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#NANOWRIMO What to Write

Most writing is not a special gift or talent. Writing is a skill that can be taught. It can be likened to bricklaying; you can learn it one brick at a time, and you get better the more bricks you lay.

The key is to always be willing to learn, grow and develop these skills. A writer, in order to master their craft, must be willing to change.

If you talk to those who work in hospices, they’ll tell you what lessons their dying patients bestow upon them.  One word keeps coming up again and again:  regret.

When faced with death, people look back over their lives.  All the missed opportunities, the misplaced priorities, the things that weren’t done.  Only a handful of people focus on what they did do and are content.  These people have negotiated the five emotional steps of change, which are Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of Death & Dying.  The last stage is acceptance.  Kubler-Ross found that only 5% of those who were told they had a terminal illness were able to negotiate those five stages.

That number strikes a chord.  Because in my Write It Forward book and program, I refer to the 5% rule for internally motivated change.  I’ve taught writing for decades and have always been shocked at how few writers actually changed anything in their writing.  I am no longer shocked.  I have acceptance that I cannot change anyone but me.  I can assist others if they desire it.  This is based on my experiences and, more importantly, what I’ve learned from other writers, books, shows, and life.

78% of Americans believe they can write a book.  I’d be willing to bet 77% of them will die regretting they never did.  It’s not about getting published.  It’s about creating and acting instead of reacting, often, too late.

You have only one thing stopping you from writing the best book you are capable of.  You.

I call my book on the craft of writing a Toolkit because no tool is wrong.  If I need to fasten two pieces of wood together and instead of picking up a hammer and nail, but rather pick up a saw, it is not the tool’s fault.  It is mine.

In subsequent blogs, I am going to lay out numerous writing tools that will help you develop your craft as a writer. However, becoming an artist is up to you.

Point of view is the most critical style element in writing.  It is also important in following the way I teach writing.  I’ve been making a living writing for well over two decades and with each year and every new manuscript come new lessons learned.  Over that time period I’ve taught writing novels and getting published at various workshops and for numerous organizations.  I’ve attended many workshops and listened to other authors present.  I’ve read many books and watched many movies and shows, constantly analyzing the writing, to learn new ways of creating.  I’ve seen numerous ideas, stories and manuscripts in the course of teaching, helping other writers, and judging contests.  I’ve been published by six different American publishers, many foreign publishers, worked with over a two-dozen editors, and have had four primary agents.  I’ve been traditionally published by the Big Six in New York, and non-traditionally published through my own imprint.  I’ve had hardcover, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, print on demand, and eBooks across the range of possible platforms published.

Too many people lament the state of publishing and the “crap” that fills the shelves in the local bookstore.  My goal is not to complain but to explain; to tell you about the craft and art of writing so you can accomplish your goals.

The world of writing is a very diverse one and there is a place in it for just about everything and everyone.  Things are changing rapidly, faster than ever, and I think it’s an exciting time to be an author, with more opportunities than ever before.

The bottom line is I write because I enjoy it.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy.  The one commonality I have seen in every successful writer I’ve met is that they work very, very hard.  There is a large degree of craftsmanship required to write a novel.  It’s not magic; it’s hard work combined with the ability to constantly accept being critiqued and to critique one’s self.

Lately, I’ve focused on what it takes to be a successful author, not just in terms of the writing, but in terms of not only surviving, but thriving in the world of publishing.

The bottom line is the book.  I love books.  I love reading them and I love writing them.

Nanowrimo coverIn honor of Nanowrimo month, Cool Gus has put together a Nanowrimo Survival kit at a discount:  three books in one at a big discount (over 50% off buying them individually).  We’re only going to run this special for November, then we’ll be taking it down.

The Novel Writers Toolkit which is how to write the book.

Write It Forward which is how to be a professional author and build a career using my Who Dares Wins concept.

And How We Made Our First Million on Kindle which is about negotiating the world of digital publishing.

 

“I am always doing that which I cannot do in order to learn how to do it.”  Pablo Picasso.

So why do you write?

#Nanowrimo The Kernal Idea: The Alpha and Omega of Your Book

You have to start somewhere.

Have you ever listened to a writer who just recently started a new project? They are practically jumping out of their pants with excitement. Their eyes light up and oddly enough, they break out of that introverted shell and start babbling away about their latest novel.

This is at the core of the Kernel Idea. The spark of inspiration. That one thing that made you believe you could sit alone in a room and write 100,000 words. However, when the writer hits the 50k mark they often forget what excited them in the first place.  As you go through Nanowrimo, are you starting to sputter out?  The flame flickering low?

The kernel idea is the Alpha and the Omega of your book.  By that I mean it starts your creative process and it completes it.  It’s what you begin with and at the end of the manuscript, everything in the book points toward it.

The kernel idea is the foundation of your novel.  When I say idea, I don’t necessarily mean the theme, although it can be.  Or the most important incident, although it can be.  But it can also be a setting.  It can be a scene.  It can be a character.

It is simply the first idea you had that was the seed of your novel.  All else can change, but the idea can’t.  It might be a place; a person; an event; a moral; whatever.  But you did have it before you began writing and you must remember it as you write.  If you don’t, your story and style will suffer terribly.  You should be able to tell your idea in one sentence.  And repeat it to yourself every morning when you wake up and prior to writing.  Knowing it will keep you on track.

Every new book I begin, I write out this one sentence on a word document as the very first writing I do.  I print it out and put it where I can constantly see it.

A Test

Can you clearly state what your book is about in 25 words or less? This is a key, essential ingredient of writing a good book. This idea keeps you focused and on track. It is important to:

  1. Write The Kernel Idea down.
  2. Ask yourself what emotional reaction does it bring about.

Good writing and strong characters are the key to great writing and knowing what excited you to write the book in the first place will bleed onto the page. However, if you don’t write it down, you might forget and get lost along the way.

What Is Your Kernel Idea?

  • Good news is you had one.
  • Bad news is you probably forgot it.
  • It is usually the first thought you had (the spark of inspiration)
  • It is the foundation of your book, the seed.

KERNAL IDEA EXERCISE:

Write down the idea behind your current project.

If you can’t do it, then you need to backtrack through your thought process to find it, because you had it at one point. Everything starts from something. While idea is not story (something I will talk about later) idea is the only thing in your manuscript that won’t change. Your story can, but your idea won’t.

Dragon Sim-13In one of my early novels, the original idea was an action:  What if Special Forces soldiers had to destroy an enemy pipeline?  That’s it for Dragon Sim-13.  Not very elaborate, you say.  True.  Not exactly a great moral theme.  Right.  But with that original idea there was a lot I could do and eventually had to do.  I had to change the target country after the first draft.  But that was all right because I still had the idea.  I had to change characters, but that was fine too, because it didn’t change my idea.  I had to change the reason why they were attacking a pipeline, but again, the original idea was the same.

You will have plenty of latitude for story after you come up with your kernel idea; in fact, I sometimes find the finished manuscript turns out to be different from what I had originally envisioned, but one thing is always true: that kernel idea is still there at the end as the Omega.

For my first kernel idea, I made it as simple as possible to enable me to focus on the writing because when I was in the Special Forces my A-Team had run a similar mission on a pipeline.   Since I had a good idea what would happen in the story, I could concentrate on the actual writing of the novel.

I’ve sat in graduate literature classes and heard students say:  “The author had to have a moral point in mind when they wrote that book.”  I agree, but sometimes it is not at the forefront of the story.  Many authors write simply to tell a story started by that kernel idea, which indeed might be a moral point, but sometimes is a story that they wanted to tell and the theme developed subsequently.

A moral or theme (screenwriters call it intent) always does appear in a book by the time it’s done.   No matter what conscious expectations or thoughts an author has when they start writing, a lot more appears in the manuscript than they consciously anticipated.

After you have that kernel idea, you should spend a lot of time wrestling with it and consciously uncover your feelings and thoughts about it.  I try to look at my main characters and determine what will happen to them emotionally, physically and spiritually as they go through the story.  Who are they at the beginning of the story and who are they at the end?

This is an example of being aware of what you are doing. Not all authors have a conscious theme when they write a novel, but experience has taught me that it is better to have your theme in your conscious mind before you start writing.  It might not be your original idea, but it will definitely affect your characters and story.

The reason it is important to have a theme in mind is because people want to care about what they read and the characters.  If there is some moral or emotional relevance to the story they read, they will become more involved in the story and enjoy it more.  Even if the reader doesn’t consciously see it either.

Writers balk at the Kernel or one-sentence idea. How can you be expected to write the entire essence of your epic novel in one sentence? You are told that every word, every sentence, every paragraph and every scene must have purpose, so how can any writer sum up their work in twenty-five words or less?

It’s simple. Your story started with an idea. The idea wasn’t much. If you write it down when you think of it, then summarizing your story in one-sentence is just that much easier.

One way to work on understanding the Kernel Idea is to take your favorite movie or book and try to figure out the Kernel Idea. This will help you narrow the focus and see how it is the foundation of everything in the story.

Do you know what your kernel idea is?

(In the next post, I’ll give examples of Kernel Ideas)

Nanowrimo coverIn honor of Nanowrimo month, Cool Gus has put together a Nanowrimo Survival kit at a discount:  three books in one at a big discount (over 50% off buying them individually).  We’re only going to run this special for November, then we’ll be taking it down.

The Novel Writers Toolkit which is how to write the book.

Write It Forward which is how to be a professional author and build a career using my Who Dares Wins concept.

And How We Made Our First Million on Kindle which is about negotiating the world of digital publishing.

We’re also doing a couple of different sales over on Amazon. Starting today at Noon (PDT) today the price of Eternity Base (Green Beret Series) will be 0.99 on Amazon. The price will increase to 1.99, then 2.99 during the course of the next 48 hours before going back up to 4.99. The sale will end at Noon (PDT) on 5 November. Get it while it’s hot!

We’re doing a similar promotion with Psychic Warrior. Starting today at 5pm (PDT) Psychic Warrior will be 0.99. It will then go up to 2.99 halfway through the promotion. The sale will end at 5pm (PDT) on 5 November. Get it while its hot!

Taking control of your career: What does Oz mean to you and how will you get there?

canstockphoto7016843Right now is the best time to be an author. However, it is also a very confusing and scary time for authors. Publishing has drastically changed as self-publishing has become a viable option for authors along with a variety of options in between traditional and pure self-publishing. The last three years we have seen incredible growth. Just this past January, Digital Book World did a survey that concluded that 1/3 of traditionally published authors wanted to try their hand at self-publishing. This is a huge shift in the last three years. The Hybrid Author, a term Bob coined back in 2011, is the face of the future. And the future of publishing is in developing partnerships.

It’s more important than ever that authors take control of their careers and their rights. The latest trend is agents as publishers.  Many hybrid authors are very happy with this arrangement. There are intrinsic questions that have to be addressed in this arrangement such as:

  1. Is there a conflict of interest?
  2. Can an agent be a publisher?
  3. Does the agent have the experience in e-publishing?
  4. Does the agent have the infrastructure in-house to produce eBooks, which are organic or are they farming it out to contractors, which is more of a static relationship.

canstockphoto8394890There are two basic philosophies with which we have built our business on: first, there are many roads to Oz and Oz means many things to different people, and second, writers create the product (which is story, not a book), readers consumer the product, and everyone in between must add value. Understanding these two concepts and incorporating them into your business plan as an author will give you the foundation to control your career going forward into the chaos of publishing.

Self-publishing is somewhat of an oxymoron. It is very difficult to do it truly alone. Ask those doing it. They’ve hire assistants, or gone into partnerships, or both. When we speak at conferences, someone always goes up to Bob and asks, “Where can I find my own version of Jen?” Perhaps the first book, maybe even the second can be self-published, but Content is KING and the number one priority for a writer is to write. Publishing for the Internet (whether it be in print or eBook) requires more than just slapping a nice book cover and uploading a file. Jen could go on for hours about formatting and HTML and how much she hates Word as a source file, but she’d put us all to sleep (Bob is currently rolling his eyes as he doesn’t care, he just wants to write). And then there is metadata, and that’s just not pricing and product description. There are keywords and figuring how the heck are people going to find your books because unless you are Nora Roberts, no one is googling your name. It’s great if you command the page when you Google your name, but it’s better if you command the page with a Keyword that people use in searches AND images of your books, author mug shot, etc. come up. This requires a little knowledge of SEO and also consumer behavior on the Internet. Jen is in her glory right now, but Bob is going to shut her down. You get the point.

At every conference we attend there is a sense of fear in the air. Fear from authors that they will make the ‘wrong’ decision. The only wrong decision is not to make one. Green Berets have been called the “Masters of Chaos”.  In the heat of battle, which is chaos, Special Forces are trained to excel.  Bob brought this training and experience into the digital world and applied with his mantra and program:  Who Dares Wins.  That’s a great motto for any writer these days.

Once you can clearly define what Oz means, then you figure out how to get there. Without a roadmap, you are likely to get lost.

This brings us to our second philosophy, writers produce the product, readers consume the product and everyone in the middle has to add value.

Agents have always played an important role in an author’s career. This role is changing and agents are adapting, making sure they add value to the author’s career, as the agent works for the author, not the other way around. In the past, it was nearly impossible to sell to anyone other than Harlequin without an agent. The agent’s job was to get you the best ‘deal’ possible. Writer’s relied on their agents to basically manage their careers and their publishers to promote their books. Once again, the Internet changed all this. More and more of the promotion is falling on the author. And now that digital publishing is possible, and the royalty rates compared to NY are so much higher, authors are finding themselves in quandary.

When it comes to working with an agent, you have to ask yourself, what value is this agent adding to my career? How are they helping me get to my definition of Oz? If you are a hybrid author, things like managing foreign rights come to mind, or helping authors get the right deal for their traditionally published books, making sure the author can still self-publish while also writing for another publisher.

Agents often focus more on the advance, and in the print industry, the advance is where the money is. But this is changing as advances diminish, print runs decrease, and physical shelf-space disappears. No one wants to see another bookstore go out of business, but as professional authors, we have to be prepared for changes.

When making the decision to go with a publisher, the same questions need to be asked. Print distribution is still something to consider. It’s just another way to reach readers and for as long as stores stock books, it’s a viable option. But, and this is the beauty of it, it’s not the only option.

Contracts are a big issue with publishers. Most are boilerplate, and most aren’t that great. They are slanted toward the publisher, and many publishers won’t negotiate. We want to be published, but is giving up all our rights the way to go? One of the great things about today’s environment is that authors have the ability, because this is still a metrics system, to negotiate depending on how their self-publishing books are doing.

If there is a direct line between the author (producer) and reader (consumer) then why do we need agents or publishers?  What value do they add to the process?  This is a question individual authors must answer for themselves.

In fact, this is the last key to leave you with:  when the music industry imploded from the onslaught of digital downloads, those who survived and prospered did so one of two ways:  they either went on tour (not likely for authors) or they controlled the rights to their music.  This is critical for authors.  We have already seen, and will see more of, the selling of author contracts between publishers.  And with each sale, the author’s royalty slice gets smaller and smaller.  The most critical career decision to consider right now is signing any form of contract and what that will mean three, four, five or more years down the line.  Balance the short-term gain against the long-term.

Because the only certainty in the future of publishing is that it will look very different three years from now.

What does Oz mean to you? How will you get there? Who will help you get there and how do they add value?

What contributes to making a writer successful?

This is a copy of an interview I did at Author’s Friend:

backgroundWhat contributes to making a writer successful? I know a lot of very successful writers and they share one trait:  they work really, really, hard.  Usually seven days a week, with long days.  We love to write.  In order to write we have to make money.  To make money we have to write.  And so it goes. We have to be creative but also have a business plan, something I did when I took what I learned in the Green Berets with Who Dares Wins and designed it specifically for writers with Write It Forward.

Do you have any advice for writers? Trust your subconscious.  The ending of The Green Berets Chasing the Lost was planted subconsciously and it was my wife who came up with the absolutely wicked twist at the very end based on material I’d written earlier.

What do you do to unwind and relax? I take Cool Gus and Sassy Becca, my two yellow labs to the dog park.  Gus will chase a ball until he almost collapses while Becca teases other dogs into chasing her.  Here in our new home, Gus can also jump into the pool after his ball and he loves swimming.  We’re working on Becca’s swimming abilities.  I also kayak and run in the forest.

What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing? Since getting out of the army, I’ve worked for myself for a long time.  With the advent of digital books and starting my own publishing company, I have all the responsibility and all the freedom that goes with it.  It’s the best time ever to be a writer.

If you could leave your readers with one bit of wisdom, what would you want it to be? Enjoy the ride!

Blurb:

NY Times Bestselling Author, former Green Beret and West Point Graduate, Bob Mayer.

“A pulsing technothriller. A nailbiter in the best tradition of adventure fiction.” Publishers Weekly ref Bob Mayer

Horace Chase arrives on Hilton Head Island to pay his last respects at the Intracoastal Waterway where his late mother’s ashes were spread and to inspect the home his mother left him in her will. He’s been recently forced into retirement, his divorce is officially final, and now he’s standing in the middle of the front yard of his ‘new’ house where a tree has crashed right through the center of it.

What could possibly go wrong?

Within six hours of arriving on Hilton Head, Chase is exchanging gunfire with men who’ve kidnapped a young boy and tried to grab the boy’s mother, Sarah Briggs. Soon he’s waist deep in an extortion plot to funnel a hundred million dollars of Superbowl on-line gambling money into an offshore bank account or else the boy dies.

Dave Riley has long retired from the military and living peacefully on sleepy Dafuskie Island off the coast of South Carolina. Sort of. Actually he’s bored, feeling old, and just a bit cranky running his deceased uncle’s small-time bookie operation.

Horace Chase, meet Dave Riley. Riley-Chase.

Chase and Riley assemble a team of misfits and eccentrics as they take on the powerful Russian mob in the lawless tidal lands of the Low Country to get the boy back.

Meet Erin: Chase’s long-ago summer fling, now a veterinarian and not interested in men any more, at least that way. But her suturing skills and her knowledge of the island bring assets the team needs. Especially after Chase’s first visit with the Russian requires a bit of the former.

Meet Gator: an ex-Ranger, iron-pumping, fire-breathing hulk of a redneck, with a soft spot in his heart for Erin, and steroids burning in his muscles to hurt people. As long as Riley and Chase point him in the right direction, the rest of the populace should be all right.

Meet Kono: a Gullah, descendant of the free slaves who fled to the barrier islands in the 19th century and developed their own culture. He nurses his own pain and secrets, but heeds Chase’s call to renew their childhood friendship. Especially when he learns the target is the Russians.

It adds up to a fiery confrontation to rescue the young boy, and settle some old scores.

But Riley and Chase need to remember a basic tenet from their days in covert operations: Nothing is ever as it appears.

CHASING THE GHOST

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