The Writing Habit: Planning

So, as promised, here is my thoughts on Planning storied thoroughly before writing them.

I think I’ve always been a natural Pantser, so this has been the harder thing for me to get my head around at all.

In order to start, I’ve invested in a giant notebook, along with a large blank pad of paper. I’ve heard there are other methods.

Lillian Heart swears by planning all her stories on computer, but that is far beyond me. Apparently it involves spreadsheets, word documents, and folders, but this is not my style. For anyone who works well with PCs, do give it a try.

I’ve also heard of using programs such as Scrivener to make lists and folders and write down details. Again, not my thing.

My thing is paper. I find that the written word on screen is scary, whereas the written word on paper, oddly, feels less permanent, less intimidating. And thus, I scrawl.

For anyone else trying Planning on paper, don’t be afraid to scrawl. Write notes coming off other notes. Write in the margins, write on the backs of paper, on sticky notes. Above all, write in big flowing diagrams. This has helped me hugely. Paragraphs are hard to follow, hard to see through to the salient points. Flow graphs are easy. Bite-sized chunks of info and big arrows? Yes please.

Character Bios go at the start of each notebook section, with a few pages left clear for all these details. It’s very helpful, if nothing else, to have a list of characters’ eye colours, hair colours, heights, preferences, etc. It saves the awkward situations where characters unexpectedly dye their hair halfway through a scene 😉

All in all I’ve found the process very freeing. I’ve been using a variation of the snowball technique, where you write the big picture, then you write a longer version of each part, then a longer version, and so on and so on. I still can’t bring myself to write down to the very smallest details, but they are usually easy to fill in when I turn to the PC for the true manuscript.

Is anyone else here a Planner? Got any tips for maximising Planning success? Or got any gripes with Planning your books?

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The Dangers of Self-Publishing: Reviews

Okay, maybe this should be a general ‘dangers of publishing’ post, but I’d argue not. Sure, reviews are part of every author’s life, and can make or break their success. However, in the world of self publishing, we see a rather stranger side of reviews.

Being a published author gives you some legitimacy. Someone, somewhere, has put their seal of approval on your book. In fact, most likely it took several people giving your book the green light for it to get published.

Self-publishing however can be done by anyone. As long as you stick within whatever rules the self-publishing company has, you can pretty much publish anything. People know this. The common reader, as much as we love and need our readers, knows that your book has as little backing as whatever they could write. . . and they may well tell you so.

Once it has been established that you are, in fact, fair game, the reviews will come in. Some honestly just seem to be negative for the sake of it. Some, of course, seem positive just for the sake of it. It’s an interesting mix.

When I read my first bad review, my heart sank. I put a lot into my writing, and hearing it slated so much really did hurt. It took me a while to step away, and think. On the internet, people will ‘troll’ or make nasty comments just for the sake of it. And sure, they may not have liked the book, but some comments can be needlessly harsh. We have to just accept that we are opening ourselves up to this kind of criticism, just by being brave enough to self-publish.

There is of course the up side. Once they have read your book, you will be getting the money from that, whether they liked it or not. It’s a small balm, but a balm nonetheless.

There’s bound to be good reviews too. I’m still very pleased with the review on Breaking the Stallion:

Even if I don’t quite think it’s worthy of such high praise. As they say, it takes all sorts to make the world, and we just have to learn to deal with that.

Author Bias: Kinks

Ah, a subject close to all our hearts (well, about 18 inches down from our hearts, but close enough)

I think it’s inevitable that as writers, we will write what we like. In fact, it’s well-known advice, to ‘write what you would want to read’.

It’s also, however, good practice to write things that we don’t always like ourselves. This does, however, become harder with something as personal as kinks.

SO, do we write what we like, or what other people like? It stands to reason that someone out there will have the same kink as you, so you can pretty well be sure that there are readers for whatever you like. However, I would highly recommend writing outside your comfort zone, if only for fun.

This is where I have to make a confession. A year ago, I would not have been into animal shifters. Heck, I possibly didn’t even know about it as a kink back then. Now, however, most of my books are based around animal shifters, and in all honesty, I’m really enjoying writing them. Exploring outside my own interests has opened up new horizons for me, both in my writing and my reading.

However, part of me really wants to get back to my own personal interests . . . so, maybe expect more BDSM work in the future, as well as F/M erotica, and some fantasy erotica. Because after all, erotica is meant to be enjoyable – if it isn’t, you’re definitely doing it wrong 😉 So don’t write outside your comfort zone if you’re not enjoying it.

The writing habit: Pants or Plan?

This is a debate I keep having with Lillian Heart (my porn-buddy, and the reason I’ve been self-publishing. Go check out her work, it’s great.) What is the best way to write? Do you plan every little detail, making piles of notes? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants, and write it all without any forethought?

Undoubtedly it’s a question of balance, but finding that exact balance seems to take a long time for each writer – because no two writers will approach it the same way. So how do we find that balance?

I’ve been experimenting with writing different ways recently. I have two notebooks. One is a notebook of story ideas to ‘Pants’. This notebook just has very rough thoughts. For example, the notes for Breaking the Stallion (warning: spoilers) were:

D tries to find T. Catches other horse instead. Brother? 

Everything else – the other 6000 words – were written as I went along, and with that in mind, I’m rather happy with the outcome. Since it takes so little time to write down ideas like this, I’ve got several potential series listed this way, across multiple genres, kinks, and lengths. This notebook also fits into a pocket, letting me carry it around and note down ideas wherever I am.

My other notebook is much larger unfortunately, but it needs to be. It is a full A4 pad, filled with loose sheets up to A2 in size, all covered in scribbles. Plots, character bios, flow diagrams, and even maps, fill the pages.

Needless to say, this takes a lot longer, and I’ve never had the persistence to write a whole novel down to the very smallest detail. Still, there is something nice about running with a well-thought-out idea. It makes the actual writing easier, as you’re never stumped. You know exactly what you’re going to say next.

Despite these first experiments, I’m not certain where I fall on the spectrum of Pants-ing and Planning. I’ll keep you all updated with my findings, and hopefully come up with some ideas to help you try the two extremes yourself.

The writing habit: Prompts

Ah, the oldest problem in the book. Writer’s Block.

I recently discussed this with a fellow writer (who, not being in the erotica scene, shall remain nameless.). He said he wanted to write, but did not know what. It’s a problem which I’m sure we’ve all come across before.

My advice was the same I follow for myself, when I’m unsure what to write: Use a prompt.

It doesn’t even have to be anything fancy. My friend thought I meant find a prompt generator online, which seems overly complex to me. Instead, turn to a book near you. Pick a page at random, and pick a word from that page. Pick a couple of words, either next to each other, or from different pages, if you want to.

For my final Uni assignment, I was given (by a different friend) the prompt of ‘Vomit’. That was all – and I had to plan a full-length novel off this.

So. Vomit. Not much to go on? Actually, lots.

Is there vomit? Can we see vomit? Why can we see vomit? Who has vomited? Do we even know? Are they ill? Are they poisoned? Are they drunk? Where is the vomit? A prison bucket, a drain, outside a nightclub, on someone’s shoes? The possibilities are endless. Just run with it. Play with it a bit. Who would be the worst person’s shoes to vomit onto? Maybe your employer, when it’s 10am on a Tuesday and you’re meant to be working? That’s an awful time to be ill, but a worse time to be drunk. But why would you be drunk? Is your marriage falling apart? That’s awful. It’ll only go downhill now that you’ve been fired from your job from drunkeness. And where would you go then? Would you join a crime syndicate as a small fish, trying to earn some extra cash doing drug runs? But maybe you’d work your way up, and get noticed by the police, and suddenly you’re trying to be an upstanding citizen again to earn back your spouse’s trust, so you’ve become a double-agent. Or maybe those drugs were more sinister than you thought, and you’re actually hooked on the worst kind of drug ever . . . as for what it does? Maybe it’ll turn you mad. Maybe the whole book is a decent into madness. Maybe it’s going to make you a super-strong fighter. Maybe it’s actually just lengthening your life, and you have to live with the fact that every time you prolong your life, it’s by exploiting the people who make this drug. Maybe you have to decide to go off the drug, realising you’ve become a monster, and you realise that you’re slowly wasting away, and watch yourself dying, and we come right back round to vomiting away the last liquid in your body, knowing that this is, in fact, the end, but that you’ve brought it on yourself. . .

 

See, isn’t writing from a prompt fun? Or seriously depressing, but interesting either way.

I’d definitely recommend trying it. You might not write something you like, and you might never turn the ideas into a full story, but it’s something. Just getting the creative juices flowing will hopefully help break your writer’s block. And even if just one idea from your prompt session can be used in your current piece, it’s still a win.

 

I’d love to know what you all come up with from prompts, so if you give it a go, please do share your prompt and your ideas 🙂

How to choose a pen name

So, now that you know Isabella Cooke is a pen name, I feel I can give some advice on how to choose a name. This info is gathered from various sources and advice from other sites, long with my own findings and experience. Obviously with a leaning towards erotica pen names.

First off, you have to decide what kind of pen name you’re aiming for. Do you want something rather normal, like ‘Sarah Clarkson’? This kind of name is less obviously a pseudonym. It’s a believable name. The other end of the spectrum would be what I’d call a ‘porn name’. ‘Dick Hunter’ is a good example of this kind – you know that either it’s a very unfortunate name, or it’s to do with porn.

Both have their pros and cons. A porn name means that no-one is going to mistake what you’re about. They can often be a bit humorous, and act as something to draw in readers, all by themselves. However, people might not take you as seriously. It might make readers question the literary merit of what you write.

On the other hand, a normal name can give you a bit more legitimacy. People won’t question how serious you are and might assume that you at least put all you can into your writing, instead of coming across too jokingly. It is, however, a bit boring. It won’t draw readers to you, as you’re just another person.

The next major choice would be to pick your pen name’s gender. There’s plenty of argument that you should pick the gender which fits best with your target audience. There’s also an argument that it’s easiest to have the gender as your own gender.

Once you’ve decided all this, it’s just a case of picking a name. It should be rather simple, as writers pick names for characters all the time. Think of your pen name as a character and name them. It’s pretty simple… in theory. This step took me the longest. I aimed to have a list of five names to take through to the next step.

The next step – test the names. Mull them over in your head. Consider introducing yourself as your pen name. Does it get the response you want? Any that don’t fit right, discard. If you’re running out, come up with some new ones.

When you’ve got names you think you like, it’s time for the usability check. This is simple, but also very important. Google your pen name. Search the stores where you intend to sell your books. Search Facebook. What comes up?

Sarah Clarkson (http://tinyurl.com/joks7ba) is already an established author on Kindle, so I wouldn’t use that. There’s no point in getting your books muddled up with someone else’s – it’ll probably mean losing sales.

Isabella Cooke (http://tinyurl.com/hxahnos) is only similar to someone who has posted one book on Kindle, and it’s nothing like what I write, so I’m quite happy to use the name.

The Google and Facebook checks are important too though. If your pen name is only the real name of one person, it’s a bit tight to use it – imagine if you had a very uncommon name, and someone with your name became well-known online for writing smut. That’s potentially all kinds of embarrassing. On the other hand, if your name is the same as a million other people’s, then you’ll be lost in a crowd. Finding balance is good.

If you’re really fond of a name but it doesn’t pass these checks, maybe try changing the name slightly. Sarah Clarkson can become Sarah Clarke without too much difficulty. Dick Hunter could become Dick Fisher (…. okay, maybe not 😉 ).

Most importantly with this, don’t rush. with any luck you’ll be making money under your pen name for years to come, so it has to be one you’re happy with.

Author bias: Themes

Another author bias that has been bugging me – themes, feelings, moods, set pieces – whatever you want to call it, I’m sure there are all things which we stay away from or veer towards.

Now, I like romance, and storybook endings . . . but  the world has thrown too much at me for that to get a look-in any more. I’m cynical and grouchy instead.

I’d love it if my themes could be unending love, happily-ever-afters, etc. Instead, my themes seem to be trouble, hardship and anguish. Oh, I’m not quite going to plumb the full depths of that just yet, sure, but I don’t have people riding off into the sunset. In fact, I’ve had a few characters watching their loved ones riding away from them (and for any psychologists out there, that doesn’t quite line up to my past as you’d think, trust me).

It makes me sad in a way that my bias is towards sadness. If you’ve got a happy bias, maybe throw some pointers about how to write happy stuff?

If you want to write more miserable stuff, I can only really give you this: It’s the moment before the kiss which has most tension, and – as with music – that needs to be resolved. If it isn’t, you’re just twisting the knife.