Happy Holidays!

My two-week holiday vacation from blogging starts today (you’ll see me back on January 6, 2014). Before I go, I wanted to wish all of my readers and followers a joyous Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate). A big thanks to all of you for your visits to my blog, following me here and on Twitter, and being my friend on GoodReads.

I’m spending my time away from posting to upgrade my blog – expect a whole new look in January! I’m also working on my New Year’s Resolutions both for my writing and the rest of my life. There are big changes ahead for me in 2014 and I hope you will all stick around for the ride!

Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s.

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When Mentors Hurt

I was very excited to attend a recent webinar about building a writing career (I’m being really vague and general so I don’t slander anyone). I marked the date and time of this webinar on a sticky note on the shelf above my computer which is where I write things that I want to make sure I don’t forget. I got out my trusty notebook and pen, sure I would have plenty to write down. At the designated time, I logged in to the webinar, full of anticipation.

I learned nothing.

This was less of a webinar and more of an infomercial. The only information given was about what the instructor (I use the term loosely) teaches in her course, which of course you have to pay for. I don’t begrudge her the opportunity to earn a living – we’re all trying to do that. What offended me was that this instructor promised a webinar about a specific topic (again, I can’t give specifics because I don’t want to be sued), and did not deliver, but she would be happy to teach you about the topic, provided you pay for her four-week class.

I left the webinar after an hour and twenty minutes. The instructor was still prattling on about her online course and how it’s going to teach all the stuff we talked about in the webinar. I looked at my empty notebook and realized why this incident upset me so much.

This woman was supposed to be a mentor but turned out to be nothing but a salesperson.

We trust our mentors. We model our careers after theirs (within reason). We want to learn from them. So when they say, hey, as a thank you for joining my mailing list, I’d like to give you this free webinar about (topic), we get excited. We’re eager to learn from this person. But then, we go to the free webinar, but it’s not about the topic of how to build a writing career, it’s about how to enroll in her class and what you will learn when you do, we leave with our trust abraded.

Mentors are wonderful, and there are many good people out there who can, will, and do help us create our writing careers. I like receiving offers of seminars and online classes and coaching and other opportunities to learn from my mentors. I want to learn from others, and I want to pay it forward by sharing what I have learned with other people.

But I wouldn’t have taken an hour and twenty minutes away from my writing time to view a webinar had I known it was actually about this person’s online class and how to enroll, and for just this low price, you get access to the class and special bonuses if you sign up while we’re on this webinar.

Honestly, if this instructor had delivered on teaching what she promised during the webinar, not only would I have signed up for her class but I would have been here on my blog telling everyone about how great it was and about her book. Instead, I’m here with a warning – if your mentor starts coming off all sales-y and will only share the promised “free” information if you pay, RUN AWAY. There are plenty more mentors out there. You have limited resources – do you really want to waste them on someone who doesn’t deliver?

Why You Shouldn’t Have a Plan B

There you are at your computer, busily making your dream of being a writer into reality. If you’re anything like me, once in a while the nagging thought creeps in:

What will I do if this writing thing doesn’t work out?

When you follow your dream, you’re taking a chance. There’s always risk involved. So, maybe you should stop and think about what you’ll do if the assignments – and money – don’t come.

Plan A is your dream. You want to write. You’re writing, aren’t you? But you also need to keep the lights on and some food on the table.

This is where you may decide to make Plan B. Plan B means being a writer is too hard or too easy, too boring or too interesting and you’re afraid you’re going to fail or maybe you’re afraid you will succeed. So if writing doesn’t work out, let’s say, you’re going to grab a job at Target. After all, that should be enough to keep bread on the table and the wireless modem working.

Plan B is working at Target.

Stop right there.

Let’s repeat:

Plan A is your dream of being a writer.

Plan B is being a cashier at Target.

Which do you really want to do?

If you have a Plan B, you will end up with Plan B.

You may be days away from achieving your dream as a writer, but you get the job at Target and miss your deadline. You don’t ever talk to the editor who would think you were great, that is, if you ever sent her your work. You might meet your new mentor, that is, if you’re not too busy working weekends to go to that writer’s conference.

On the other hand

If you decide I can make it as a writer, and I’m just going to grab a job at Target for six months while I establish myself in the freelance market. I can write before or after work, and I need to tell my manager I’m taking that weekend off for a writing conference. This is full steam ahead with Plan A, while doing what you need to do to keep a roof over your head. Your priority is still writing. You haven’t missed deadlines because you were asked to work late. You haven’t given up.

I’m guilty of chasing Plan B many times in the past few years. In the end, it puts you further from your goal with your dreams more dented and dusty than before. Instead of making a Plan B, keep Plan A front and center and just do what it takes to get you where you need to be. Don’t stop at the smallest hurdle in the road. Take the side job if you need to.

Chasing a dream is like walking through a labyrinth. You will reach some dead ends, but instead of turning your back on your dream and racing off to Plan B, you buckle down and find another route to your goal.

Product Review: Scrivener

I have recently purchased Scrivener. I think it’s a big upgrade from Word. I use a PC, running Windows 7 with MS Office Pro 2010. This is why I back up my work excessively (on an external hard drive, a DVD-RW and 2 USB thumb drives), and how I became very, very skilled at removing rootkits and other nasties from my hard drive.

Why I bought Scrivener

I liked the idea of having an all-in-one program to use for my writing. That way I don’t have to toggle between Word  (self-explanatory), Excel (I use spreadsheets  a lot. Blame those accounting courses), Visio (I also like to make flow charts and diagrams. I’m just weird that way), and OneNote (for all the stuff I want to save but don’t want to waste the paper to actually print. Like that tutorial on kusudama – which is a Japanese paper folding technique similar to origami. I’m sure I’ll need this information some day). Scrivener can also save photos and web pages. It’s a computer version of my beloved 3-ring binders.

The Details

I purchased my copy of Scrivener from literatureandlatte.com with the NaNoWriMo discount, so the price was right. Even at regular price ($40 for PC. For another $12 they’ll send you Scrivener on a CD), it’s pretty affordable. I won’t get into how much I paid for MS Office Pro 2010 when I purchased that a couple years ago.

Cool Features

When you write in Scrivener in the full screen mode, it offers what it calls “typewriter scrolling” which means you type in the MIDDLE of the screen instead of always at the bottom unless you scroll down over and over and over. This means your neck will likely hurt less after a session at the keyboard.

If you delete something from your current project, it stays in the trash bin until you choose to empty the trash. I’ve been doing this for years with Word, only there it involves multiple steps. Highlight what I want to remove, copy and paste to another document, name new document “trash” and save it in the folder with my WIP. Scrivener makes electronic dumpster diving much easier when you need to retrieve that line of dialogue that needs to stay in your story.

Scrivener comes with a handy tutorial, so if you’re like me and suffer from brain corrosion from too many years of using too many Microsoft products, you can flatten the learning curve considerably by taking the time to go through this. It took me less than an hour. Scrivener is pretty easy to use, and I probably could have managed without the tutorial. But I knew I was going to write this review, and wanted to include the tutorial as well.

Index cards and a corkboard are part of Scrivener. I would love to have a wall where I could pin up bits and pieces of my story, but I have too many annoying relatives who appear at my door without notice. Fortunately, these relatives are computer illiterate, so I can have my corkboard in Scrivener. I love index cards, so what’s not to love about index cards inside a computer program?

The Bottom Line

I recommend Scrivener for large projects. I will continue to use Word for my freelance work, and possibly for short stories as well. These are the projects that don’t require all the bells and whistles of Scrivener.

Right now, I am working with Scrivener to outline an idea for a new novel. I don’t have any intention of starting another novel so soon after NaNoWriMo. I started planning because I had the idea on the day I downloaded Scrivener and wanted to play a little.

Be prepared to take your time learning your way around Scrivener. It’s definitely worth the initial time investment. I suggest waiting until you’re between projects to make the switch (or at least finished with your current draft).

Writing Mantras

From Buddhist teachings, mantra means any sacred word or syllable used to focus concentration and symbolize spiritual power. Dictionary.com offers the definition “an often repeated word, formula, or phrase.”

I like mantras when I meditate (usually “peace” or “harmony”), and I also like mantras when I write. There are three writing mantras of particular relevance to me. They are:

Make something happen. Maybe pages of happy people in happy places doing happy things appeal to some readers. I am not one of those. If nothing is happening in a book I’m reading, I put it down and find something else to do. In my writing, if my characters are locked into a lengthy argument or conversation or are just doing nothing, it’s time for a pie to hit someone’s face (literally or figuratively).

Make things worse. Going back to those happy people in happy places doing happy things…well, who cares? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to see how they get their happiness back after being miserable in a lousy place where bad shit happens? I like to see my characters struggle. Maybe it’s a bit evil of me, because I keep making their lot in life worse until rock bottom is reached. (This is also why I have occasional nightmares about my characters coming to life – because if they do, chances are, they are coming to administer a beat down because I make their fictional lives hell.)

What would Hiaasen do? Carl Hiaasen is one of my favorite writers because his characters are completely whacked and yet totally plausible. Take Yancy from Bad Monkey – the pot-smoking disgraced detective who assaulted his lover’s husband with a shop vac. Hey, this could happen, right? Anyway, my goal in life is to create Hiaasen-like characters. That’s why I have a sticky note on the desk right above the monitor that says “what would Hiaasen do?”

Do you have a writing mantra? Please share in the comments.

NaNoWriMo Review

Before starting National Novel Writing Month I believed I would learn a lot about my writing process from 30 days of speed writing. I was right. I did learn quite a bit. Whether you buy into the concept of writing an entire novel in a month or not, the volume of writing is good practice. I do want to remind everyone that this process will result in a rough draft, not a FINISHED novel. At the end of NaNoWriMo, you still have plenty of work to do. So please, edit that thing before making it available on Kindle.

NaNoWriMo teaches writers:

How to focus on a topic – For the month of November, it’s all about your novel.

How to meet deadlines – In this case, 50,000 words in 30 days. No excuses accepted and no extensions given.

How to procrastinate – There are many categories in the discussion threads just for this purpose

How to support other writers – Those discussion threads again! They have a number of topics for you to shout out things like reaching a word count milestone or when you’re stuck. It’s nice to be able to connect with other writers to receive a pat on the back or a kick in the butt as needed.

There are plenty of things I don’t like about NaNoWriMo as well. Among those:

It encourages people to wait for November to start writing. We all know the rules. Writers write. All the time. We don’t start writing like we start a diet – after the holidays. We start whenever we damn well want to.

It causes an obsession with word counts, which leads to flabby, bloated drafts that need extensive editing because of the temptation to add extra words to pad your word count. Chris Baty actually gives instructions on how to do this in his book, No Plot? No Problem. Stupid, stupid, stupid thing to do when the goal is quality writing. (Just like using the word “stupid” three times was a stupid way to illustrate my point.)

Many people drop out because of the one-size-fits-all goal of 50,000 words. I believe it’s more important to write, preferably daily, whether it’s 100 words or 10,000 per day. Writers are all different. The goals that work for me may not work for you. I think some people get behind and figure they won’t be able to reach the goal, so why bother to continue?

I hated the pep talks. Most were rambling and unfocused and the worst of those were a way for the writer to brag about having such and such book published. I actually stopped reading the pep talks in the second week.

Two things I am not going to do in the future relating to NaNoWriMo:

I’m not going to spend hours of my valuable writing time persuading others that it’s absolutely necessary to participate.

And I’m not going to spend hours of my valuable writing time persuading others that NaNoWriMo is wrong and should be avoided at all costs.

Will I participate again? Right now I say probably not, though I may change my mind between now and next year. It was fun, I finished the novel I started, and I made a couple of good writer friends. I just have to wait and see how I feel about it next fall.