Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Executive Summary is a Private Affair

What I find interesting is a lot of authors talk about putting together an author business plan, but at the same time I don't see concrete examples of what these author business plans look like. I am a big proponent of writing by example, and writing the executive summary has been difficult a difficult process. Typical executive summaries highlight what's inside the entire business plan and is written toward investors. The executive summary generates a buy-in, but as an author you are not asking others to invest money; you are asking yourself to invest in you. An author executive summary, to my way of thinking, is more personal, more intimate. You don't have to share the executive summary publicly because the executive summary is a private affair. Thus, also probably the reason I don't see author's executive summaries posted online.
If you have written an author business plan, I want to know. Specifically, I would like to see the executive summary. How did you write the summary? What was your process? What was your thinking when you drafted the executive summary? You are more than welcome to post your executive summary or business plan writing adventures in the comments below. Or, if you want to be more private about the affair, feel free to email me. I promise not to spam you. :)
I have found several online resources for the business plan's executive summary from purely an entrepreneurial pursuit, a more traditionally aligned "Let's make money by selling stuff and/or services" attitude.
                   Entrepreneur has a nice template.
                   Mplans, which basically sells business writing software, has a decent executive summary sample that is reminiscent of my pizza shop experience.
                   Alxel Schultze, CEO of Society3 posted a run down of a one pager, which I really like.
                   Amy Fontinelle wrote a piece on titled Business Plan: Composing Your Executive Summary.

I've used these sites to assist me in composing my own executive summary.

What I liked in particular about Fontinelle's piece was that she quoted William Gregory O, an Illinois attorney and owner of the law firm Lex Scripta LLC and Mike Coleman president of The Startup Garage, and these two dudes basically say if the executive summary is not engaging, then potential investors won't look beyond that page and won't bother investing. Because the investor in your author career is you, the executive summary is written to grab your attention and no one else matters. My executive summary is personal and fits only my personal needs. It excites me to read my own executive summary. I want to buy this guy lunch and a beer:

I am an author embracing the creative life and helping other authors to do the same. I write mainstream literary fiction and fantasy fiction. My audience includes independent authors, literary readers, and fantasy readers. Currently, my audience resides on Amazon. Eventually, my audience will also reside in brick and mortar bookstores. I sell stories. More specifically, I sell stories that not only entertain but hopefully speak to a greater truth in relation to the human experience. I also sell the author experience, although not necessarily for monetary gain. I help people to succeed in their writing endeavors.

This, of course, is only the first paragraph of the executive summary. The rest of the piece needs to highlight the entire author business plan. After the entire plan has been drafted, I will be returning to the executive summary to include the plan's highlights—so as this blog series continues, look forward to that future post. Next week: the business description.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Write Another Book: Setting Goals

Goals for me, personally, often are confused with what I want to happen in relation to events that I cannot control. My wife and I went over next year's summer budget. I want to take time off to hike the Appalachian Trail. She wants to spend time in Ohio with the extended family as well as take our kids on several day and weekend trips. Except for the Ohio bit, none of this will happen unless I am able to make $XX,XXX by late May 2016. In addition, last week's post dealt with annual budgetary needs. So my immediate gut-level reaction is to set a goal that states I will make $XX,XXX off my writing by May 2, 2016.

That dollar amount end goal will get me into trouble. I will experience complete, utter failure not because I don't think my writing is worth $XX,XXX, but because I have zero control over how many people decide to purchase my books. It's like saying, "I will get 20,000 Twitter followers by December 31st 2015."

A distinct difference lies between wants and goals. A goal moves you in the direction of a want, but does not guarantee the want. A goal is an actionable achievable that you have total control over. A goal is a choice. You don't choose who follows you or how many people follow you on Twitter. How and what you tweet, on the other hand, you do have complete control over. You can choose to tweet or you can choose not to tweet. You can choose to tweet the annoying "BUY MY BOOK" or you can choose to promote healthy online relationships through your tweets. You can choose to tweet once a day or 50 times a day. You can choose to deliver pizzas or you can choose to write another book.

------------------------------------------------------CLICK TO TWEET--------------------------------------------------------
                                        Via @SteveBargdill #writetip
So, first and foremost a goal is a choice to do something and to complete that something. The goal should work toward what you want, but achieving the goal is not the all-beat end result. The goal is relevant to what you want—to what you are going after and chasing with passion.

The goal is specific. To continue with my Twitter analogy, I want 20,000 followers and the only way to move toward that want is to tweet—but tweet what exactly, and how many times? A specific goal moving toward 20,000 Twitter followers might read like: "I will tweet at least 10 times a day for the next three months." Better yet, the goal might read: "I will tweet at least 10 times a day for the next three months. 5 tweets will share a useful article I found online. 3 tweets will be retweets, and two tweets will direct my current followers to either my blog or my Facebook page. Additionally, on Mondays I will participate in #FF."[1] Notice the time component to the goal. The goal is an ongoing activity that runs for three whole months. Goals, therefore, are linked to a time frame. Lastly, goals are measurable. At the end of the time-frame that the goal is linked to, you can look at whether the goal had been or had not been accomplished. You can examine your Twitter feed and actually count how many times you tweeted over the last three months; you can check to see if you actually followed the mix of tweet-types. And lastly, you can examine whether that particular goal you set brought you any closer to those 20,000 followers.

In my last post, Dealing with Realities, I figured I need to publish 13 more titles to begin to see more income from my writing. I also learned I need to write faster. In my Vision Casting post, I mentioned that I want to see my novels sitting on actual brick and mortar bookstore shelf. Lastly, I'm concerned with visibility, marketing and sales. My goals need to chase after those wants. I've listed the goals just below here. In addition, I've limited the goals to 30 days. At the end of 30 days, I will measure my success and/or failure and change accordingly.

  1. I will keep a writer’s log for 30 days. In this log, I will set daily writing word count goals aimed at pushing my limitations beyond the average 2000 words per day. At the end of each day, I will log the number words I have written. If I fall short of the daily word count goal, I will explain why. If I exceed my word count goal I will explain why.
  2. For additional accountability concerning the number of words I write per day, I will tweet a word count before I go to bed. I will not comment in the tweet whether I hit my target word count or not.
  3. In 30 days, I will complete a rough draft of a grammar guide aimed at fiction authors. I will use my Top 20 Grammar Error blog series as a template for this grammar book.
  4. In 30 days, I will complete the writing for the business plan for authors blog series. Once the series is written, I will outline a book based upon the posts.
  5. By the end of 30 days, I will begin a blog series on Scrivener Writing software. I will have at least 3 posts completely drafted and the rest of the series outlined. I will look forward to, but not yet work on, converting this series of blog posts into book form as well.
  6.  I will begin writing a five book series in the neo-noir genre about newspaper reporter Jack Boomer. Each book must be roughly 35,000 words. At the end of 30 days, I will have completed the rough draft of the first book. Additionally, at the end of 30 days, I will have outlined the rest of the series. When I write, my individual scenes normally run at approximately 500 words. This means at the end of 30 days, I will have outlined a total of 280 scenes. As these books are completed, they will be posted on Amazon.
  7. In the next 30 days, I will send out 13 short stories to various literary magazines for publication. These stories have already been written, so only the queries need sent.
  8. I will research literary agents. By the end of 30 days, I will have a list of at least 10 literary agents who I think might be interested in my WIP Breath: An American Story.
I believe the above goals fit my needs. The first two goals are aimed at writing more per day. Goals three and four address my blog, a place my presence is visible online. Number seven also is directed toward visibility. Number eight is aimed at that vision cast of seeing my books in an actual real-life bookstore. Overall, the list aims towards another eight books, not including Breath, which I plan to market toward traditional publishing as opposed to my efforts through Amazon.

I considered adding more goals for the next 30 days; however, eight began to seem overwhelming. I think when you get to the point where you are starting to feel overwhelmed, that's a good stopping point. Goals are meant to push you in the direction of your wants. That doesn't mean stressing out about everything you have to do, but it does mean stretching further out in a direction you have previously thought you could not reach. Get that ladder out and start up some goals!

I'm of course not the only one talking about writing and setting goals. Check these sites out:
Setting Effective Writing Goals by Moira Allen
Goal Setting Strategies for Writers by Mindy McHorse
How to Set SMART Writing Goals by Dustin Wax
Self-Publish Like a Pro: Setting Goals for Your Book and Career by Alexandra Fletcher

Next Week: The Executive Summary!

[1]For those uninitiated, #FF stands for "Follow Friday." You tweet the names of people that you think are cool, that you think others should follow as well. Traditionally, this is done on Fridays, but I am weird and do not follow the rules, so I tweet #FFs on Mondays. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dealing in Realities

With any business, the end result should be a focus on money. As I stated in my vision casting post, for me writing is not just a job but a lifestyle choice, and the writing has to support that lifestyle. It does not have to necessarily support employees, but it does have to first and foremost support my individual needs.

My individual needs include paying out some money every month.

Here's my monthly budget:

Renter's Insurance
Auto maintenance
Auto Insurance
Running Money
Bus Pass
Life Insurance

I have blacked out the numbers for, well, obvious reasons, but these are the numbers I have to hit with my writing for me to be able to live comfortably. Does not really include upcoming college loan payments, or my daughter's soon to be a college expense. In fact, the budget above leaves a lot of stuff out, but this quick and dirty monthly budget gives me a number to shoot for.

Here's the kicker: every time I sell a book on Amazon, that brings in $2.05. That royalty number is not a secret. Anyone can look it up.

In my vision casting, I mentioned a part of this whole thing is teaching writing at the university level. I'm doing that now, though it is not creative writing but developmental writing and beginning college composition and some writing center coaching/consulting. Not totally where I want to be, but pretty dang close and on my way, so I'm going to include that income as writing income. Teaching adjunct covers rent and gas.

That leaves me with monthly expenses of $n,nnn, which means I need to sell on Amazon nnnn books a month. I'll be honest: that number seems like an absolute impossibility to achieve.

Chris Mullins has something different to say, but I think he is over optimistic. He suggests a committed author should sell way over between 300 and 700 per title. For argument sake, that means a successful author should have 800 sales per month per book. Which means, to hit that number a successful author needs to have at minimum 2 ½ books published on Amazon. I actually do have that many books on Amazon.

Mullins also suggests the book should be ranked in the top 10,000. Actually, he uses an author ranking, and I'm not quite positive where he's getting this number from. Amazon? Maybe?

My novel Banana Sandwich hovers right around the 10,000 mark for its genre. The novel is ranked 1,309,362 in the best sellers at the time of this writing. Wasteland, Neighborhood Mums, Color of Hope, those rankings are much more dismal than Banana Sandwich. I don't even want to talk about those numbers.

For 2014, I made seventeen dollars in royalty checks. Thus far this year: eight dollars.

Maria Force published some harder 'soft' numbers not based on as much speculation as Mullin's ideas on where an author should be rank-wise for sales. Force reports 2012 sales figures per author per unit sold. The lowest number on that list is 5 total unit sales in a single year, and the highest number on that list is 646,908 unit sales in a single year. That means, one author sold over fifty-three thousand books per month.

More specifically, Force highlights Liliana Hart's success: 441,069 sales in one year, never been traditionally published. In 2010, Hart had zero sales, and in 2011 she had 76,527 sales. By the way, I just liked Hart's Facebook page. My question has to do with what happened for Hart between 2010 and 2011.

Man, listen, I'm content with a starting point. Everyone needs a starting point. The numbers Hart shares suggest overnight success. We all know that's not true. Overnight success means sweat, blood, and tears that no one ever sees. A closer examination of Force's post suggests authors didn't really start hitting significant sales numbers until they had around 15 titles available. For example, Laura Hunsaker has one title available and only 193 sales. Juliana Stone seems to be the exception in Force's list; Stone has three titles and 19,000 unit sales.

Practically, that means I need 13 more titles available for purchase to hit Mullin's magic number of the top 10,000 ranked authors.

Here's the bad news: on average it takes me about a year to write a novel. To achieve 13 more titles, I'll be 55 years old.

Here's the immediate take away: I need to change.

Next week: Starting Point Goals

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Vision Casting

Last week, we discussed the epiphany of having an author business plan. Today is about vision casting,[1] and I've actually been avoiding writing this particular blog. What I'm writing is not anything I haven't already thought of. There has been countless midnight after the kids go to bed discussions with my wife where we have talked about all of this stuff I'm going to share with you today. This is private stuff. Soul-searing stuff—dreams and hopes of a not yet reality. A reality I am unsure if will actually manifest. The following eleven points encapsulate my personal vision cast.

  1. I want my novels sitting on actual brick and mortar bookstore shelves.
  2. I want to publish and work closely with, but not necessarily edit a well-respected literary journal.
  3. I want a house with two barns & a guest cottage
  4. I want to provide writer in residence programs and utilize the cottage on my property for this purpose where an author can reside rent free and most meals provided while he or she crafts art.
  5. One of the barns I want to convert to a radio and video broadcast studio where I can produce online training courses for writers.
  6. The other barn I want to host writing conferences, workshops, and classes.
  7. I want to purchase an Espresso Book Machine and publish independent titles that would be distributed to indie bookstores only.
  8. I want to open my own bookstore/coffee shop and host nationally known authors on live radio.
  9. I want to teach fiction writing and literature at the university level.
  10. I want a personal assistant.
  11. I want a team of enthusiastic, passionate people around me

Why eleven points? Why not ten or five or fifteen? I don't know. I simply wrote down what I wanted my future to look like; what I wanted my career to be. Who I wanted to be.

I believe writing is not just a job; not just something one does in his or her spare time as a hobby. I believe writing is a lifestyle. Writing is about how I want to live my life. It's how I want to contribute to the greater world around me. Coming from this perspective, my author business plan will probably look considerably different than the plan I created for the pizza shop.

Obviously, this vision is my vision and highly personal. You may not relate to any of the stuff on the list. You might think I'm crazy. That's okay because this blog is about the process of casting your vision. To create your own vision cast, imagine yourself five, ten years out into the future. What do you want that future to look like? Write it down.

Next week, we'll look at some of my immediate realities. That is, what I want need to accomplish now.

[1]Vision casting is normally done by church pastors. The pastor and his/her team communicate their goals for the church to the congregation. Often times, vision casting is couched in terms of what God wants for the church. The vision is sometimes far flung into the future.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Success in Failure

I have this weird relationship with my writing. It's one of the reasons I disdain MFA programs—they are full of people who believe they are artists.[1] I am not an artist, and that statement is not true. Writing is an art form, and I have to own that, but I also want to sell my art so I can eat and pay bills, and that makes my writing a business. The question becomes, how one balances those two very disparate pursuits: one of art and one of business. I will be the first to tell you that I am not very good at the latter.
Years back, I attempted opening a pizza shop. The restaurant never opened,[2] but I did come out of the experience with a very thorough business plan. I had pepperoni priced out to the ounce, and I knew who my competition was. I knew what the restaurant's mission was, and yeah the restaurant did have a mission. The last few days I've been thinking about the pizza shop—not about what went wrong, but about what went right. I had, for example, catering contracts in place before I was even anywhere near opening—before I even had the pizza oven. And speaking of the pizza oven, I managed to get a local company to move a PS360 Middleby Marshall conveyor belt oven weighing over a thousand pounds with a 90-inch width through a 32-inch wide door for free. And oh, yeah. I didn't have to pay rent on the restaurant until six months after opening. I knew how many deliveries Domino's down the street made a night because I sat in my car across the street and counted how many times their delivery drivers left.
There was a lot of success hidden away in the failure.
Now, here I am today with two novels sitting on Amazon that in the three years the books have been for sale, I have to account for their effort several very nice reviews and a twenty-five dollar royalty check. I have a web page that I pay twenty dollars per year on, and I have maintained that web page for three years. I have made negative thirty-five dollars. By all accounts, this is a much worse business venture than the pizza shop. But, you know: my writing is an art and if you write a good book people on their own will find that good book and that's all you have to do.
Because it's writing, and because I've been told by so many people that writing is just a hobby and you can't count on income from writing because it's art and no one can make money at art, and I have even heard myself utter these words to myself…. because it's writing, I don't take what I do seriously enough for my writing to make money. This attitude must change. I have to look at that 32-inch door and stand beside my 90-inch oven and say, "This is not a problem."
What was successful about my pizza shop was the business plan. What isn't successful about my writing business is I have no plan.  I need to do some back-tracking. That doesn't mean removing my novels from Amazon, but that does mean putting together an author business plan, and following the plan. Business plans are normally a private ordeal—something very few people see: the CEO, the banker, your landlord. One of the things I believe though, being an author means giving. Over the next several weeks, I'll draft my author business plan together. I'm going to share the plan and its writing process right here on this blog.
My pizza shop plan had seven chapters: the executive summary, the business description, market strategies, competitive analysis, design and development plan, the operations and management plan, and financial factors. Those seven chapters are pretty typical in a business plan. I'm not sure at this point whether I need all of those chapters or if I need different chapters or exactly what I'm getting myself into. I've done some initial research and have discovered that business plans for authors are not unheard of. The following are links I've so far found useful:


What I'm going to do next over the next few days is to study the above links a bit more in depth. I am not going to comment on them outright. I'll leave it for you to decide whether they were useful articles or not. My next post will be on vision casting, and we'll see where that takes us.

[1]I say this with jealousy. I chose to do a MA. My wife was recently accepted to the University of New Hampshire's MFA program. I spent a semester in the Iowa Writer's Workshop as an undergraduate. I have dreams of applying to the low residency program at Fairleigh Dickinson University after I attain a PhD.
[2]Let's just say I didn't do my due diligence. The landlord went through a bankruptcy and the repossessing bank decided I was one of the landlord's assets. It was a painful moment.

Some Flash Fiction Just Because

Cooking Pumpkins

Coffee is not enough.
There is no day or night. Only periods of light. And dark. Sleep comes between kids and school and a third shift-job. Sleep apnea without the CPAP—multiple trips to the bathroom for no reason, smoking cigarettes in the back yard until the entire pack is gone, fits of gasping for oxygen. The wife upstairs. The couch is hard and never enough money. The two year old refuses to drink the powdered milk from the food bank. The food bank that you did not know your sister-in-law worked at. Your big-assed better than thou sister-in-law who sits in that small, cramped office with her government forms asking questions about nutrition, and handing recipes for pumpkin strudel pie. A week ago you bought three pumpkins and took the fucking time to carve three fucking jack-o-lanterns with your eight year old daughter. You took the pumpkin innards and made cookies and stew and bread and meatless pumpkin burgers and roasted the fucking damn seeds because you didn't really want to carve the jack-o-lanterns, but the pumpkins were the cheapest thing in the grocery store that week.
What the hell does your sister-in-law know about cooking pumpkins?
“How's the wife?” she asks.
“Fine,” you say. “Everything's fine.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Planning a Pipe Dream

Since I was seventeen, I have wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, two thousand one hundred sixty eight miles. When I graduated from high school, I planned the trip for the summer before college, but my parents said if I went they would disown me and more importantly not support my educational goals financially. I stayed home and worked in the lumber yard that my father used to work at when he was eighteen. Soon, life got in the way as it always does, and I forgot about the AT, though the trip remained in the crevices of my mind as an unrequited ghost. One day, I always told myself. One day.
Then, approximately six years ago I was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, a problem I’ve dealt with since a teenager, but not knowing what it was, a child of the seventies and eighties. As I got older, I simply got more tired, and I thought this was how things were supposed to be: your body wears out. The night I woke in the garage sitting in the car in my underwear, keys in hand, not knowing if I had just left and had come back or getting ready to leave, a trip to the doctor was in order. Whatever slim hope I had of hiking the AT straight through and unsupported were completely dashed. I was now tethered to a machine that required an electric power source.

The CPAP weighs a few pounds, is bulky, and comes with a hose that is attached to my nose at night. Even with carrying a solar charged battery, taking this machine with me on a 2000 mile plus hike is impractical. Heck, taking the machine through baggage at the airport is impractical, and people stare at you in the security lines for holding them up, because the TSA people take apart the machine to make certain it’s not a bomb.
Additionally, since graduating with my master’s, I’ve been filling out a ton of job applications. Each application has the same section asking if I am a disabled American. Sleep apnea is an official American with disabilities condition, but I have never considered myself disabled until I moved to New Hampshire and my home sits two hours from the AT. I can taste the dust and rocks, the humidity, the sweat involved, and I imagine the stoner Rastafarians I’d run into along the way. I’ve been marking on these job applications that I’d rather not discuss my medical issues, which is in effect saying I have a disability without really saying I have a disability. It’s like pleading the fifth in a trial. So I really don’t want to talk about the Appalachian Trail.

Then I found these puppies:
Yep. That’s a CPAP. You tape them to your nose like a Band-Aid, and throw them away in the morning. Thank you Provent! No power cord, no hose to the nose, no more delays in airport security lines.
More importantly,  I can ride the Greyhound down to Atlanta, Georgia in mid to late May 2016, hitch a ride to Dahlonega, and hike all the way back North.
I’ve never let my disability, which I have never in the past considered to be a disability, stop me from doing anything. Now that I am labeled though, it is difficult to think otherwise—that I have to sleep in for those few extra hours, that I can’t have a normal job because I have to take naps, that insert <appropriate excuse>. Walking over two thousand miles is daunting for normal people, but then most people who walk the AT aren’t all that normal.
And there are amazing people out there like Rachelle Friedman. Though I doubt I’ll ever do a Victoria Secrets Lingerie photo shoot:
Please read:On May 23, 2010 I was paralyzed in an awful accident that would not only change my life, but the lives of...

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Last Wyoming Days

I never imagined ever loving a place so much I wouldn’t want to leave. I escaped Ohio with a velocity that stalled out many times, always returning to that dismal state because that’s where I was from, that’s where my family ate, worked, slept, played.

Four years ago, stuck in dead end jobs—gas station clerk, pizza delivery driver, and trying to find people to pay me for web design—I made a decision: to return to school, to get my master’s. I thought I’d go to school in Ohio. Wright State, Ohio State, anywhere within driving distance, and my wife looked at me one evening and said, “What about the University of Wyoming?”

“What about the University of Wyoming?” I asked back.

Years ago, my wife drove cross country in her red Cavalier to a Jackson Hole lodge to work as a receptionist. On a day off work, she made it to Laramie, visited the University, and fell in love. She said on that drive out in her mid-twenties—an age really too old to work at a lodge and yet too young to have a decent job—layers of stress peeled off her skin like peeling onions down to their cores.
The return trip for her, how many years later, was not as restorative, with two kids and after having sold everything we owned except what we could manage to cram into a Ford Escort with a smashed front end thanks to a deer and untreated sleep apnea, and the Ford Windstar van with a cracked rear axle and a tail pipe attached with bailing wire neither of which we knew anything about because the dealer said it had all been fixed for us. We never looked underneath the van to really find out because we didn’t really want to know. We were driving to an apartment we had never seen before, and when we arrived the university housing felt like a hotel room, temporary and demanding with crazy strict rules like no drinking alcoholic beverages outside, no grills, no pets—never mind the cracked vinyl blinds, the crumbling dry wall, the bedroom doors without locks. This place became home. I looked out my kitchen window and saw mountains. I drove down the road to drop the kids off at school or dance or any number of activities, and I saw mountains.

The people we met, we will never forget. The support for what we were trying to accomplish out here, what we did accomplish out here was amazing. My wife and I walked together at graduation. She received her bachelor’s in English with a creative writing minor and a professional writing minor. I got my master’s. She was accepted to the University of New Hampshire MFA program, and in a few days we will drive across country one more time. It feels like an exodus. We are packing through the night. We are rushing to leave a place we do not want to leave.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Breathing and Unpublishing

I unpublished a book.

I had been avoiding this marketing move. It felt like to me defeat, but the book wasn't selling. Either no one knew about the book, or it was simply bad and there was something wrong with the writing. I am, of course, the best writer there ever was, so that last bit certainly can't be true.

The book was difficult to write. My hometown featured in the piece, and though I often find myself writing about Ohio, I write about the cities--Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland... I don't write about the movie theater I had my first date at. I don't write about the restaurant I met my wife at.[1] These are emotionally charged, highly personal spaces for me. They don’t belong in the public sphere, and that, of course, is the very reason light should be shed on those privacies.

The book was simply not ready for publication. I had not taken the time to write it. I rushed through the story so I could be done. I’ve had more than one industry pundit tell me to slow down, to not be in a hurry. My internal response has always been that they don’t know; the problem is that they do know. They’ve been at it longer than I have. They know more than I, and I need to listen to them.

Self-publishing is hard because it is indeed so easy. You write something and then you hit the publish button, and you are done. You have to watch the temptation to publish before you are ready.

Breathe a little bit once in a while. That’s kind of a life lesson over a writing lesson. Charge in, but charge in prepared. In my teens, I was enthralled with essayist Robert Fulghum of All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten fame. I owned all of his books. I imagined what it would be like to be Robert Fulghum.[2] In one untitled essay, I continue to remember, Fulghum says he is a professional breather. Unpublishing a book was like that: breathing on the exhale.

[1] Happy Humpty is now a parking lot. We met to discuss the local community college’s newsletter. She wore the reddest, thickest lipstick I had ever seen on a woman. She ordered coffee. I hated coffee but wanted to act grown-up and ordered coffee. Years later she tells me she doesn’t know why she ordered coffee—she hated coffee too. Now, of course, we slurp the stuff down by the gallons.
[2] I just recently learned Fulghum’s on Twitter, and I immediately stalked followed him.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Delete All the Words

I used to run. Due to a leg I broke in seven places, this activity is no longer enjoyable. It’s hard and it hurts. My foot falls flat onto the ground and pain shoots up into my brain and I want to cry. I was reminded of the pain last summer, when I tried once again to run. Every few years, I tend to forget how much pain running causes me. I buy really good tennis shoes, shorts, headbands, and load my phone up with Eye of the Tiger.

Running was a passion back in high school, and I was an avid cross country enthusiast and track and field guy, though I was never very good at either sport. I crossed the finish line last every time. I finally lettered my senior year, but felt the school gave me the letter because they had to.

I never quit. I just kept going. I am pretty proud of that letter, and still have it. The letter proves I finished.

As an author, I’v finished a lot of things[1], and I’ve written some good lines:

  • I try to forever hold this visible shape, my name.
  • Old blood seeping into the garden.
  • She returned to become a sickness.
  •  I imagined him with death.
  • She looked at everything in her mind and took a breath.
  •  I crawled into the morning.

I’m being indulgent sharing with you because these are all lines that have been deleted from my published work, and the list is longer, stored in a Scrivener project titled The Great Big Idea File.[2] They are my darlings, but I have not murdered them.[3] I have saved them for future work. They may find a story home yet, although some of the lines are as old as 1991.

When you’ve written something well, but the line doesn’t perfectly fit into the piece of writing you’re working on, don’t delete the words. Don’t murder your darlings. Save them. Place them in a box for later. Let them live and breathe. Go back to them for inspiration.

Listen to your muse; not outdated Edwardianism writing advice from World War I era modernism where real people were murdered across continents. English author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch invented the 1914 advice: “Murder your darlings.”[4] Quiller-Couch’s choice in wording fascinates me. I think of Wendy Darling and her brothers whimsically following Peter Pan through the night sky, second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning. I think maybe there was some jealousy there. Quiller-Couch rewrote four fairy tales: The Sleeping Beauty, Blue Beard, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. They weren’t that popular, yet J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan was immensely popular, and absolutely soared into the night sky, and, for a hundred fifty years more, continues to be a success, an eternally indulgent, youthful tale. From this perspective, “Murder your darlings” takes on dark connotations.

Authors are insanely jealous people. We always compare ourselves to more successful writers; always wondering why people aren't reading our art. So we give each other bad advice, or continually perpetuate bad advice not realizing it was bad advice to begin with. We turn our art into some kind of bad competition, admiring and secretly hating at the same those ahead of us.
The truth is though, no one is ahead of us. We’re all running, but the finish line does not exist.

[2] For a great article on Scrivener, check out Bryan Collins “Using Scrivener For Blogging: The Ulitmate How To Guide.” I've tried writing posts on Scrivener, but the software is so amazing I fall short of describing its awesomeness. Bryan’s piece gives a down and dirty quick overview.
[3] Forrest Wickman wrote a great piece for Slate in 2013 that discusses where the “Kill your Darlings” writing advice really came from. Please people, stop attributing Stephen King.
[4] You can read Quiller-Couch’s entire Cambridge lectures on the art of writing at

Monday, June 15, 2015

33 Chickens That Look Like Freddie Flintoff--Um, not really

In junior high, I was infatuated with a girl. I asked her out like fifteen thousand times, and she always said no, but was always gracious to me. My best friend and I schemed about getting dates with her, and I wrote love poems I never shared with her. When she went to boarding school, I realized I’d never have a chance with her, and not for lack of trying but simply because of sheer distance. I began writing seriously then, but not for publication. I wrote stories that involved me saving her from school bullies, house fires, and dragons. Then, something clicked in my brain and I just began writing, and I knew then that that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life—to tell stories. My grandmother purchased a year’s subscription to Writer’s Digest. I poured over those magazines and kept them until my early twenties. I purchased at the age of fifteen Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and I still have that copy, taped up and dog-eared. At sixteen, I don’t think I really knew what a fiction writing career looked like. It involved learning how to type, being alone, smoking, wearing cardigan sweaters, and moving to New England.[1] I imagined my future books on bookstore shelves. 

It was a very romantic idea of the writing life.

Over the last few weeks, I’v been thinking about what it means to be an author of the twenty-first century. I still want to tell stories. I own a couple of cardigans and a few sweater vests.[2] I've been trying to quit smoking for years, I’m surrounded by people, and you can’t find a single one of my novels in any brick and mortar store. You have to buy my stuff on Amazon. I’m okay with these shattered high school illusions because I’m still telling stories, but what I’v realized over the past few weeks is that being an author is not just about writing stories.

We have become what Internet marketing gurus call Content Provders. We’re like BuzzFeed only more personal.

What can get dangerous for the twenty-first century content provider is turning into that 13 year old boy continually asking out the pretty girl in the second row of morning home room. Facebook for a while, for example, was inundated with clickbait:

  • An Out of Work Comedian Tries to Purchase a Bottle of Coke. The Reason Why Will Make You Cry.
  • Emojis That Would Upset an Amateur Clown
  • 15 Sex Tips That Londoners Won’t Believe Actually Exist
  • 33 Chickens That Look Like Freddie Flintoff[3]

Twitter still is inundated with authors screaming “Buy My Book,” and, heck, sometimes I even fall into this trap.[4] What I didn't get when I was 13 is that girls don’t want to be bombarded everyday with the same question over and over—Do you want to go out on a date—Do yo want to buy my book—No. The answer is always no.

At least when I was 13, the girl I was in love with was always gracious. In the real world of the Internet, not so much. People turn you off like a bad TV show.[5] Or move away to boarding school.

[1] Ironically, I’m moving to New Hampshire later this month, but by coincidence only.
[2] I own these items because I livein Wyoming and we have bitter cold winters that get down into the negative twenties. Actually, this is not as bad as it sounds. People automatically think frost bite, but I commuted to work on a bicycle in that weather and have friends that do the same.
[3] To be fair, according to an Atlantic Monthly article, BuzzFeed never uses clickbait, and my clickbait headlines were generated because I’m not that boring creativewise.
[4] Banana Sandwich is only $2.99 on Amazon today. Free for Prime members. ;p
[5] Like Phyllis becaue I’m pretty sure no one remembers that TV show except me.