Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Suggested Reading

When I went begging on facebook for blog post ideas, my dear friend Mel bravely proposed a reading list of books I recommended for writers. Obviously this list could be many pages long, but having too many options tends to lead to inaction. I’d prefer to just give you a small handful of really good ones that you might actually chase up.

First of all, let me preface this by saying I think writers should read all the books on how to write, how to get published, how to market, how to self publish, sociology and psychology they can get their hands on. However, as all these areas are developing at a mind-boggling pace, I suggest you focus on the ones published in the past 5 years.

I also recommend starting with the people you respect, who have vibrant careers, because there is also a lot of misinformation out there. However the more you read, the more you can compare different ideas, theories and tactics. Yes, you end up reading a lot of the same stuff phrased slightly differently. It’s worth it, in my opinion, to actually feel confident about the subject.

That said, here are my very top resources that I regularly refer to:

- On Writing – Stephen King
A classic and one I have re-read dozens of times. He gives fantastic stylistic advice, though I don’t support all of his beliefs RE: talent. A great ‘where to start’ guide when it comes to improving your style.

- Breakout Novelist – Donald Maass
Some of the information in this one is outdated now, and Donald writes very much from the perspective of an agent, when agents were critical to publishing and the literary process. Lots of good advice, but remember when and who it’s coming from.

- Million Dollar Outlines – David Farland
Just keep reading it every single month of your life until you can repeat the whole thing verbatim. Probably more of an intermediate read, rather than for beginners, but there is no one who couldn’t benefit from reading this book.

- 2k to 10k – Rachel Aaron
Short and a little disjointed, as its made up from a heap of blog posts, but an interesting method to try if you want to vastly increase your word count. For best results, commit to doing it 100% her way for a month.

- Make a Killing on Kindle – Michael Alvear
This book comes across as really sleazy, however the advice for marketing and optimising sales on Amazon is practical and effective. You do feel oddly like you are being scammed by a telemarketer while reading it though, which is a shame.

- Happiness by Design – Paul Dolan
A lot of you are already planning to skip this one, because it’s not about writing. Maybe you think you’re already happy, or maybe you hate self help books. However this isn’t a self help book, nor is it promising to make you happy if you read it. This is one of those sociology/psychology books I was talking about, which aims to teach you to understand happiness.

Contrary to the ‘tortured artist’ trope, it’s virtually impossible to have a career as an author if you are unhappy. Those romanticised tortured artists? Most of them only produced a handful of works in their time and fewer still made enough money to survive off those works. To have a career, you need to produce work quickly and confidently. Being stressed, depressed, anxious or overly dramatic makes that very unlikely.

I consider my physical and mental health to be about 50% of my production. The rest is discipline and planning. So I consider understanding happiness to be AT LEAST a quarter of my work. To make up the other 25% of that equation, I also recommend:

- The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet – CSIRO
Which lists the foods, portions and exercises you should do to maintain optimum health. Not to lose weight, not to feel good, not to look amazing, just to be the healthiest you can be. There are also five recipe books, so you can never, ever possibly be bored with the options. Because my diet is stupid limited, and I like to cut out unnecessary decision making, I just have 2-3 lunches and 2-3 dinners I eat every day that meet the dietary requirements outlined.

Don’t think of happiness and health as being part of a separate system to writing.  Happiness, health and writing are all brain things and as much as we think of ourselves as being more than a lump of meat, the brain is an organic organ, literally just meat tissue, and it is bound by the same physical limits as, say, your lungs and colon. Since we’re on the topic, it’s worth noting, any deprivation of calories, is going to mean energy is redirected to critical systems like running the heart and muscles, so you will have less thinking energy. Diets are bad for writing. Empty calories in junk food are even worse for writing. EAT HEALTHY. (Literally just had soda and chocolate for breakfast. Do as I say, etc)

I’d also like to list about 8000 psychology and sociology books, but they can be tricky to track down. So instead, just go to your local library and read everything they have, starting with the newest titles. Also buy copies of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks & The Naked Ape – Desmond Morris because everyone should own those two, despite their age.

In a few more weeks, I’ll be getting back to my character series. Then I may do an extended series on productivity. However, before then, is there any one-off topics you would like me to cover on the blog? Hit me up on facebook or post a comment here with suggestions.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tag's Introduction to Co-Authoring

Many people are flabbergasted by my high word counts. Few realise the bulk comes from projects I am writing with my co-author, Meg. We regularly do 100, 000 new words a month and we divide the word count 50/50, giving us 50, 000 words each, on top of what we have done on personal projects.

So I wanted to do a blog post about co-authoring this week. This is just a short introduction to the pros and cons, and how Meg and I do things, which is different to most other co-author teams.

Four things to remember:

Firstly, you need to realise that co-authoring relationships sit somewhere on a sliding scale between best friends and strictly business. Where you are on that scale will depend on you and your co-author, but you have to be on the same page.

Secondly, if there is anything writing/business related you feel uncomfortable talking to your co-author about, DON’T WORK WITH THAT PERSON. You need to be able to discuss rights, money, editing duties, plot structure/twists, character motivations, all of it. Bones to polish. If you don’t feel you can speak up about something, you either can’t work with people in general, or you can’t work with that person, depending on why you feel you can’t talk about that issue.

Thirdly, you need to have a really good method of dealing with conflict. What that is will vary depending on the people involved, but it needs to be quick and painless. No sulking, no manipulation, no hidden agendas. If you can’t stay level-headed and compromise, don’t co-author. Because there WILL be conflicts. Constantly. But they won’t feel like fights or debates if you have good communication and conflict resolution skills.

Fourthly, you need a contract. It needs to be a signed contract, which you wrote together, both completely agree on and both completely understand. It needs to cover rights, right reversions, money distribution, what happens if one of you dies, what happens if you have an irrevocable falling out, etc. Plan for all the worst case scenarios you can imagine, even if they seem impossible. If you don’t want to talk about those things and put them in a contract, once again, don’t co-author.

So how do Meg and I actually do the work?

You should know our first drafts are embarrassingly rough, full of unnecessary fluff, poorly written, full of plot holes and littered with abandoned sub-plots. So the majority of the work happens in the editing stage. And that’s fine and normal.

When writing a first draft, one of us comes up with the idea for the plot and setting and they we are each assigned characters to control/direct. We then take turns writing scenes, passing them back and forth all day. Often, the non-plotting writer has no idea where the story is going, and only has information about the next few scenes. It’s the back and forth that gets us the high word count. We’re excited to see what happens next, so we want to write our own section to see what the other will say. Because the sections we are writing are quite short, there is only a small amount of work before we get a reward—the next part of the story. Because we always share 1:1, we’re constantly motivated, all day, to write a little more. One more scene. One more page.

Obviously, for this to work, you have to be very enthusiastic about the other author’s writing. You also have to be very excited about the plot. What Meg and I have done is essentially gamified writing. So writing becomes a process we are slowly working on, between other things, all day. Seven AM to seven PM, averaging 300 words an hour, gives us 3600 each a day. Which, doubled, gives us the aforementioned 100k a month.

This may sound huge, but you need to understand this is a side thing—a quick 300 words between doing a load of dishes and a load of washing for me. And Meg manages her words, even while working full time. 

The editing process is a whole other animal. We read through the first draft alone and make notes. Then we come together and discuss those notes. Then the first writer does the developmental edits/second drafting. The developmental edits are handed to the second writer to give feedback, and we come together to discuss changes we want to make based on that feedback. When we are happy with the second draft, the second writer does line edits and polish.

Our method will be successful for very few people. I would even hesitate to recommend it to others. It is rare, particularly in younger folk, to have two people who are not only close enough to talk for 12 hours every single day, but who are also be capable of a sensible business relationship.

That said, working with another author can be one of the most rewarding and fun writing experiences there is. I sincerely hope to be working with Meg for many decades to come and look forward to opportunities to work with other writers in the future.

Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit and having someone else equally invested in a project gives it double the drive, double the love and double the experience. Don’t ever be afraid to give it a try.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

10 Things I Want You to Know About My Chronic Illness

I’m chronically ill, did you know that? If you didn’t, you are waaaay behind the curve. But even if you think you know me, here are ten more things I want you to know:

1. Sometimes say: ‘I can’t eat that.’ when you’ve seen me eat it before.
Last time I ate that? Yeah, it made me sick. Probably really sick. If I don’t want to eat it today, it’s because:
A) I don’t want to be sick today.
B) I planned on hanging out with you for more than an hour after eating and I don’t want you to see me being sick.
C) I knew there wouldn’t be anything I could eat here, so I already ate.

2. I’m in pain.
My day to day pain level is so bad, that I have broken bones in the last 12 months and not known, because my regular pain was more severe than my broken bone pain. If you have known me less than ten years, you’ve never spoken to me, or spent any time with me, while I have been pain free. If I am not super enthusiastic today, the pain is just becoming too distracting for me to focus on you. I’m probably happy to be spending time with you, so please don’t make it shitty by acting hurt I’m not bouncing off the walls.

3. Loud noises and bright lights are pretty awful.
No, I don’t want to hang out in a group. No, I don’t want to be in a busy place. No, I don’t want to be out in the sun. No, I don’t want the volume up any louder. I’m perpetually fighting a migraine and I’m always trying to focus AROUND constant pain. Loud music and flashing lights are the bane of my existence and that’s why I sit in the back row at church, in the darkness. I’m not being anti-social. I’m just fed-up with vomiting in the bathrooms during service.

4. Hanging out with you made me sick for three days.
Or a week. Or a month. Depending on what we did. If I ever TRY and spend time with you, I really, really like you a lot. Even if we just had a quiet coffee in a dark, soundproof room, I spent the next morning on the couch, in too much pain to move. THAT’S HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU.

5. You’ve said something really offensive and I’ve forgiven you.
I can’t think of a single person who I’ve talked to about my illness who hasn’t said something moronic and offensive. I swallowed the desire to smack you in the mouth and got over it. I know you meant well. And if you think: ‘well, she doesn’t mean me’, I do. I mean you, personally.

6. I pretty much always want to chat via text.
Facebook, skype, email. If you’re ever wondering if I want to hear from you, I do. Being chronically ill means being isolated for all the above reasons. I often have bad days and imagine that everyone has forgotten I exist and if I am very lucky, someone messages me on those days. I don’t want to chat on the phone all that much though, because talking hurts my jaw. So does eating. And laughing. My phone is on silent for a reason.

7. Sometimes I say really weird shit.
I take a lot of medications and when I have a migraine my thoughts get very muddled. I can say some very weird stuff. I can think of a few people who have really liked spending time with me, then seen me in the grips of a bad migraine and completely vanished from my life. Don’t be that person. It’s pretty brutal to be on the receiving end of that.

8. I can’t see you very well.
Even wearing glasses, I have double vision a lot and I can’t see in very much in bright lights at all. Most of the time, I identify people by the sound of their voice. This is also why I am covered in bruises and fall down a lot. And why I don’t like walking alone. Door frames are the bane of my existence. If I am very quiet and staying close to you, or let you go first, I am probably secretly using you as a navigation aid.

9. On a bad day, I am helpless.
On my good days, no one knows I am sick, because I am a good liar. On my bad days, I often can’t stand. This means I can’t feed myself, dress myself or even go to the bathroom. I can’t answer the phone. I can’t get my own medication. I can’t get myself a drink or a blanket or the remote or turn on or off the air conditioner unless things are within my reach. I am too fuzzy-headed to take my medication, because I can’t keep track of time and may overdose. I can’t use glass cups or plates. And to make it more frustrating, I often can’t speak clearly, even if I am thinking clearly. So I am unable to communicate my needs to other people. It’s every bit as horrible as it sounds, but actually after a few years you get used to it.

10. I have to plan everything to the last detail.
Because of all of the things I have just listed, everything in my life has to be planned. Perfectly. All my meals have to be planned. Regular trips to the doctor have to be planned. Trips to the chemist and grocery store have to be planned. Social visits have to be planned. Particularly strenuous tasks like stripping my sheets, washing them and remaking my bed have to be planned, literally days in advance, so I have the energy to do them without making myself too sick. I can really only leave the house once a week, twice, if someone else is doing my shopping and some of the cleaning. Just being alive is a full time job, staying fed, clean and upright require 24/7 organisation and planning. The fact that I also get things done, like writing and editing, means I sacrifice heath, I sacrifice a social life, I sacrifice nice food and settle for eating a cup of frozen peas. But fuck you if you pity me, because I’m probably getting more important stuff done than you anyway.

So what do I want you to take from this?

Firstly, I probably like you a lot more than you think I do.

Secondly, I get so many movies and documentaries watched because I literally can’t move. Stop being jealous.

Thirdly, I am a lot sicker than you thought I was, but I am rockin’ it. I am a lean, mean productivity machine because what you think I am getting done in a week, I am probably getting done in about four hours.

Fourthly, you can talk to me about this stuff. I’m not afraid to answer your questions. I’m not sad or ashamed about my illness. Sometimes it’s gross and horrifying, but welcome to Earth, planet of the gross and horrifying stuff.  And I am Gross and Horrifying Queen of my Domain.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 – In Summary

To be honest, it wasn’t until I really thought about it that I realised I’d had a great 2015.

I spent most of it too sick to do the things I wanted, and stressed because I was behind on deadlines. So if you had asked me in the thick of it, I would have said I was having a terrible 2015.

Its only now, in retrospect, I can see how much I accomplished and be proud of how much I did get done, considering the dire circumstances.

All up in 2015, my yearly word count total was 413, 217 words.

My 2015 editing total was 1,382 pages.

Within that, I wrote two solo novels, five co-authored novels and edited eight books.

I had one novel published with Harlequin under a pen name. They actually approached me about the project, and it was very flattering to be ‘in demand’.

I am also a judge in the Aurealis Awards, for the horror category. Which has been a fantastic and educational experience. I am enjoying it a lot more than I expected and currently hope to put my name forward again next year. (Despite all my good natured moaning.)

I also reached my goal weight, after several years of slow progress, brought a brand new car for the first time, saved the life of a terrible cat (Thomas) and was able to afford to buy my mother a new and expensive bedroom set and fancy mattress.

While my health has not been great, by anyone’s standard, I was able to get on top of two major health problems. The first being the quality of my sleep, the second being my migraines. At the start of the year, I was suffering migraines 90% or more of the time. The pain, vision disturbance, sound sensitivity, dizziness and confusion were pretty much constant and were ruining my life. Changes to medication, sleep and diet have reduced the migraines to closer to 30%-40% of the time, allowing me to actually have some semblance of a life outside a haze of brain fog.

While I am still very sick and there are still a lot of issues to try and address, this progress is what will hopefully allow me to make serious headway on my goals of 2016.

There were a few points in 2015 where I was ready to throw in the towel. When you are debilitating ill, and you suffer chronic pain, you sometimes reach points where you wonder why you are working so hard to improve your situation. It would be so much easier to just let the ever growing mound of horror bury you. There is certainly no one around who would try and stop me if I gave in completely and decided to dedicate the remainder of my life to video games and horror movies.

Until I was inspired to write this post, I would have said my biggest accomplishment was not giving up completely, but that I had very little to show for it. But actually I have a lot to show for it. And I have a lot of people and achievements in my life right now I am deeply grateful for.

1 book published.
413,000+ words written.
7 first drafts completed.
8 books edited.

One fantastic year.