Olympic Peninsula Backpacking Trip, Or How We Learned to Swim While Standing On Solid Ground

Believe it or not, the Olympic Peninsula is wet. Yes, mind-blowing news for a location in the Pacific NorthWest. But over there it rains. It pours. Then the sky takes a break for all of 4.5 minutes and, when it gets bored with how dry everything is getting, it starts spitting again.

Regardless, our backpacking trip this last week was an immense success fun-wise. You just have to have the right mindset. Mainly, as one other backpacker put it, ‘mentally prepare yourself to be cold and miserable’.

Sage advice. Enjoy.

 

In the Depths of Darkness Contest Placement and Oh Yeah Who Doesn’t Like Free Stuff, amIrite?

Popping on in for a quick little update. I’m happy to (humblebrag) announce that my YA sci-fi, In the Depths of Darkness, which you may have seen before if you’ve spent any time at all perusing my site (subtle I am not), has placed in the top ten in the San Francisco Writing Conference Writing Contest! The contest’s name is a little repetitive sounding, but oh well.

Will I place 1st in the YA/MG category? Will I place first overall? Will I ever stop asking you rhetorical questions that you can’t possibly know the answer to unless you’re on the judging committee? (If you are, contact me, I have bribes).

Find out these questions and more…later! The winners will be announced on the 17th of this month (Feb), and I’ll be announcing whether I win or lose on my author Facebook page, so if you haven’t swooped on over to check that out here ya go: https://www.facebook.com/seannfletcher/

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Ah! There I am! I’m like a parent whose kid got a speaking part in the school play.

On a somewhat similar yet completely separate note, said top ten placement book is FREE today only on Amazon! Yes indeed, go grab it while it’s hot! https://t.co/8wjcssNkg

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The power of glowering young men compel you…

Until next time…

 

Cheers~

Sean

Lessons, Reflections, and Other Stuff About Writing I Hope I Learned In 2016 But There’s a Slight Chance I Didn’t

Yep, one of these posts. You know, kind of like the retrospective videos EVERYONE’S done on Facebook; looking back on the year with fond (or not so) memories and a lens smeared with rosy nostalgia of days recently passed by.

Since it was sooo much fun on Facebook, is there any reason not to do it here? Yes, actually. Many reasons, but I’m doing it all the same.

So, here are a few things I learned about writing from this past year:

 

Write what you love:

I’ve said this before; I’ll say it again. If you aren’t writing something you aren’t passionate about then you’re going to have a hard time putting in the time and effort needed to make it great. Why waste your life writing books you don’t find fun? Is it because you want money? Fame? Recognition?

All bad reasons.

Okay, guilty! I didn’t exactly listen to my own advice, per se. Not that I’m writing for money. No…definitely not for money.

I’m mainly referring to my mindset earlier in the year that made me think I shouldn’t write middle grade books because they’re ‘too childish’ (Ha! I’ve never had a problem being ‘too childish’). I thought I couldn’t do it. I thought it wasn’t right.

But here’s the rub: I like middle grade books. They’re funny, they’re clever, the good ones teach good lessons. I love reading them, and for a time I loved writing them. Then I stopped and ‘moved on’. But now I’m back. And loving it again.

Write what you love.

Take Your Time:

The three words that are the bane of my existence. The nails on the chalkboard of my mind, so to speak.

I’m a naturally impatient person. In elementary school I’d rush through my homework in class just so I wouldn’t have to take anything home. I’m the kind of guy who fidgets in his seat like the Flash on a five shot espresso fix.

But impatience doesn’t work with books. You can’t just pound one out in a rush and expect it to be your best work. Like a garden, books need time to ruminate in your mind, to grow and flourish, to sprout and spread, to….some other garden related metaphor.

Due to my own self-imposed deadlines I wasn’t giving myself the time necessary to get a quality book out. I learned to take my time this year, but it was painful. Agonizing, even. Mostly in the editing stages when I got my book back from readers with roughly about two billions comments.

But these were all necessary steps. I find now that my books are deeper, the characters richer, and I actually enjoy getting to know the world and story far more than I ever had before.

Finally:

It takes time to build an author platform. I guess this could also go under impatience lesson, but what the heck.

Building an author career takes time. Building an author career that will actually last takes even longer. Sure, you could be like that guy who finds overnight success and makes oodles of money right out of the gate, but in the long run, that tactic probably won’t pay off as well as paying your dues now and learning the craft and business to succeed.

But it sucks. A lot.

This year I’ve seen my author platform grow quite a bit. My sales have shot up and steadied, I have more books out, my cover designs are more professional, my social media has grown.

But I still want more. That’s good. Keeps the fire in the belly. However, learning to be content with what I’ve done and where I’m at will do wonders for my sanity. Yours too.

So try to be content with what you’ve accomplished. And know that ‘content’ is not the same as ‘settled’. It means acknowledging what you’ve done, then trying to do better.

And that’s all I got. No painful retrospective, no abhorrent gushing, just a few solid lessons that I’ve (hopefully) learned.

A here’s to hoping 2017 is that much better.

Sean

Space Operas, Book Series, and Not Screwing Them Up: Story Bibles

Yep, this post’s going to be on writing. Who knew a writer’s website would focus on writing? Weird, write right?

Today, I’m shedding a little light on something called a story bible. Sounds pretty self explanatory. That’s ‘cause it is. It’s a bible. For your story. Any story, really. Your epic twenty book fantasy series about Gunthar, Dredis of Konkelt, vanquishing Marir the Poisqrt with the Fwmse (yeah, just literally pressed my forehead to the keyboard for that one); or your picture book about a unicorn mouse hybrid who can vomit inner tubes (trademark).

Story bibles are all about keeping consistency. And about unsnarling your mind from the minute details of your fictional world and freeing you up to worry about whether your story’s any good or not. Does your character have the same hair/eye color from beginning to end? For my sci-fi series, do the two factions retain the same ship names (they didn’t, in case you were wondering. Cue story bible!). Do magic powers stay correct from chapter to chapter? Do places? Characters? Anything and everything you think you might forget, or not, goes into it.

Now how you actually create a story bible varies greatly from one person to the next. Just like writing a book, each author has a different process. My process, similar to how I plot a novel, is a little sparser on the details of the story. Sure, I have all the relevant information like important plot points, characters, places, blah blah blah. But I find if I plan something out too much and know exactly what’s going to come next, I get bored. No bueno.

But that’s not the case for other writers. Some have literal bibles on their stories, hundreds upon hundreds of pages long. Excessive? Maybe. But what would cause me to run away screaming obviously works for them.

The point is: create what works for you.

It’s also important to note that not everything that goes into your story bible goes into the story. This is called info dumping. Like a ‘story bible’, ‘info dumping’ has a painfully obvious meaning: literally dumping info on characters, backstory, whatever, right plop in the middle of your book. Want a guaranteed way to slow your book down and bore the crap out of readers? Say hello to info dumping, my friends!

So it’s always important to delineate what readers need to know about your world and what you can skip over. The killer has six fingers on his left hand? Great! You know that thanks to your story bible. Do your readers need to know it? Meh, maybe. If it matters. But if it doesn’t, skip it. Your character has a traumatic fear of Eucalyptus trees thanks a run-in with a Koala as a child? Very…creative? Knowing his backstory is good and all for you as the author, but dumping all that into your book probably wouldn’t work out well unless a Koala’s terrorizing his hometown and you need to explain why he’s suddenly frozen with fear. You as the author need to know how characters’ thoughts and actions are influenced by their past. The readers don’t necessarily need to.

Okay, so what are the basics you need in your ‘bible’? Again, this is going to vary greatly from author to author, but I think the bare bones are as follows:

Characters:
Names, eye color, motivations, shoe size, etc. Rick Riordian, the creator of the Percy Jackson series, uses this sheet to plan his characters. (https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/103266-rick-riordan-s-character-sheet)
As far as character sheets go, this one’s pretty short. I don’t really like doing too much planning on sheets. Feels too much like homework (shudder) and sucks the fun out of writing and being creative. But knowing the basics of your characters helps you to understand and connect with them more.

The World:
Okay, this is my Achilles’ heel and something I’m still working to improve on. I’m not saying lay out every single thing about your world, but enough to know it’s solid enough to set a story in. If you have a magic system, that goes ditto for you. There’s nothing worse than having a magic system with more holes in it than a golf course with a gopher problem.

And….
…add pretty much anything else you want to. There literally is no limit to what you can put into your story bible. For example, the story bible for the middle grade series I’m prepping to write is full of random things I’ve collected for it over the last six months. Other character names I might use, locations that might be important, an outline of the series, character and plot progression, quotes, whatever. It all might be used, or it all might not be. But it’s good to have regardless.

And that’s it. Pretty simple and yet vastly complicated. Now go write a book.

Sean

Writing a Novel by Hand vs. On the Computer, and Other Things I Know You Wondered but Weren’t Nerdy Enough to Ask

I’m writing this post on a sheet of paper.

That may not mean much (or make much sense), but it will shortly. I hope.

For those following me on Facebook, it might seem like I’ve been in a tumultuous tornado of literature with my book covers, novels, edits and more right now. But look!

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A fully printed out copy of a certain sequel to a certain book, all ripe for tearing to sheds with my edits! Yay!

No, this isn’t the sequel to I Am Phantom. It’s the sequel to something I will be announcing later in the year, so keep your ears perked or sign up for my newsletter to learn sooner. It’s not as exciting an announcement as, say, a baby (which seems to be the current theme among some of my friends back home), but it’s pretty close. Consider it my baby.

But while I was printing out this collection of slaughtered trees, it got me thinking. See, as a general rule, my writing process goes like this:

  • A book idea descends from the heavens and bestows its brilliance upon me
  • Something immediately distracts me from that idea, such as a passing butterfly
  • I write down idea in a notebook, usually in the format of a book
  • Type up said book in computer (can you say carpal tunnel?)
  • Forget book for a while
  • The Glorious Return to the Book! Hopefully in the time away it has fermented into something resembling a finely aged cheese.
  • Open up the book document on my computer and shudder at what state the book is actually in
  • Perform minor edits on the computer
  • Print out entire book. Send money to Save the Rainforest Foundation to offset guilt
  • Edit book by hand
  • Input edits into computer
  • Perform final edits on the computer and final readthrough
  • Send it out to my unsuspecting victims

 

It’s a process that’s constantly being refined.

However, over the course of the Sean’s Getting Burned Out from Writing Too Much World Tour back in May of this year, I decided to write the sequel to I Am Phantom entirely on the computer to save me time. No beloved hand writing, no inputting edits, no printing it off.

And I did it!

It was miserable.

I mean, how do some authors manage to write book after book on their computers? I already spend enough hours of my day staring at a screen, but to do it for my writing, too?

Okay, well, what did I learn? A few things, actually:

  1. The Process Wasn’t Much Faster:

Some of you are like, ‘Wait, whaa?’. Surprising, right? How can typing something up be slower than handwriting and then transferring it to the computer?

What I found with writing on the computer was that I’d get tired of writing way too easily, only doing it for a couple hour chunks at a time, before being done for the day. Handwriting’s a little different. Like a contented grazing cow, I browse between intermittent chunks of writing throughout the day. A half hour here, hour there, and by the day’s end the cumulative writing totals quite a bit. Certainly more than on the computer, and infinitely more enjoyable.

  1. The Writing Experience Was Vastly Different:

Look up any article online comparing the benefits of handwriting vs. typing online. Go on, I dare you. It’s exactly as nerdy as it sounds.

Most agree that writing by hand elicits using a different thought process than typing. I can understand that. See, writing by hand is a tactile experience. The connection from mind to paper flows on a different pathway with a pen than it done from the fingers to the keys. By hand, you write slower, so the thoughts in your mind take more time to fully form before you put them down. I’ve had tons of writers I know find they become unstuck, or write more words or with more quality, once they unplug from the computer and pick up some paper.

You ever have an idea pop into your head that you think is just perfect, but when you go to write it down, it comes out so much different than you’d imagined it? That’s not just you being forgetful, that’s a real thing, and for me, using a computer only made this experience worse. It still exists with a pen, but in a much more subdued sense. With pen and paper you’re forced to spend more time with your ideas, and because of that, at least for me, they emerge more fully realized. Not only does this make it easier for thinking, but it better grounds me in the story and characters and, I believe for me, produces better writing.

  1. …But My Writing Style Was Only A Little Different:

I think. The jury’s still out with my editor on this point, but I’ll give my thoughts on it anyway because it’s my blog and I do what I want.

Since you’re able to easily jot down whatever comes to mind quickly on the keyboard, the style of the I Am Phantom sequel, to me, felt quicker, punchier, but didn’t flow or stick together as well as I think it might have if I’d written by hand. Place descriptions were simplistically written, character actions repetitious (since I was writing so fast I simply typed the first action that popped into my head), and overall I felt less of a connection with the story, characters, and scenarios like I described in point two.

And yet…

When I went back to edit, the book didn’t turn out to be the grotesque monstrosity I thought it’d be (again, don’t know that for sure, but we’ll see come August).

I did have to do more clean up. Some extra scene changes I don’t think I’d needed to have done if I’d written by hand, and I wasn’t as invested in the story, but all in all, it worked. I don’t want to ever force myself to write a book in a month again (sorry, NanoWrimo), but it worked.

 

So with all that, will I ever rush through and type out an entire book like that again?

No. No I won’t.

I’ve learned many things about the writing process as a whole, and my writing process in particular just these past few months. Extreme personal pressure and rushing do not benefit my creative flow. I’d much rather be an author that puts out two really good books a year, and have those carry me through to the next, rather than continuously pump them out one after the other. Some authors can do that, and I respect their process. But alas, I am not capable, or willing, to do so.

And now I’m off to continue editing my next work. By hand, of course.IMG_0850

Ancient Stuff, Pizza Crusts, and Popes, Oh My! A Photo Journey of an American Writer in Italy

This post brought to you by my family. Seriously. Give them a hand. For my brother’s awesome photography tips and general wackiness that matches my wackiness, and innumerable thanks to my parents for thinking of, planning, and allowing me to tag along on said trip.

Strangely enough, despite what the title says there will be very little writing from this writer in this post. Instead, I’ll let the pictures do the talking, with the occasional comment tossed in for spice.

Onward!

Rome

 

Florence

Once we’d gotten our fill of Rome, we moved on to the second leg of our trip: Florence, the Italian city that is comprised of more Americans than actual Italians. Seriously. Italians are like an endangered species there compared to the tourists and school kids on break from America.

Regardless, we kept up our definitely-not-vacation-level sightseeing pace and crammed as much cool stuff into our time there as possible.

Salerno

Our third and sort of final leg of the trip placed us in the coastal town of Salerno, home to sun, waves, and water that was still, unfortunately, far too cold to swim in (personal experience here).

 

And what a monumental trip it was. As always on our Fletcher vacations, it’s more of a marathon sprint to cram as much as possible into the days, leaving little time for actual, you know, vacation. But it was so worth it all the same.

 

Until next time.

The Insanely Difficult Task of Doing Absolutely Nothing—Taking a Break From Writing

I’ll begin this post by calling myself a hypocrite. Why, you ask?

Because I’m writing a post about taking a break from writing. Which is a little like the pot calling the kettle black. And really, if your biggest worry about that metaphor is the pot calling the kettle names, and not the fact that the pot is a TALKING, SENTIENT BEING, then I can’t help you.

It feels like the year has just begun, and yet somehow May’s already upon us. I took a luxurious thirty seconds to reflect on my personal writing goals up until now. I was a little shocked by the results. Maybe not in a good way.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve completely edited my nearly four hundred page forthcoming science fiction novel numerous times, written the sequel to it, gotten over halfway through writing the sequel to my I Am Phantom superhero series, and written a novella (like a sixty page short story) to give away to people who sign up for my author mailing list. This is on top of all the writing, editing, and pitching I do as my full-time job.

That’s a lot of writing.

I’m pretty burned out.

But you see, before this year, burnout was not an option for me as a writer. I always had the mindset that if you’re not moving forward then you’re falling behind. I want to be published and become a professional author? I have to work at it. Every single day. Multiple hours a day. On top of everything else I’m doing. Anything less would be failure, and failure would mean I wouldn’t be able to attain my goal. Not an option.

Which, upon truly thinking about that entire mindset, is bogus.

There comes a point at which going hard is not going smart. In the insightful words of my favorite angry angsty band, Linkin Park:

 

“Y’all go hard, I’ll go smart. How’s that working out for ya’ll in the back, huh?”

 

Preach, Mike Shinota.

But he’s right. What I failed to grasp (and might have sooner if I had just taken the time to think things through…) is that sometimes slowing down makes you speed up.

This is a mind-boggling concept for me. How can stopping writing in any way help my writing?

Well, for one, since my brain is so fried right now, writing is like splattering gray mush on the page. That’s not helping anyone. Plus, by taking the time to stop and think about WHY I’m writing, and HOW I can go about doing it better, smarter, faster, then it helps focus going forward.

The brain, like any muscle in your body, is…well, a muscle. Giving your creative batteries time to recharge means that when you come back to the page you’ll be refreshed and ready to go.

Guilt, though, that’s a killer. See, guilt about not writing (or, if you’re any sort of an athlete like me, not working out) is just as debilitating as trying to push onward when your batteries are drained.

I haven’t taken more than two days off of writing for…I’m not sure how long. It’s because after the second day, my mind tells me I’m failing. I’m not pursuing my dream. I’m wasting my time.

All lies. Convincing lies, like an infomercial, but lies all the same.

Writing is life experienced through the lens of the author, put into word form on the page. But after a while, the author’s creative tank is empty. The lens filter gets smeared and must be cleaned off. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to force yourself to write sometimes. There will be days you just won’t feel like it at all, and there’s definitely a difference between laziness and burnout. Sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike won’t cut it, but neither will doggedly pursuing your writing goals without ever stopping to rest, reassess and recharge.

So when guilt strikes, let it pass. I’ll be able to put this into practice when I take two weeks off writing (more on where I’m going in another post). The experience just might kill me, but I’m hoping to return revitalized. And if that guilt comes, I’ll simply tell myself that by not writing or thinking about writing, but just living, I’m bettering myself and my muse for when I start again.

With practice, letting yourself recharge can make the words you put on the page be better than ever.

So a few final points:

  1. Recharging your creative muscles is still part of the writing process. Think about this: if you’re an athlete, you actually grow muscles on your days off, not the days you train. True scientific fact. Google it. So why shouldn’t taking creative rest days help grow your writing?
  2. Taking time off lets you focus on other hobbies. Yeah, remember those? Other fun activities that break you out of your writing rut? I used to casually play video games and draw. I shudder to think how my skills in both have waned, but I’m willing to give them a shot again. Find what hobbies you may have neglected and go at it.
  3. Don’t let guilt eat you. Easier said than done, but the little inner critic in your head, you know, the one with a snarky sneer, fedora, smoking nasty cigars? That guy? Shut him up. Inner critics and guilt have their place, but it isn’t during a well-deserved mental break.

 

So cheers to the break. Tell me about how you take a break in the comments below.