Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Importance of Gumption As An Author

A while back, I read the book Gumption by Nick Offerman. Well, more accurately, I listened to it. Because who wouldn't rather listen to that man's sumptuous voice tell you stories that make you wonder what it is you're doing with your life?

Worth the read, if you can get hold of it.
While the book makes a lot of good points, and is overall an entertaining read, it made me think and reflect on what it takes to be an author. And how gumption (in this case referring specifically to the self-motivation to take on a task) is so important to your overall success.

No One Else Will Make You Do The Thing


I've been writing for cheeseburgers and rent for about ten years, now. I've written short stories, radio plays, blogs, gaming books, and more articles than I can readily count. And in the last few years, a lot of clients have sought me out and offered me work. Every now and again I get lucky, and a project just plops into my lap. However, getting to the point where people knew who I was, and who were familiar with my work, meant that I had to be the one who took the initiative. I had to find, then respond, to classified ads for freelance writers. I had to make phone calls to newspapers, asking if they were accepting stringers. I wrote emails to the directors of gaming companies. Sometimes I got lucky, and got the opportunity to take on a project or two. Other times I was told that no, there was no space available for a freelancer.

And when that happened, I decided to find sites that let me publish my own work, and started building an archive. I got out there, volunteering at conventions, plumbing the corners of social media, and telling anyone who would listen about who I am, and what I do. I watched my numbers, and listened to reader feedback whenever something I did (or was part of) got released. If a piece got rejected, I found another place to submit it. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, even on days when my numbers were low, and the criticism brigade was out in force. I rolled the dice, and waited to see if today was going to be my lucky day.

I've never been picky about what kind of dice I roll, professionally.
After going through that for a decade, I feel I can say with some confidence that gumption is one of the most important part of this process as an author. Or any kind of artist. Gumption is what allows you to hammer through a project, believing in your skill to craft something that people will enjoy. Gumption is what makes you raise your voice, and ask for a chance to step on the stage. It's what lets you shake off rejections, and what gives you the ability to take dipping numbers and negative sales in stride. It is the fire that you keep burning so that no matter how many walls you have to climb, how many doors you have to kick in, or how much vitriol you have to slog through, you never run out of steam. Gumption is what turns you into an unstoppable force... a juggernaut made of words.

That determination, that refusal to quit, is the sort of thing that makes epic music swell in movies like Rocky. But when you're an artist, the knockouts come behind the scenes. They happen quietly, as readers text and chat about your work. As the number of likes you get go up, and as you start seeing yourself get coverage in places you didn't expect. And that's a great feeling... but that kind of stuff doesn't just happen. It takes work... and most importantly, it takes effort.

That's why a lot of it rests on you. You need to get up, wrap your hands, and hit the bag until the seams break. And when they do, and the stuffing comes out? Hang up a new bag, and keep punching. Because there is no end to the routine, the training, or the montage. Every time you knockout a short story, or pummel a novel into shape, you've just got time for a drink of water and a breather before that bells sounds, and you're back in the ring.

You aren't going to win every fight. But to get knocked down again and again, and come up swinging, that takes gumption.

This is all for my thoughts for this installment of The Business of Writing. If you're a keyboard gladiator out there, don't worry, you're not the only one. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive. If you want to stay on top of my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help me keep this blog going, consider supporting me by becoming a patron on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or just Buying Me A Ko-Fi. Both are great ways to keep my work flowing, and to get yourself some sweet swag as a thank you.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Trouble Reaching Word Count? Try Fighter's Block!

I have made my feelings about writer's block clear in the past (they're in the post Writer's Block Isn't Real, So Stop Complaining About It for those who didn't read that installment). However, I also recognize that different writers will need different methods of motivation, and will think around corners in unique ways when it comes to their work. That's why, when I heard about Fighter's Block, I figured I'd do my part to spread the word about the app.

Right tool for the right job, and such.

How Does Fighter's Block Work?


Have you ever played a turn-based roleplaying game like Final Fantasy? Same thing, except instead of pushing buttons on a controller, you're adding word count to your manuscript in order to defeat the monster before it defeats you.

Before the battle begins, you input the word count you're aiming for (start small if you're not used to this, is my advice). Once you have your word count in place, you can change the cosmetic aspects of the battle to suit your preferences (different hero, different monster, etc.). Once you have all of your settings just how you like them, click Fight and start writing. The monster will continuously attack you, dealing damage. In order to keep yourself healed, and to overcome the monster, you have to write. Plain and simple.

Of course, there is a pause button in the event you need to get more coffee, go to the bathroom, or something like that. And to judge from the big question mark boxes, there are extras you can unlock over time the more you use the app.

What Do You Have To Lose?

The point of Fighter's Block is that it gives you a stimulating challenge. You've got a pause button in case you need to take a moment to think through a piece of dialogue, or a particular fight scene, but the rest of it is just training your brain and your hands to work in concert to get from where you are to where you want to be on your manuscript. And if you like to gamify solutions to your writing problems, this is one of the more interesting apps I've seen for doing so.

Also, if you're looking for an editing method for solving story structure, I'd recommend my other recent post The Rubber Ducky Method Can Help You Solve Plot Problems. Because if it's dumb, but it works, then it ain't dumb.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment. Hopefully you find it useful, and if you try out Fighter's Block, leave a comment so others can see how it worked for you. For more of my work check out my Vocal archive, and to stay on top of all my latest releases follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help fund my ongoing efforts consider dropping a few quarters into The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or just Buy Me A Ko-Fi if you felt this was a valuable piece of information.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Your Brand Is Just As Important As Your Books

Authors are full of odd beliefs, and quaint ideas. Perhaps the oddest belief I've personally come across, though, is the idea that their work exists in a kind of white space, separate and apart from who they are, and the life they live. This notion that your art will be judged entirely apart from you as its creator is, frankly put, ludicrous. All you need to do is to look at any artist in the world, and ask if who they were wasn't taken into consideration when examining their art.

"If you set his politics aside, though, the book isn't too bad."
You are an integral part of your book's success. Or, at least, the persona you create for yourself as the writer is.

Brand Management and Book Sales


We tend to think of a brand as something for shopping malls, or chain restaurants, but we never realize that as authors we are also our own business. As such, our brand is a combination of our reputation, our unique imagery, our niche, and all the things the public associates with us. Take a moment, and think of some businesses out there. Now ask what their carefully-crafted brand is supposed to say to you. Chances are you thought of things like Wal-Mart being a friendly store that has everything you need, or McDonald's giving you an affordable meal exactly the way you want it. But brand is more than just your commercials, your uniforms, and your reputation. It's also your actions, your attitude, and what you choose to show people.

Case in point.
Wendy's, for those who don't know, is a fast food place that sells burgers. A little pricier than McDonald's and Burger King, its brand was based on old-fashioned quality and taste. But thanks to social media, it scored serious brand points by also being snarky at other businesses in a way that got them attention in a good way. Seen as clever and amusing, they gained followers (and one presumes sold more burgers as a result of the hijinks).

What does that have to do with books? Well, ask Orson Scott Card.

If you don't know who Card is, he was the author of Ender's Game, as well as other popular novels. However, he is also a person who has espoused extremely negative views of homosexuality, and those views are on record (things like how being gay is a direct result of child abuse, for instance). Whether that was intentional or not, those views have become part of his brand as an author. Hence why lots of readers have turned away from him as a creator, and why boycotts of his work (and movies based on his work) tend to spring up.

Remember that. Because your brand is about more than your color scheme, your genre, your name (or pen name), and what's on your business card. It's also about the tone you take in public, how you comport yourself, and what you go on the record saying. For good, or for ill.

Your Reputation Follows You


Your brand isn't something you can just walk away from. It follows you, and every time you take to social media, publish an article, or put out another book, that brand is being added to. Which is why it pays to sit a spell, and actually think about what side of you the public should see. Do you want to be seen as a writer of a particular genre? Do  you want to come across as cooky and unusual? Mysterious and withdrawn? Or do you want to seem friendly and approachable to encourage more people to follow your work?

Good artwork helps. Especially if it's instantly identifiable.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing. Hopefully it catches people's attention, and gets you thinking about how you look from your reader's perspective. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and to stay on top of all my releases follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me and my work, Buy Me a Ko-Fi or drop a few quarters onto The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. My eternal gratitude, as well as a free book, shall shortly follow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Rubber Ducky Method Can Help You Solve Plot Problems

We've all had those moments where we're looking at our manuscript, and we know something isn't right. You've been over the timeline, you've checked character motivations, and everything seems like it should fit. But you're still coming up with 2+2 = chair, and that is not a satisfying conclusion at all.

If you find yourself in a tight spot, and you need a little help, it might be time to try out the Rubber Ducky Method.

All right, I'm here. Let's fix the problem!

What The Hell Is The Rubber Ducky Method?


The Rubber Ducky Method, or Rubber Ducking as it's called, is actually something used by computer programmers to fix their code as something of a last resort when they can't find a problem. According to a story found in The Pragmatic Programmer,  there was a computer programmer who carried a little rubber ducky around with him when he was at work. When none of the usual methods of solving the problem worked, he would take that tiny rubber fowl, sit him on the desk facing the screen, and then explain the code to him line-by-line.

The programmer would not skip lines that looked okay, nor would he allow himself to be vague. He would explain every detail to Mr. Quackers, reviewing it with him detail by detail and line by line until they found the problem together.

There you are, you little bastard! Thanks again, Quackers!
In addition to feeling like something a writer trying hard to up their eccentricity score would do, this method works because it forces you out of your own head. Whether you're explaining your story to a rubber duck, your stuffed bear, or to your writing mug, the point is that you have to actually explain what you're doing to this new companion the same way you'd have to explain it to a friend or co-worker. Which is an ideal way of realizing that, no, the explanation for why the protagonist is being double-crossed by the count doesn't actually make sense, since it's a move that doesn't benefit him in any way, and it is the hollow note that's screwing up your manuscript's flow.

This task tends to fall to my squire, when I'm in need of assistance.

If Nothing Else Works, The Absurd Is Worth A Try


Every writer has their methods, and some of those methods are stranger than others. However, if you find yourself staring at your screen, trying to will sensible story structure into place with angry glares and frustrated growling noises, it might be time to get a pocket-sized writing buddy. Someone supportive, and non-judgmental, who only wants to help you figure out why this plot twist toward act three is falling on its face.

What have you got to lose?

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. I hope it works for folks out there, and anyone with stories to share about it should feel free to leave them in the comments. If you'd like to see more of my work, then stop by my Vocal archive. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support my projects, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or tossing some change into The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Both options help a lot, and there's a free book in it for you as thanks!