Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

writing-NaNoWriMo October 18, 2020

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:29 pm
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November swiftly approaches, and for writers around the world that means the question hovers, “Should I participate in National Novel Writing Month?”

In case you’ve not heard of this event, it’s promoted on NaNoWriMo.org as a way to encourage folks to accomplish their dream to write a novel. The challenge is to complete 50,000 words in the month.

That’s 11, 669 words a week.

That’s 1667 words a day.

For 30 days.

Those who complete a 50,000 word manuscript ‘win’ and are eligible for assorted prizes from writing related businesses. (Those who participate but don’t ‘win’ are also entitled to some prizes)

It’s good to be able to plot your progress on the graph and see your project grow.

It’s empowering to be productive.

But…

It’s also a slog. My non-writing friends don’t like my social media feed during NaNo because it’s all about word-count, recalcitrant characters, exhaustion, and frustration.

Because it’s all about word-count, I’ve noticed my writing quality suffers. I have four NaNo ‘winning’ books in my computer that my editors and I have not been able to make publishable yet. There is something fundamentally off about them. I blame the pressure of NaNo. They’re not ‘winners’ to me, because they’re still sitting there in the computer years later.

When I was writing my first novel, within 3 weeks I realized I had settled into a pace, so I made that pace my quota. 1200 words per day Monday to Friday. 6000 words a week. On the weekend, I could catch up, or get ahead as I liked, but I didn’t have to write if I didn’t want to. I had days off if I’d earned them by keeping to my quota. This system worked brilliantly, and the 155,000 word novel was finished in 6 months. (It was 23 weeks, specifically, that averages 6740 words a week).

It was good. I pitched it successfully to a publisher six months after I finished it. It’s an example of ‘slow and steady wins the race.’

I have 13 books in the world, and none of them were NaNo projects. My NaNo projects remain problematic.

So be careful.

If you’re going to embrace NaNo, here are some suggestions:

  1. have your project planned so you have a general (or very specific!) direction in mind and you’re writing with a purpose rather than wandering around the page for the sole purpose of getting words out.
  2. give yourself a schedule that allows you to get some guilt-free breaks. Self-care is important! 12,000 words a week could be 5 X 2400 words, for example
  3. consider a re-frame. You might enter the month with “I will do this or die trying!” That was my general attitude, but the resulting books were a waste of my time. Had I considered ‘anything is better than no words written’ and just focused on writing something everyday, the quality may have been better!
  4. Everything writing counts. If you don’t start your planning until Nov 1- all those planning words are legitimately part of the project. 🙂
  5. Try new ways to write. Some people find they can increase their word count by dictating instead of typing.
  6. People write novels in a month all the time. Some writers write 10,000 words a day routinely (I’ve done it Nov 28 a time or two… ). You won’t discover your abilities until you’ve tried, so try, and if ‘winning’ is important, push through to achieve the goal.
  7. When you’re done, and a few weeks after the thrill and exhaustion of the success has worn off, look with objective eyes at your project. What have you learned? Is that fast-paced sprint good for your writing process? If so, make it part of your practice. If it’s not good for you, try something else to see what is the best way for you to produce projects of the quality you demand.

I have learned that NaNo is not good for my writing practice. I happily participate in the April and June Camp NaNo events when one can set personal goals, and the projects I’ve done then have been completed and published.

These days I don’t feel guilty for letting November go by as I wave at my frantic colleagues. I’ll plug away on my projects without stressing over word-count, and know I’m producing something better than I could do at NaNo pace. I wouldn’t have learned this if I hadn’t tried so many times, though, and seen the unfortunate pattern. It’s worth doing to discover whether it’s a pace that works for you.

Do or do not, it’s up to you!

How about you? Have you done NaNo? What was your experience?

 

Writing- the pause September 22, 2020

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 2:29 pm
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For some, the pandemic has offered a blessing of time to write that they’ve longed for, and they have taken advantage, holing up at home and writing that novel that’s always been at the back of their minds.

For some, the stress of managing new complications and layers of deadly danger in their workplace or among their family members has shut down all notions of creative expression. They’re in survival mode, and all the stories that were in process have sputtered to a stop.

I’m in both camps. I’ve managed to keep writing poetry, but larger projects eluded me. Added to the pandemic stress, my 90 year old mom broke her hip in April, went through rehab and was released back home, but then she passed away in June. I am executor of her estate, and the magnitude of work required to clean up a life-time of possessions from her house was dramatic.

So here I am, looking at the last four months of 2020. I had a goal to submit 20 times in 2020, and so far, I’ve sent out 9 submissions. The first 8 submissions were in Jan/Feb, to give you an idea of how completely the pandemic froze my world!

The pause.

I just submitted the 9th thing a few days ago. It’s a promise to myself that it’s time to dig out from the pressure. I am pondering ways I can salvage my goal. I aim to spend some time with my unpublished projects and look for potential homes for them. Is it time to try a mass submission drive? Shall I find 11 completed pieces in my computer and send each somewhere? Contests? Journals? Magazines?

Yes.

There are 15 weeks left in 2020. It’s time to find my lists of ‘where to publish’ (Writers Market, here I come!). If I take a week to find projects in the computer, I can submit one thing a week and maybe even beat my goal!

How about you? Have you been struggling to meet your writing goals amid all the stresses of 2020? Will you be making any changes in the final months of the year to achieve your goals?

Do you have any recommendations of good places to submit?

 

Workshop notes- TNL Sept 2020 September 16, 2020

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 10:22 pm
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Click to download a pdf of the Plotting, Pantsing, & Poetry workshop notes.

And here’s the video of the workshop. 60 minutes.

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Writing- Hybrid Publishing August 18, 2020

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 4:23 pm
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When most people think of publishing they think of two options:
1. traditional publication by either a large publishing house or a small press. In this method a publisher purchases publication rights, edits, designs a cover, and markets the book. Large houses offer advances. Small presses rarely do.
2. self-publishing . The author pays for editing, covers, and marketing themselves. Usually they contract individuals for each of these tasks. (There are self-publishing companies like Lulu or Bookbaby that you can pay to do everything in a package deal, but I’ve yet to meet any successful professional who has used them more than once. They tend to be expensive for what they offer. They’re fine if you are only going to write one family history book to sell to your relatives. Otherwise, there are better options).

What is hybrid publishing?
Hybrid authors are BOTH traditionally published AND self-published.

Why would you do it?
Traditional publishers offer a sense of legitimacy, and in theory, a marketing machine. However, with millions of books submitted to publishers each year, only a handful are going to meet the specific niches a publishing house feels are viable investments. Your traditional publisher may not be interested in all the books you’ve written. Rather than sitting on those works, you can release them yourself. Because you don’t have the tight margins those publishing houses have, you don’t have to sell as many books to make it worthwhile.

Self-publishers earn significantly more per book (30-70% retail) that those who are traditionally published (10-15%). Those who master marketing can do very well.

Authors own their name and their brand. They don’t have to be stuck in only one model to sell their books.

Examples of hybrid publishing:

Contract jurisdiction:
Your publisher may be contracted to release your book in the US. You retain rights for the rest of the world. You will have to get a different cover and a new ISBN, but then you can release your book everywhere outside your traditional publisher’s jurisdiction. Robert Sawyer and C. C. Humphreys are authors I know who do this.

Genre:
You may be well known for one genre and traditionally publish in that genre, but if you’d like to branch out and try something different, your publisher may not be interested. Eileen Cook is a traditionally published YA author, but she writes non-fiction writing guides which she self-publishes. Craig di Louie is a traditionally published horror writer who self-publishes his World War II historical fiction.

Backlist:
Publication contracts are dated. A publisher has publication rights for a certain amount of time. When the contract runs out, the rights revert to the author. The author can then self-publish these pieces from their backlist (i.e. previously published works). For example, Diana Gabaldon writes short pieces for anthologies or magazines. When the rights revert, she self-publishes them as ebooks.

Format:
You may choose in your contract not to give all rights to the publisher. For example, Jonas Saul’s Sarah Roberts print books (paper back or hard cover) are traditionally published; however, Jonas retained the ebook rights and self-publishes the ebooks.

Flexibility is the key to success. Today’s writers are learning that it is unwise to put all their eggs in one basket. Hybrid publishing gives them the opportunity to have a variety of income streams.

All the authors I know who are hybrid publishing tell me they’re delighted to have more control over their income.







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Snippet from Josh Pantalleresco’s Alice Zero August 13, 2020

Filed under: Poetry,Reading,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:58 am
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Yesterday I posted an interview with Josh Pantalleresco about his book of narrative poetry called Alice Zero.  Today, Josh shares a snippet of the book for your enjoyment.

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II

(You are late.)
quiet
can I just sleep?
Dream my dreams
for in them I see…

The loud clanging of the cell
brings me to attention
I am here
I see him and go pale

Ace watches me
his black heart etched on his sleeve
Letting me know
he is in charge

(I want to punch him on the face)
Shhh
he’ll hear us
(I don’t like him looking at us.  Do you?)
I shudder

my meal is delivered through the small door
(I wonder what drugs are in here)
I don’t argue any more
some days just blur on by
others are just nightmares
rage and pain and anger
unjoyous madness boils inward

I have to eat the food
I need to drink the water
so what if there are poisons in here
(Lithium gives you nightmares)

It does not!
Oh no!
I said that out loud
he is staring

before long I see the men in white
wearing hearts on their sleeves
carrying needles on their sides
and sticks on their backs

I shouldn’t fight
should be quiet

meek
they’ll go easy on me

(Fuck that.)
But…
(If you won’t fight for you, who will?)
But…

I say no more
the first one tackles me
Eight shoots for my legs

and trips me
the ground feels unyielding
I hit it and struggle to breathe

I am turned onto my stomach
hands bent behind my back

I brace myself for the liquid
dreamless sleep

I hear a voice stop them
halt! She booms
the guards stop
and salute

I gasp
I know that voice
and shudder
(Out of the frying pan. Into the Fucking fire.)

my hair is pulled

blood trickles from my face
I look up and see her
she wears red
her lips painted black
her raven hair braided
her eyes cold and merciless
my jailer
my Queen

she grins at my moment
relishing my torment
she nods
I am swarmed by white

I feel the prick of a needle
and see a shade of crimson
before all goes black.

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Ooooooh!  Did it give you shivers?  Here’s the link if you’d like to read more!
Alice Zero

 

Interview with Joshua Pantalleresco August 12, 2020

JOSH PANTA

Hi Josh!  I know you mostly from your Just Joshing podcast, but I was excited to hear you’ve written a book!  What’s it called and what is it about?

Alice Zero is my second release this year. It’s an epic poem that mashes up Alice in Wonderland and Greek Mythology. Alice is Pandora and she opens the box, and her last hope has a Cheshire grin.

My first novels, the Grace Awakening books, also had poetry and Greek mythology woven through the narrative, but it’s not a common combination.  Adding Alice in Wonderland adds a surreal element!  What led you to this idea?

A hot girl in a bar. I wish I was kidding. I wasn’t. I was out and I met this striking woman, who had a gorgon tattoo on her shoulder she drew herself. I was already contacted by Colleen Anderson to do a Lewis Carroll poem of some kind, and I promised to use her. So Medusa found a cool way to come into this, and then I realized after that that Alice and Pandora aren’t that different, and suddenly I had my story.

What’s your favourite Greek myth and why?

Pandora for sure. I liked the idea of Jason and the Argonauts. As a comic book junkie, I recognize the original Justice League when I see it. But I actually dig the concept of Hades and Persephone. It’s an interesting take on death. Death as lover is not something you think of when you come to the end.

What do you like about Alice in Wonderland?

It’s whimsical and pure chaos. It can be literally anything you want it to be. It’s a Jungian experience each and every time.

You’ve interviewed some amazing people on Just Joshing over the years.  Did any of your guests inspire you in the creation your own writing project?  If so, who?

You all do. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned from each of you. For this project, Colleen Anderson and Vanessa Cardui shaped it a bit. Colleen from her request and Vanessa for her expertise. I can’t wait to pick Vanessa’s head a bit for the sequel.

What was your favourite part of your book to write?

The Cheshire Cat. He’s inside Alice in this story and always seems to say the one thing that will set her off.

Where can readers find your book?

For now, it’s going to be Amazon exclusive. Next year I hope to do something very original with the physical release. Something most books don’t do. I’ll leave it at that. I don’t make promises I can’t keep.

Tomorrow, we’re going to share a snippet from the book here on ShawnBird.com.  Can you set up what we’re going to read?

How Alice is rescued by a certain gorgon knight and her vorpal blade from the shadows of chaos. I think I’ll let the poem speak for itself.

Awesome! Can’t wait!

Links:
Josh’s book Alice Zero on Amazon
My podcast interview with Josh as Nikolette Jones and I discuss the Nikki Knox books.

 

Opinion-Waiting for retirement January 16, 2020

I keep running into people who have big plans for their retirement.  They’re going to move somewhere with less snow.  They’re going to get serious about that hobby.  They’re going to start writing that book.

I ask them what I asked myself in 1998: Why wait?

One Spring Break when I was in my thirties with two pre-teen kids, I’d driven south with the kids to see my parents. I went to Vancouver, and sitting in the Water Street station, I looked around at the blooming tulips and plum trees and pondered the foot of snow in my yard back home.

On our 800 km journey back home, we drove past lots of schools.  I looked at those schools and had an epiphany.  There are teachers working here.  Why wait thirty years to move?  Why not have the life we want to have NOW?

I returned home and had a chat with my husband.  I sent out applications.  He interviewed for a transfer in his government job.  He had a few offers around the province that he turned down.  I was called to an interview in Salmon Arm and subsequently accepted a position. Two days later he was offered a position in Salmon Arm, too.  Serendipity and synchronicity.  Two months later we were living in a beautiful community that actually had four seasons that appeared when they were supposed to on the calendar (instead of two seasons: ‘winter’ and ‘bugs’).  That was twenty years ago.

I dreamed of being a writer, but thought that in my forties, it was too late to start.  Then my school hosted the BC Book Prize tour, and I discovered that every author visiting us had written their first book after fifty.

I started writing just after Thanksgiving and the week before Easter I finished Grace Awakening.  The week after the following Thanksgiving at the Surrey Writing Conference I pitched it to a small publisher, which subsequently offered me a contract.  A dream come true.

This October was ten years after I pitched that first book.  I was offered a table to sell my books at a signing event at the Surrey Writers Conference, alongside some of my author idols.  I am working in my dream job, teaching English & Creative Writing in an amazing school in a beautiful place, WHILE writing books!  It couldn’t be more perfect!

I still have a few years before retirement.

I have retirement plans.  When I retire, I plan to write a lot more books, and visit schools to teach a lot more teens and adults how to bring their dream stories to life.  I will travel and write and read.  It will be awesome.

But.

A year and a half ago, I received a brain injury.  Out of no where, in my own home, BAM: Life changed.

Words swam on a page.  I couldn’t decipher hand-writing.  The computer screen hurt.  Crowds hurt my ears. Lights hurt my eyes.  I had head-aches and eye-aches.  I was dizzy.  I was nauseous. For MONTHS.

I told my doctor that he needed to figure out healing quickly, because I needed to go back to my dream job and keep working on my books!   He said, “Shawn, you might be retired now.”

That scared me.  The idea that I might enter retirement unable to read, unable to write, and unable to teach or travel was horrifying.  What a bleak picture!  On the bright side, I thought, at least I have been able to have this wonderful job, teaching teens to write, and to inspire them.  At least, I have published nine books.

Thankfully, I had excellent concussion therapy and I have recovered enough from my brain injury to work part-time again.   Despite my injury, 6 pieces were published last year.  Some had been written years ago, some were short articles or stories that took me weeks instead of a day to write.  Slow progress is still progress.

My injury wasn’t the end of my dreams, but it could have been.

Wouldn’t it have been horrible to have all my plans completely unreachable due to poor health?  Wouldn’t it have been a hundred times worse if I had saved all my dreams for retirement, and not have the health to attempt them?  I had two colleagues who were in good health when they retired, but were dead six months later.

If you have a dream, don’t wait for retirement.

We only have today.

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writing- 5 escapes from Writers’ Block November 18, 2019

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:15 pm
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Diana Gabaldon once told us that she doesn’t believe in Writer’s Block; she thinks it’s more about Writer’s Inertia.

i.e.

An object (writer) at rest remains at rest.

An object (writer) in motion (writing) remains moving (writing).

So what is the solution when you are writing and come up against a brick wall?  Just because it feels like a block, doesn’t mean it is.  You may need to give that project a rest from your conscious mind and let your subconscious work things out.  To do that, you may need to distract your conscious mind a bit.  You may not need to keep moving forward, so long as you keep moving.

Don’t fret about it or dig yourself into a quicksand state of mind when you’re really just walking on the beach.  Yeah, it may be a bit of a workout, but it’s not killing you.

Here are 5 suggestions to deal with Writers’ Block:

1. Write something else.

Stuck with your novel?  Write a short story, maybe in your novel world, maybe something completely different.  Write a poem.  Write an article.  Writing is writing.  You’re still making progress even if it’s not on your main project.  If you step away, eventually you’ll see something from a distance that you missed while you were too close.

2. Put the problem that’s stymied you into your subconscious.

Before you go to bed, think about the issue you’re struggling to resolve.  Consider each character and what the problem is, and often in the morning you will wake up with a solution.

3. Just write ANYTHING about those characters.

Ignore the main project and just play with your characters.  Conduct an interview with your protagonist, your antagonist, a minor character or two.  Write a letter to their grandmother, their fourth grade teacher, the kindergarten best friend, etc as a way into their psyche.  Bonus!  These sorts of things are awesome bonus material for your newsletter subscribers!

4. Pick up a Writing Thesaurus

These amazing resources by Angela Ackerman and Rebecca Puglisi are fantastic.  Everything is at your fingertips!  Go through the thesaurus, noting character traits that are relevant to the character you’re dealing with and consider how the traits could impact characters’ choices. (I use Emotional Wound Thesaurus. Emotion Thesaurus 2nd edition. Negative Trait Thesaurus. Positive Trait Thesaurus) These seem to always give me lots of ideas to resolve whatever stalls me.

5. Timed write

Set the timer, start writing and don’t pause or overthink.  Put words down for 10 minutes on anything relating to the characters, their living situation, their past choices, their wishes, their families, etc.  Write out possible endings.  Imagine a character telling their therapist about what’s frozen them and why they (their story) aren’t going forward.  Free write in stream of consciousness.  Usually something shakes loose and you’ll get some direction for your project. Oh- and if something comes to mind that you instantly think “NO! You can’t write THAT down!” that is ABSOLUTELY something you NEED to write down!  THAT thing is probably the plug causing all your trouble.  PULL THAT PLUG!!  Write it down!

I think a sense that you’re ‘blocked’ is often your brain falling for the ‘this isn’t good enough’ lie and getting all caught up in getting something ‘right’ on the page.  A first draft is about finishing, not about perfection, so tell that inner critic to shut up while you power through your crappy first draft, and promise to let the critic work out all the issues in the second draft, when you need a critical eye to get things cleaned up.  You can’t edit a blank page.  Even the worst writing can be fixed.  Get writing!

Sometimes it’s okay to realize you don’t know where the story goes next.  This is a common pantser problem! We write ourselves into corners and need some ingenuity to work our way out.  Sometimes we need to erase the trail and go back a scene or two to change direction.  Sometimes we just have to wait in our painted corner until the resolution appears (or the paint dries!).  In the meantime, keep writing.  When you’ve forgotten that troublesome piece, when you return to it, often the solution pops up as you re-read it!  Time is a cure.  Just work on something else while you let that project simmer.  Simmering isn’t a block.  Things taste better if they’ve simmered a while.

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Enough clichés for you in this?  🙂

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Go forth and write.  You’ve got this.

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PS. I’m an Amazon affiliate.

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SiWC workshop notes- Diana’s Managing a Mob October 28, 2019

Here are my notes from Diana Gabaldon’s Managing a Mob workshop:

Diana- Managing a mob

20191027_124025[1]

Diana Gabaldon SiWC 2019

 

 

poem-ten October 12, 2019

Filed under: Poetry,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:46 pm
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ten years ago

dream in pocket

breathless

learning to pitch a book

awed by everyone

talent

knowledge.

Wishing.

Today, I pull a bin

to my own author table.

I am awed at everything.

It’s just ten years.

Same space I pitched!

Now,

ten books to spread

for this event.

My words searching for homes.

A blink of time

those dreams

are truth.

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I just realized that this month is the 10th anniversary of my first writing conference.  I bravely registered for one day of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, took my husband and our exchange student to Vancouver. While they spent a day exploring, I pitched my first book to the publisher who would eventually offer me a contract for it and had my first blue pencil with a professional author (Meg Tilley).  Ten years later, I’ve been invited to sell at a Guest Author table, in the very same room I pitched in, and I will have ten books on my table to sell and sign.  How astonishing.  How quickly a decade passes! How amazing to see what happens when you take the risk!

 

 
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