Thursday, October 25, 2012

Get Out Of The House


- Get Out Of The House

There’s a very good reason for the ‘introverted writer’ cliché. Writing is a lonely pursuit and those who love to be around other people tend to find they can’t stomach the long hours of solitude. Writing is about being in one’s head and career writers are always bemoaning the endless search for silence and peace.

Often, getting out of the house is the last thing on a writer’s mind—unless it’s to find a quiet library or cafe to tap away on the keyboard.

However despite our great love for books, and sometimes movies and TV shows—all beautiful worlds, created by other writers in their quiet, writing places—the brain needs more than sweeping narrative and unforgettable characters to create. The brain needs to go beyond the screen or page or imagination. The brain NEEDS reality.

For those of you who find the idea of going out to a loud concert or nightclub as appealing as being drawn and quartered, relax. Getting out of the house doesn’t have to mean being around people. It can mean going to a park or gallery, going hiking somewhere quiet but inspiring, visiting the beach at dawn, visiting the cemetery at sunset.

Wherever you go, being out in the world, experiencing the smells, tastes, weather and sounds—rather than just reading about them—wakes up the creative parts of your brain and refreshes them. Meeting up with friends for a quiet drink or meal is great too. You don’t need a whole crowd. One friend who is great at conversation is probably a much more invigorating way to spend the afternoon.

I don’t care what you do, as long as you do it and as long as it’s different to your usual schedule. Because if you don’t, your writing will stagnate. It may not slow in volume, but it will slowly degrade in quality.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Seven Great Links

I know I haven’t updated for a few weeks.

I’m moving house and still dealing with recent tragedy.

Instead of a post this week, I’m going to link ya’ll to some fantastic articles on writing and publishing:
Carolyn McCray discusses the pros and cons of Amazon’s KDP Select program for Indie Authors.
Kimberly Kinrade discusses how best to support your favourite authors.
Jessica Park speaks about amazon and how it saved her career.
Jamie Wieck shares a list of 50 things every creative person should know.
Mark Coker talks about how signing with a traditional publisher can hurt your writing career.
M. Louisa Locke discusses how to properly tag your ebook on websites like amazon and why it is important.
And I saved the very best for last. Catherine Ryan Howard talks about tax forms for non US residents selling on amazon. A MUST READ.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

No Post

No post this week due to a death in the family.

If you have any topics you would like me to write an article on, please let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dealing With Jealousy


- Dealing with Jealousy

There are two types of jealousy, one is good, the other is very bad. We all feel jealous occasionally, but if we know the good from the bad, we can admit to the good, embrace it even and stop ourselves if we realise we are experiencing the bad.

In a nutshell, good jealousy is when we desperately want something someone else has, but we don’t want to take it from the other person. EG: I am desperately jealous of my happily married friends, however I don’t want their husbands and I am happy they are happy. I want to be happy WITH them, not instead of them.

Bad jealousy is when we want something someone else has and we want them to lose it. We don’t want them to be happy; we want the object of our desire to be taken from them. Someone with bad jealousy might want a couple to break up or want a richer friend to have some misfortune to make them poor.

Good jealousy can be fantastic. It can motivate us to work harder for the things we want in life and we will often analyse how our friends or idols achieved their goals and learn from their journey. We can admit freely to this type of jealousy, with joy and happiness.

Bad jealousy will, quite literally, make you sick. It’s stressful and hateful. Not to mention that wanting bad things to happen to other people makes you a bad person. If we really don’t like someone, we should do our best to avoid and ignore them. We should not waste our energy and health on negative thoughts.

If you experience bad jealousy, you need to realise that just because someone else has something (money, a publishing contract, a loving husband or wife) it doesn’t mean you can’t have them. Good things in life are in abundance and we should be happy for the people who have made their dreams come true.

Whenever I feel jealous of someone, I admit it. First to myself, then to the person and I always make a point of telling them how fantastic it is that they achieved it and how happy I am for them. Then, when it’s appropriate, I ask how they went about making it happen. My friend had a baby recently, but I didn’t have to ask how she got him. That’s an example of when not to ask.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How I Get Stuff Done

My friends are often awed by the rate I accomplish things. Nearly everyone I know has commented on how motivated I am to achieve my goals. That’s often before they know I’m chronically ill and basic things like getting dressed and cooking meals are extremely difficult for me.

Case in point: due to pain-disorientation and balance issues, I broke my foot while getting dressed recently. This is not an usual occurrence. In the three weeks since then I’ve managed to re-break it four times, doing basic things like walking through doors and down steps.

Getting anything done with my degree of disability is extremely hard. I know a few chronically ill people who are medically on-par with me, who consider it a fantastic day if they get dressed, cook a single meal and get the mail from the mailbox. Those three things are spectacular accomplishments for me too, so how do I also manage to write blog posts, go to uni and write several novels a year?

Firstly, it’s really goddamn hard.

If you think there is some magic self-hypnosis to make you productive, you’re going to keep failing. Productivity takes effort, and if you think it will be easy you’ll always give up because it isn’t.

Secondly, there has to be method in the madness.

You can’t just say: “Today I’m going to be productive. Where’s my nail gun?” You need to know three things:

1. What you want in the long term.
2. What you want in the short term.
3. What you need to do to obtain those goals.

My long term goals revolve around owning a house and having a successful publishing career. I have defined ‘success’ and written it down in a letter to myself. I’m not sharing it here, because it’s personal. However I will say: Dream big. Aim beyond what you think is reasonable.

My short term goals usually involve the novel I am working on at the time. Writing it, editing it and submitting it. I usually have some kind of deadline—either self imposed or contractually. It’s good to have a self imposed deadline a month or more before your contracted one.

Working out what I need to do to obtain goals is pretty easy for me. I have a good mind for it. An example would be:

If the goal is to finish a 50, 000 word novel, edit it and submit it in three months, and I want a whole month for editing, I know I have to do 833 words a day for the two months prior. However being chronically ill, I’ll probably be too sick to work some days. So I will do at least 1500 words a day.

This next part is the KEY ASPECT to my everyday success. It is critical to me and to a large portion my life revolves around it. Unhealthy? Probably, but I am productive and you are not.


Every day I write down the things I have to do that day, in a day planner, in order of priority.

When choosing a day planner, every day needs its own full page and the diary needs to be of a sensible size. Not pocket sized, as there is not enough space on the page. And not A4 sized, as it is too big to carry with you comfortably.

My primary project is at the top of the page—usually a novel title. When I am done, I will write down the words written or pages edited. EG: ‘The Hungry People – 2500 words.’

Next are jobs that HAVE to be done every day. EG: Feeding the cat & taking my meds.

Next are the jobs that should be done most days to maintain order and sanity in the house. Things like cleaning the dishes and answering emails.

Following that are one-off jobs. Things like mailing birthday cards to friends, paying bills, buying unusual items or making phone calls.

I write everything in with black pen and when I’ve done it, I cross it off with red pen.

Worst case scenario:

There are days when I don’t know what year it is. I am dizzy and in pain and all I want to do is lie down and pray for death. However, I’m still going to be sick tomorrow and next month and next year, so I might as well be productive.

This ‘being productive’ when I am at my worst is what separates me from 99.9% of people and allows me to achieve so much. It’s awful, but it’s going to be awful regardless and at least this way I have something to show for it.

However, without the day planner, I would not have the mental capacity to keep track of what I had done. I could change the cat water, get myself a drink and be unable to remember if I had done the cat water yet. I also find my ability to make decisions is severely compromised, so I use the list to decide what to do next.

On the days where you can barely put one foot in front of the other, you can just do the first thing on the list, then the next and keep going until its bedtime or until everything is crossed off for the day.

Please note though, you can only do ONE thing at a time. No stopping half way through to switch jobs. Otherwise, you end up with everything half done and nothing finished.

Obviously most of you will not constantly be in pain. In fact, most of you who are not achieving your goals either:

1. Don’t have defined goals.
2. Or are just lazy.

It doesn’t matter if you’re chronically ill or lazy, you can still force yourself to act and achieve all the things you need to, everyday. It’s just a matter of pushing through and taking it one step

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Finish what you start.


- Finish what you start.

Do you get plenty awesome ideas but never finish anything? Is your hard drive full of opening scenes, perhaps even opening chapters, but no finished works?

Lots of writers do, and this failure to launch—a complete inability to stick with a project long enough to finish it—is extremely common. There are lots of reasons why people can’t finish works. The two most common are that they get bored or frustrated or part of them believes the idea isn’t really any good and that self doubt crushes their faith in their own abilities.

It doesn’t really matter why you can’t finish, because the solution is the same. That’s right, no matter how special and unique and challenging your circumstances are—no matter how tortured and scarred your soul is—finishing a project pretty much comes right down to putting your ass in the chair and sticking with it until you’re done.

I’m going to give you some tools to make it easier though.

Firstly you need to accept this: Whatever you are doing, whatever your writing process is, it is wrong. Specifically, it is wrong for YOU. If it was right, you’d have finished something, so you’re going to have to change.

If you say: ‘Oh, but I can only write at 10pm at night, with three Oreos and a double mocha.’ You are wrong. Maybe your true prime writing time is at 6am, on a train in a carriage that smells like pee, jabbing at an iPad. Or maybe it’s at midday in a park on a laptop. The TRUTH is, career writers can actually write anywhere, under almost any circumstances and still produce work of roughly the same quality. The only reason you have to mix it up is because you’ve taught yourself shitty habits and to unlearn them, you’re going to have to do something different.

Secondly, choose a ‘plan’ or ‘method’ and stick with it. I highly recommend this one. It comes with its own template you can print and I like it because I wrote it. There isn’t a lot of room for buggering around and making excuses and it’s the method I use, so I know it works for me.

You can choose another one, but if it doesn’t work, then come back to my one and damn well stick with it until you’re finished.

Thirdly, you should try using the writing program, Write Or Die. It is a free online program. Alternatively you can buy the $10 desktop version, so you can turn off your internet while you write. It is the single most useful resource for a writer online, hands down. Better than WriterBeware. Better than Duotrope and AgentQuery.

I don’t see how anyone can use it and not reach their word target for the day.

So, once again:

1.      Do something different.
2.      Choose a plan and stick to it.
3.      Use Write or Die to meet your targets.

Annnnnd go!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A New Way To Look At Piracy

Authors bitch and moan about piracy because they’re being so royally violated by publishers and distribution companies. To a traditionally published author, those few extra dollars really matter.

Publishers treat writers with roughly the same respect sweatshops treat their workers.

I’m not talking about editors, mind you, as most authors love their editors. However the publishing houses as a whole, look at authors as if they are a filthy, shameful plague that they unfortunately have to deal with to sell their product.

“But Talitha, publishing houses are a business. They’re designed to make money.”

Yeah, so are sweat shops. Thus the analogy. Saying something is geared toward profit does not make it moral or humane. I could optimise a business where I slowly tortured kittens to death on webcam, but meeting my forecasted profit increase would not justify kitten killing.

Publishing houses make massive profits on their products and pay their authors—who you might remember wrote the damn books—a pittance. Then they act like authors should be grateful for it.

Lots of authors think Amazon is a white knight, galloping in to give authors better profit margins as if they were equals! As if they mattered! However distribution sites, like Amazon, don’t provide the services publishing houses do, like typesetting, cover art and formatting. The author has to do those themselves. Distribution companies just rip off authors the same way they were already screwing publishers.

With authors scrambling to find two dimes to rub together, it’s not surprising to see a lot of hostility toward piraters. However studies show that people who pirate also, on average, SPEND more on books, games, music etc than people who don’t. So if a non pirater spends $10 a week on entertainment, a pirater will spend $15 a week. Probably because they are finding a lot more things they like enough to buy.

Piraters are also spreading the word about their favourite artists and shows, often by giving a download link and sharing the work itself. More lost profits, right?

I suppose. If you’re stupid about it.

How about, instead of saying: “Don’t pirate my work! You’re terrible people! I’m going to starve because you can’t spend $7 on something I spent a year writing!”

We start saying this: “You pirated my stuff. If you like it, maybe you can help me out by ‘paying’ for it. You can do that by writing reviews, giving it five stars on Goodreads and Amazon, visiting my blog and telling your friends how awesome it was.”

Or maybe we can even say this: “My book is for sale for $7 on Amazon, but I only get $2 of that. If you want me, the artist, to get my money while we both FUCK Amazon because they’re turd-heads, here’s my pay pal address. You pirate, send me $2 and we’re all square. You’re a good person and I can afford to keep writing/singing/playing naked banjo in the rain.”

You want a direct link with your readers? Piracy can do that. Upload your own damn books and songs to torrent sites. Ask people to support you and tell them you support them.

Is everyone going to pay? No. Is everyone going to even bother to give you a review? No. Some people are douche-cannons.  That’s okay, some are better than none. Your stuff is going to get pirated—you can’t stop that. You can do damage control. You can even turn it into a positive.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Topher Story

Today, I thought we’d do something a little different. Instead of a writing post, I am going to tell you the story of my mongrel crossbreed, Topher and why I tell people he’s a horrible animal and that he makes my life a living hell. This article started life as an email sent to the pound I got Topher from—though my friends liked it so much, I thought I would share it here:

Topher was one of nine pups, brought to YAPS from Yarrabah in early 2011. Their mother looked something like a brindle German Sheppard—though it was hard to tell, as she was half bald with mange. The pups were five weeks old when I first saw Topher, and she had already abandoned them. The nine of them lived in a pen, outside, in some plastic kennels because YAPS, like so many no kill shelters, is desperately underfunded and has too many dogs.

I chose Topher because he was the quietest and when I picked him up, he sighed and rested his head on my chest, listening to my heartbeat. I fell in love. That ended a week later, when I finally went to pick him up and I heard him scream for the first time.

Yarrabah is a remote aboriginal community. So saying Topher’s mother was ‘part German Sheppard’ is really a joke. There are feral dogs everywhere, most of them descendant from herding dogs or pig dogs. However there hasn’t been a purebred in Yarrabah.... ever. It’s probably 30 generations since there was a ‘breed’ in his lineage. However it’s likely his father had a decent amount of dingo in him, because the sound coming from that 6 week out puppy was nothing like a dog could make.

It wasn’t a whine. It wasn’t even a howl (though he can howl and dingo howls make dog howls sound like goddamn sneezes). It was an extended shriek. A hysterical, unending scream, like a car-crash and a fire alarm had a baby and the baby hated you.

Topher was the most disastrous, nightmarish puppy I have ever known. But what triggered all this screaming? A lack of physical contact. Yes, if I wasn’t physically touching him at all times, he would become an air-raid siren. However he would enthusiastically bite anyone who picked him up. I spent several months living on the floor to keep him quiet. We bled constantly, he bit anything that passed by his face.

Despite having raised three other dogs to be perfectly behaved, well adjusted animals in the past—including Pheonix, who had been badly abused and came to me extremely aggressive and depressed—nothing I did with Topher seemed to work. Determined not to be defeated by a creature that occasionally ate lint, I persevered.

He hated going outside and after several months of him lying prone, letting me physically drag him around the block like he was dead, I gave up on walkies. The neighbours were becoming suspicious.

He ate well, but remained as skinny as an anorexic greyhound but despite several vet visits where he metamorphasized into a hysterical octopus on crack, I was assured he was a healthy, if utterly psychotic, puppy. He was desexed on the earliest possible day the vet was willing to do the procedure in the hope it would calm him down. It didn’t.

He loved banana more than life itself and while he refused to eat bread, pasta or rice leftovers, no one could eat fruit without giving him some. He continued to be slightly thinner than a skeleton and I began to get paranoid someone would call the RSPCA. He also had mange from his mother—dermodectic, not sarcoptic—and a severe allergy to mosquito bites, so his fur was patchy and he looked badly abused. Eukanuba puppy food and every mange cure known to man did nothing to help.

Despite refusing to leave the house, Topher found he quite liked the treadmill and began running a few kilometres a day while I watched TV. He loved trips in the car too, until anyone attempted to leave it, or get him out of it, when he would become a hysterical screaming crack octopus again. It was just as well, as he looked awful.

Every week we brought home piles of new toys to keep him entertained and happy, until the house resembled a very messy day care centre. Whenever Topher destroyed a toy, the little toy pieces would become ‘new toys’ and he would become distraught at any attempts to throw them out.

We moved to Brisbane in October of 2011 and after the mange finally cleared up, Topher began limping. After another hysterical octopus vet visit where the attending vet called him ‘deranged and psychotic’, we found out that both his knees dislocate and the vet suggested surgery. $7000 surgery.

I was told, by many people, that a bullet only costs a dollar.

Why would I spend $7000 on an animal? A feral mongrel, no less. A new dog would be cheaper. Even a pedigree from a breeder would be cheaper. There were plenty of people willing to tell me they would never spend that much on a pet.

It never even crossed my mind. After numerous expensive vet visits where I pointlessly assured vets he was ‘not always this mental’ we found a medication that keeps him pain free and walking comfortably without invasive surgery. There may still be surgery later, but it’s been a long time since he limped at all now.

And, as I had always hoped, on his first birthday, he mellowed out completely. He still has oodles of toys, he’s still as thin as a greyhound and he still hates going outside, but he walks on a lead like a normal dog now. I work from home, so he’s always with me, but these days he’s equally happy to sleep in another room while I work—rather than glued to my leg, shrieking hysterically when I go to the bathroom.

I can’t even imagine how he would have survived in Yarrabah. I suspect it would be physically impossible for him to exist without a couch to sleep on and a kong toy to occasionally drop between my legs into the toilet.

I’d give up my house and live in my car before I gave up Topher. These days people say he’s beautiful and ask what breed he is. I say he’s a ‘some kind of horrible mongrel’ and they look horrified. Topher knows exactly what sort of dog he is. He’s my dog, and he’s never going to be any other kind.

Oh, and for the record? He still rests his head on my chest, listened to my heart, and sighs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Always Back Up Twice.


- Always back up twice.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about novels being lost. The file gets corrupted, the hard drive fails, or a bitter sibling or ex-lover deletes the files out of spite. These things happen. Not only to they happen, but they happen with alarming regularity.

Computers can be lost in fires or floods, computers can be stolen, and computers can need a complete wipe after a viral attack.

With any of these unfortunate events, your stories can be lost. All the beautiful, fragile, heartfelt words that you breathed life into can be lost and swept away forever. Please don’t think I am exaggerating that I say at least 50%, if not more, of my writing friends have lost words due to an error or accident. Usually they don’t lose ALL their words; sometimes they don’t even lose an entire novel. However words are lost.

I always recommend having two backup systems, though which two you choose is up to you. Here are some more popular ways to protect and back up your creations:

- An external hard drive
PROS: Can be stored in a fire proof safe. Can hold large files.
CONS: Hard drives can get viruses and fail, just like computers. You might lose everything on them if you drop them.

- Burnt onto a CD
PROS: Old CDs can be disposed or stored. I carry my CD with me, so if I lose the house, I have my writing. CDs are cheap and easy to write on.
CONS: CDs can be lost, scratched or broken. Not the most environmentally friendly choice.

- Emailed to yourself
PROS: Nothing physical to be lost or broken. Most addresses can be accessed from anywhere. Most emails allow you to create and name folders, so your files can be labelled and stored.
CONS: If you’re hacked, files can be deleted or stolen. A server glitch could still wipe them out. Small file allowances mean you’ll have to send lots of emails. Unless well organised, finding what you want could be a nightmare.

- Drop box
PROS: Drop box will sync across all your computers and devices.
CONS: You have to pay if you want more than 2 gig of storage. You could be hacked, or a server glitch could delete all your files.

- Posted to yourself
PROS: Mostly done in the days before digital storage as a form of copyright protection. Can be stored in crates in the attic.
CONS: Wastes paper, takes up space and no protection from natural disasters.

- USB sticks
PROS: Can be carried with you everywhere. Files can be accessed at any computer.
CONS: USB sticks can die and are easy to lose.

- Hosted on a server
PROS: Can hold large files. Usually very secure.
CONS: May cost money. Servers can crash and be hacked.

The most important thing to remember is, whatever backup method you use, PICK TWO and back up OFTEN. At least once a month. Make the first of every month backup day—write it in your calendar and be sure not to fall behind. Do an extra backup whenever you finish a draft—particularly a first draft.

Perhaps, together, we can make sure no prose is ever lost again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How to do 10k a Day

Big Goals:

Is it possible to get 10k in a single day? I did and I am a tragically slow writer. I know writers who have achieved much higher word counts in a single day. One of them was 12. One of them managed to finish her entire nanowrimo novel in just over twenty four hours. A small part of me hates them both (while also loving them and being incredibly proud I have such awesome friends).

The important thing is that it’s possible for anyone to do 10k in a day, but it does require some planning. This is how I do it.

When to Aim High:

While achieving an obscenely high word count is possible, it's not always the right thing to do. The quality will suffer--though perhaps not as much as you think--so time saved writing may then be wasted on editing. However proving that you CAN do it is one of the most empowering things an author can do, and I highly recommend it.

Don't let your fear of the quality hold you back. However don't try and rush a high word count because you have a major deadline in the near future either.

Before you begin:

Pick a day in advance. It's very difficult to wake up one morning and decide 'Today I'm going to write 10k'. You chances of failing are very high. You may need a week or more to plan, or maybe you can get everything together the day before. However for really high word counts you should plan to pace yourself and aim to do 1k an hour. If you want 10k, that's 10 hours of writing. If you're not ready start writing until 11am, you won't be finished until 9pm--and you'll be exhausted from getting everything ready in such a rush.

What to prepare:

Food. You will need three or four healthy meals, prepared and ready to go, in a nearby fridge. You will also probably need some healthy snacks, so get them ready in little Tupperware containers. Aim for foods with a low GI. You will need carbs and vegetables/salad and if you can get some omega three in there in the form of a cold tuna salad or nuts, do so.

Most of you will probably want plenty of coffee (I don't drink caffeine) and if you smoke, make sure you have enough that you won't need to go down the shop. Incidentals like toilet paper, milk, etc, all need to be ready too.

You will need your favourite, most comfortable clothes to be washed and laid out ready to put on. After six hours or so, you start to notice every little annoyance and tight/uncomfortable clothing will suddenly become a distraction worthy of giving up completely.

I highly recommend you completely outline the material you want to write over the 10k. Make sure you have plenty of bullet points--preferably about twice what you think you will need. I know many of you like to just 'write as you go'. However that rarely works for marathon sessions such as these. Much of your time will be spent trying to work out what happens next and your tired, addled brain will come up with some terrible ideas. Plan. You will appreciate it later.

First thing:

Shower. Dress in your comfortable clothes. Turn off your modem and unplug it from the wall. Do the same with your phone. Set up your computer and open your word files. Close the door so you are alone in the room.

Begin writing.

Those steps are very important and should be done in that order. Showering first wakes you up and doesn't give you the 'I stink, I should shower' excuse later on. Turning off your modem is even more important. You must deny yourself all internet access.

If you reach a stage in the manuscript that you realise you need to research, stick in some asterisks, highlight them in a neon colour and get back to that part later. No internet. No checking emails. Today it is just you and the words.

During the day:

You will probably be hungrier than usual. On a normal day I often don't eat until after 1pm, however during these writing marathons I am starving. Genuinely, overwhelmingly hungry. Which is why you have those prepared meals. Whip them out, choke them down, keep writing.

If you run out of food, it's getting late and you're still hungry, you have my permission to order pizza. However it will make you sluggish, so you really should try and have enough healthy food on standby.

You may not, however, go out and pick the pizza up yourself. No distractions. No excuses.

It’s brutal, but you have to stick with it until you reach your goals. If you start to get a headache, take painkillers right away, before it can get too bad to focus. You will make a great many excuses to stop. If you can't be alone at home, do all this at a library (I have) or even tolerant cafe.

Hotel rooms with shitty cable are awesome, because there is nothing else to do.

If I can do it, you can do it, because I am nothing special.

Faith, determination and positivity will get you over the line.

Happy writing!

Copyright 2012. Talitha Kalago.