Writing to Goal

I’ve written before about the writer as entrepreneur, and recently reviewed Penn’s Author 2.0, which also describes the entrepreneurial opportunities for folks in our profession. As publication changes, more and more of us will be writing our books as individual ventures, rather than as bait for large houses who will share only a small percentage of the profits.

This weekend, I had a chance to sit with an old friend and his wife, who had just been struck by an entrepreneurial brainstorm with real merit. We’ve spent four long conversations playing with the idea, and oddly enough they seemed to value my counsel.

On second thought, this makes sense. As a writer-entrepreneur I’ve conceived and launched more than a hundred ventures. Some have even been successful. I’ll be posting regularly on this topic, since it seems important to new authors — and seems there’s much less out there than on other writing concepts.

Today, let’s talk about the end game. Every idea you have — and here I’m talking about writing as a business, not only for pleasure — should be paired with an end. You can write to sell to publishers — they offer some strong value for the cut they take. You can write to bring in web traffic. You can write to woo your One True Love. Whatever it is, start every writing project with a clear idea of what you want it to do and be once you’re finished.

Take this blog, for example. I started it with no clear idea of its purpose, other than learning about blogging and creating an online portfolio. The early posts are all over the place in terms of tone and subject. As things progressed, it’s narrowed in focus.

What I want, primarily, from this blog is to impress potential customers. I hope these posts amuse and educate my fellow writers, but you’ll also notice that most of these posts are about…

  • How to behave professionally as a self-employed person.
  • How to turn out quality writing.
  • Dropping knowledge about the industry and about writing.
  • How important it is to treat clients well.
  • How much I care about what editors and other customers want.

I step out from time to time — for example, the Friday Fun posts — but my real goal is part of how I choose what to write. It’s also a part of how I write. You’ll notice I don’t swear as much in these later entries.

It’s easy to get caught up in the task of writing and lose track of where you want it to take you. Business guru Michael Gerber puts it beautifully by reminding clients to work on the business, not in the business. Write well. Write often. But keep your eye on the ball.

Thanks for listening.

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Woot!

Just a note to share a personal victory. I read a horror story to my wife last night. Come morning, she complained that it was so creepy it kept her awake. Great for my writing. Not so great for marital bliss.

Fiction Reviews

Schlock Mercenary author Howard Tayler posts short reviews of the movies he watches, in the context of a totally subjective “Top Ten Movies I’ve Watched This Year” list. He updates it in real time, so you can see the changes as movies break current records, or slide off the bottom of the list.

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts how writers must read incessantly. If you don’t read, you won’t see what others are doing. You won’t stay current. You won’t succeed — and you won’t deserve to. So, for no reason other than I think it will be fun, I’ll be taking a page from Mr. Tayler and do a Top Ten Fiction Novels I’ve Read This Year list. I read about one a month, along with my podcasts, nonfiction, blogs, reports and ebooks.

For now, I’ll post the books I’ve read so far, in subjective order based on how much I enjoyed them. If I enjoyed books equally, I’ll fall back on craftsmanship as a tie breaker. Going forward, I’ll be doing reviews — and will soon post detailed reviews of the ones that have already made the list. As of today, I’ve read 9 fiction books since the new year.

#1: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I touched on this earlier. Best fantasy I’ve read in a decade, and I re-read Lord of the Rings in 2002.

#2: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. Young adult fiction. A hilarious romp through an apocalyptic earth during the weeks between two alien invasions. Twisted humor, and an interesting weave between narrative prose and graphic novel. Had me laughing out loud.

#3: Bite Me. Christopher Moore’s newest in his San Francisco Vampire series. Competent, funny and sometimes poignant. It would have ranked higher if Wind and Smekday weren’t so damn good — and if Moore hadn’t written this book twice before.

#4: The Adventures of Ned the Seal, an early effort of Joe R. Lansdale, is a weird masterpiece of steampunk alternative history starring Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley, Dr. Moreau, Frankenstein, Mark Twain, Jules Verne and martians.

#5: Sixkill. The late Robert B. Parker can be fairly accused of phoning in some of the later titles from his acclaimed Spenser series…but this isn’t one of them. It’s good for all the same reasons as the best Spenser, and puts Our Favorite Guy in a mentorship role again — one of the places I like him most. A fine finish to Parker’s career — though I would have liked to have seen Hawk and Paul one last time.

#6: Bad Blood, by John Sandford. I like Virgil Flowers, the protagonist in this book and several others in Sandford’s newest series. Good, tangled mystery with stellar dialog and plenty of violence. Like Bite Me, it would have scored higher if Sandford hadn’t written this story so many times.

#7: Devil Red. Ye mead-swilling gods, but I love me a Hap and Leonard novel. This is a recent addition to the Joe R. Lansdale series, complete with humor, introspection and copious kicking of ass. A weaker effort than Mucho Mojo, but still readable start to finish.

#8: Dexter Series, by Jeff Lindsay. I spent most of March working on home projects listening to the first four as audiobooks. I like the protagonist, and loved the series. Quirky and creepy, but weak on tension for a thriller…and I’ve kind of been over the serial killer thing since Thomas Harris ruined it for me with Hannibal.

#9: Rebel Island by Rick Riordan. I read this adult detective novel because of how much I loved Riordan’s Olympians series, and was disappointed. It’s on the top ten only because I haven’t read 11 novels yet this year.

Habits of Highly Effective Writers: The Magic Notebook

Ray Bradbury says that ideas are like cats and women: the harder you chase them, the faster they run away. Instead, inspiration comes at odd times and under strange conditions. It hits when you’re driving, or mowing the lawn, or standing in the grocery line. Or as you’re drifting off to sleep, or when you’re four-thirds of the way to drunk with your brothers on Christmas Eve.

All of this underlines the importance of one of the best habits a writer can take on: always carry your magic notebook.

When ideas stream through your consciousness, scrawl them down in the magic notebook. When you’re working later, you can review your ideas and work on what’s on your plate that day. This process accomplishes several things:

  • You stop forgetting brilliant ideas you had while away from your work area.
  • You can avoid writer’s block by having a list of ideas ready to hand.
  • You’re less tempted to abandon current projects for new inspiration, because you’re confident the idea will still be available later on.

Your notebook doesn’t have to be an actual pen-and-paper notebook anymore. Many writers use a digital audio recorder, or even a practically antique handheld tape recorder. Cell phones will do in a pinch with an integral audio recorder, or you can just call and leave yourself a message. The new app phones combine the best features of notebooks and audio. Me, I stick with my grid-ruled Moleskine notebook — just like Hemmingway and Morrow, but Odin knows I’m a bit of a Luddite.

One final word on the notebook for shower thinkers. By happy accident, my baby boy taught me a solution to the shower inspiration: tub crayons. These wipable, waterproof babies let you preserve those ideas without stepping out, chilling yourself to the bone and soaking the floor in the process.

Thanks for listening.

Accountability July 3, 2011

This week was a big, fat win for accountability — and even better because I’m working remotely with internet more than 30 minutes away.

  • Completed for-pay work to meet goals: check
  • Five acts of marketing: check
  • Completed work on four blogs: check
  • Work on three book or article proposals: check
  • Two sessions of administrative work: check
  • One education module (read an ebook on SEO): check

Freakin’  woot! Gold star for Jason!

On the subject of gold stars, I’m the kind of person who makes doing it — and reporting it — its own reward. Saying “check” is all the gold star I need. That doesn’t make me a superior being or anything, it’s just how I work. Other people, many far harder workers than I am, use a system of personal rewards to motivate themselves to reach their goals. My wife, a teacher, likes stickers she can put on the family calendar.

What are some of your gold stars?

Word Geekery: Anachronistic Idioms

My baby boy says “Ring Ring” whenever he wants to play with my cell phone. Thing is, none of the cell phones in my house actually ring. One plays techno music, one has a recording of my older son calling us to the phone, the third plays the default tones from the manufacturer.

Practically no phones ring anymore, and yet we still say “ring tone” and “the phone is ringing.” Brits offer to “ring you up” when they mean to call your phone.

On the same track, people still sometimes say “drop a dime”…despite the fact that pay phones are nearly extinct, and none of the scattered survivors will work for less than 50 cents.

And what about “Disc Jockeys” — known to the kids as DJs? If you’re talking about the DJ at your local house party, he still uses discs…but only because happy coincidence makes CDs topologically similar to the vinyl LPs of the era that birthed the term. Radio DJs don’t even use those — they have high-tech sound files accessed by clicking a mouse.  Nary a disc to be found anymore.

A subspecies of this linguistic oddness comes from some of our older relatives. Ever hear a grandfather talk about fighting the “Japs” or the “Gooks” during his term of service, or a grandmother tell you a recent good deed was “mighty white of you,” or have no problem with being called “the little woman?” They mean no harm, but their children look embarrassed and jaws drop on the grandchildrens’ guests.

Language moves and evolves with time. Sometimes it shows that our culture has changed for the better. Other times it’s a difference in fashion, or a shift in technology.

I’d love to hear more. Alert readers, comment in with your own anachronistic idioms.

Thanks for listening.

 

Friday Fun: DM Of the Rings

I heard about Shamus Young during an interview with podcast Fear the Boot, and checked out his webcomic DM of the Rings the following morning. Six hours later, I had to bang out a few mission-critical tasks in a blind panic because I’d lost the day to his hilarious work.

The comic takes screen shots from the popular trilogy of movies, and adds dialog balloons to make it seem like a Dungeons and Dragons game in progress. Full of geek puns, gaming humor and light jabs at some of the goofiest parts of the classic story. Check out panel one:

If you love this, read the rest. If not, it’s likely somebody’ else’s style.  If you really love it, you can move on to Darths and Droids, the same thing…but with Star Wars.

Enjoy.