The Grand Experiment: What I’ve Learned From 1.5 Years Of Writing Full-Time

amesjumpWould you believe I still haven’t tired of this arrangement? The balances in my bank accounts aren’t as high as they once were, but that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it might. Mental health is way more important. Not once have I ever pined for the corporate world. As long as I have the means to keep freelancing, I will!

What’s New

The past couple of months have brought some of the most extreme highs and lows yet. Our biggest low came in August, when our cats Persephone and Rochester passed away within a week of each other. We knew Sephie was in decline, and we were prepared for that. She died peacefully at home. Rochester’s passing, however, was a total blindside. After Sephie died, he stopped being himself. The vet found a slew of incurable problems, including cancer. Putting him down was arguably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Both cats are greatly missed.

About a month later, I actually finished Blood’s Force and put it up for sale. I was so hyper-focused on this effort toward the end that I forgot little things like taking my car in for inspection. (Oops!) It was also my first time publishing anything to vendors like Amazon and Nook. The process was nerve-racking at times, especially when Amazon initially rejected my book for having the insidious, horribly misleading keyword “Morning” attached to it (i.e., Amazon rejected me for my last name OMG what do I do?! Thankfully, they approved it the second time I tried publishing it). But now that I know what to expect, I think it’ll be easier from now on.

I was really excited to be done with my book after six years of effort, plus I had no idea how long it would take to put together a paperback, so I “went live” with just the ebook version at first. This wasn’t a horrible approach, but as I found out, putting the paperback together through CreateSpace really wasn’t that bad, even with doing the interior and cover layout myself. It was about two weeks from start to approving the physical proof. In the future, I’ll wait to “go live” when both paperback and ebook are listed on Amazon.

Now comes the transition from pure writing to writing + promotion, and I’m still very much an anxious noob with the latter. I’m trying to educate myself and ease in without worrying about selling a million copies right out of the gate. Money wasn’t my goal anyway. The goal was to finish a book that at least one other person enjoyed.

So far, I seem to sell the most by word of mouth and by placing books in people’s hands myself, one copy at a time. I also gave away copies to people who signed up for my mailing list. Of all the copies that are out in the wild now, I’d say a third were given out. I’m hoping to impress people and get them hooked on the series. :)

What Hasn’t Changed

Scheduling with self-compassion remains a big thing for me. I like having a set time for writing each day, and also having an idea of what I want to accomplish every day and week. But if other things get in the way, I let that happen and adjust accordingly. No big deal. I don’t set hard release dates for books or stories, and I don’t do pre-releases either. Some people can work well with that, but for me, it creates unnecessary pressure and stress.

I’m still learning how to manage my anxiety, mostly through mindfulness meditation. It seems like promotional situations are my largest trigger right now. I’m just not a “Hey, look at me and buy my things!” person. I’ll be delegating as much of that as I can. Where I saved money on Blood’s Force by doing a lot of things myself (ebook and paperback creation, web design/maintenance, mailing list management), I’ll be laying out money so someone else can worry about promotion for me. It’s always good to allocate your funds to best advantage.

Income Breakdown

I’m still editing at The Daily WTF. My income there has increased to about $300-$400 a month.

In another month or so, I’ll also start receiving royalty payments from some of the stores where my book is on sale (I have to exceed a $10 minimum in royalties first, which has only happened at 2 stores thus far). My book is no runaway bestseller, so I don’t expect royalties to add much. Still, I can cover a few bills every month as-is, which isn’t bad!

Just FYI, this income breakdown is here more for illustrative and tracking purposes than to brag or measure myself against. Money is never the goal of this enterprise, but I think it’s helpful to provide an idea of what the finances look like for a full-time writer who’s just slipped her foot into the publishing world.

Again, I’m very grateful to my past corporate self, who socked away most of every paycheck over many years and helped make this possible. My husband also makes this possible with his financial and emotional support. :)

Polish Your Manuscript With One Final Sanity Read

sanity_catWhat? This picture SCREAMS sanity.

Last time, I talked about the editing and revision “groove” I got into and rather enjoyed. As you read there, it involved

  • a defined but flexible schedule,
  • a good heaping helping of self-compassion,
  • a blend of making edits directly on my computer and typing in edits made on paper.

Some of the edits were rather substantial, basically drafting whole new, fresh paragraphs (or pages). Then there was the matter of all that typing. Data entry inevitably opens the door to finger-mistakes. How could I be sure all this new material fit in well, and as flawlessly as possible?

For sanity’s sake, once I finished my final editing/revision pass on Blood’s Force, I completed one last read-through of the entire manuscript. This was not just to look for dumb mistakes. During my prior editing, I’d been deeply focused on one chapter at a time. This was a time to consider the book as a whole, and how all the parts worked together.

Once again, I started at the beginning with a blank mind and moved forward chronologically. I tried to read at the same pace as a regular reader, but was a little slower at times with my attention on typos. Still, this went a lot quicker than an editing/revision pass. I was able to review around 15k words a day on average; you might be able to handle more or less.

On my sanity pass, these were the specific things I paid attention to. Hopefully, you find them useful as well!

(1) Spelling, grammar, punctuation, omitted words, repeated words. In your word processor, try reading your work at different zoom levels. Low zoom gives you a better chance of catching words that have been accidentally repeated across paragraphs and pages. Reading at a high magnification lets you identify typos easier. So can switching fonts, especially to something monospace, so the font you normally use doesn’t trick you into thinking you spelled something right. Speaking of fonts, make sure to pick a good one for the final product.

megaflicksOh, kerning, you bitch.

(2) Continuity. Verifying consistency in character traits, inventories, events, details, spellings, and actions.

(3) Flow from chapter to chapter. Does the story progress the way you intended? Are your chapter transitions strong enough to allow someone to put the book down for a while, then ease back in with minimal difficulty? (I’ll likely have more to say on this later, as it was a weak point in my earlier drafts.)

(4) Huh? sentences. If at any time you pause and sit on a sentence, not quite sure what you meant to convey, that’s likely to be a spot where your reader will stop and go “Huh?” too. Edit or remove it.

This is not just about quality and making sure you correctly changed what you intended to change. You’re also minimizing the chances of your reader being jarred by unintentional goofs. The more attention you put into this now, the less likely you’ll have to correct things after the book is published. Given how tedious it is to make these corrections, post them, and wait for the fixes to become available to customers, you want to avoid this whenever possible!

I’ll probably have more to say about my first experience with the self-publishing process as well. There was a lot that I DIY-ed, and I’d be happy to talk about it for anyone else who wants to minimize their publishing expense without sacrificing quality.

If there are any questions I can answer for you about anything, feel free to ask in the comments!

Finding My Editing And Revising Groove

curved_arrow“OK, now I gotta go back over it from the beginning!” When you’re editing a novel, you’ll say this at least 37 times.

I was on a blogging hiatus for a while there! Sorry about that. Two major things kept me from blogging for the past while:

(1) Both of my cats passing away in August, less than a week apart.

(2) My final editing passes on Blood’s Force. Which is a real book now. Holy crap. :D

With (1), I’m still not quite ready to go into detail. Maybe I’ll have more to say about my babies later—they certainly deserve a fine tribute—but right now I’m not up for it.

The work on (2) has helped me keep my head. I found myself with 22 chapters to revise, reread, and hunt through for those insidious errors like accidental repetition, words left out, or two letters displaced (“complaint” vs. “compliant,” for example. I did that in a Daily WTF article once).

I accomplished this in two major passes. One was a thorough editing and revision pass, the second a “sanity” pass for cleanup purposes.

I’ll talk about the editing/revision pass first (sanity pass will be another article). For the first time ever, I fell into a really good groove with this process that I’d like to repeat later. I’ll lay out here what I did, and more specifically, why it worked for me. Everyone has different preferences and approaches. It’s all about finding what works best for you.

Here’s the naked process—or algorithm, if you will (gotta put that CompSci degree to good use now and then):

(1) Started at Chapter 1 with a “blank” mind and advanced in chronological order, tackling one chapter at a time for as long as necessary.

(2) I did an initial read-through of the chapter on my computer, making whatever changes I wanted. I already mostly knew what to fix based on my editor’s suggestions, but I’d also find typos, plot/character inconsistencies, and other things to iron out.

(3) Once the chapter was in a readable state, I printed it out double-spaced, in a different font.

(4) With the printout, I waited until at least the next day to re-read the chapter on paper. From there, I made further notes and revisions in pen. Waste of paper? Au contraire! My eye catches different things in different media. When the font is different, it tricks my brain into thinking I’ve never seen this stuff before, and makes me feel like I’m critiquing someone else’s work. Don’t worry, tree lovers, my city has a lovely recycling program.

(5) Typed in my revisions.

(6) Moved on to the next chapter!

The following factors made the above process work for me:

Flexible deadlines. Every week, I’d schedule day by day what tasks I hoped to complete. I aimed for 2-3 chapters edited per week. Sometimes I worked on the weekends, sometimes I didn’t. The scheduling was important for providing a clear idea of what I needed to do to feel “done” each day. But if I fell behind, I allowed that to happen and adjusted things accordingly. (See the point on compassion below.)

A set work time every day. Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM – 12:00PM were my working hours. Some days there were exceptions, like for doctor’s appointments or really bad surprises (emergency vet trips, sigh). No worries. The point is that as long as I devoted those hours to the book, I felt like I’d done my job. The rest of the day, I could spend however I wanted without feeling guilty. Sometimes I did do extra work on the book, but not terribly often. The time away was always valuable for refreshing my brain.

Compassion toward myself. When I fell behind my schedule or got frustrated with a bit of editing that just wouldn’t edit, I didn’t give myself shit for it. Since leaving the 9-5 rat race, I’ve worked hard to cultivate a compassionate inner voice, a “boss” who doesn’t fret or put me down when things don’t go perfectly. This has seriously cut down on the amount of anxiety and stress I feel overall.

Chronological sequence. Once you’ve written a whole book full of crap, and have another book full of all the crap you cut from the book, you’ll reach the point where you constantly ask yourself, “Wait, is that [scene/character/etc.] still in the book?” Starting fresh on page 1 and editing forward from there will let you experience what the reader is going to learn and when. If it doesn’t work, this is the time to fix it.

And for your sanity’s sake, please please PLEASE don’t edit until you’re done drafting! :)

If you have your own tried-and-true editing method, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!