to wonder why.

First, I compared Hook to other Disney villains and their main emotional drives. Showing my age, my examples are ones from my childhood. Some modern Disney villains may also employ the techniques that make Hook a great villain, but the lessons I gleaned from Hook still hold true.

    1. Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty) – revenge
    2. Stepmother (Cinderella) – greed
    3. Evil Queen (Snow White) – jealousy
    4. Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians) – vanity
    5. Hook (Peter Pan) – revenge

On the surface, Hook seems much like the others, driven purely by some dark emotion. But although I enjoyed the other villains, I never empathized with them on any level. I identified 2 things that set him apart.

1) Motivation backstory – for most Disney villains, we never know why they are driven by these dark urges. Did Maleficent snap over a lack of invitation because she was a nerd in high school? Did the Stepmother grow up dirt poor and swear “never again”? Was the Evil Queen so insecure about her looks because her mother always told her she was ugly? Did Cruella De Vil want to stand out so much because she had always been overlooked as a child? We never know the backstory—we only see the results.

With Hook, we do know why he is driven—and it is a nuanced why. He’s not seeking vengeance for Peter cutting off his hand—no, he wants revenge because Peter threw the hand to a crocodile, causing the beast to stalk Hook constantly.

2) Vulnerability – The other Disney villains are pure evil. Chilling. The stuff of nightmares. And they have no human weaknesses.

Hook, though, has a glaring weakness—he is terrified of the crocodile. Not just nervous, but scream-like-a-child, jump-into-Smee’s-arms hysterical whenever he hears that clock. Such blatant vulnerability in a man who casually shoots his own crew when they annoy him opens up a very human side we can access.

These 2 techniques (combined with a touch of comedy) give Hook accessibility that many Disney villains lack—and therefore allow us to empathize with him.

I’m going to keep that in mind for my villains. While I have always known they need to be 3-dimensional, I have focused more on making them strong enough to push the hero than on making them accessible to the reader. By giving them nuanced motives that I allow my readers to see and by adding a vulnerability the reader can relate to (who wants to be eaten by a crocodile, after all?), I can make my villains stronger, deeper, and more memorable.

Do you have any tricks for making your villains relatable to the reader?

Posted by: Kerry Gans | August 14, 2014

A Pantser Plots: Bringing Old Friends to Life

I am usually a hybrid when it comes to outlining. I know my beginning and ending and a few of the big points in the middle, and then just let the words rip. For my current Work-In-Progress (WIP), I wanted to plan ahead more.

This is my first “from scratch” novel since my daughter was born. I know that I have much less free time to write, so I wanted to be able to make the most of the time I had. I figured if I knew what needed to happen next before I sat down to write, I could use my time more efficiently. So this time around, I decided to plot more.

First I just did the four major beats: turning point (end of Act I), midpoint, black moment (end of Act II), climax. That was enough to get me to the end of Act I, because the beginning had been very clear in my head. Then I looked ahead and realized I would need a more detailed outline—something new for me.

This book is new for me on many levels—in particular, it is dual point-of-view (POV). I realized after getting to the end of Act I that I needed to plot so that I could see the flow of POV chapters. During the messy middle the POV characters are separated (thus the need for 2 POVs). So I had to make sure one storyline was not much shorter than the other. And in doing so I realized I needed to bring in a third POV to make it all work.

The third POV is a spirit that possesses the female POV character, and the female POV character cannot see or hear what is happening while she is possessed. But the reader needs to know. So in essence the third POV takes the place of the first POV character at times. Confused, yet?

Yeah, that’s why I needed an outline.

Finally, this WIP is based on a complete but very poorly written novel I wrote about 30 years ago (yes, I was only 14). I always loved the characters and the premise, but I am a considerably better writer than I was as a freshman in high school. A year or so ago, these characters came back into my mind and would not leave. I got so enthused about writing them again that I had to do it.

The old manuscript had pretty much everything wrong with it, but it served as a rough guide. One big problem with it was that it was written in omniscient POV, which I had no intention of using in the new book. So when it came to the big battle scenes in the middle/end of Act II, I could not jump from POV to POV to POV of all these minor characters. Wrestling the main events of the battle (and events leading up to it) so my male POV could be in the key places was another huge reason I needed to outline.

Although based on the same premise as that old manuscript, this WIP is vastly different plot-wise, and vastly better craft-wise. I am so excited to be writing these old friends again and finally being able to do them justice.

Have you ever gone back to an old work and given it new life? Or has an old work given you new life?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | August 7, 2014

Laptop Scramble

I am always surprised at how lost I feel when my computer is out of order. I can write on paper, of course, but I use my computer for so many other things. I have a massive To-Do list, which I have color-coded in Excel. I take many photos, which I edit on my computer. I have a dumbphone, so the only way I can get to email or social media is my computer. For someone who lived most of her childhood before the Internet and computers, I am amazed at how addictively plugged-in I have become.

Whether this plugged-in-ness is good or bad can be debated, but there is no doubt that a computer is a requirement of my job. I need it to do my publisher’s edits. I need it to collaborate with my web guru, currently updating my website/blog. I need it to upload manuscripts for self-publishing projects. I need it to submit short stories to markets, and query letters to agents. And of course I need it for the marketing necessity of building platform.

So when my laptop died last week, I felt cut off from the world.

I went away on vacation Monday, and by Tuesday the laptop was acting up. It would start to boot, then just power off before it even got to the splash screen. Multiple tries finally got it booted. I managed to get all my blog posts finished and posted before I closed down that night. Same scenario happened Wednesday—a few heart-stopping moments before it booted. Thankfully, it booted, since I got an email from my publisher. Thursday we headed home, and it booted right up when we got home. I wisely backed up the few things I had not already backed up, and shut it down.

That was the last time it ever booted up.

Diagnosis came on Friday: Fried motherboard. I am so thankful that I had begun to do weekly backups, so I didn’t lose anything!

But I still needed a new laptop asap.

Saturday I went shopping. I found one a laptop I really liked at Walmart—the same brand as my old one. But Walmart didn’t have the one I liked in stock—only on display. So I went to Best Buy. I found one that was close, but more than I wanted to spend. But after calling 3 other Walmarts which also didn’t have the model I wanted, I bought the Best Buy.

I talked to my parents soon after arriving home, and mentioned my disappointment in not having found the model I wanted. My mother suggested I call the Walmarts around them, and they could pick it up. So I did…and the third one had ONE computer left.

My wonderful parents, tired from the Billy Joel concert Saturday night, picked up my laptop (after a couple of minor snafus, of course) Sunday and made a special trip to bring it to me. So after a nice lunch with them, I spent the rest of the night setting everything up.

So far, so good. I am adjusting to the new keyboard and the new operating system. My biggest peeve so far is that the power cord is about 4 inches shorter than the old one and no longer reaches the most convenient plug for me. But if that is the worst of my problems, I will take it!

My old laptop lasted 7 years. So that means I should be good until 2021. :-)

How technology-dependent are you? What’s your worst tech horror story, and how did you recover?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 31, 2014

VERITAS, Act I complete

My current Work-In-Progress (WIP) is a science fiction YA called Veritas. This is the first book I have started from scratch since my daughter was born. As a result, I have no idea how long it will take me to finish this book. In pre-child days, I could have gone from rough draft to final draft within a year, if I put my nose to the grindstone. Today? No idea. I’m learning what my new normal is.

So, I was very happy to reach the end of Act I in Veritas. It’s about 15,000 words, and will probably grow closer to 18,000 by the time I go back and fill in some of the world-building and deepen some of the emotional moments.

I’ve been trying to work my process a little differently this time around. Although I love to edit, I want to try to cut my time between rough draft and final draft. I am more of a pantser, but I am trying to use a very basic guideline. In my case, I am using Jami Gold’s Basic Beat Sheet,which allows me to pretend I’m pantsing while actually plotting. ;-) It tells me the four main beats I need to have, and about where they should fall word-count wise given my estimated final word count. So far, it has helped me stay on track.

I am wondering what I should do next. Normally, I am a proponent of writing the first draft through to the end without going back and editing. However, I am a little unclear where I am going in the second act, and I think going back and expanding the world and adding depth to the characters might help me find my way. Perhaps it will inspire me. Or I may just plow on and write to my next beat (midpoint) and see what happens. As I said, I am feeling out my process now and seeing what can help speed up the writing while maintaining (or improving) the quality.

Veritas seems to be an experimental novel for me. Not only am I tweaking my writing process, but it is my first dual-POV novel. So far I like how it’s working, although I may reach the end and decide it doesn’t work for the story overall. But we shall see.

I am waiting for the second round of edits for my novel Ozcillation (coming 2015 from Evil Jester Press), but in the meantime I will continue to move forward with Veritas. I know what my major beats are, I am growing more comfortable with my characters, and I am eager to try and take my writing to a new level.

How about you—what writing milestones have you reached lately?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 24, 2014

Re-Reading: Waste of Time or Needed Rest?

As a kid, I re-read a lot. Sure, I always devoured new books, too, but there were books I read over and over. When you’re a kid, you have that luxury of time, so you can read new books and old books at will.

As I got older, through high school and college and grad school, I stopped re-reading. I had too many new books to read for school, and I had a job as well. No time for dipping back into a book I had loved.

That set the trend for my adulthood—I rarely re-read. I went on a classics binge and read all the “classics” I hadn’t read in school. Lately, I’ve been reading all the Newbery Award winners (I think I have 6 left.) But re-reading? I had no time for that—especially after my daughter came along.

Yet here I am, three weeks into re-reading books I loved when I was younger. It started because I fell into a period where I couldn’t get to the library, yet had finished all the books I had gotten out. I am a person who HAS to have something to read, so I got a book off my bookshelf and started reading. I have read Jean M. Auel’s Shelters of Stone, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Antonia Barber’s The Ghosts, and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House In The Big Woods and Little House On The Prairie.

Part of me thinks this is a waste of my time. With so many books out there, why re-read something? But I am finding this to be restful. My brain is buzzing all day long. With a familiar book, I can settle into the story and enjoy the writing, but not have to put all my brain into concentrating. Perhaps it is my version of zoning out in front of the TV.

I find that I see things in the books I did not when I read them years ago, which keeps a freshness to them. And none have been in my current WIP’s genre, so it is not causing creative conflict in my brain. Yet they are stories, and that helps keep my mind primed for writing even as it lets me sit back and breathe.

I will return to reading new books, probably very soon, but I think this respite has been good for me. Like comfort food for my brain. And it has made me remember what it was that I loved about reading, and about the stories I read as a child. Reconnecting with that passion as a reader will feed into my writing—because I want to write stories that people will want to re-read again and again.

How about you? Are you a re-reader? Or is once enough for you?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 17, 2014

Treading Water: When the work seems futile

Perhaps it is the artist’s temperament, but I sometimes feel down for no real reason. Not depressed, just as if I am performing exercises in futility—like I’m treading water.

There are days, sometimes weeks, when I feel simultaneously overwhelmed and like nothing is happening. I tried to explain this to my husband the other day, and the best analogy I could come up with was treading water. I’m not drowning, but I’m not moving forward, either.

Usually this suspended feeling happens when I combine too little sleep with too many projects, with a healthy dose of my-daughter-is-giving-me-a-stroke-itis. Almost always, this feeling grabs me when I am working on many projects that have no immediate payoff, such as working on social media stuff or blogging or at the beginning of a long novel. When these things happen all at once, it creates that feeling of working hard and getting nowhere fast.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not the type of person who insists on instant gratification. But sometimes I wonder why I’m doing all this. I start to wonder why I blog. Or write a short story. Or even work on my current Work-In-Progress. I work so hard and then wonder, so what? I mean, who cares, really? And what does it matter, really? Who is ever going to notice if I just stop it all right now? And sometimes it gets so overwhelming that I actually do think about walking away.

But I know I won’t.

Because people have told me that they read my blog and it helps them. Because I learn so much from the blogs I write for. Because people have told me that they read my latest short story and it moved them. Because I am excited about my current WIP. Because I know I will not always be exhausted and have a preschooler underfoot to make writing time a guilty pleasure. Because I have my debut novel coming out next year and am crazy excited about it.

Because I will never stop writing until I am dead. It is who I am, not what I do. And if even one thing I write helps one person, then I have changed the world.

That is no small thing.

Do you ever feel like this? How do you shake out of your funk when it seems like all your work is futile?

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