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Uncluttering the Mind to Be Creative

Creative writing is defined as writing fiction or poetry with imagination and contrasts academic writing. As a creative writer, we imagine our character to gallop over the green pastures or drag his feet in the dry brown desert. To be able to take long firm strides over the mountainous terrains, or glide over the waters like a speed boat.

Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds, you can grow flowers…..or weeds.

But that requires an uncluttered mind where we have neatly piled all our emotions just as we stack clean clothes versus the scattered dirty laundry.

That allows a single-pointed mind, and a writer can be in her character’s shoes and capture just the right kind of emotions.

Writing is like housework. For that, the mind should be tidied up just like our bed every morning before we sit down to write. It should be crystal clear for those cells in that organ to create something extraordinary for our character. If we cannot differentiate between fiction and our real-life, we will end up writing a memoir unknowingly, of course.

If our mind is hungover from yesterday’s dialog between a friend or a relative, our plot would unknowingly revolve around that scenario. We have limited ourselves to our environment and missed out on a classic scene, which our mind dared to explore. Due to the circumstances, it wandered around our troubled spots and penned those down instead.

Mind and Intellect can go hand in hand, but the mind ought to first spruce up to listen to the Intellect.

A mind without thoughts is no mind, but to tidy up our thoughts is the key.

But how do we unclutter that damn mind to begin exploring the unexplored?

Unclutter Mentally and Physically

Meditate

The learned suggest we meditate. Continue to breathe with closed eyes while keeping your mind over your breath. This activity is like rinsing your mind with fresh Oxygen as you continue to breathe, which helps curb the erratic thoughts. Can you imagine how soothing it would be?

The scenario is like the ocean waves crashing on the shore, washing off any footprints left behind by humanity.

Attached is a guided meditation.

 

Journaling

Writing down thoughts can help your mind stop churning and begin to release them. An individual can choose to write what pains her since most of the time, people are aware of their foul mood, but don’t know its reason. Journaling helps to work through current challenges, helping one get rid of mental blocks. As a doctor drains a wound, write out all those toxins on paper, and those words will glow in gold once your heart is lighter. So, find a comfortable spot, grab your pen and paper, and get going. Journaling is meant to be a stream of consciousness activity, so you can choose to set a timer or just free flow.

Some prompts that an individual can choose to write is:

“What makes you feel happy?”

“What is hurting, and why?”

“What do you believe in most?”

“Write a letter to your future self?”

“What is your past that still hurts you?”

“List the things you are grateful for?”

 

Walk

Walks amidst nature can help turn your mind outside and help calm the chaos in mind. It’s just like distracting a child who is throwing tantrums. This activity enables an individual to relax as she continues to take deep breaths while she is striding through the open space. Such walks not only help clear the mind but also help burn some calories. On a side note, it gives many ideas even if you choose to call yourself a plotter or a pantser.

Uncluttering is simple; the only thing needed is having the awareness to do so. Once that is in check, one can shape the character or the plot as your creative bugs allow you to do so without anybody’s interference. You are at liberty to either project your characters’ mental growth or take them to a dark place.

I’ve tried all the three methods above and can vouch for it.

As a writer, I write about issues that stalk the human’s mind via tales of fiction, making my readers tag my work as, “Books that make you ponder.”

My contemporary romance novels and short stories have allowed my readers to go to a beautiful place and take home a message. That has helped them ponder their true nature and enjoy my characters’ growth as they endure through the journey that I have created.

My work can be found at www.ruchirakhanna.com


This post comes from Rough Writer Ruchira Khanna

A Biochemist turned writer who gathers inspiration from the society where I write about issues that stalk the mind of the man via tales of fiction.

I blog at Abracabadra which has been featured as “Top Blog” for four years. Many of my write-ups have been published on LifeHack, HubPages to name a few.

I can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/RuchiraKhanna01

Twitter: @abracabadra01

T-Shirt by Pete Fanning

The other day I was running errands, going about my business and sweating in the blaze of the midday sun when an older gentleman stopped and looked me over with a smile.

“Good to see a fellow Owl.”

“Oh,” I said, unsure if I’d heard him correctly. It wasn’t until I got in my car and started down the road that it dawned on me. I was wearing my ratty, sweat-patched Temple Basketball t-shirt.

Oh, right.

I love random t-shirts. Always have. As long as I can remember I’ve foraged thrift stores and flea markets, rummaging through estate sales in search of the perfect tee. If it fits and it’s comfortable, I’m wearing it. Family reunions, YMCA staff, at least one Seoul 2003 marathon long sleeve—I’m a regular international man of mystery.

My favorite ones are the colleges: Temple Basketball, Vermont, SUNY Plattsburgh. I get asked all the time, “Did you attend Random College?”

Sometimes I’ll play along, shrug and smile. But the first time it happened I was too shocked to do much of anything.

As a shy, awkward, pimply freshman in high school, I clearly remember one day in the cafeteria. I was waiting in line to pay for lunch, wearing a Duke Blue devils t-shirt. I’m no Duke fan by any means, but back in the nineties I was a big fan of Grant Hill, the superstar freshman on the national championship basketball team. Maybe it was the only clean shirt I had that day. Nonetheless, I never would have remembered any of it had the shirt not attracted the attention of an old assistant coach.

He came hobbling over to me, his gut protruding from his track suit. “Boy, why are you wearing that shirt?

I blushed. My ears went hot. Again, I was painfully timid, self-conscious about my shadow. I spent a lot of time figuring out ways to avoid people, be it slinking through the hallways, hiding in the crowd, or arriving early to class and NEVER volunteering for anything. Ever.

But this was a coach, calling me out in the cafeteria. I was half expecting him to smile, maybe chuckle and spill the punchline. Instead the old man only looked me up and down, shaking his head. I knew he was a football guy, a legend back in the day. And yet, here was this silver-haired old man regarding me like I’d personally insulted him.

He pointed to my chest. “You don’t deserve to wear that shirt. You know that?”

I did not know that. I was fourteen. Today people speak of this man as a mentor, a great coach and motivator. We hear so much about the impact our coaches have on a young person’s life, how they build kids up, make them feel like they can do anything they put their minds to do. Well, it must have been an off day, because according to him I didn’t deserve to wear a shirt with his alma mater on it.

And that was it. He stalked off, still grumbling about a kid wearing a shirt.

Such an insignificant part of his life. And today I know more hard truths about the world. We can’t do anything we put our minds to do. I couldn’t learn quantum physics if you gave me a lifetime to do it. But here I am in my forties, and I can remember with great clarity this moment on some random day this man had on my life. So many times it’s popped into my head and I’ve laughed, wondering just what this great coach saw (or didn’t see) as he wandered into the cafeteria that compelled him to approach and lay clear a kid’s limitations. To tell me what I didn’t deserve.

And hey, I’m not saying he was wrong. Sure enough, I didn’t go to Duke. I followed the path this wise old gruff already knew to be my destiny. I attended community college, only to drop out and go to work at the car wash. After that I cut grass. I cleaned bathrooms. Joke was on me, right?

Perhaps. But what the old ball coach didn’t know—couldn’t have known because I certainly had no idea at the time—was that while I was toiling away, be it waxing cars or push mowing through a haze of grass clippings, I was coming to terms with what I could do.

With every car I washed or lawn I mowed, every mop I pushed, a story spun its way through my mind. And well before I was ready to admit it, when I was without story, skills, or even the first letter on a page, I was dreaming. Dreaming of what I could do.

I read constantly. I cut grass and came home to Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. Richard Wright. From Stephen King to John Grisham, even my mother’s Nicholas Sparks collection wasn’t safe. I loved the smell of the pages, the yellowed rinds of life’s tragedies told in so many different ways. I dreamed of the day it would all work out.

As I moved on in the real world, got a new job and made several dumb decisions, I thought maybe I’d buried the dream. I learned several painful lessons about eviction, debt, consequences, love and loss, while crossing paths with too many colorful characters to count. And just when it seemed nothing would ever work out, my dream would surface with a whisper, having followed me faithfully into whatever hole I’d dug. Even after I’d told it to get lost.

How could I write? I couldn’t even finish community college. Heck, I didn’t even deserve to wear the t-shirt of a college. Think I forgot?

But it was there, fighting to claw its way out. And still, I kept telling myself for years, I couldn’t do it. Why even try?

So I read. I continued to keep journals and write silly things that caught my mind. And then, years later, as I was dealing with personal issues, I was on a walk with my dogs by myself when the voice piped up again.

You’re a writer.

I don’t write.

But you should.

I can’t.

But I had nothing to lose. And so I wrote. Short nothings. Then some more. I wrote and it was like scratching an itch that had been nagging me all my life. It wasn’t good writing, but it could be. And what did it matter. I was a writer. I am a writer. I deserve this.

It’s still hard for me to embrace. To open up and put it out there. To speak in front of the class or even believe it’s happened. I’ve had two books published this year, with four more on the way next year. One every three months. You win, Dream.

Am I Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald? Not even close. I’m just a guy who didn’t deserve to wear a t-shirt.

Pete Fanning is the author of Justice in a Bottle, Runaway Blues, and Bricktown Boys (scheduled to publish in January of 2021). He’s a regular Rough Writer at Carrot Ranch and published in The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol. 1. You can read more of his writing at Lunch Break Fiction and follow him on Twitter @fatherknwslttle.

Quiet Spirits ~ Open the Gate

Write about what you know.

My initial knee jerk, gut reaction, to that statement was, “No one would be interested in the things that I know.” Followed by, “I can’t write about some of that stuff! People wouldn’t believe half of it.” 

Needless to say, I got past my inner voice with guidance from previous generations, melded with my own experiences and input. I have found writing about what I know is quite enjoyable, even with the hurdles that presented themselves along the way.

I have come across many bumps, frost heaves, and closed gates touring the trails of the four genres that I write in. Yet, the passion to share, and more importantly, preserve the knowledge, pushed me through the shin-tangle, and diversity was born.

Choosing to write in more than one genre occasionally causes me consternation. I think this comes from words pummelled into our brain from those who don’t know us, or what we are capable of. “Find one genre, stick to it, write it well, no cross-contamination, and defiantly no trying to make a name for yourself using more than one genre.” 

Unfortunately, we tend to head these words until we, or perhaps I should say I, finally resolved what works for me. I am not saying it is or isn’t good advice, but these comments proved to be nothing but a frustrating, brick wall challenge for me. Had I allowed myself to adhere to the guidelines of staying in one genre, I might not have bothered to venture as far as I have, into the modern-day literary world. 

There is an old saying that goes something like this, ‘Open the gate and let the horses out if you want to see how they will really perform.’ Well, that about describes me and my creativity to a tee. It took me quite a while to settle within the niche that let me run free with my writing. The realization it was okay to ignore the genre rules made less of an obstacle for me to pen my thoughts. I could now write about everything I love, embrace, and am passionateOld Gate about. I knew all I needed to do was stay true to my brand—something that came easy to me because of my upbringing in ranching country.

While the genre argument was happening in my brain, another mud hole opened up in the road to being published. Notoriety using name identification was certainly not going to happen for me when over thirteen million results of my name, Ann Robson, appear on a search engine. 

I sat looking at a list of books I thought I would write—cookbooks, a collection of my (very) early works, several books to include pictures I had taken, and let’s not forget fiction with some poetry and children’s books thrown in for good measure. How could I write about these varying topics using my plain Jane name? I knew if I was to become remotely successful, garnering a reader following would not be easy; yet somehow, I didn’t care. 

And that’s when the light came on! While I made a list of my first, middle, and last names in as many scenarios as I could think of, the answer became clear. I merely switched out my middle initial/name for my maiden name that starts with the same letter. It made me giddy to think I would include some very important family history in my author’s name. My name was now unique and completely me. The dilemma was over, Ann Edall-Robson would do quite nicely. 

In retrospect, it hasn’t been that long that I have come to terms with the fact that it is okay to write in several genres under the same name. To heck with what ‘they’ say about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Again, I didn’t care, and it made my job easy—each piece of my published work must somehow intertwine with my brand. 

After eight books in four different genres and more than five decades of various types of writing under my belt, I still walk the trail of uncertainty when I come up with a new book idea and where it might fit in. As a writer, I think it is a good thing that I remove complacency with a jolt of what-if questions before I start a new project, it keeps me focused on what I believe in.

If you are new to this game of writing, my suggestion would be to just write and write lots. Try to write something every day, and don’t stop to edit, just write. After a while, and you get to choose how long, read out loud all of your work in the order you wrote it. You should see a pattern forming. You should see what you are comfortable writing about. Ultimately you might find the genre(s) you are best suited for; and, hopefully, you will get a glimpse at a writing voice growing through your written words.

For those who have always written in one genre, maybe now’s the time to dust off those pieces you have squirrelled away. You know, the ones you didn’t think fit within your current genre. You have already tasted the wide-open spaces, so why not open the gate to a different pasture and explore your options. 

Whether you are an old hand at writing, or a greenhorn, taking the plunge through the gate to write in more than one genre should not be taken lightly. Do your homework. You need to find a common ground in these genres you are about to embark on. A commonality that may need to be justified, or explained to others. Try to remember, your name is not that common ground, but your brand should be. 

 

Do you write in more than one genre?  Do you use more than one pen name? Is either of these something you have thought about doing but have some trepidation about opening that gate?

 

I rely on my heritage to keep me grounded. Reminding me of where I come from. Gifting me with snippets of past life and lives. Providing fuel to include in the writing I do about the lifestyle I see slipping from my grasp, from the world.

The taking pictures thing started forever ago, and when I found I could marry them to the material I have written, and am writing, well, to put it mildly, I think I have a bit of a runaway going on.

I am a lover of life and all things that make us smile. I write and take pictures for the pleasure of being able to share at Morning Muse, HorseWest, and my Blog at AnnEdallRobson.com where you can also contact me.

Being Creative in Balancing Relationships

Man is a social animal, and we need each other for emotional support. The pandemic is the classic example when the world is in lockdown. Many are feeling the brunt of not being able to communicate, hug, and interact with their extended families.

Now, although the immediate family is in the same four walls, emotions are running high as mostly our thoughts and ideas don’t agree.

As a writer, I have observed that my creativity is the lowest at that point. My ego-filled mind and intellect run parallel, just like two railway tracks, and I can’t pen a single word without frowns and disappointment.

I can feel the train of thoughts chug by in my mind with no interaction from the intellect since the track is parallel. As a writer, I see the sunrise and sunset without getting any inspiration to pen since I choose to brood over an argument that happened within my four walls or choose to lament over what my teen did or could have done in his spare time.

Sigh!

But as the weeks ticked by and spending family time amidst board games and movie nights, I realized there is no such thing as winning an argument amidst family.

When you win, you usually don’t win. And when they win, they don’t win. The best outcome is a tie. If you both can walk away equally satisfied—or even similarly dissatisfied—that’s the real challenge. And the real win.

Easier said than to be doing in practical life. I made a few pointers that I eventually embraced to find that inner peace to start my penning.

Be in the moment

That requires the art of being aware of an argument in the first place. I had to be mindful of my surroundings—my thoughts, feelings, and body. And also be conscious of the people around me. Most of our communication is felt or seen before it reaches the verbal realm. Being fully present…is the key.

Stay Present 

I realized I’ve been eluding my teen’s presence. I would do this in subtle and subconscious ways.

Most of the time, we are in a constant state of avoidance. By avoiding, you are telling people in your life that something is more important than them. Going back to the first point…become mindful of their presence will help solve this issue.

Make Time 

Too much to do in the lockdown, but less time. Are you also multi-tasking, like me? Then, how would you become fully present in any conversation?

As Malcolm Forbes said, “Presence is more than just being there.” Being fully present focuses all of your senses on the task or person at hand. Being mindful for a couple of minutes a day and see what you notice.

Since I work from home, multi-tasking was a band-aid solution to fill my void, which became a habit even during the lockdown with family around. I could feel myself becoming overwhelmed. How could I dismantle myself from this over-scheduled and over-committed life for my search for Balance?

Set Boundaries 

Can’t say No to family requests that usually involve cooking their favorite foods could lead to overwhelming emotions that could, after a few weeks, lead to spew of venom. Creating a boundary where each respects their space gives all the privacy and yet the privilege to enjoy each other’s company, is the key.

Energize the Mind-Body

Taking time to exercise is very important. The mind also needs our love and undivided attention every day for a few minutes.

Embrace an unprecedented time

Lately, the news of COVID is that it’s airborne. Now, to embrace the new change of not stepping out without a mask and maintaining that social distance should be the mantra. Again that allows us to be mindful of our actions when in public and be in gratitude to be in good health to venture out in the first place.

All the above steps are tedious, and honestly, there are days when my mind gets exhausted before the physical body. But, aren’t we the intelligent souls here, we can fight out any times. Let’s continue to find that inner peace and be able to continue with our passion…writing.

Quiet Spirits ~ Heritage Traditions

 

I find it unfortunate that so many people in today’s world are not interested in their heritage. Traditions and knowledge passed down through generations, face a continual demise because of them. 

Events, people, stories, and personal memories, whether good or bad, are all triggers. Ramblings of the old ways and days somehow are encouraged to leap to the surface from a hidden memory vault.  A pilgrimage to where? Bits and pieces rendered together by a thread of coherent thoughts. 

Perhaps just logical arguments between possible misconstrued imagination and the actual archived knowledge.

 

I am passionate about preserving western lifestyles and traditions. What is it I do to ensure the information passes to the next generation, and beyond?

You can often find me traveling gravel roads and wandering the land, stopping to take pictures as I go, and capturing moments others may never get to experience. When I come across a familiar scene that evokes an image of yesteryear it’s easy for me to slip back in time and writeWestern Traditions

Finding the unexpected sends a slight shiver that pulses through the body and mind. Words resonate with a visual scene telling of a life that still exists from another era, a reminder of stories told by old-timers and elders in an attempt to keep traditions alive. It was a way for them to teach about their lifestyle while sharing a connection to their past.

Personal experiences and the recollections of our family’s stories make for excellent research data, and I rely on both when I write.

What can I suggest to you about keeping your traditions from evaporating into hearsay?

The process has no need to be elaborate. A simple trek into genealogy will provide a lot of information. It’s as easy as paying attention to the stories your elders tell. Make a habit of recording names, dates, and anecdotes. Their age and mental health might cause some skepticism in their tales, but don’t let that deter you.  Take pictures. Ask about people in old pictures. Nothing has to be carved in stone. For now, it only needs to be documentedBear Springs Cabins

Now for some fun…

I encourage you to write about a tradition from your heritage. It can be one your family follows with a modern twist. It can be one you would like resurrected. It can be one you have used for research in something you have written. The only rule…go where ever the quiet spirit within takes you.

 

 

Keeping the fast disappearing western heritage and traditions alive, in case you haven’t guessed, is one of my passions. And like everything else in life, it isn’t until you can see it sliding away, that you start hanging on for dear life. 

The taking pictures thing started forever ago, and when I found I could marry them to the material I have written, and am writing, well, to put it mildly, I think I have a bit of a runaway going on. 

I am a lover of life and all things that make us smile. I write and take pictures for the pleasure of being able to share at Morning Muse, HorseWest, and my Blog at AnnEdallRobson.com where you can also contact me. 

 

Get Ready to Rodeo!

Norah Colvin writes in the upcoming The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol. 1:

“Flash fiction is a form of short writing. In its various forms, it may be known as, for example, micro fiction, sudden fiction, or six-word stories; the length may vary from as few as six to as many as 1,000 words. Brevity is a constraint, and writers attempt to pack as much story as they can into few words. Each word must count. There is no room for ‘darlings’, let alone a need for them to be killed.”

Carrot Ranch is hosting a Flash Fiction Rodeo with eight different contests throughout the month of October. It’s free and includes first place prizes in each category of $25. The best of all eight winning entries will be dubbed the All-Around Best Writer of 2017 Flash Fiction Rodeo and win an extra $50. You can enter one or all contests (it’s free). It’s a contest, so enter your best, polished work. Quality over quantity matters.

If the thought of entering a contest makes your palms sweat, this will be a good one for you to get in the saddle. It’s a contest, sure. It’s bigger than the weekly challenges, you betcha. But this is still Carrot Ranch. We are a welcoming literary community, and no writer has yet broken an arm while penning flash fiction. You’ll recognize many of the contest leaders and their co-judges as from among the Rough Writers & Friends. Some are from the greater blogging community. Some are pals.

Hands down, these are good people who won’t tarnish your writing enthusiasm.

If you ever needed a push to try a contest, start with the Rodeo.  If you need a creative jump-start before NaNoWriMo in November, the Rodeo is it. Thinking you want something different from the weekly challenges? The Rodeo will replace the weekly prompt and compilations for the month of October (regular challenges resume November 2). It’s a great event to build your confidence, challenge your craft skills and push into creativity.

It is with great delight that I introduce you to your leaders for the 2017 Flash Fiction Rodeo:

October 5: Rodeo Event #1 is Norah Colvin’s When I Grow Up Flash Fiction Contest. She will ask you to cast yourself back in time to when you were six. The entry is to be 100 words exactly, not including title. She’ll be joined as judges by two other writers from the community: Robbie Cheadle and Anne Goodwin.

October 10: Rodeo Event #2 is Geoff Le Pard’s The Little and Laugh Flash Contest. He’s pushing you to find the fun in flash. The entry is to be 299 words (with a margin of 9 words under or over) and it is to bring a smile to the judges. Geoff is joined by fellow humor writers, Barb Taub and Lucy Brazier.

October 12: Rodeo Event #3 is JulesPaige’s Septolet in Motion Contest. She’s our resident Rough Writer poet, and introduces contestants to a 14-word, 7-line poem. She’s asking you to get magical and will have a couple of fellow poets to help judge.

October 17: Rodeo Event #4 is Irene Water’s Scars Flash Fiction Contest. As a memoirist, Irene also works in flash fiction and often has a dark twist to her writing. We’ll learn more about her contest and her two fellow judges.

October 19: Rodeo Event #5 is C Jai Ferry’s 9×11 Twitterflash Contest. She will test the wordsmithing skills of writers at both the sentence and story levels. Participants will tweet a 99-word flash fiction stories in 11 sentences of exactly 9 words each. She’ll be joined by two fiction writing judges.

October 24: Rodeo Event #6 is D. Avery’s Dangerous Bull Ride Contest. She’ll first have all writers enter their names just as bull-riders do when drawing a bull to ride. No one knows what dangerous prompt each writer might draw. She’s joined by two local east coast judges to complete the ride.

October 26: Rodeo Event #7 is Sherri Matthew’s Murderous Musings: When Good Folk Turn Bad At The Rodeo Contest. She have contestants write a flash with a criminal theme that explores motives. The fabulous Mike and Hugh join her as partners in crime, judging it, that is.

October 31: Rodeo Event #8 is my own creation I’ve been excited to share with you all. It’s called The Ultimate Flash Fiction (TUFF) and will be the final contest in the Rodeo. It’s also the basis for a workshop I’ve developed. It will push participants to create, cut, cut, cut and revise. It promises to be tough but rewarding!

The Ultimate Flash Fiction imitates the five steps of writing a book. It’s a progressive, five flash writing activity. Your own results will surprise you and improve your approach to book writing. This advanced challenge welcomes all writers, especially those who write books or want to better understand how.

It’s a five step process:

  1. Free write for five minutes;
  2. Write a 99-word flash fiction;
  3. Reduce it to a 59-word flash fiction;
  4. Reduce it to 9-words;
  5. Build it back up to 599 words in three-acts.

What if I told you this is how you write a novel?

  1. Draft an idea (plot, free-write, NaNoWriMo);
  2. Write scenes and structure chapters;
  3. Cut scenes and rearrange chapters;
  4. Reduce entire novel to 9 words;
  5. Build it back up, fill gaps, connect emotional arc to action, and complete three acts.

That’s the Rodeo line up! Watch for promotional details and share as you see postings come up online. Check out some of the revised pages at Carrot Ranch (barn building in progress). There’s new artwork that’s fun and capture’s the spirit of the community. Check out the Home page and the new Flash Fiction page with nicely polished rules (thank you, Norah) and the fancy chart for TUFF. A hearty thanks to D. Avery for lending her wit and yarns to the Ranch, as well.

Even the Contact page has a bit of new art. Use it to tell me what you think of the new pages, TUFF or any questions you have about the Rodeo of Flash Fiction Contests.

Grab your pens, mark the dates and share the promotional icon to encourage others to join the Rodeo! Remember, the party kicks off October 3:

Update on the Rodeo Ride to Get Published

RodeoI have this analogy at Carrot Ranch: That the path to publishing a book is like a rodeo ride. My father, his father and his father were all bull-riders. My father gave it up after high school. I really wanted to ride bulls, coming from a family that did so. I rode training barrels, goats and steers. I never made it to the level of bulls. If I had, all I would have needed was one eight-second ride at a rodeo to prove my merit. I never got the chance.

Now it’s about writing novels. I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years, mostly publishing in newspapers, magazines and business publications. But I’ve trained to write novels. It’s a bit like my childhood, comparing my writing experience to that of training with goats and steers when I really want to ride bulls. Every lesser step matters though. It’s how you develop skills and practice your craft.

Also, other life experiences matter.

Parenting teaches you a certain kind of dedication that a job does not — you can always change jobs. Every job teaches you something of value, even if it is the recognition of what you don’t want to do. It can teach you the value of teamwork, negotiation, administrative skills. When you feel stumped about how to ride a bull, think back to what it was like to ride a goat or steer. Back up to what you know and look for connections from your experience to take you down an unknown path.

Publishing is the big dream. Think big. Dream big. Publish. However, it’s not quick and easy.

When I first set out, I was so certain I’d ride the biggest, baddest Brahma bull the rodeo had to offer. I would get published. Turns out, that requires getting an agent and the agent brokers the ride. It’s a long process. In the meantime, I kept writing. With my third WIP, I discovered that genre really does matter when it comes to getting published in the bigger arena. This means I won’t get my chance to ride until I finish revisions on my third. And just because a publisher is interested to read doesn’t mean it will get picked up. I have much anticipation on one ride, but it is a strategy and I’m committed to see it through to success or failure.

Then what?

Well, no one can take from me what I’ve already written. If one ride doesn’t work out, there are plenty more rodeos to aim for. I will most likely consider a new strategy or shop it out to other publishers and agents. Then there is self-publishing.

Self-publishing has remained low on my list of rodeos to consider. To me, it’s like aiming for the county rodeo when I really want to ride at the Nationals. However, it can be a legitimate strategy for authors. Some start with the county rodeo with the intention to get picked up for the national ride. Others enjoy the county rodeo and that’s where they want to be. Many are successful there. It doesn’t matter which rodeo you want, as long as it fits the ride you seek.

While some might think self-publishing is an easy ride, they speak from a lack of experience. It requires a writer to provide more, and to understand book publishing regardless of your entry point. It’s one thing to know how to ride bulls, but do you know what each rodeo requires of you? Self-publishing requires specific skills and planning. It’s more than knowing how to upload a digital file. It requires every step that book publishers take. Thus the author becomes a publisher. It also puts your book into the same market. Thus the author becomes a distributor.

The P-word: planning. Not every author likes the p-word. In fact, a successful author I follow had a hard-truth-response to an author who said they’d self-publish and see what happens. C. Hope Clark, author of several mystery series and the weekly Funds for Writers, responded:

“I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. I encourage it, actually. I have no problem with people publishing as a hobby. I encourage that, too. But . . . when they hint that they do not have the time to do it right . . . when part-time is an excuse for not doing it thoroughly, I just want to get to a microphone someplace and rant!

Of course ranting to anyone is not the way to make them understand. I don’t want someone shaking their finger at me, either. So I try to educate.

I explain:

1) A book not prepared with a professional eye, will not sell.
2) A book not edited hard by people other than the writer, will not sell.
3) A book placed on Amazon with no steady promotion, will not sell.
4) A book published without the author marketing herself, will not sell.

One gentleman threw those words at me, “and see what happens,” and I simply replied, “It won’t sell.” He looked like I’d slapped him.” (Read the full post, “I’ll Throw it Out There and See What Happens.”)

Planning is essential. I love the craft of writing, too; I love creation, to create, to dwell in the hum of creativity. But I want to ride bulls to make the purse. In other words, I want to publish what I write to earn a living. I’m not so ignorant of the state of this profession to not see how difficult that is. In fact, it’s why I equate publishing books to making a rodeo ride. But consider this: I have student loan debt for a writing degree; I worked in the trenches at newspapers, magazines and in marketing departments; I workshopped my craft on my dime each year and invested money in craft-related books. This isn’t a hobby for me. And just as I have nothing against those who do write for a hobby — I know and admire many who are on this  path — I want to help myself and others who are serious to make writing a viable career.

If you do plan, understand it can take years to come to fruition. I wrote a guest post for Rachel Poli about planning and how it’s part of establishing your writer’s platform. You can consider three different plans, all or one. A vision plan is great for all writers. It helps you understand what you want out of writing, an answer only you can give. Once you clearly see your vision, decide if you need a business or marketing plan. If you are having trouble keeping to your plan, adjust it.

Don’t beat yourself up every time you fall off the bull. You will fall off the bull 8,000 times, but you only need one eight-second ride.

You will fail to meet your plans. You will be rejected by others. You will fail to convey your ideas in words. You will experience disappointment. Don’t linger in disappointment (back in the 1850s, it was a common reason for getting committed to an insane asylum). Connect with other writers who are on similar paths. Study the rodeo rides of successful authors and absorb that the ride can be done. Find your voice and use it. Acknowledge your falls, but get back up and try again. You might even want to quit for a while until the itch to ride brings you back to the arena.

The purpose of this post is to give a backstory to posts to come. I’ve been working to define a writer’s platform as what you build from branding, community, credibility and audience. Currently, I’m stuck on audience building. It’s similar to building community, but often harder to make the connection. Community is getting to know your fellow bull riders. But say you had to fill the grandstands with rodeo attendees. Sure, a few bull riders might attend, but most are going to be in the arena with you. So, how do you find people to come watch the show, buy tickets and see your ride? That’s the same question every author has — how do I get people to find my writing, buy my book and read it?

I’m also exploring the world of publishing, specifically self-publishing. Currently the Congress of Rough Writers are collaborating on our first anthology. Sarah Brentyn is riding as Trail Boss; she’s our editor. Volume 1 will include flash fiction from our first year of writing at Carrot Ranch and will introduce several chapters of new work, including essays from our memoirists and longer stories from our featured fiction writers. Sarah Brentyn is also writing a chapter to make this anthology a teaching tool for book clubs, writers groups and classes. Several writers are assisting on teams to guide the processes involved. We plan to self-publish. As Lead Buckaroo, the planning is my task.

What I’m learning is that the marketing channels for traditionally published and self-published books are the same. The difference is what and how distribution is available. Another difference is that as self-publishing, I’m the publisher.

Subsequent posts will explain:

  1. the marketing channels,
  2. the role of authors,
  3. each publishing requirement,
  4. the process of planning,
  5. ideas on pricing,
  6. target-audiences,
  7. how a writer’s platform applies to the anthology.

An anthology is a way to explore at low risk. Each participant is risking little on this ride. If it’s successful, it benefits many. It it fails, it doesn’t take down any one writer’s hard work, like a full novel. If I fail, I learn from it. We can always try again. My hope is that the anthology becomes a practice arena of sorts. We can experiment with self-publishing, pricing, distribution, platform and even craft and content, which are all lessons we can individually apply to our greater individual rides. As a group, we have greater experience and skills to share, too.

Stay in the saddle! Once a week, I’ll post something new from what we are doing, learning or discussing. Feel free to add to discussion in the comments.

NaNoReViSo Revelation

It’s Monday morning, 1 a.m. so technically, I think it’s Tuesday. But I have had a huge breakthrough, the one I needed. A mighty big THANK YOU to Geoff Le Pard who took time from his Nantholgy to review my research dilemma and explain it in clear terms that made sense. Not only did it make sense, but it led to a revelation.

Two secretes held by Sarah Shull — who shot Cobb McCanles and why was Cobb accused of absconding with taxpayer’s money in North Carolina. They both were intelligent. In fact, that’s the basis of their attraction. Mary was beautiful, a fine cook and loving mother and Cobb adored her, but he couldn’t resist his wicked urges or ambitions of the mind and body around Sarah.

The revelation is that the duo repeated their deed scheme in Nebraska. It’s been there all along in the documents and histories. No one has seen it for what it is. I even felt sorry for Cobb, thinking he kept selling land or bridges or wagons and having to collect them and sell them again to someone who would pay in full. But what if he never intended for anyone to pay in full? Geoff set off my realization when he said Cobb, as sheriff in North Carolina, would have kept the deeds in his dealings. So many historians have written about his selling terms which included…him keeping the deed. He’d get some money out of each buyer, but retain the deed and sell again to someone else. And all the while, Sarah kept his books.

I revised a scene tonight and feel like I have the right tone between the two. While this is a big breakthrough, revision continues to be daunting. Irene Waters said something last week about a page and a half a day; 179 to go! And I thought, that’s why this feels so intimidating — the mind only sees a mountain to climb when all we can do is muster a step or two, but have to reach the peak in an impossible stretch. To all fellow writers in edits and revisions and new drafts, stay the course!

And here’s a bonus scene from  today’s revisions:

KATE SHELL by Charli Mills

“You need to go by another name.” Sarah McCanles, Leroy’s pinch-faced wife cleared the evening meal.

Sarah slowly rose to help and calmly replied, “My name is Sarah, too.”

“Leroy, honestly, it’s confusing, two Sarah’s living here and working in the store.” When Sarah McCandles’s voice pitched to the volume of a whine, Leroy grabbed a jug and indicated with a toss of his head to Cobb that they should go out on the front porch.

Sarah envied the men their retirement to the cool evening air. “Do you ever go by another name? Like Sally?”

The other woman frowned, creating creases in her forehead. “Sally. That’s for old ladies. My mother had an Aunt Sally. Oh, do please change your name!”

After the dinner dishes were washed and dried, Leroy’s wife shuffled the two little ones off to bed and Sarah slipped outside. Cobb made room for her on the rough hewed bench. Leroy leaned against the post, staring out into the darkness. “Mountains, that direction,” he said.

“Pining for mountains again, Brother?” Cobb pulled back on the jug and took a long swig.

Leroy turned around and noticed Sarah. “Ah, it’s Sare-Bear.”

“Sare-Bear?” Sarah smiled at the silly name.

Cobb looked at her, his eyes slightly glazed. Liquor or lust. “How about Bare Sarah?”

She poked him in the ribs. “Behave, Mr. McCanles.”

“I’m behaving,” said Leroy.

Sarah shook her head. If ever two brothers had matching mirthful grins, it was this pair when in each other’s company. Too much whiskey though and they were trouble.

“Kate!” Leroy’s wife stepped outside and all three turned perplexed looks her direction.

“Who’s Kate, Wife?”

“She is,” pointing at Sarah.

Cobb chuckled low in his chest. “You were a bonnie Scot in disguise all this time.”

“I don’t think so. No one seems to be confused. Traders respectfully call you Mrs. Leroy McCanles, and they call me Sarah.”

“I hate that! My name ain’t Leroy! You can be Kate and they can call me Sarah. Kate Shell. That’s your name and I’m going to tell everyone it is, that’s all there is to it.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, woman!”

Everyone turned to look at Leroy who seemed more surprised than any at what he just said. His wife, eyes wide and filling with tears, screeched and ran back into the cabin. Coyotes across the flat responded with yips.

“Leroy, there’s a reason our father always said never swear in front of the women folk. You might be sleeping in the barn tonight.”

Sarah covered her face with palms to hide her want to laugh.

“Damn it. I—” Leroy looked sideways at Sarah. “Sorry.”

Sarah couldn’t hold back and laughed loud.

Leroy reached for the jug, but Cobb held it back. “Think you had enough, already.” He joined Sarah in laughing. Leroy headed to the barn, muttering and a few words Sarah could distinctly detect as swearing.

Cobb walked her across the dark yard to the back of the stone structure that would be the post office soon. She stepped through the door and turned to face him, leaning against the frame. “Come in?”

He breathed deep like a man smelling dogwood blossoms. “Best get home to Mary.”

Sarah nodded.

“Hey.” Cobb reached for her hand.

It felt small, gripped in his larger one. “Yes?” Her voice was breathy and inwardly she said a few of Leroy’s choice words.

“I’m thinking of selling the toll-bridge.” He kissed the palm of her hand.

“I wondered when we might get around to such.” She smiled like a real mistress.If she couldn’t have Cobb in her bed, she could have his clever ambitions to plan and hide.

“Think of some terms. Goodnight, Rosebud.”

Terms. Yes, there would be terms. Down payment. Deed, of course, she’d keep that filed. Difficult terms to meet. The new owners would never really own it. He who has the deed…it was her comforting thought as she readied for bed. Kate Shell. Maybe she could take an alias. No matter. Folk would be slow to catch on in this Territory. Rumors seeped out of North Carolina, but no one really understood how Cobb made off with the cold hard cash and left the bondsmen bickering over land deeds. It would take Weith years to sort it all out. Before turning down the covers she lightly tapped her fingers on the leather ledger.

No one knew Cobb like she did.

###

NaNoReViSo: Week 1

NaNoReViSo2015NanoReviSo is an acronym of my own making. It’s a nod to one of my favorite drafting tools, NaNoWriMo, which officially began yesterday, but acknowledgement of where I’m at in my writing process this November — revision.

Week 1 began with a bang; I might have broken my big toe. It’s swollen in all the wrong places and is a purple bloom of bruising. It’s my big toe on my left foot which has been my tripping toe for years. It’s the toe that I thought would cause me to break other bones, but ironically, I broke it and on the eve of NaNoReViSo.

It reminds me that I will revise Rock Creek by December 15, “no matter what.” No matter if I feel overwhelmed by the volume of material I have. No matter if I doubt my plot arc. No matter if I have holes in my history that I can’t find plausible answers for, including an entire year (1858) when none of my historical counterparts to my characters did anything. It’s like 1858 slunk into a fog. No matter. I’ll get this.

Even if I did break my toe.

What’s a big toe to a writer anyhow? Well, it can become a distraction. Distractions are why I’ve set an hourly increment to two vital processes, revising and reading. Revising is much messier than drafting. It’s parts of writing: part dismantling, part tinkering, part building up, part organizing, part tightening. When you are dealing with 70,000 words or more, it’s like looking at a Lego creation, one piece at a time strewn across the floor. Reading is yet another part. I need to find unanswered history questions, re-read vital primary documents, read chapters and scenes with a critical eye. Distractions easily upset the process.

Thus, I’m using hourly increments the way NaNoWriMo fights distraction through a daily word count.

I’m hoping to discover revision bliss. NaNoWriMo helped me discover that my drafting bliss occurs at word 900. It can feel like painful slogging to write a scene up to 900 words, but after that, the story takes shape or the characters reveal themselves through dialog and the remaining words flow. Will I find that with revision? I hope so!

My plan is to dive in and not be intimidated by the work I know I need to do. I have historical timelines to shore up and an arc to build from my idea of the original arc I wrote. I might have made this too complex, writing from multiple points of view (POV) and starting with a story timeline that weaves in and out of the 1930s and the 1850s, all headed to a final revelation of what really happened July 12, 1852 at Rock Creek Station in Nebraska Territory. I have to be prepared to defend my theories, my fiction that is rooted in fact and a plausible conclusion.

No distractions 5 hours a day while attending to other responsibilities and icing my purple toe. I prepared by creating to-do lists for the other responsibilities over the next six weeks and by designating a week off, even from those tasks. I prepared by finishing out the last of the firewood hauling from the mountains (and the weather agrees with my plan, it’s now to muddy and snow has hit the higher elevations). I prepared by cleaning my house, decorating with fall candles and leaves, shopping to stock up my pantry and freezer with groceries, and baking a cake.

It was in baking the cake (not hauling firewood) that I broke my toe. Who breaks their toe mixing batter for a yellow buttermilk cake? Me, apparently. I accidentally knocked over my heavy Pyrex measuring cup and it landed square on my big toe and felt like an iron rock. Kitchen accidents do happen, but they seem ridiculous. Sympathy withers when you say, “Oh, I did it baking a cake.” Was it somebody’s birthday? An anniversary?

No, it was just the start of NaNoReViSo.

To all my fellow writers doing (or not doing) NaNoWriMo and to my special NaNoReViSo buddy, Sherri Matthews, go punch someone in the gut! Make those readers feel your words! Stay the course, no matter what.

Critical Role of Beta Readers

Geoff Le PardLittle did I know that when I slung the “ranch open” sign on a literary project called Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge that I would find some of the best writers in the world. As a Rough Writer, Geoff Le Pard has been one of the most prolific flash fiction contributors, writing an entire saga week by week, 99-words at a time. His dedication and enthusiasm for craft is inspiring! He’s the author of two novels, and joins us today to discuss the importance of beta readers to his second novel, “My Father and Other Liars.”

Welcome guest blogger, Geoff Le Pard, to Carrot Ranch.

***

My beta readers have been critical to me: how did I find them and chose them and what does having informed and knowledgeable beta readers mean to me?

I learnt early that no book can be created in isolation. It needs to be read and read by people who haven’t lived, eaten and breathed it for months, years maybe. Even writing for yourself, you will not spot what doesn’t work, you will misdirect yourself over plot errors, character inconsistencies and unbelievable story lines. It is easier to suspend one’s own belief than have others do it for you.

That’s where Beta readers come in. And they are gold dust.

Let’s just get a definition out the way. Beta readers don’t edit. Sure they may spot typos, may be grammar nerds, may be brilliant at spotting clunky dialogue, fantastic at picking up continuity errors but, for me, this isn’t why you use them.

For me they do two things.

Firstly they replicate your final reader. They are the one time reader who needs to be drawn in, wants to turn the page and see the story with the clarity of a committed reader. Therefore asking someone who is a fantasy nut to read a piece of kitchen sink human drama is rather pointless. Clearly countless people read widely but they aren’t always available. Just be a bit careful who you choose because you want someone who has the chance to be engaged in your story.
What you want is an honest appraisal. And that is difficult to give. People don’t want to offend. We read about a number of people who say they won’t post a review for an Indie author if it’s less than 4 stars. Which is fine and grand but would be useless in a Beta reader. For me at least. If it’s two stars I need to be told.

The people who can eviscerate my novel are perfect for me. Sure I don’t want gratuitous criticism but if it’s pointing out a failing I’m not that concerned if it’s wrapped up in brown paper or in nice jolly wrapping paper or unwrapped. I have between four and six people I’ve learnt to trust but with every book I try and involve someone new. You never know. And those who give it a try, often not sure if they’ll be any good, turn out to be excellent.

Because My Father and Other Liars has taken about five years to reach this point, it’s probably been read by upwards of ten people. Of those, four have given it a nod and nothing much more and the rest have done me the biggest favour someone can do a writer; they’ve given their work detailed attention and spent time articulating what they thought about it.

The second use for me, is the specialist reader. With My Father and Other Liars I have really needed expert help.

As I explained over at Annecdotal, there is a lot of science – and especially genetics, life sciences and biology – that underpin this book. I gave up biology in the second year, year 8 at school. When my children had biology homework I nodded in another’s direction. It was beyond me. But I researched and checked and read and listened and I thought I had it pretty clear. But still… Then the Vet mentioned one of her friends who was just finishing her Biology degree at Oxford. ‘Would she…?’ I wondered. Yes she would. Indeed a second Biology grad asked to read it. Between them I had several lectures, a deeper understanding and a much better book.

The second area, which I discussed over at The Daily Echo, was the subject of locations. I moved my story around, crossing the Atlantic. Washington, London, New York, Surrey, San Francisco and Northampton. I’ve been to these places, I’ve developed a sense of what they are like. I feel I can describe them with a degree of accuracy. But two locations caused me some trouble because in one case, I’ve not been and in a second I made the place up and stuck it in the back of beyond in Oklahoma!

Nicaragua was the first of these. It’s a Central American country and I used a real city, Leon. If people have been they may have questions for me that I may well not be able to answer. I’ve researched all I can; my son and his girlfriend visited and gave me great feedback, but at the end of the day it may sadly fall short. I hope not. People who have read the book and have a sense for Central America feel it passes muster but still I worry. A Nicaraguan beta reader would be marvellous (I still have one possibility, but that would be for the second edition!) You may ask ‘Why not change the story?’ ‘Take it somewhere you know about.’ Sadly the story demands a Central or South American setting and Nicaragua was perfect.

Sometimes you do your best and then hope some!

The second location and one I feared for most was the fictional town of Beaumont in Oklahoma. My fictitious Church needed a fictitious home and it needed to be remote, and in the Bible belt states in the US. On a metaphorical toss of the coin I came up with Oklahoma. I read about the state, I did all the usual Google earth stuff but still. I placed it close to the Panhandle and wrote away.

Months, nay years later and I’m asking for some beta readers. To my American friends I asked if anyone knew anyone who lived or had lived in Oklahoma. Charli, my host today pings back. Her fellow in-law – her daughter’s husband’s mother – hails from Oklahoma. Better still she grew up in a strict Baptist environment. Better than that she wanted to be a Beta reader. Joy and double somersaults all round. Paula not only gave me a sense of place but she pointed out timing fallacies, errors in how the local airports work in practice, the ubiquity of the red dirt and the language ticks as well as lots of good stuff around food that added nice little touches to the narrative.

There. The benefit of blogging to a writer in a nutshell. I’d never have found Paula Moyer without blogging, never have got the introduction. My Father and Other Liars is a tale that romps hither and yon; its pace defines it. Yet if something like the location descriptions, just as much as the language of the characters, jars with any of the audience, it’s like driving with the hand brake on. Possible but deeply unsatisfying.

I’m deeply grateful to each and every reader. Some gave me a few sentences but each of those are like rivers of nectar from the gods. Those who sent me pages of thoughts, or a manuscript dotted with tracked changes and comments, I’m both touched and emotional at the thought of the effort involved. You all are part of this project, every one of you. Thank you.

***

my-father-and-other-liars-final-for-kindleMy Father and Other Liars is the second book by Geoff Le Pard. Published in August it is available as an ebook and paperback here:

Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com

 

His first book, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle can be found here:

Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com

 

Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls.

Be sure to catch more guest posts from Geoff Le Pard in Week 2 of his Blog Tour at these fine blogs:

Blog Tour 2 poster 2