The Internet and the Modern Writer: A Blessing or a Curse?

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You know the feeling. You’re out with friends, having a great time, when someone breaks into your revelry with the mind-altering question:

“Do you guys remember the name of that actress who starred in that obscure indie flick seven years ago?”

It follows a formula, whether it’s about the name of a person, a place, or a thing. Someone poses the question, and everyone suddenly finds themselves wracking their brains. Years ago, it might have been hotly debated over drinks, or pondered over later that night, until the eureka moment: someone remembered her name! And no, it didn’t start with a B or a D, like you were so sure it did.

Conversely, in this age where everyone has the internet at their fingertips, the answer is just a Google search away. This instant gratification has cooled many a discussion before it really gets going. Is the internet doing the same for writers?

When I first started writing, our family internet was so notoriously slow that it would have taken half an hour to conjure up articles or photos online. And so I turned to a vast collection of encyclopedias that my parents kept on our shelves. This was how I researched, and how I got ideas for books. I still remember the first time I found an image of a 19th century tall ship, and the accompanying text. I immediately had tens of ideas running through my head. So I sat down and wrote for five months, using filler places and things when I couldn’t come up with the right word, just so that I wouldn’t break my flow. It forced me to think, really think, about what I wanted my story to be, and how the characters would interact. I read books for historical facts, of course, but a majority of the words flowed from solid hours of just writing as fast as my little fingers could clumsily type. Fortune’s Flight was born out of all that free-writing.

These days, more often than not, I realize after an hour of Wikipedia searches and forays into Youtube that I am no closer to writing a story than when I first started with a blank page. The distraction of having an entire world at my fingertips on the computer has impeded the creation of the world I create through writing.

Don’t get me wrong. The internet is a powerful research tool, and we are fortunate as writers to have almost unlimited access to this information that can help us form and shape an idea we already have. Seeing a news article about an unspoiled island in the Pacific or a young girl surviving an earthquake can inspire a writer to create a new, wonderful story. And it can give you an answer to a conundrum that is inhibiting the continuance of your writing, so that you can shape the story once again. And yet, procrastination happens. Sometimes I don’t write because I get lost in a world of cat videos and music and cooking demonstrations.

My solution to my own struggles with this sensory overload is to disconnect from time to time. I will sit outside in the sun, sans phone or iPad or computer. I won’t even listen to music.I will just THINK. I’ll consider my characters, their motivations, their emotions. I will try to feel where their story might take them, pondering what ifs about a character’s history and sometimes puzzling over whether the number of petticoats matter in a Regency ball. And I don’t look up the answer, not right away. I let these questions stew and swirl around my brain. These questions help me build a better foundation for what I really need to know when I do start my research. I’ll jot down only the questions I really need the answers to, in order to direct myself when I place my cursor into that search bar.

When I do go on my computer to write, and don’t have any particular questions or research I need, I turn off the Wifi connection on my computer. It doesn’t stop me if I am determined, but it will slow me down. All I have open is my word document and occasionally my thesaurus. And when the inevitable happens, and I start to open the browser, I note the time, and give myself only fifteen minutes. If I can’t find what I am looking for in that time, I exit out and try writing through it.

Because sometimes, the unknown is the best part of being a writer.

After a Brief Hiatus…

The blog is back in business! It’s been a hectic year, but New Years is around the corner, and my determination to make more posts has been renewed.

When last I posted, my focus was on freelance editing and self-publication on Kindle and working towards a print edition. Well, there is more news.

I recently re-published my first novel, which was originally written when I was 14. I decided 10 years is enough time for reader turnover and for new Young Adults to be hunting for a good Historical Fiction read. Fortune’s Flight was a project that I really enjoyed working on, both in middle school (cringe) and now as a young adult.  The story still resonated with me, and with rewrites, a critical editor’s eye, and a hope to inspire a new generation of girls, I was pleased enough with my rewrite to seek self-publication again.

With updated photography for the cover, a new vision for the interior design, and an interest in re-imagining old favorite characters, Fortune’s Flight (2nd Edition) was born.
Fortune's Flight Cover

In this recent iteration of the book, I spent considerable time developing a great blurb to spread around the internet. It is a complex process. Things to keep in mind when you are developing your own book blurb:

  • It has to get a reader’s attention in the first line, otherwise they might set it back down and never give your work a chance.
  • It has to appeal not only to your intended target market, but to those who might be purchasing the book for that market. For example, although my book is YA, I needed a description that would make family members consider purchasing the work for their teens.
  • It should avoid giving away the ending.  This almost goes without saying, but you’d be surprised. Think of the blurb as a great movie trailer… vague enough that it will make people curious, but with a hint of what’s to come so that they are excited for its release.
  • Avoid giving too much backstory. If the reader already knows the character’s appearance, family history, likes and dislikes before even opening to page one, you will clutter a blurb with too much detail.
  • A good rule of thumb is to think of yourself as a savvy reporter. You need to share with the public who this story follows, why they should be interested in it, and whet their appetite with a cliffhanger or question at the end.

Here is my brief description/blurb for the back of the book:

“I was barely more than a girl when the ship arrived…”  Isabelle Lachance has lived a sheltered life in France just after the Napoleonic Wars. That is, until the winds of fate navigate a ship, bearing a secret, directly to her seaport town. Isabelle is soon swept away by the mystery of the French King’s jewels, the crown treasure that once belonged to King Louis XVI. As rumors of smuggling and conspiracy abound, Isabelle must navigate a new world of intrigue, deception, and romance to save the future of France.

My best advice to give is to create several iterations of a blurb, and share with family and friends. Ask which book they would actually pick up and read, and which they would put back. Sometimes, the reader knows best!

Createspace – Amazon’s Print Self-Publication Company

As some of you know, I published an ebook recently through Amazon. To be quite honest, this was mostly an experiment to see if it was 1) easy enough to do that I could show others how it works and 2) to see if one could actually make money at such a thing.

Well, I have made some income through this method, but I decided to try a further experiment. Amazon offers a service of turning your manuscript (or ebook) into a printed edition. Or, you can design and upload your PDF version and have it printed as a companion to your ebook.

I opted, rather than paying money to have Amazon turn my kindle into a print edition, to design a whole new version of the interior of my book. In addition, I bought InDesign (well, I got the trial first. That program is expensive!) to see about designing a cover for my novel.

I definitely learned a few things along the way…

1) Because my book is crazy huge page-wise, it involved math (ugh) to see how wide the spine had to be and how trimmed down I could get the gutter and margins. Obviously, if I were a math wizard, I would not be the publishing and literary industry. Therefore, I had a few embarrassing moments where my brain melted because I had to take fractions of inches and add them to other fractions of inches and then account for bleed off of the page. Probably not that difficult for an average functioning brain, but for me, I was not in the zone to figure this out. I promise I’m not a mathematics dunce, I did take trigonometry. But I really try to avoid numbers at all cost. I am one of those people who gets a total at a cash register, and I just hold up a fistful of change and tell them to take what they need. Math is blah. Which is where problem number two came into effect:

2) Figuring out royalties! I had to decide whether I wanted to have my print edition available through just Amazon, or if I wanted it also accessible in libraries and places like Barnes and Noble. This meant changing the cost of the book to meet the minimum price at which I could still be making a small profit in royalties. Fortunately, Createspace had a convenient calculator that helps inefficient math members like me figure things out with relative ease.

3) Once my book was designed, I thought I was done. I was not. There are many backups and reviews and revisions on Createspace, essentially to prevent an author from publishing something that looks cruddy, muddy, or misprinted. There are steps in which you review online, then get it reviewed by a professional, then get to get a printed or online proof to review, and then you finally approve the changes. In essence, ALLLL of the reviews. Because I am a perfectionist, I had to do these steps multiple times. I am still not happy, not because of Createspace, who make a beautiful trade paperback, but because of my own predilection for over-thinking things.

4) It was super exciting to actually see the printed version in proof form, because I could get a sense of what was missing and what was perfect about the print edition.

5) Overall, the process was very comprehensive. I would definitely consider this experiment a success, and would be interested to work with Createspace again in the future.

The author in her natural habitat… the kitchen. With wild hair and the initial proof of her book.

The author in her natural habitat… the kitchen. With wild hair and the initial proof of her book.

The Hiccups in Self-Publication

I have a client whose book I am currently editing, and I am simultaneously working on organizing and designing my own novel into a print edition. There are several hiccups I have run into in my learning stages of both editing, design, and layout. Figured it wouldn’t hurt to share, since some of you may very well run into similar issues.

  1. Editing in Word is sometimes a pain. I actually prefer editing on paper with a nice mellow, non accusatory pink pen. It’s how I edit my own work, since screens are a place for writing, not for editing in my own world. So working on editing a book for someone who prefers tracking changes in Word gives me a bit of a headache (sometimes literally) because it requires staring at a screen for hours on end. It can make my eyes go fuzzy after the third hour, and I have to actually take a break. So the issue doesn’t necessarily lie in Word, but in any program where you have to edit on a screen instead of on a paper. 
  2. Talking to clients through email can make things tricky. It makes sense. Talking to anyone through email instead of in person or on the phone is bound to cause some misunderstandings and confusion. It takes more back and forth than a real conversation and can lead to unneeded stress for both parties. However, I have found that these types of conversations can be beneficial, especially if the client lives farther away from you and cannot meet in person. Another way it is helpful to email clients is if you need to keep working and don’t have twenty minutes a day to set aside to talk to clients. 
  3. InDesign is hard! I do not have a degree in graphic design, and I love learning, so I am teaching myself how to design a book fully in InDesign. It is not easy. Fortunately there are lots of online learning resources, with tutorial videos and articles to help a novice like me feel a little more confident in my abilities. 
  4. Finding a printer takes a lot of research. There is a plethora of printing companies that will take a PDF file and print it into a book for you. Choosing the best company takes a lot of research and comparison of pricing. Some companies help with advertising, while others don’t.


These are just a few issues I have run into thus far. I am bound to discover a few more problems, and look forward to sharing with you how to resolve such troubles!

Procrastination… maybe I’ll write about that tomorrow

Contrary to popular belief, the biggest antithesis of a productive, creative day of writing is not a day where you don’t write at all. It’s a day where you think you’re going to write, but then procrastinate instead. It’s almost worse than being too busy with work or too bogged down with tasks like making dinner and walking the dog. Procrastinating on writing, when you have the time and should be writing, that is the roughest of days.

Procrastinating is a writers enemy. I would know. I procrastinate all the time! In fact, I started this blog post this morning… decided that it could wait until later.

procrastination

For me, the issue comes from sensory overload. With a computer that has a myriad of cool applications, and easy access to an Internet full of cat videos and the ability to stalk others’ Facebook feeds, it’s a wonder I get any writing done at all, I think this first issue stems from the fact that writers used to have just their notebooks or their typewriters, and not have any other ways to get distracted by their means of writing. But then again, people doodle, people get up to get coffee and then remember to start laundry… Writing is hard enough as it is without all of the distractions of everyday life.

Don’t misunderstand me… Occasionally it is a great thing to sit and write in the company of others. Such locales as cafes, libraries, and parks are great for inspiration and for observation of others. But there is a difference between productively writing about a boy playing in a puddle, and forgetting that you brought a computer and instead trying out the old swing set you used to play on, then going to buy ice cream.

My solution to this problem is to sit in a quiet room (or if there is no quiet, use headphones or duct tape two pillows over your ears. That version is unadvisable… and weird-looking, to be honest). Keep your word document pretty basic. Think, no interference from taking time to fiddle with text, font, formatting, etc. Instead, keep it basic. Better yet, turn off wifi on your computer. This is how I “Typewriter-ify” my own device, so that I am not tempted to look at the internet, or to browse my desktop, or to mess with anything other than writing.

Of course, this does make researching harder, especially if you are working on a historic fiction novel. If you want to have the ability to check facts or explore your research, I recommend that you have all the research you have done in a separate file or even printed out. You can refer to it in a medium that will not allow you to go off on a ‘research tangent’. This happens when you find a cool article, then another, then find a quiz, then link to your own Twitter, then start checking other people’s Twitter… before you know it, you are on Pinterest and there goes your afternoon.

Procrastination also comes in the form of getting yourself all set up, your music at the perfect volume, your tea the ideal temperature, and your snacks just within reach… and then you remember you were supposed to do about 1,000 other things, and you don’t have time to write, with so much on your mind. My recommendation? Don’t double-book with writing! Give yourself an hour at least each day where you can just write. Guilt-free, stress-free, free time for writing. I get it, everyone has busy days and lots to take care of in a 24 hour period. But if you don’t give your writing a fighting chance against procrastination, you’ll continue to put it off until it no longer takes a priority in your life.

So say goodbye to procrastinating on writing… don’t wait until tomorrow to do it!

Necessary Tools for Self-Publication

So you’ve written a book. Congratulations! You’re feeling like you’re on the top of the world…. Until you realize that you don’t just want your book to stay in the magical mysterious world of your computer. You want to share your book. You want others to discover you. You want to make a name for yourself.

Let’s say you’ve decided against pursuing publication through a larger company. Maybe it’s in the interest of time that you have made this decision. Or you desired to have more control over your words and editing. Or it could even be due to the fact that you are interested in starting your own business. Whatever the reason, it’s important to consider what tools you will need to bring your dream of having a self-published work to life.

Here are the basic tools you will need, and things you should have access to, if you are going after self-publication for your text:

  • Some sort of word document. This can be Pages, Word, or TextEdit. You can even use Google Docs if you have regular access to Internet. I find that the less complex the program, the better it is for simply writing. I often use very little formatting in my first go. However, documents like Word are great if you are emailing your text to others to help you edit. Then, tracking changes and resolving correction are fairly straightforward.
  • Access to a printer. Most people have printers in their home. If not, you can get pages printed in copy shops. A printer is more important when you are going through the editing process, in case you know of someone who will edit, but does not prefer to do so on a screen. I often print my first draft and write all over it, to make sure I have the best of my ideas captured. 
  • Graphic design capabilities. Don’t panic, this doesn’t mean you have to have these skills. You can just as easily recruit artistic friends or find a designer that you can pay. Why do you need this? Because a book isn’t just text. You need someone who can design a cover, create a logo for your “publishing company” and help you with marketing. Fortunately, some companies that help you self-publish can do the design work for you. 
  • Adobe InDesign. This program is expensive… Over $600. But it is worth an investment because this will help you design and make your book come together in a coherent, authentic look. Especially if you do not intend to get a graphic designer, and want to create your cover all on your lonesome. Or you can pay someone like me to lay out the book for you!
  • Find a printer. A book printer is not a publisher. A printer is a company like 48 Hour Books or other national and international printers who can physically print your book and mail it to you. Research which companies can best meet your needs, and make an informed decision. 

There are self-publishing groups that can take your text and basic design and lay it out and print it, providing additional marketing for you. These will be less involved, but can benefit you if you just want the copies printed and want it to happen all in one fell swoop. It takes the pressure off of you. You just have to be willing to shell out the money for this project! 

Wishing you luck in self-publishing! As a self-publishing consultant, I am happy to answer any questions about the process I experienced. If you are interested in hiring yours truly for help with editing or self-publication, you can find my contact info on my website, www.baillymorse.com 

A very weathered and worn first edition copy of my printed novel, Renegade Ransom

An Inspirational Day

Today was the 20th annual Bay Path Women’s Leadership Conference, and I had the very good fortune to attend! With such keynote speakers as Kathy Giusti, Angelique Kidjo, and Gloria Estefan, as well as many other talented and empowering women giving talks throughout the day, I found myself moved, inspired, and eager to pursue my own dreams of starting my own business. 

  

It certainly was a motivational (and tiring… It’s an all day event) Friday for me. I was consistently impressed and amazed by the stories shared by the amazing women, who offered advice on business, family, and spiritual pursuits. After experiencing an event like this, I found that I was not intimidated, as I thought I might be, but rather, I felt highly capable of succeeding at my entrepreneurial ventures. My enthusiasm was matched by the thousands of women surrounding me, who came together to forge a bond of sisterhood. 

I felt it important to share, as the main themes at the conference were addressing the pursuit of dreams and the search for a balance between career and other goals. As someone who often struggles with finding enough time in the day to pursue all of my lofty goals, the speeches today helped me to consider what should be a priority in my life, and what can be a pastime or a hobby. The conclusion? For me, writing should be a huge priority, as it is something about which I am extremely passionate. Beyond that, writing creates a cathartic release for me, just as music or excersize or painting are tasks that others use to explore their emotions. 

 Writing cannot merely be a hobby for me, as it is far too important. This, of course, does not mean that I will always have a whole day to write. Work gets in the way, and there are those times where I need to make my health or time with family the most prominent component in my life. But always, writing will be an inseparable part of me. It will always be my method of expression, a way to work out difficult emotions, a manner in which I can relate and relax and resolve my thoughts. 

If you find something about which you are extremely passionate, which excites and entices you, and which is a healthy, productive way to spend your time, never be afraid to make that one of your priorities. Happiness should never be discounted! 

Happy writing!