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But for the kindness of others, my car is unburied, and my accessibility to Carrot Ranch improved. The storms have not entirely passed.
Last year, we received almost 60 more inches of snow before we called it good for flowers to burst forth from receding drifts in yards and woods. And officially, my computer is dead. Her memory broken, unable to function.
Not a way any of us want to go.
Today, I’m gratefully tapping away on a loaner laptop. I’m adjusting to not having the speeds I’ve grown accustomed to, or having all my files arranged just so. I spent the last week feeling lost, following an unfortunate computer crash. Each failed fix left me brooding.
The blizzard that shut down our town (even snowmobiles got stuck) delayed the response from the only tech store we have. By then, a friend who works in IT offered to help, running diagnostics to pinpoint the actual problem. A rep who called me back said they probably couldn’t fix it or retrieve data, and they wouldn’t have new computers in stock until March 15 because of some Intel processing glitch.
Let’s pause a moment and discuss backup strategies.
Early on, I learned to back up my work as a professional. Not only did I write content for businesses, but I was also responsible for archiving it. As technology grew into the Information Age, archives grew into fierce beasts to manage. By 2010, we had servers to back up all our computers nightly. In 2012, I purchased an external hard drive for all my personal and professional work.
Today we have a myriad of choices to backup our writing files from hardware to digital clouds. However, nothing is failproof. In 2016, I carefully boxed up my physical portfolio into three large plastic tubs. In my previous move, I lost all my earlier writing to a nesting mouse, learning the value of plastic. I also lost my college writing because floppy disks became obsolete.
Thus we each need a Backup Strategy that fits our needs and resources.
WANTS & NEEDS
First, determine what is essential to preserve. Flag these files as needs. For me, it’s a single folder marked as NOVELS. Each individual novel has its own folder within the main one. Each revision has its own folder. And, each novel has its own research file filled with photos, links, articles, and notes. Finally, I backup each novel project from Scrivener (where I write and save every scrap of writing and revision in a “project” as well as arranging my research, character and setting notes on board).
That way, I have a single NEED TO SAVE folder called NOVELS. I have one folder to backup, which I did two days before my laptop crashed.
The rest of my files I want to save, but I won’t die if something catastrophic happens. Most of these are unessential archives. Some also exist in hard copy files (such as my editorial calendar, budget, and workshop materials). Other writing and genealogy research exists on other platforms. Photos are backed up automatically to Google, and now my new iPhone comes with iCloud storage for which I expanded for a nominal monthly fee.
Photos, books, magazines, printouts or tearsheets (as we used to call evidence of publication back in the printing days) comprise most hard copies. These are the documents we often scan or have backed up digitally. I’m old school and keep way too many hard copies. In 2016, when I knew I had to pack up my office, I used the NEED vs. WANT system to prioritize what got scanned, placed in a plastic tub, or filed into a carrying case which I kept throughout my wandering adventures.
Don’t keep everything.
Think about who has to sort your stuff after you die. Seriously. I’m not trying to be morbid, but after helping my best friend sort her parents’ hoard after they died, I can tell you there is no joy in going through stuff they found sentimentally worthy. Then my best friend died, leaving the sorting unfinished along with her own items. Watching her grown children muck through an entire storage unit and cry over the burden of decisions, I decided I’d not do that to my own kids.
Hard as it may be, I use moves to confront the reality — what if I lost this document or item forever? Remember, NEEDS vs. WANTS. Sometimes you have to separate from things you want to keep but if they do not serve a purpose, toss. Question:
- Does it keep your portfolio relevant to next big goal?
- Does it serve a future purpose?
- Is it an heirloom someone else will appreciate?
- Is it essential to your writing?
- Is it valuable?
Having organized files is the first step toward a good backup plan. Every year, I make it a practice to archive files so I can minimize the number of documents I have to scroll through. At work, I used to sort data by quarters. It makes document sorting and relocation easier. Annual archiving works well. But what happens if your software or hardware fails?
You have many choices for backup:
- USB (or USB-c) drives, also known as “memory sticks”
- External hard drives for data (especially if you need large storage for high-resolution photos, videos or graphic design of book covers, advertising, etc.)
- Multiple computers (home, work, and laptop)
- Time Machine (an Apple product)
- Server used for networks (something not readily affordable for the home user)
Keep in mind these backups can fail, or technology can advance. Somehow I damaged my external hard drive storing it in a fireproof lockbox (it got damp). It is possible to retrieve the data, however but requires an expert technician. My floppy discs from college are obsolete, but again, an expert with the right equipment can retrieve the data if it felt like a need. My honors thesis was published at Carroll College and may be digitally scanned, something I never dreamed could happen 20 years ago!
Technology changes and technology fails. Keep your backups backed up.
Cloud service might seem practical, especially to younger generations who don’t recall life without the internet. It might feel suspicious to those of us who grew up reading about Big Brother. Certainly, it is convenient, much of it is free, and many reputable services offer extra storage. Here are links to learn more:
- Google Drive
- Microsoft One Drive
- Amazon (and you’re unlikely to use it, but know it exists because it might make a great plot twist in that thriller you’re writing).
The cloud can fail, too. Security and solvency remain two major issues.
Facing the vulnerability of our backups is like facing our mortality. Our writing, our art, our work won’t live forever. But while we yet breathe, we make art and we back it up best we can. Have a plan that fits your needs and assess it regularly.
My future computer is unknown. It kills me to think my Acer is gone. Her memory sits in a clunky piece of hardware on my desk marked with my name on a strip of blue tape. Her body rests on my printer, paining me each time I look at her. How it became her in death, I’m not sure, but she served me well. Until she up and quit on me. Bah…!
Meanwhile, I have a hardy little Dell to help see me through to what next. I’m considering going over to the dark apple.
Something to think about (me, and others considering a new laptop) — when my component failed, I learned it is soldered onto the mainboard. My tech friend explained this new practice to me, and Acer confirmed it. To replace the faulty piece, I’d have to buy an $875 board which is $25 less than the cost of my laptop.
If you are in the market for a laptop, ask if the model you are considering has a soldered board. If so, you might want to reconsider. Single components are easier and cheaper to replace. However, you would be best guided by a trusted IT person. Chromebooks are inexpensive, and MacBook Airs are dependable. I feel like a widow having to pick a new mate one week after the funeral. I just want my old love back.
Moving onto snow, we are still digging out but have had sunshine. Today, Mrs. H called in the serious snow removal equipment to deal with her blocked garage. Each time the loader backed up, a loud beep echoed throughout the neighborhood. The sound of progress. The sound of moving onward.
Up to a challenge? After you back up your writing, eh.
February 28, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the term backup. You can back up or have a backup, just go where the prompt leads!
Respond by March 5, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Backup Work (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Mars sparkled overhead. Could Ike see their favorite constellations from his post in Iraq? Danni lit a lantern at the kitchen table. With the power out from the wind storm, she couldn’t access her computer files. Good thing her work included books and items found in the dirt. She poked at the latest sorting of glass globs. A fire, which locals claimed was the burning of the Rose Bud Inn during Prohibition. If so, Danni might have found its location. Tonight, she couldn’t back up her reports, but she could sift the remains of another era. Stories always surface.
By D. Avery
Their colors are those of Tibetan prayer flags, but these squares are not yet whispering in the wind. An unassuming plastic wrapped cube; they appear to be ordinary post-it notes. These are not ordinary post-it notes to be used for mundane purposes. This five-colored cube is composed of post-it notes destined for a special purpose. They will remain in their pristine packaging, neat and orderly until I’m ready to apply them to their designated task. For now I am inspired by their contained order while the story they will eventually help shape and organize swirls free-form in my head.
Ha! I happened to notice the word count (opening paragraph) — exactly 99 words. That’s seriously funny. And if there had been a prompt with “prayer” or “flag” or “post-it” those 99 words would suffice, no more, no less. 99 words come more easily since my early days at Carrot Ranch, but it is still very satisfying to meet the challenge of forging a 99-word story. To write even 99 words every week has been a worthy exercise, one I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. But lately, I am seeing how 99 words might, like another prompt, lead to more.
Yes, that second paragraph is also 99 words and is better for it. The constraint forced its construction to be more carefully considered, like with our flash fiction pieces. I enjoy crafting stories that are complete in just 99 words. Honing those skills is challenge enough. But recurring characters keep insisting I write their bigger story, even though I don’t know how. I’m not skilled or ambitious enough to write a big story. But then a funny thing happened after I published a collection of flash fiction and short stories. I found myself imagining how I might do it.
You will have guessed that the solution, like the previous paragraph, is 99 words. I might be able to use flash fiction as a tool to shape and sharpen a larger story. But there’s that word “might” again. Might. Its verb and noun definitions almost seem unrelated. As a verb, it is a form of “may” as in maybe, as in possibly. As a noun, might means strength, force, power. Maybe the noun and verb definitions are aligned. Maybe power comes from imagining possibilities and persevering to realize potential. Maybe 99-word flashes might be pieces of bigger stories.
If you are still reading you might rightly doubt me, might wonder if I could ever leave the comfort of 99 words; wonder if I could ever actually organize a big story. You wonder if I’ve forgotten those five colors of post-it notes. Nope; they are the color codes of characters and flashes. They are the pieces of a quilt, its pattern still emerging. The still unopened cube has been joined by a doodle pad where a scene gets hurriedly splashed onto its own page as it arrives unbidden. I might be getting ready for something I might do.
I will do it. I will write a big story. Because the mightiest outcome from writing weekly flash challenges has been in finding my creative courage, 99 words at a time, going wherever the prompts lead. These flashes and the encouragement of this community led to a book. It was through that experience that I finally got the idea of “raw” and finally accepted it in my own writing. It’s leading to more. I will write a bigger story because it is there. I will figure out how as I go along. Now it’s just a matter of time.
It’s all a leap of faith. But I will open that plastic wrapped cube, will start stringing my post-it prayer flags together. My characters and their stories will flash uncontained, will spread their wings to soar on the winds of possibility. In the meantime the hunting and gathering will continue, week to week, 99 words here, six sentences there, some flashes so raw it’s a health code violation, some satisfying and tasty. Risks will be taken, flaws will be evident, revisions will be made. I look forward to this self-imposed challenge; and then the next one after that.
D. Avery, Rough Writer spinner of Ranch Yarns, shares prose and poetry at ShiftnShake. She has published two books of poetry, Chicken Shift and For the Girls. Her third book, After Ever, little stories for grown children, is evidence of her shift to fiction writing. You might find her funny, except when she’s serious, but you can certainly find her at Twitter and Amazon.
According to Sean Prentiss:
D. Avery has written a stunning collection of flash fictions that take us from here in Vermont to places far afield and from children to the elderly. These short stories in After Ever, though, all share one common thread, and that is tight, beautiful prose about the human condition, about the moments of our lives that make us weep from sorrow and from love.
Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Technically speaking, enriched foods are those that manufacturers have fortified like adding calcium to orange juice. In the US, government programs support healthier foods for school children through programs that started during our Great Depression. Food enrichment progressed during WWII, finding ways to get nutritious C-rations and K-rations to soldiers. If you grew up fascinated by the developing space programs, you might recall “ice cream for astronauts” or used “dehydrated eggs” on a backpacking trip. All food enrichment.
But I like to think of enriching my lunch a different way. Instead of buying food from a laboratory, I prefer it as close to the farm as possible, or from artisan producers who source locally.
Artisan food producers might sound like a made-up word so grocery stores can charge more. A fad, a novelty, not real value. However, after sixteen years of writing profiles about farmers and producers, I understand the value of calling someone an artisan. At the invitation of the Wisconson Cheese Makers, I once toured the state for three days, meeting artisan cheese makers and masters.
So, yes, cheese features regularly on my lunch plate. Today, it was an aged cheddar (serve at room temperature, and you can crunch the tiny crystals that form). To further enrich my plate, I added artisan rosemary crackers made from whole ingredients (in other words, crackers from a bakery, not a factory). For health and taste, I included a crisp local apple, a sprinkling of raw pumpkin seeds, and a Greek gift to food artistry — dolmades.
It comes as no surprise that many of us seek to add value to what we do beyond eating — we go to school to learn more about a topic or trade, we gain experience to enrich our careers, and we blog to enhance our writing goals. Many authors resist blogging because they think it detracts from what they write (books), and other bloggers treat their blog like a business. Which writers are right? The ones who know why they do what they do.
Last month, I offered you the opportunity to work out a vision for your writing journey by ultimately setting your North Star. This gives you a clear picture of success and becomes the reason for why you do what you do. Vision work can make you a more productive writer, and save you angst when you are trying to figure out what tasks to take on to further your writing goals.
So let’s compare some right/wrong ways to blog.
Authors who don’t blog because it detracts from their writing could be right or wrong. Authors who are resistant without a compelling reason beyond finding blogging a distraction, are likely to be behind on platform building once they publish their books. Blogging is not the platform, but it can build audience, community, brand awareness and credibility. So can many other tactics. If the authors know why they write, what success looks like and have set goals these authors can better decide if blogging is the right tactic. They can set goals for platform building and blog if it meets their needs, or not. Many successful authors do not blog, but they likely have a website, are active contributors to mainstream media, and have a brand presence.
Many bloggers treat their blogs like a business, which is smart. First of all, a blog is “owned” territory. That means it is a digitally accessible area that individuals own as opposed to corporate ownership (like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter). However, a good marketing plan includes a mix of these outlets. But some bloggers think a blog is going to make them rich and they use AdSense or spam techniques to boost traffic for pay.
Are any of these bloggers clearly right or wrong? Only the ones who don’t know why they do what they do. In other words, even the slinky scammer with a spam campaign is right if that person has a plan. Morally, and sometimes legally, they are wrong (these blog spammers), but they have a plan of enrichment.
Many of us probably have opinions about those who enrich themselves on the backs of others — in 1914, copper miners on the Keweenaw went on strike because they saw the mine owners getting richer, while miners struggled on their wages, faced deadly work situations, and had little respite from hard labor. Wal-Mart has a reputation for being a low-price retailer not because its stockholders suffer the cut in price but because their workers and manufacturers do. Recently, my stomach turned when I read an article about a certain wealthy leader who has enriched himself while in office.
Enrichment, in and of itself, is not bad. To find value, or add value to something is worthy. Dragons who burn villages to hoard gold are the villains of legend, while the heroes are myths like Robin Hood, the prince of thieves, who sought to take from the rich to enrich the poor. Like all things, perspective is a fractured lens.
Why do I blog? That’s a legitimate question to answer for those of you who regularly visit Carrot Ranch. My reason is summed up in my North Star — to make literary art accessible. Here, it’s to make it accessible 99-words at a time, meaning it is meant to be playful and inspirational.
You might find it puzzling, but I do not consider myself a blogger. It’s probably just semantics, and, of course, perspective. Obviously, I’m writing a blog post right now…but I consider myself a writer in every sense possible. I have aspirations, career, successes, and failures as a writer. More to the point, I’ve used my writing skills to make a living for more than 20 years. My portfolio of tear sheets fill two large plastic tubs, I’ve been published in seven books and more than 300 hundred magazines. I have no problem saying I’m a writer.
Blogging is part of my platform building and directly connects all my writing to my greatest aspiration of all — to write and publish successful historical novels. I’m in it for the long haul, the big journey. My North Star that guides me is a vision I have for why writing matters to me — because I want to be immersed in creative writing. I have craved this since I first realized I got as much joy from writing as I did reading.
The first book I ever wanted to write was about a girl named Silver Chalmers whose father was a mining investor who left California for his native England and never returned. It was based on a true incident. Local legend held that Mrs. Chalmers returned to the stage every day for word of her husband’s return. When he didn’t, she was sent away to the insane asylum in Carson City. Her mansion in Silver City (a ghost town where my father once logged when I was a kid) sat full of all her furnishings until someone broke in during the 1970s. My pinprick as a kid was, “what if they had a daughter.”
Ever since I was 12 years old, I’ve wanted to write historical novels. I’ve devoured them as a reader, studied them as a student, and crafted my first real attempted as an independent project in college under the tutelage of a professor I still hold in high esteem. I learned to research, find stories in cemeteries, and where to look for the women who tend to be invisible in the American wild west.
I’ve also encountered barriers to success — things like, not everyone who dreams of writing a novel gets to make a living as a novelist. The closest I got to overcome that hurdle was achieving an undergraduate degree in creative writing. My bitter pill in 1998 was a choice — pursue an MFA to continue my novel and publish, or take my writing skills to the workplace. I had three kids and a husband, so I became a writer instead of a novelist.
What I missed during my career writing years was that connectivity to literary art. I felt shut out from it. Over the years, I enjoyed pockets of connectivity and began to realize that literary art was not just an academic experience. But other than going on retreats or back to school, how did I access it? In small ways, I included literary art in my workplace. I used to make my staff write cinquains before weekly meetings, and I taught nature writing classes locally.
Carrot Ranch was selfish — I wanted to feel connected to that spark I defined internally as my inner literary artists. I wanted kindred spirits who felt it too. And I no longer believed I had to get an MFA to publish (than you, pioneering independent authors). Carrot Ranch makes literary art accessible 99 words at a time. That is my North Star for achieving my dream of writing historical novels.
So, I don’t consider myself a blogger. And that’s okay if we differ on perspective. What’s important to me is that we have this safe space to create as we all go about our long-haul goals. My first novel isn’t even going to be in the genre I dream of writing. Why? Because I don’t know how to write a successful novel — yet. Oh, I know what goes into one, and I know tons about craft, process and even editing. I know more than I did six years ago about the book industry. I’m an expert in story-telling and branding.
But that first novel, ah, the agony of writing it right. And I’m not saying that as a perfectionist. I’m saying that as an artisan — from the maker we become the master. Many authors publish their first or second drafts, some take time to edit. You can do it many ways and anyway you want! (Remember, your dream and your goals belong to you, just be aware of them and what it takes). And other authors don’t publish their first three books. No way is wrong or right — as long as you know why you choose one way over the others — but in the end, most authors will tell you that it’s by the ninth manuscript they feel they have it right.
I’ve learned so much working on Miracle of Ducks. I had really believed it would be easier because I wasn’t adding that extra burden of historical research. But I’m pleased with what the experience is teaching me. And I’m pleased knowing that working it is working my dream.
Thank you all for joining me on this journey! We are like Chaucer’s pilgrims. Each of us has wild stories and varied reasons for taking the writing path, but what compels us inside is a shared joy in the creative endeavor we call literary art. No matter where you are, keep your North Star sharp, set goals that fit you like good hiking boots and keep on the trail.
January 10, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the idea of enrichment. Use many of its different manifestations or explore reasons why it matters to the character. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by January 15, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Life Experience (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Sitting with Ramona, Danni sniffled. The older woman said, “We all look to enrich our lives, Dear. You might say each experience is like putting dimes in a slot machine. We hope one gives us the jackpot, but before you know it, we’re out of dimes.”
“That’s not hopeful,” Danni said, wiping her nose with a paper towel. She hated crying. Saline didn’t solve anything.
Ramona continued to smile. “Enjoy the gamble, Danni! In the end, we all lose our dimes. You’ll be disappointed if you wait for one jackpot experience and miss the fun in all the others.”
Branding, Bios and Author Multiple-identity Disorder
by Anne Goodwin
If there’s one consistent message about managing our author platforms, it’s that consistency rules. After all, if consumers need to be exposed to a product around seven times before they commit to making a purchase, only a fool would reduce the odds of being noticed by presenting their product in potentially contradictory ways. Friends, I am that self-sabotaging fool.
While I deeply admire those who can sum up what you stand for in an attractive image and roll-off-the-tongue strap line, there’s a part of me wailing How on earth can you know? Doesn’t your sense of who you are alter, like mine, with the seasons? Don’t you behave differently depending on who’s with you and where you are?
I do appreciate that we can’t dither indefinitely; that we have to make choices if we’re not to stagnate. I accept there’s no brand loyalty without brand recognition. Hell, thanks to Charli, I even accept I have a brand. But I have to develop it at my own pace.
I’ve come a long way since I balked at putting my mugshot on my website. I’ve come a long way since my first published stories were followed by the bio-that-never-was:
Anne Goodwin loves fiction for the freedom to contradict herself and hates bios for fear of getting it wrong.
Although a certain self-deprecating humour has become part of my brand – risky because what amuses one person turns another right off – the sentiment of that non-bio still holds true. I do like to contradict myself and fear commitment to a form of words that were right for me yesterday but a poor fit today.
But my shape-shifting author identity might be frustrating for others, as I was reminded recently when someone kindly sent through the version of my bio she planned to use in a post that mentioned me. Horror of horrors, it was the bio that accompanies my debut novel, and thus three and a half years out of date. Yet it wasn’t so much that the older version deprives me of the opportunity to crow about more recent accomplishments, but the slant of the summary was wrong. I don’t know if others do this but, in addition to my short-and-sweet Twitter biography, and the let-me-tell-you-everything about page on my website, I’ve composed a completely new bio for each of my published books.
Why, Anne, why? Because each novel draws on a different part of me: I thought readers of my debut, Sugar and Snails, narrated by a psychology lecturer at Newcastle University with a close friend teaching in the mathematics department across the road, might like to know that I studied those subjects at that same institution myself. But that’s irrelevant to people picking up my second novel, Underneath, who might be more interested to learn that, like Steve, my narrator, I used to like to travel and that, like Liesel, his partner, I worked in mental health services in the region where the story is set. If and when my possibly third novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is published, I’ll probably mention that, like Janice, one of three point-of-view characters, I had a role in the longstay psychiatric hospital closures of the 1980s and 1990s.
With my forthcoming short story collection, Becoming Someone, I have a freshly-minted bio all over again. As the anthology is on the theme of identity and self-discovery, it felt right to include some of the quirkier aspects of my own identity in the bio:
Alongside her identity as a writer, she’ll admit to being a sociable introvert; recovering psychologist; voracious reader; slug slayer; struggling soprano; and tramper of moors.
We all have multiple identities to accompany our different responsibilities and roles. But I’m still unsure how much my multi-author biographies represent flexibility and diversity versus disorder and lack of focus. What do you think?
Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity launches on Facebook on November 23rd, 2018, where the more people participate the more she’ll donate to Book Aid International. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a particular interest in fictional therapists.
Becoming Someone published 23rd November, 2018 by Inspired Quill
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-908600-77-6 / 9781908600776
eBook ISBN: 978-1-908600-78-3 / 9781908600783
Amazon author page
Author page at Inspired Quill publishers
Facebook launch in support of Book Aid International
How to Build a Readership with Blogging
and Prepare for Publishing by Debby Gies
As writers who choose to self-publish, we must understand that we’ve chosen to be not only writers but publishers, marketers, and promoters of our work because these components are all essential parts of running a business. Yes, your business! If we intend to sell books, it’s in our best interests to learn about these things as well as building an author platform. If we don’t put in the time to promote our work, our books will surely sit and collect dust on the virtual shelves, lost in a sea of hundreds of thousands of other books.
Although we may be publishing in a digital world, our business is no different than if we opened our own brick and mortar store. We wouldn’t leave our doors unlocked and wares left unattended, would we? So, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of what’s involved in putting together a good book to gain wider readership.
Building an Author Platform with Blogging and Social Media Tools
If we prepare for our book launch well before publication, we’ll establish a presence as a writer and begin a following so we’ll have readers already eagerly interested in our book once it’s published. Remember – No readers = no sales.
Running a blog and creating a presence on social media are two important tools for gaining an audience. Using our blogs to write interesting articles to reflect on topics we write about in our books is a good way to develop a niche for our blogs. Some other suggestions to write about:
- Writing and publishing tips you come across which other writers may find helpful
- Book reviews – to share works of other writers to build rapport, which in turn will have others wanting to reciprocate and share our posts and books and reviews
- Personal posts to share with readers to give them some insight as to who we are as a person, inviting readers to get to know us
The point is to build relationships with our readers and showcase who we are. Don’t be the person who posts about their book all the time, because people don’t want to be hard sold to. And keep in mind, it’s important to always respond to comments because this is the engagement we strive to receive from readers. If they’ve taken the time to leave a comment, it’s our obligation to take the time to acknowledge them. It may take a while until we find our niche and target audience, but eventually, we’ll build our tribe.
Tip – Don’t forget to add share buttons under your blog for readers to share posts to their readers, which will bring new readers back to your blog. And don’t forget to add your social handles to these buttons when setting up your blogs so you get the credit to your name for the post.
Next, get active on social media. Yes, there are many sites out there, but many of them don’t have to constantly be babysat. You can auto send your blog posts to your social sites automatically by linking your posts to your social media sites at the very least. And eventually you will narrow down the few sites you most gravitate to by noticing where most of your reader engagement is happening, and those sites will become the ones you’ll want to focus more of your energies on. And again, when people respond by leaving comments on your social posts, make it a point to respond back. By engaging with potential readers on multiple platforms, you’ll give yourself a head start on creating interest about you and your writing, and by the time your books roll out, you’ve already created interested readership.
Now that we’ve established the importance of social presence and completed writing our first rough draft of our book, we can focus on the major parts of getting our book in shape for publishing.
Tip One: Editing
Before your book is anywhere near ready to go to an editor, re-writes and revisions begin for your rough draft. Even Hemingway said, “The first draft is shit.” This is the time to clean and polish your words, phrases, and structure of your story. At this time, you’ll experience a bit of pride, and a bit of, “What the hell was I thinking?” after you come across random run-on sentences, typos, and plot holes. You’ll need to read through the manuscript a few times to begin the polishing process. I recommend then to send your manuscript to beta readers for feedback and then weighing out the suggestions and making appropriate changes before sending off to the editor.
I always find it helpful to print out a copy to do another round of revising before sending my work to the editor because our eyes catch a lot more on paper than they do on the screen. Then I take my newly marked-up manuscript back to the computer for last round changes before it goes off to the editor. Yes, even editors need editors. And the cleaner your book goes to the editor, the less time and work it takes them to edit, resulting in less cost to you.
It’s important to seek out an editor you’re comfortable working with and fits reasonably in with your budget and your genre. Believe me, I know as writers our budgets are tight or practically nil, but have you ever heard of anyone who started a business for free? Your books need professional editing, and if you don’t believe me, go look at some books with bad reviews on Amazon because of lack of editing. Readers are discerning and will get angry for crappy, unedited work, and we can’t afford to piss off readers when we’re trying to gain them.
Editors charge by the page or the word count. A good editor will offer to edit a sample chapter from you to show you how they work. A good editor will also not strip your voice from your story.
Once your manuscript is returned, you’ll go through the editor’s suggested changes and revise, then send it back for a final proofread before it’s ready for formatting.
Tip Two: Formatting
Once the manuscript is ready for print, it needs to be made into a downloadable file for ebook form: a mobi file for Amazon, and an epub form for all other distributors, and a print file for POD (print on demand) if you should desire, but highly recommended.
Some authors have the know-how or the inclination to learn how to format, but I can tell you, I have neither. So, if you’re like me, you’ll want to hire a formatter to get your book into form for publishing. A good formatter knows all the specs entailed with creating the file, will find spacing and gap issues in the document, and most important, find leftover marks on your Word document that you may not even be aware of because they aren’t visible after making changes on your manuscript. Once the files are created, they’ll be sent back to you, ready for downloading to your retailers of choice.
*Note: There are many authors offering formatting services now. If you’re not well-versed in formatting and don’t wish to go through the hair-raising and often time-consuming process, you can get a book formatted for a reasonable price, many only charging as low as $25. I know it’s certainly worth my time to hire out.
Tip Three: Book Cover
The first thing to catch a reader’s eye is the book cover. A catchy cover is more apt to attract attention than a boring generic one. Think about how many times you’ve looked through books on Amazon and didn’t look twice at even reading the blurb because the cover didn’t grab you. No matter how great the book may be, it can become a missed opportunity for a book sale if readers aren’t attracted to the cover or if it’s difficult to read the title.
Many new writers try to cut corners by making their own covers, and if they aren’t well-versed in the graphics department, to the discerning eye, it will look home-made. There are many elements involved in creating a good book cover. There is font, and font rules to beware of – size, color, and style elements. And you must be sure the cover is proportionately balanced with the font and picture elements in relation to the size of the book cover. Also, it’s important to know how that cover will look in thumbnail size because that’s how it will show on Amazon and other retail sites.
There are several places online you can find and hire book cover designers for a reasonable price. A good designer will know what’s involved in constructing an eye-catching cover. And of course, it will be up to you to tell them the concept of your book, share your ideas about what you’d like to essentially see on the cover, and you might want to send a few photos to the artist to give them an idea of what you’re after. You can search images at many photo sites to look for ideas of what you’d like on your cover. Artists don’t have time to read your manuscripts, so the more you can tell them about the book, the more ideas they can come up with as mockups to begin sending you for feedback and changes until the final masterpiece is created.
As you go through the process, you’ll be suggesting the changes you’d like, and a good artist will tell you if your suggestions for change will look balanced. For example: The rule of thumb is no more than 3 fonts on a cover because it becomes distracting to the reader. So, you may want your title in one font and your name in a font that you intend to keep as your branding for future books you will write. But you may have a subtitle requiring a third font because you don’t want it to blend into the title or look the same as the font used for your name. These are just a few pointers to take into consideration when creating a cover. I had no concept about all of this when I wrote my first book, so I subscribed to some of the pioneer Indie authors’ newsletters and learned a lot from their publications and links they provided on everything book publishing. I would highly recommend visiting www.thebookdesigner.com – Joel Friedlander’s site. He offers a wealth of information on everything about creating a book.
Tip Four: The Blurb
This is the book’s description, a crucial sales ad copy for your book to attract readers and entice them to buy it. The blurb will go under the product description on Amazon to dangle a carrot and intrigue readers into wanting to buy the book. If you’re making a print version of your book, this will go on the back cover.
Many writers will tell you that this can be a hair-tearing process to write. Finding the appropriate words and message for the blurb has been likened to – worse than writing a book. Why, you may be wondering? Because condensing your book into a mere 200-300 words to share the essence of your story, finding the right hook and not giving up spoilers, is hard work.
A blurb should contain – the protagonist, what they’re after, what the stakes are if they fail. It should create an emotional attachment, leaving the reader curious and wanting to read the book to find out what happens.
Blurb standard protocol:
- First line is where you hook the reader (what the stakes are)
- First paragraph is plot and conflict with the protagonist
- Second paragraph should leave the reader wondering what the resolution of conflict will be
- The last line should be a cliffhanger, causing an urgency in the reader to find out what happens
- You can add a third paragraph if it’s fitting, informing the reader what they can expect from reading the book, or by adding one or two quotes from an editorial you received from your book, inviting the reader to get insight as to how the book will make them feel
*Note: If the blurb is short you can condense the first and second paragraphs.
Here is a wonderful breakdown from Standoutbooks.com, on writing the blurb. This site is one of my favorite sites for learning and keeping up-to-date with everything about the writing industry.
I hope I’ve given you some points to ponder here today. These are the basic guidelines used to self-publish a book. As you get more comfortable publishing more books, you’ll come across many other tricks of the trade that you’ll find useful for incorporating into your own publishing purposes.
Debby Gies is a Canadian nonfiction/memoir author who writes under the pen name of D.G. Kaye. She was born, raised, and resides in Toronto, Canada. Kaye writes about her life experiences, matters of the heart and women’s issues.
D.G. writes to inspire others. Her writing encompasses stories taken from events she encountered in her own life, and she shares the lessons taken from them. Her sunny outlook on life developed from learning to overcome challenges in her life, and finding the upside from those situations, while practicing gratitude for all the positives.
When Kaye isn’t writing intimate memoirs, she brings her natural sense of humor into her other works. She loves to laugh and self- medicate with a daily dose of humor.
Connect with her at:
Book by D.G Kaye available on Amazon.
Platform is a guest blog to discuss ideas or share tips for building and marketing a writer’s platform.
Although memoir is a true story of a particular part of your life, it must still have structure if you intend for others to read it. Firstly you have to decide what is the story that you want to tell. For most memoir writers it will be the most exciting, heart-pounding, significant time of their lives. For some, this may be their childhood to their coming of age (known as a bildungsroman) whilst for others, it may be an illness, an experience that happens later in life or it could be the relationship you had with a particular animal or a business venture you had undertaken. In reality – it can be any theme you choose. These days there are even immersion memoirs where a person will undertake some task or live amongst, e.g. footballers, for months and then write a memoir on this experience. For most of us, we know our story, and we know what has had the most impact on us, and that is what we decide to write about. For me – it was when my husband and I, as newlyweds, went into partnership with the paramount chief of an exotic island in the Pacific in the running of a small resort and tour business.
Early in the writing process you also need to decide for whom you are writing. Is your audience only yourself, your family or are you planning to publish and sell your memoir to the public. When I started writing my memoir the plan was that it was being written for my family. I included detail that interested them as they knew the friend that helped us load a pile of timber into a container that was eventually to be the house we built on the remote island. As I ventured further into the story my focus changed and I decided that this was a story that had wider appeal than just my loved ones. However, this change meant that the chapters I had already written had to rewritten to remove information that no-one, other than my family and friends, would have much if any interest in knowing. If, however, you are writing for your family then lots of detail about the family will be of interest to that readership. Early in my blogging I came across a chap that had published his memoir. I purchased it on Amazon only to find that this was a story that had been written for the family and had little appeal to the wider audience. It may have been worthy of some blogging of the more interesting aspects but I don’t think it should never have been put up for sale to the public without a lot of editing. If you are writing just for yourself then you can be free with details of a personal nature that might be therapeutic for you to acknowledge but should never be let into the public domain.
Having decided on a theme and a focus the writing begins. How you do this is an individual choice. Some people free write their first draft, just putting down all thoughts on paper. In the second draft, they add the structure. Personally, I write in a structured way from the start, but in second drafts I may change my starting point. Lee Gutkind, the father of creative nonfiction, suggests that you should open with a scene as it is crucial to draw the reader into the narrative immediately. Scenes are active. They show instead of tell and have dialogue and high definition scenes. Scenes and reflections on the effect that this has had on the author’s life should be put into the structure of the book. Again, this can be done in numerous ways either intermingled or set apart from each other.
Once the first draft has been written it should be re-read looking for the themes, focus, scenes, and reflection. If part of the narrative has nothing to do with the theme, even if it is a great story, get rid of it. If it doesn’t suit the focus, edit so that it does. Rewrite to create scenes where necessary and add reflection where there is none.
I would also suggest, as has Stephen King, Lee Gutkind, and many others, that reading memoirs that are of a similar theme to your own is a helpful exercise. Doing so allows you to see what works and what doesn’t work regarding structure. Sometimes the ones you don’t enjoy teach you more than those that you think are fantastic. Analyse what works and what doesn’t work. Reading is also useful when it comes to selling your book to a publisher as they will want to know – where on the bookshelf would this sit? Be able to tell the publisher who your memoir will appeal to. Mine will appeal to those that like travel memoirs, true-life adventure, small business and those wanting to make a change in their life. Knowing the themes and the focus will tighten your writing. I’m looking forward to joining in the discussion on your views of themes and focus.
The prompt for this month’s Times Past is a little different to those normally given. This month I am asking you to reflect on the biggest change in your lifetime. This can be a social change or a technological one or even one of both. Please join in giving your location at the time of your memory and your generation. An explanation of the generations and the purpose of the prompts along with conditions for joining in can be seen at the Times Past Page. Join in either in the comments or by creating your own post and linking. Looking forward to your memories.
I said, “Colorful.” That’s the only reason I ordered a white cake with white frosting. I was thinking magenta roses, blazing copper sunsets, and turquoise cowboy boots. Instead, I got a polite pile of pale pink rosettes and a sprinkling of confetti along the edges. What it lacked in vibrancy, my birthday cake made up for in taste. It was superb.
And the guests were the colorful ones!
First shift brought a small group of veterans and their wives. We hit the champagne. Then moved the huge picnic table so it could be in the full sunshine. May 20th and it was a sunny but cool Copper Country Day. With the sun on our backs or in our faces, we relaxed while the Hub grilled brats.
Next came the dancers. The night before I had watched the performance, mesmerized by the storytelling of dance. Like literary art, dance transforms into performing art with an audience. Our words and movements are meant to be shared. After the Sunday matinee, several dancers arrived for cake.
Last, the Rock Sisters arrived. Three women, including Cranky, lived a dream with me — to pick rocks on the shores of Lake Superior as the sun set with a cup of champagne. We went down to the beach, combed through rocks and watched the sun melt like molten copper into the lake, igniting the sky in violet hues.
But after cake came the cookies.
Anne Goodwin writes about the situation in her post, “GDPR chaos and confusion.” I’ve been trying to find a definitive answer to what is compliant on my various platforms. It’s clear as chocolate cake batter, and yet, I understand it involves cookies. I’m updating messages for my primary e-newsletter, and I’ve added the annoying “cookie jar” widget as a footer.
Somehow, I thought my platforms would have my six; that they would be advising me that they have provided the necessary functions to be GPDR compliant. However, Facebook warns me every time I hop on the site to “be compliant.” I kind of feel like those of us on Facebook should be issuing the social media giant with leaky data that message!
When I tried to research what it meant in practical terms to control my cookies, I did a Cookiebot scan and found cookies that needed nibbling, or deleting or some kind of “manual classification and a purpose description.” Wait a minute. I don’t bake cookies, how am I to explain them? Isn’t that Word Press and shouldn’t they be supporting their paid customers? (Cue crickets.)
Cookiebot also gave me a mind-boggling list of action to take:
- Inform your visitors in plain language about the purpose of your cookies and trackers before setting other than strictly necessary cookies (ePR)
- Provide options for the visitor to change or withdraw a consent (GDPR/ePR)
- Have a mechanism in place to log and prove consents (GDPR)
Map and document data streams performed by third parties (GDPR)
- Configure your consent method to use explicit/active consent when processing sensitive personal data on your website (GDPR)Provide the identity and contact details of the data controller in your company (GDPR)
- Disclose that the visitor is entitled to access, correct, delete and limit processing of personal data (GDPR)
- Disclose that the visitor is entitled to receive personal data so that they can be used by another processor (GDPR)
- Disclose that the visitor has the right to lodge a complaint with a supervisory authority (GDPR)
Inform about the occurrence of automatic decisions, including profiling (GDPR)
So, in clear and concise language, I’m using Raw Literature’s column to conform or confirm my cookies in 99 words, no more, no less:
So Ya Know by Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo of Carrot Ranch
In the olden days, neighbors swapped cookies and stories. Carrot Ranch is safe space for writers to share stories, to create literary art, to read, learn, inspire, grow. Any cookies you swallow at the Ranch come from the Word Press Bakery. There’s cookies to test if your browser accepts cookies, cookies to change language preference, and I imagine (not being the baker), there’s cookies that act like a homing device after you nibble. Any data these cookies collect are not used at Carrot Ranch by Carrot Ranch because we make literary art accessible. We don’t sell or trade cookies.
It’s not the small businesses or interactive blogs that need to carry the burden of exposing cookies. It’s the tyrants who encoded them in the first place. Carrot Ranch has no desire to participate in data mining or other stupid capitalistic practices. Words for people, not for profit! Carrot Ranch collects stories and writers consent by submitting said stories. Emails are only collected for the purpose of communicating with the writers. All stories collected are published, and all copyrights stay with the original authors.
Clear? I hope so. I suspect this is not GDPR compliant, but I have done my best. Kind of like my white cake. I could be more colorful on the subject, but I want you to know that our substance here at the Ranch is superb. We aren’t doing anything nefarious with cookies.
That’s my Raw Lit take on the fine mess of cookies, and I’m going to go eat another piece of cake.
Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at email@example.com.
If you don’t sell anything, go have a piece of cake. If you have to deal with cookies, here are some useful links if you monetize your blog in any way (sell books, services or ads):
Privacy and GDPR Compliance by MJ Mallon
GDPR Chaos & Confusion by Anne Goodwin
I write memoir – my memories of particular times or events in my life. In this process, through no fault of their own other than being part of my life I write another person’s narrative.
Who are the other people in our story – firstly there is the “I,” and then because we don’t live our lives in isolation, there are those people whose lives intertwine. It is impossible to leave out these other people when we recount our memoirs, but we must remember that they are having their story written as unwitting real-life characters and as such are due a good deal of respect. So how do we deal with these people?
Ideally, we tell them that we are writing a memoir in which they feature. Don’t show them what you have written until the book has had close to its final edit. Where possible stay with them whilst they read the portion in which they feature. Don’t give it to them to take away. Get their opinion at the time they read it. This is the ideal way because if they take it away they may give it to others to read and the feedback you get may not be their own. If they object to anything you have written, then you must consider the costs to you of leaving it in the memoir. Is this a person you care about and you don’t want to lose their friendship? Is the passage they have objected to necessary to the event? Can it be reworded without losing the truth? Are you prepared to accept that you might lose a friendship? Letting them read is the ideal situation but is not always possible. Strangely, for those people who have done this the majority report that the person will usually find something they are not too happy about but it is rarely the item that the author has been worrying over.
I have not given my memoir to anybody to read who I featured in it. To do so poses some problems as we are geographically removed in some instances, I have no idea where some of the people are, and one doesn’t want to read it. I have given it to a lawyer to check that I have written nothing by which I could be taken to court and sued. I have also changed some names. I have been dead against doing this but suddenly I came to a decision that for minor characters, who could be hurt by what I have written and I have no desire to hurt them, it is easier to change their names. In the author note, however, I will make it quite clear that I have changed some names. I have also changed a name to make it easier for the reader to know who the character is in the scene. On Tanna, there were some people named Chief Tom. Some names can’t be changed, such as my husband’s. He will be my husband no matter what I call him and thereby readily identifiable. I asked him if he would like to read the manuscript, but he refused. The reason he gave was that if he read it, he knew that he would be saying “you should say it this way” and be trying to get me to alter it to fit his voice. As far as what I have written about him he trusts that he already knows my thoughts. He will probably read it after it is published, but it is possible that he doesn’t want to revisit this period of our lives.
If you do or don’t give it to the character to look at, avoid at all costs, labelling them in the narrative. For example, don’t say that Rebecca was an alcoholic – show what she does and allow the reader to determine what she is. If Gary is a paedophile in your opinion, again don’t label but show. Labelling tends to reflect poorly on the author, and it will be more than the character that will dislike you – your reader will likely form a bad opinion of you. Last month I suggested that we need to let time elapse so that the high emotion we feel close to the event can dissolve to allow us to write from a non-judgemental point of view. This is crucial.
A chap called Paul John Eakin suggests that we are taught by our parents at an early age the rules relating to the telling of life narratives. These rules are, to tell the truth, to respect the privacy of others and to be aware of the normative model of personhood. The first two are self-explanatory. The last refers to who you are writing about and your responsibility to them based on their level of normalcy. For example, if you are writing about your partner, you can be much freer with what you write because the partner can respond with his or her own memoir. This is not the case with those suffering dementia, brain injuries and children. Thus the level of respect shown to any vulnerable person must be immense.
The other person that you must show consideration to is yourself. The person you are narrating is not the present day you, but he or she is capable of creating a crisis of emotion in the present day you. Just the other day I was searching for something and thought it might be in the court documents. I sat down and read the entire file which consisted of letters and court records. I thought I had dealt with our time in Vanuatu and was surprised at the level of anger and hurt reading these documents brought out in me. If you are at risk make sure you have a support system in place that you can call on if necessary – that may be a friend or professional help. I vented on Roger.
This month’s Times Past looks at a facet of life that can only exist if there are other people in the memory – family conversation – where did it happen? This also draws on your memory of place. Often by dragging back visions of particular rooms or places little stories and details will come unbidden. I hope you’ll join in, giving your location at the time of your memory and your generation. An explanation of the generations and the purpose of the prompts along with conditions for joining in is at the Times Past Page. Join in either in the comments here, in my comments section or by creating your own post and linking. I’m looking forward to your memories.
By Irene Waters
As you read this I will be sitting on the high seas, nearing the equator, out of range of the internet so I will start by apologising for what will seem my tardy response to any comments. Don’t worry I will get there and look forward to coming back to a conversation in full swing.
Initially, I was planning for this post to discuss what memoir is but decided that I have already written a post on the difference between memoir and fiction so instead I will direct you to that and write instead on the work of Memoir.
Have you ever thought about why you read memoir? Have you ever noticed that you read memoir differently to the way you read fiction? I know I do. I am supercritical with memoir if I find what is written to be unbelievable. If I discover after I have read a memoir that it is not true – I feel angry, duped, used. I never feel that way about reading a fictional work. We feel this way because we read believing the story to be true.
For the reader, a memoir can be a guide through the human experience. It may be an experience that the reader themselves is undergoing and they are looking for an insight into another person’s experience on which they can draw strength for what they are undergoing or give us an understanding of a different kind of life. We can learn from another’s true life experience as we know these real-life characters lived, and we can get guidelines from them as to how we can live our own lives. For the inarticulate, a memoir may offer expression of what they are feeling but which they find impossible to express. It lets the reader know they are not alone with what they are experiencing. Predominantly in reading memoir, we are looking for how the narrated “I” deals with situations to become the “I” of now. We are looking at identity creation. We are honing in on the reflection of memoir.
This brings us to what I find fascinating with memoir – all those different “I” characters. Have you ever thought about how the author – the narrating “I” is telling his/her story and yet is a different person to the person they are narrating – the “I” then or narrated “I” who is a constructed “I”. There is also a past or historical “I” who is the person who can be verified as having lived but this “I” cannot be reproduced exactly as they were in the past. Finally, there is an ideological “I” who knows the cultural rules of the time. Identity is embodied in all these “I”s that we meet with memoir. P. Eakin said: “We learn as children what it means to say ‘I’ in the culture we inhabit, and this training proves to be crucial to the success of our lives as adults, for our recognition by others as normal individuals depends on our ability to perform the work of self-narration.”
If you are writing memoir are you aware of your “I” characters? I believe this is why people read memoir and why memoir is written. It is the biggest difference between fiction and memoir – the narrating ‘I’ as the present day person who does the remembering and offers reflections and interpretations of the past events allows us to see how the author’s “I” character has changed. If the memoir is a ‘coming of age’ story we will read how one ‘I’ changes to another. In a conversion narrative the ‘I’s will be separated by a chasm. It is not unusual for there to be circumstances where the “I”s don’t like each other or understand each other. This is one circumstance where third person can be used in the writing of a memoir (past tense first person is normal) as it shows the disconnect between the ‘I”s.
The modern way of writing memoir using fictional techniques I believe (and remember this is my opinion) detracts from the reason people read memoir. If you use all show, not tell you are allowing the reader to construct their own thoughts on how you got there, how your identity changed and they lose that important part of memoir – the reflection by the narrating ‘I’. This loss leads to the loss to the reader of the author’s gaining of self- awareness and the impact this has on their identity creation. This is one of the fictional techniques that I am loathe to encourage to the exclusion of telling. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Next month I will look at dialogue in memoir.
Please feel free to join in Times Past. This month thanks to a suggestion from Charli, we are going to stay at school and examine learning to write. Write a post of your own and link up to my Times Past Page, leave a comment in my comment section or in the comment section when Charli posts her memories of learning to write. Don’t forget to put where you lived at the time of the memoir, your generation and whether it was a rural or city area. Look forward to reading them on my return.
Ice crystals lace silver threads of intricate patterns across glass so thin I feel surrounded by frozen cellophane. Any minute I expect ice-spiders to skitter across the glass, adding more crystalline webbing. All I hear is the distant hum of a neighbor’s snowblower, chewing mounds of white drifts, recreating front lawns into winter parking lots.
Then snow crunches and squeaks, alerting me to the return of the Huskies to the top of the deck. The door handle is so cold I fumble several attempts to open it. Two dogs with enviable fur puff through the door, their breath froze in the moment, driftless and white. Everything is white, and this porch is officially below zero (Fahrenheit).
We all rush into the welcoming warmth of the kitchen, quickly closing the seeping snow and leaving the unseen ice-spiders to spin their webs until it warms or the earth shatters.
Lady Lake Superior holds us captive like a Winter Queen in a Fairy Tale. On her blustery days, she forces the lake upon us and I imagine drowning in snow. On Christmas Eve we drove out to a friends and family party, a local Finnish family’s tradition for so long that it’s become generational. Our gracious hostess, an artist of local renown, served us food as if she had painted a canvas or raku-fired pottery.
Many people came and went that night as we lingered close to the table with magic abilities to refill platters of meatballs, spinach puff pastries and bowls of salmon spread. My own offering of smoky twice-baked potatoes dwindled and our hostess proclaimed them delicious. It boosted my spirits to receive a nod from one artist to another.
My art, words upon a page, lately feel frozen, ink stuck in the nib. Tis only a season and this too shall pass. Yet like the hunter, I can’t stop. Maybe the rabbit hunt results in a small mouse, but that sustains me until I snag the rabbit. It’s possible I might cross paths with an elk, and as a hunter, I know that will only happen if I go out on the trail frozen and snow-blown as it is.
That evening I met a delightful artist in her 80s. She lives at the end of the Keweenaw at Copper Harbor. We spoke about mentors and how every artist needs one. She told me about her aunt who was trained back east and highly regarded. She was plucky. At age 15 she rode a bus to apply for a copy-writer job in downtown Chicago, lying about her age. She told me many stories that night, still feeling the tug of writing after decades of painting, and concluded, “Artists are weird.”
I laughed. I think the drive to create also drives us to take risks and experiment. Recently the New York Times published an article, “Why Trying New Things is So Hard to Do.” If artists are weird, then it’s because we go against the genetic code and try new things. As you can see, week after week, literary artists at Carrot Ranch can try to write one thing in a new way.
Flash fiction is an exploratory tool. Maybe it makes us weird, but it’s a response to the passion to create and tell stories.
After a jolly Christmas Eve, we left while Lady Lake Superior thrust her might upon the land. Have you ever been in a torrential downpour? Snowflakes pummeled existing drifts like pouring rain. To stand in pouring snow was awe-inspiring; to drive in it was terrifying. It fell so fast it covered all hints of the road and made looking out the windshield like staring into strobe lights. All I could see out of the corner of the windshield was the faintest hint of deeper piles to indicate the edge of the road.
Once back at the house in Hancock, I asked my kids how they navigate in such conditions. They both responded that you learn not to look forward but to the side to find the road’s edge. I had it right but found it frightening to drive snow-blind. Perhaps that is what it’s like to write — we navigate the page blind to all but one edge we follow.
If the stars ever return to the sky, when Lady Lake decides to pull back from dominating the terrain, I know I have one up there — my wishing star. Even covered, I know it guides me. And I think of this star on the cusp of one year to the next because I believe in activating my wish. You might call it a dream, but it’s not a goal — goals are what you set to attain your dream.
Pretend ice-spiders exist for a moment. Pretend Lady Lake is real and in a giving mood. She parts the veil of gray clouds to let the electric particles dance in sheets of apple-green and orchid-purple. The sky displays a light show and stars burn like diamonds on black velvet. She momentarily resets the night sky until one star, your star, shines brightest. She grants you a wish:
“Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.”
Don’t think, don’t blink, write it down now!
This wish holds meaning for you. Perhaps it’s obvious. Maybe you have to ponder its symbology. It’s a wish made when you thought anything possible. Now I want you to think about your calling as a writer, a literary artist, an educator, a philosopher, a traveler, a missionary. Pick or add what resonates with you. If you could call yourself anything, what would that be?
You now hold two hints to your vision.
Did you know that visioning is a process? It’s a business process and entails more than wishing upon stars. It sets a northern star in the sky over an organization to lead the way. Goals are like arrows aimed at this star. At times when you are not sure what is next for you, realign to your star, your vision. Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, I trained with Ari Weinzweig and his team from Zing Train. From him, I learned how to train trainers, give great service and include visioning as part of planning.
“Begin with the end in mind,” Ari advises (you can read more in his book, A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building Great Business).
If you set goals, to what end? How will you know what success looks like? You probably already do this, but like your wish, it feels private and fanciful. But Ari calls visioning “positive futuring.” It’s a way to innovate and inspire the action you take. Zing Train is a division of Zingerman’s Deli (yes, a small college town deli cultivates business leaders). In 2007, NYT called them “The corner deli that dared to break out of the neighborhood.” And I’ve reworked the training I received and used in my own workplace to encourage writers to do something with that wish: vision.
Three years ago in the December 24, 2014 prompt I shared the following peek at my own vision:
Recalculations help redefine goals. Why set goals? Because if you have dreams, goals become a way to navigate to them. Your vision is like the north star, guiding you along the way. My vision is big and includes much more than successfully publishing novels. It includes creating literary spaces both physically and digitally–places to learn grow, create and recalculate. Collaboration is part of the vision.
Carrot Ranch fosters a literary space to practice craft, communicate ideas and read stimulating writing. Rough Writers are regulars or founding contributors, and Friends are our readers and commenters. We have many friends who pop in once in a while when inspired and others who faithfully read. Together we create a community that honors what literature is about–progressing the imagination to describe, define or experience life. Literature thrives in an open environment.
Join the dream. An open invitation to the Congress of Rough Writers & Friends:
- Help develop a Carrot Ranch Anthology (expanded shorts based on flash fiction, for example). It can be a fun way to explore collaboration and indie avenues from crowd-sourcing to publishing.
- Help develop a Christmas project for next year (what trouble can we write Rudolph into with his visits around the globe).
- Research a possible text or workshop based on how flash fiction can build skills and that college classes or writing groups can use.
Three years ago, I had no idea that my husband’s behavior was sign of cognitive demise, that my best friend had incurable cancer or that we’d ever leave Elmira Pond. I was expressing to the early writers at the Ranch my wish to do more than write my books. I wanted a literary community, writer collaboration, the opportunity to explore independent publishing, a fun event at the Ranch, and a way to teach flash fiction as a skill-building tool.
Here’s where I get goosebumps. Despite unexpected circumstances, my vision stayed constant. Carrot Ranch thrives, my books have progressed, we have our first anthology of flash fiction in Kindle, I know tons more about independent publishing and it’s altered my goals, Rudolph morphed into a Rodeo, and I now teach Wrangling Words as a community outreach course and will debut TUFF workshop in February. Retreats on Elmira Pond took me to bigger waters where I dream of one on Isle Royale and another on a cruise to New Zealand.
I’m dreaming big! Are you? Let it all out — in a journal, in an email to someone or no one, in a story, in a conversation. Dream out loud. Wish. And craft a vision for your northern star.
Like flash fiction, visioning has magical results; but also like flash fiction there’s science behind focusing an intention and writing down goals. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California found that you become 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals and dreams, simply by writing them down on a regular basis (“The Power of Writing Down Dreams and Goals” by Mary Morrissey).
As the year turns, set your goals pointing to a bright and shiny vision. Wishing you all a Happy New Year!
December 28, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a wishing star. It can be central to the story or used in a different way. You can have a character interact or not. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by January 2, 2018 to be included in the compilation (published January 3). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Shoveling Midnight Snow (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Wolves padded across the snowy field, mere shadows dappled by moonlight. Danni gripped the shovel and paused. As loudly as her own boots crunched the tight snow, the wolves passed in silence. Had she not turned to shovel the path to the barn she would have missed the pack. Before the last one merged with the cover of night, he stopped and cocked his head. A shooting star rolled across the sky like a snowball down a hill. Before Danni could make a wish both star and wolf vanished. Would her wish still count? Come home to me, Ike.