The Light at the End of the Writing Tunnel

Writing is work, hard work. It starts with inspiration but must be carried along with careful thinking, much deliberation, and stick-to-itivness. After awhile it becomes a chore; something that must be done or else it will never be done. That’s how it was getting with Critter Tales.

Finishing the last set of tales then, felt euphoric. The writing is by no means done, but the first draft is done. My beta readers have had at it and made good suggestions. The rewrite of the first draft was completed soon after that and was sent off to my editor. Things are looking much brighter these days.

The tales will next need to be cleaned up and details addressed. Front and back matter for the book must be determined and written as needed. After that I can finally begin designing the interior of the book. I really look forward to that.

I like lots of photographs in my books, so these must be selected and prepared for print. Page size must be determined and the page elements formatted to fit within prescribed margins. These include the text, photos, captions, page numbers, and chapter titles. Once the pages are set and numbered, a table of contents can be written. Next, the index. I like a good index and these take time to create, but I think they are worth it.

I think I will give copies of the book to proofreaders while I work on the index. 5 Acres & A Dream The Book had so many nit-picky little mistakes that it was embarrassing, after the fact. But I grew so weary of reading and rereading that I finally didn’t care any more. I’m hoping more sets of eyes will catch what I miss.

Lastly will be creating the cover. I have an idea for it, so that’s a start.

A new phase brings a new boost of enthusiasm. I’m excited once again. Most of all, I’m looking forward to getting it done. I already have ideas for books to follow, but I want to do this one well. I’m willing to take the time to make it so.

Tools of the Trade

I am always keenly interested in other authors’ discussions about what they use for writing, whether pen and paper, typewriter, or computer. If computer, then I’m curious about what software they like to use.

Writing itself is probably the most important aspect and quite a few writers seem to like basic, no-frills, no distraction writing software. I’ve used LibreOffice Writer for quite a few years but have to admit that it has several features that I find annoying. For example, the text box that pops up to tell you what page you’re on as you’re scrolling. It’s annoying because it covers my text. The word suggestions, too, can be helpful but also distracting. They can also lend themselves to mistakes. Then there’s the hidden metadata which transfers with the text I’ve copied and pasted into Scribus. That’s handy for remembering formatting, but if I want to create a different formatting scheme, it’s a nuisance.

For a complex work, a way to keep everything organized is nice. This kind of software is often developed to accommodate writers of novels and plays, which I don’t write. Much of my writing is based on research, so this is what I need to organize.

So what are my preferred tools of the trade?

For research and organization I like Zim.

zim_screenshotZim is a graphical text editor which functions like a desktop wiki. I can create notebooks for various writing projects, pages for my main categories, and subpages as well. I can hyperlink these to one another, or to external resources such as a file on my computer or a webpage. I can even add images. One neat feature is being able to create checkbox lists. Very handy.

For writing, gedit.

gedit_screenshotgedit is a simple, open source, Gnome based text editor – no frills, no distractions, no metadata. It comes with just the few tools I need – spell checker and word counter. It also has a “sort” plugin for alphabetizing a list. Perfect for creating indexes.

For notes, reminders, and to-do lists I use Notes.

Notes_screenshotIt’s just a little plugin that came as part of Xfce Goodies, additional software and artwork for the Xfce desktop. It’s clean and simple and easy to use. Like Zim, I can create a group for each writing project. I can create tabs for lists and reminders.

Three simple tools to keep me organized and on track. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Critter Tales Progress Report

Phase one is the writing and editing. I have seven sections on my outline, each one containing as many “Tales” (chapters) as it takes! The ones with a first draft written are crossed off the following list. The rest await being written.

Concerning Critters (introduction)
Chicken Tales
Goat Tales
Kitty Tales
Llama Tales
Puppy Tales
Guinea Tales
Pig Tales
Looking Ahead (Conclusion)
Appendices

Some sections are longer than others. For example, we’ve had cats, chickens, and goats the longest, so there are more tales to tell. The other sections are considerably shorter.

Finishing the above list is the first step. Once I’m satisfied with the text I can move on to working on formatting the book interior and adding pictures. With 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, I learned the hard way to finish the writing before getting on with the rest. Doing it in proper order will be less frustrating in the long run, I think.

Update on “A Chapter A Day”

Nutshell version – fail

Longer explanation with rationale and excuses – That original, “A Chapter A Day”, post was in July and it was definitely a good idea. It worked, in fact, for some of the simpler, shorter chapters. But, as with 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, I want to weave useful information into an interesting story. Sometimes that means things I’ve learned from experience. But sometimes it means documenting what I write, which requires research. It’s the research that slows me down. Then, on some days, I simply don’t feel like getting up at 4 or 5 am! I want the luxury of sleeping in until 6 or 6:15, and I do! No time for writing on those days. 😉

A Chapter A Day

Not too long ago I blogged about a writing schedule for the book I’m working on. I was careful not to be overly ambitious at the time, and only made a schedule for what I as working on: gathering possible homestead blog posts for Critter Tales. Even though I successfully met that schedule, I confess that’s as far as I got concerning scheduling.

Something else writers do is set a goal of writing so many words per day. This is similar to how NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) works, challenging participants to write 50,000 words during the month of November.  That seems like a lot but I’ve read blog posts by participants who divide it into a daily goal. Spreading that 50,000 words out over 30 days means only 1666.66 words per day, which doesn’t seem so bad, does it? If one takes the weekends off, it would be more, but hopefully still a manageable goal.

For me, I’ve thought it might make sense to aim for a chapter a day, rather than a word amount. My chapters aren’t terribly long anyway, and keeping focused until the chapter is done really helps with my flow of thought and various ideas that pop into my head. So that’s my goal, a chapter a day.

At this point I don’t know how many chapters there will be, so I don’t know how long it will take me to get them all done. The chicken chapters are finished (I think) and almost all edited. The next step has been to compile them into a “Chicken Tales” section, after which I’ll recruit beta readers for feedback. I’ll do the same with the other sections as I get their various chapters done.

I have to say it helps having a goal. Summertime on the homestead is so busy that it’s far too easy to run out of day before running out of projects. But, as a wise man once said, by the inch it’s a cinch, by the yard it’s hard. I just have to make sure those inches keep adding up.

[UPDATE: July 26, 2014] Perhaps a whole chapter per day was a bit ambitious. Given the time I have available for writing each day, I’m finding it realistically takes more like 3 days. One to gather the blog posts, one to rewrite them, and one to do another go-over before sending it off to be proofread. Still, it’s a good goal and that’s good progress for me!]

Blog Writing vs Book Writing -Or- Why My Book Is Different From My Blog

I’ve heard from a few folks who have read both my blog and my book, and have remarked that they expected the book to be a paperback version of my blog. They were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. While it is possible to have one’s blog made into a paperback book, that wasn’t something I wanted to do. Even though both the blog and the book are geared toward a similar audience, blogs and books read differently from one another.

Blogs (weblogs) are like journals. They are a log (daily or as often as one wishes) of activities, thoughts, photos, events, etc. Various entries (posts) may cover a gamut of topics. A blog is primarily ordered chronologically, although some blogging software allows ordering by category. Even so, the daily topics are a hit and miss hodge-podge of the author’s activities and interests.

Even though I’ve had some readers read my blog from beginning to current posts, that isn’t usually the case. A few read regularly, but that also isn’t usually the case. I find that blog readers are more hit and miss in their reading. I know I am, because I don’t have the time to keep up with all the blogs I enjoy. Even regular followers and readers will often miss a number of posts. And if they miss a post that provides background information for the current one, then they may not get the whole picture of what I’m talking about.

Because of all this, I tend to write my blog posts as units unto themselves. Regular readers probably see it as repetitive, but I want to give the one-time or occasional reader all the information they need to follow my train of thought.

Books are different. A reader will pick up a book with the intent to read it all the way through, unless they lose interest and set it aside. They are able to follow the authro’s train of thought. Because of that, the material must be ordered logically. With my book, I definitely wanted to do that. My categories (chapters) include our dream of homesteading, defining our homesteading goals, setting our priorities, developing a master plan for the property, the establishment phase of our homestead, obstacles, difficult things, learning how to work smarter not harder, a look into our future plans, and also the various areas of self-sufficiency we are working toward: food (for both us and our animals), energy, and water.

In addition, I wanted to write the kind of homesteading book I enjoy reading. What I enjoy, is not a book of how to do things, I can find all that on the internet. What I enjoy is reading someone’s story. I enjoy reading how they got started, the ups and downs they experienced, their failures and successes, and what they learned in the process. I learn and remember more from those kinds of books than I do from someone’s road map to homesteading. So that’s how I wrote mine. It’s our story, and a way to share what we’ve learned. Consequently it’s full of practical advice that I hope will help anyone interested in homesteading.

As such, my blog was an excellent resource for my book. I gathered posts in various categories to rewrite into chapters. Yes, quite a bit of the book is excerpted from the blog, but the information is organized, often rewritten, and put together for the book reader. My current blog posts make good drafts for the rest of the story. You’ll be hearing about that one of these days.

A Schedule To Write By

For someone who likes  to sees herself as an efficient person, I have to say that that in reality, I’m anything but. While I was working on 5 Acres & A Dream The Book I was diligent to get up early to work on it (between 4 and 5 a.m.). I admit there were numerous times I felt like chucking the project, but I had committed myself to my editor, so I kept at it.

Between a love of writing and a little success (over 900 copies sold in less than 6 months), I’ve been wanting to do a companion volume based on the blog posts I’ve written about our animals: goats, chickens, cats, guinea fowl, llama, and puppies.  It’s been fun blogging about them and I’ve learned a lot. Plus folks do love critters.

This project has been approached with the same haphazard style as the first, but with a little less time committed due to other happenings.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought it would be great to have it out by next Christmas, but at the rate I’m going, you can forget that.

Then I had a brief email exchange with fellow author and blogger Garrett Alley. He asked if I’d come up with a writing schedule for my second book. A writing schedule? Okay Ms. Self-Proclaimed Organized Person (I said to myself), why didn’t you think of that?

I decided to begin with just a small schedule, just a snippet of a complete schedule. If I can manage to stick to it, then I’ll expand and commit myself to the next steps, which would be the rewriting of the blog posts into chapters. For now, I’ve made a schedule for collecting a list of potential blog posts, organizing them according to critter:

      Week 1 – Guinea fowl – done
      Week 2 – Chickens – in progress
      Week 3 – Goats
      Week 4 – Cats
      Week 5 – Puppies
      Week 6 – Llama

That takes me through the first week of June. If I manage that, I’ll move on to step two, and make a serious schedule for the rest.

Voice

Writer’s voice – “the individual writing style of an author, a combination of idiotypical usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text.” Wikipedia

One of the nicest compliments I received about 5 Acres & A Dream The Book was that I had found my voice. This was from a retired librarian and literary connoisseur. I confess I hadn’t actually thought about it while writing, so it was a delight to know that my style was appealing and made sense.

I’m thinking about this as I begin to work on my second book, Critter Tales. It too, will be based on blog posts, but this time, I will use stories not only from 5 Acres & A Dream The Blog, but also from my two former cat blogs, Welcome To Rascal’s World and Little Cat Zee. I wrote these before we bought our homestead and I had more time for writing.

The cat blogs were an interesting self-challenge to me as a writer. My goal was to anthropomorphize our cats based on the way I perceived their personalities. Rascal was cool as a cucumber, aloof, intelligent, superior. CatZee was a reckless bundle of energy who leapt before she looked and was not the least bit intimidated by Rascal. Each cat blog had its own voice.

As I begin to read through the various posts of these two blogs, I contemplate each one’s voice. Should I keep them when I assemble this new book, or change them for literary conformity’s sake? It was with Rascal’s blog that I first had folks tell me that my writing was good enough to be published. Would the stories lose something if I rewrote them in my own style? Something to think about.