Tools for Organizing Your Story

Are you a plotter or a pantser when you write?

If you’re unfamiliar with those terms, allow me to explain. A “plotter” is a writer who plans and outlines their story ahead of time. Conversely, a pantser writes “by the seat of their pants”, with no strict plan to begin with. They simply go where the story takes them.

It seems to me that most authors are somewhere in the middle, which is certainly true for me. When I was writing Grigory’s Gadget, I would say I was pretty much 50% plotter and 50% pantser. I’d set out a plan, run with it until I hit a road block, then step back and plan some more. It seemed to work pretty well for me…for book 1. Book 2 has become another story (well, both literally and figuratively!).

Due to the fact that I made the (frustrating) decision to set Book 2 at the same time as Book 1 (just following different characters), I have much less freedom. There are certain events, and even some characters, which cross over and therefore need to line up correctly with Book 1. That limits just how much pantsing I can get away with. It’s also forced me to become a lot more gung-ho about organizing my story.

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, organization is necessary! It just might come in later for a pantser, when you go in to revise and edit.

Organizational Tools for Plotters

Plotters love organization, so some of these tips and tools might be no-brainers. As plotters, we typically begin a story by outlining it. This can be hand-written in a notebook or on note cards, or created in word processing software. I personally tend to begin with a bulleted list of the plot points, beginning with the most important and vivid and then connecting those dots.

There are two other pieces of software that I’m a huge fan of as well: Scrivener and Aeon Timeline. Scrivener is like a word processor but with many more capabilities. For the purposes of outlining and planning, Scrivener has an Outline view and a Cork Board view where you can set up your story beats and scenes. These beats can then be made into scenes or chapters (or however else you want to organize your story; for Grigory’s Gadget and Serafima’s Stone, I created a folder for each day to help me keep track of the passage of time) which are organized as individual documents or folders. Documents can be placed inside folders, and everything can be moved around as you will it. (Did you write scenes X, Y, and Z, then decided that scene Z needs to come first? No problem, just drag and drop it!) You can also create documents and folders that are not a part of your manuscript, where you can save research, character summaries, etc. Scrivener’s software typically costs $40; however, if you participate or win National Novel Writing Month, Scrivener is often a sponsor offering discounts on their software.

Aeon Timeline is a visual timeline software. It allows you to essentially create Gantt charts of your story (or your writing time frame!). You can create dots and lines indicating plot points, which can be color-coded and given meta data such as the characters involved, the setting, and more. You can also connect events visually to indicate the one event is directly linked to the next. This software is especially handy if you have multiple characters who are not all in the same place at the same time, or who are traveling for an extended period. Aeon Timeline typically costs $50, but like Scrivener is often a sponsor of National Novel Writing Month, offering discounts to participants and winners. It also can sync with Scrivener!

Organizational Tools for Pantsers

A lot of the tips and tools mentioned above for plotters also apply to pantsers. The main difference is that pantsers normally use these tools after the first draft is complete. Organizing your first draft will help you find inconsistencies, plot holes, and plot seeds you totally forgot your planted (this happens to me all the time!).

This is the stage when I start using more of Scrivener’s capabilities. The first tool that comes in handy is Annotations. Annotations allow you to write notes in your text, the way you’d mark up a physical draft with a red pen. The other tool I use a lot is the ability to add meta data to a document. Specifically, I add keywords to my scenes to indicate which characters are involved, and any other handy keywords that may be useful to me. This is a big help to check the consistency and completeness of different characters’ storylines. I can simply do a keyword search and pull up every seen a specific character is in.

Those are my biggest tips for organizing your story. What tips and tools have worked for you in your writing?

One Year After Publishing Grigory’s Gadget – What I’ve Learned

Sunday, March 12th, marks one year since Grigory’s Gadget was published!

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Since about a year has passed since publication (wow!), I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned in terms of writing, publishing, marketing, and more.

In terms of writing, I’ve discovered that it gets a lot harder after publishing a book! There’s an added pressure that simply doesn’t exist if you’re an unpublished author. Now I need to finish the next book – people are waiting! I can’t just push it aside for months or years, nor can I switch gears to work on a different project. Well, I could, I guess. But my personality won’t allow it!

One thing that surprised me about this process is which distribution channels sold the most books. Most information on the internet would suggest that eBooks are the way to go in this regard. However, as you can see on the chart below, I’ve sold almost a majority of my books through vending events and consignment.

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I have attended 8 vending events since publishing Grigory’s Gadget (and I have two more this month!). These events, combined with selling books by word-of-mouth, have proven to be the best way to get my book out there.

Smashwords was my second-most successful distribution channel, thanks in large part to their sale events they have multiples times per year. Amazon, via Kindle Direct Publishing for eBooks and CreateSpace for paperbacks, was also successful.  Books sold through Indiegogo and Amazon were pre-sale books. IngramSpark by far is the least successful distribution channel. I still suggest that self-publish authors utilize this channel, however, if you have any interest in getting your book into brick-and-mortar stores.

Another factor that contributes to the success, or lack-there-of, of each distribution channel is the fact that I haven’t done much in the way of advertising. I’ve dabbled a bit in Facebook and Amazon ads, but never saw an impressive return on either. I’ve done a couple interviews, and had my book reviewed on a few blogs. I’ve also started to utilize Newsletter Swap, which actually seems to have boosted my sales quite a bit. (By the way, if you haven’t already, you should join my email list!)

For now, I still won’t be putting a lot of money and effort into advertising, since writing is still a (passionate) hobby for me. For the time being, most of my writing-related efforts will be directed toward the actual act of writing. I need to finish the first draft of Serafima’s Stone!

Have you grabbed a copy of Grigory’s Gadget? In celebration of its anniversary, Grigory’s Gadget will be on sale throughout the month of March!

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Find the eBook on Amazon and Smashwords!

Get the discounted paperback through my CreateSpace eStore using the code 8CAZ5J8X!

The Benefits of Taking a Break From Your Project

We’ve all been there. You start a passion project – you’re so excited! – and you make progress and make progress and – hit a wall. Your passion disappears and your project becomes a chore. You lose your vision and your motivation.

I have to keep going, you tell yourself. If I stop working on this project, it will never get done!

Sometimes that’s true. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes taking a break is warranted, and beneficial.

I participated in NaNoWriMo in November, working on Serafima’s Stone. By the end of November, I was sick of my story. I didn’t like my characters, I didn’t know where my plot was going, I hated my writing style. I felt boxed-in: I wrote Grigory’s Gadget with the intention of having this sequel. I have to write this sequel! But I hate this sequel and have no idea what I’m doing!

So, during the entire month of December, I didn’t touch my story. I didn’t open Scrivener once for the entire month. I didn’t force myself to ponder the story, to try to figure it out. I just left it sitting patiently on my hard drive.

And do you know what happened?

During the month of December I was inundated with ideas and inspiration. I’d be listening to music (namely, the Westworld soundtrack) while working on a report in the office when – BOOM – I’d get an idea! Yes – that’s what motivates that character! Yes – that’s what will happen next! Yes – I need to work that detail in! I have a chain of emails I sent to myself in December, jotting down the ideas so I wouldn’t forget them.

When January 1st rolled around, I was itching to get back to writing my story. I like my characters again. My plot has a direction, and even a discernible  ending! I’m still critical of my writing style, but so is every author ever. At least now it’s not in a self-defeating way.

So if you’re working on a project – a story, artwork, etc. – and you’re getting stuck in a rut like I was, know that it is okay to take a break. Give yourself a time limit that works for you – take off a day, a week, a month, or even a year (sorry, a year is probably too long, I just got the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. theme song stuck in my head…) – and then jump back into your project.

And I’ll be there for yooouuu….

…sorry…

NaNoWriMo 2016 Summary

Well, November has come and gone, and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come to an end.

I did not reach the goal of 50,000 words, but I still made a good effort and ended with 40,176 words.

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I got hit with pretty severe writers block right as Thanksgiving arrived. Between traveling, spending time with family and friends, and binge-watching Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, I didn’t have time to properly work around that block. I was able to recover a bit at a local write-in that word-sprinted to midnight on the 30th, but still fell short of 50k.

That doesn’t mean my NaNoWriMo journey this year wasn’t a success. I feel much more confident about my story than I had on November 1st. Characters have become better-developed, the plot is more filled-in, and I’m actually excited about the sequel to Grigory’s Gadget now. (For a while there, I berated myself for setting up a sequel. Why did I do that to myself? WHY?)

So now I’m neatening-up what I did write during November, and will be posting the new scenes on Wattpad shortly.

General Update 11/11/2016

A lot has happened in the past week.

Now, I’m not going to go into specific politics here. I’m sure if you spend any time at all on the internet, you’ve seen more than you can stomach, regardless of your political beliefs. I know I have.

I couldn’t muster the focus this week to pick a cohesive topic to blog about. So, this will just be a general update.

As many of you know, I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the annual challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Right now, I’m on track, and by the end of today should have at least 18,333 words written. Those words are split between two projects. The primary project is Serafima’s Stone – Book 2 of the Gaslight Frontier Series, the sequel to Grigory’s Gadget. The secondary project is my Chapter 1 submission for the Collaborative Writing Challenge Steampunk Project.

NaNoWriMo has been going very well so far this year. I’ve connected with some great local writers by attending “write-ins” at a local Escape Room (seriously, one of the coolest places I could imagine writing in!).

I want to leave you all with something positive and optimistic this week, so I’ve compiled a list of books (and some movies or shows) that emphasize the goodness of humanity and that look to a bright future (or that are simply fluffy and funny).

Books

  • The Harry Potter series
  • The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  • Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Dragon Anthology by Claudie Arseneault and Brenda J. Pierson
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Movies/Shows

  • Basically any Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli movie
  • The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
  • Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
  • Life in a Day (2011)
  • The Mindy Project
  • How I Met Your Mother (series finale not encouraged 😉 )
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Parks and Recreation

Happy Halloween!

Well, okay, today isn’t Halloween, but since actual Halloween is on a Monday, a lot of people are celebrating today and tomorrow. I’ll be attending a Halloween party tonight with the dance troupe I’m in. We’re dressing up as elves from The Lord of the Rings!

I’ve got some exciting things happening in the next couple of months. First, I’ve revamped (haha, pun intended) my website. It now has a store where you can buy signed copies of Grigory’s Gadget, candles, teas, and Steamship Pirate t-shirts!

I’ve also got some things up my sleeve for the holiday season – sign up for my newsletter to be the first to hear about them! You won’t want to miss out!

In November, I’ve decided to commit to doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I actually wrote the first draft of Grigory’s Gadget for NaNoWriMo 2010, and overhauled that draft for NaNoWriMo 2014. Now, I’m going to utilize NaNoWriMo to churn out my first draft of it’s sequel, Serafima’s Stone. I’ll be doing short live videos on my Facebook page every day in November with updates on my progress!

Finally, beginning in December, I’ll be participating in the Collaborative Writing Challenge – Project 7: Steampunk! This challenge will produce a unique steampunk novel written by up to 30 different authors! Each week, four or five writers will submit a chapter of roughly 2000 words, and one will be selected as part of the story, until we get to 30 chapters. I’m very excited to participate in this project!

Plotting vs. Pantsing

Well, another Camp NaNoWriMo has come and gone. I did a slightly better job this time, but still failed to meet my word count. Rather than feel discouraged, this forced me to step back and analyze what I, and my story, really need right now. The answer: stop pantsing and start plotting.

For those unfamiliar with the terms, “pantsing” refers to a style of writing where the author writes “by the seat of their pants”. That is, they don’t plan what they’re going to write. They just write, and see where the story takes them. This method lends itself well to events like NaNoWriMo, where the core purpose is simply to get words on paper.

The other method of writing is plotting. This method involves planning a story ahead of time by outlining beats and story arcs. This is where stories can get nice and complex. Plotting lends itself to stories that involve a lot of world building, mystery/intrigue, etc.

In my own writing life, I find pantsing to be a lot of fun. It gives a sense of freedom and takes away the pressures of a complicated story. I can set my characters free to get into all sorts of trouble. It’s an exceedingly helpful method to break writers block.

However, when it comes to actually creating a cohesive story, I need to plot. I need to have a sense of where I’m going so that I can reel my characters back in and push them in the right direction. Plotting is what gives my characters their drives and purposes, and it ties together all the foreshadowing, easter eggs, histories, connections…

Especially considering my current project, Serafima’s Stone, runs concurrent to Grigory’s Gadget, I can’t have my characters cutting loose and running rampant. Some events are already set in stone. They’re like fixed points in time a la Doctor Who. I can’t change them, and I certainly can’t ignore them. I need to incorporate them, and the best way I know how is to outline, outline, OUTLINE!

And so, now that July has come to an end, I have opened up my Scrivener file and begun getting those characters in line!