An Engineer’s Guide to NaNoWriMo (or how I grew from a newbie to a veteran)

This post was originally written for the NaNoWriMo blog. You can check it out here (it's been slightly modified, but the content's basically the same). I’m an engineer. While most of my colleagues use this as an excuse to keep themselves from writing anything, I argue it’s the reason they need to be the best writers. The concepts engineers can create in their minds still need to be communicated to the world. Concepts never imagined before. Similarly, how many writers are out there with an idea nobody has ever read, just waiting to get it onto the page? As an engineer, I have a particular set of skills—some would say “quirks”—that have helped me over the last eight years of NaNoWriMo grow from just barely finishing to writing rapidly and voluminously. Most engineers are known for their problem-solving skills, and NaNoWriMo presents an interesting problem: how do I write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days? Like most problems, I resort...
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Why you should schedule your writing

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” When it comes to writing, many will consider this alleged quote by Benjamin Franklin to mean that they should outline every single scene of their book, write FBI-level character bios, and practically have every part of the book already written in their head before they sit down and actually put it to the page. While this can sound like a daunting task, it misses the point of the quote. It’s not that writers should plan out their books, it’s that they should plan out their time. Time management is more important than you think. Back when I was becoming more serious about writing, I had all the time in the world. My job was stable, and I had a good work/life balance that allowed me to come home and do all the writing or editing I would need to complete the projects that I had started. Plus, at the time, I was single and...
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3 unexpected programs to help you publish a book [PART 2/3]

Last month, I told you how the Microsoft Office suite can help you with your writing. I covered Microsoft Word, and how it’s more powerful than just a standard word processor. By getting to know some of the more obscure features of these (usually) easily obtainable and available programs, writers can take control of their writing without having to purchase expensive computer programs. With Microsoft Word, I covered how Section Breaks, Styles, and Formatting can help a writer create a professional-looking book with less effort. Even though our next program isn’t used directly for the actual writing of a book, it is incredibly valuable for planning and prepping. It can also be used during the polishing phase of a manuscript as well. I refer, of course, to: MICROSOFT EXCEL As an engineer, I love to use spreadsheets, and Excel is the king of the spreadsheet programs. Any time I need to write a list or do some calculations, I open up a new...
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3 unexpected programs to help you publish a book [PART 1/3]

Many months ago, I described the amount of work a writer would need to do by themselves to publish a book. Not only is there research, formatting, and graphic design involved, the writer also has to write said book. This whole process can be daunting, especially in the digital age. We have so many different programs at our fingertips to help us plan, write, and publish. A lot of these programs can cost a significant amount of money. Sure, programs like Aeon Timeline, Evernote, and Scrivener might be worth the money in the long run, but you’ll inevitably have to learn how to use these programs, which can eat into your writing time. What if I were to tell you that there’s a suite of programs you probably already have installed on your computer that can accomplish many of the same functions as the programs that cost a lot more? Many of you probably already use these programs on a regular...
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What a month of content looks like

Back in June, I wrote a post about what it takes to “do it all” as an independent author. While one of the many tasks of the independent author is marketing, nobody will buy your books if you’re always promoting them on social media. There needs to be a balance of promotion and what’s known as “web content.” Web content doesn’t need to be much, especially for social media, but the fact that you’re continually posting about something shows that you’re actively engaged with people who could potentially become your audience. There are plenty of debates about which social networks to post to, how often to post, and when to post during the day (or during the week), but this post won’t go into the details of that. I still haven’t figured out the “sweet spot” for social media, but I have accumulated a regular schedule of web content that helps me to be active on these platforms. When it comes...
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How Not Tetris explains my planning process

I’m a planner. Ever since I wrote my first novel in 2010, I’ve usually had many different story ideas tucked away in their own Word documents. Each time a new idea comes to me that would apply to one of these stories, I open up the document and jot it down so I won’t forget about it. Even though I plan my writing projects out years in advance, there are usually plenty of ideas I never use in the finished manuscript. Either the flow of the story prevents their use, or I find they aren’t as strong as I initially thought they were. While I’m not nearly as fastidious about collecting ideas together before starting a project as I used to be (First Name Basis had 35 pages of notes), I do continue to plan and research well ahead of when I finally sit down and write the first draft. There are plenty of ideas I never use. Recently, I’ve re-discovered a free...
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What it takes to do it all

There are days I see the benefits of going with the traditional publishing route. When you are signed on with a publisher, they provide some of the hard work it takes to make a manuscript into a polished and publishable product. From editors to formatters to cover artists to distribution, these publishers have the resources to help an author be successful. But what about the self-published author? One of the common misconceptions about being an author (especially a self-published one) is that we only have to write. In reality, a self-published author needs to perform the entirety of the publishing process by themselves. Now, you may be asking yourself, “OK, you have to do it all, but what does that even mean?” Let’s start at the beginning of the process, and I’ll walk you through it. If you want to self-publish, you have many jobs to do. Many of the most famous authors have a research department (or person). These are the people...
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How traveling improves your writing

With the invention of the internet and the ease of access to an endless supply of research materials, practically every aspect of the writing process can occur on a home computer. We all know the cliché of the writer who holes themselves up in their house and spends days upon days in a disheveled state writing their book. While I always encourage writers to get out of their house and write somewhere else once in a while (especially when they have writer’s block), many successful writers have found what works for them, and it often involves a routine centered on making themselves the most productive they can be. Depending on their home situation, they could very well spend most of their time writing from the comfort of their favorite desk or table. Unfortunately, a limitation of spending so much of the writing process indoors is that some of the best research needs to happen in the field. One of the best...
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3 Simple Tips when submitting to an Anthology

3 Simple Tips when submitting to an Anthology

Despite the almost ubiquitous availability of affordable self-publishing these days, sometimes it can be difficult to make your mark as an author. In fact, I would almost argue that the proliferation of self-published works has made it much harder to reach an audience of readers, as they now have a multitude of options when it comes to reading material. With this challenge in mind, one of the ways you can boost your name recognition is through anthologies. While you won’t have as much control over your written work as you would if you self-published a series of your own short stories yourself, the benefit of an anthology is being included in a book with a number of other authors who have fanbases who might be similar to the people you are trying to reach. In fact, someone might buy an anthology because they know one of the authors, only to find that they really like your story as well, thus increasing...
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Why you should NEVER throw away a good idea

When I first heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I thought it sounded like quite the novel idea: commit a full month to putting words to paper and by the end of it you have a first draft of a book. While my first year was quite the challenge, once I had completed it, I knew it was in the realm of possibilities. Even though writing 50,000 words in 30 days is a challenge, I was already starting to think of ideas on how to break up this daunting task into smaller, more manageable chunks. One of my ideas was to write about my experiences on Colorado’s 14,000+ ft. peaks (known locally as “the Fourteeners”). Since there are 58 named peaks above 14,000 feet, I would have to only write 863 words about each mountain to accomplish the NaNoWriMo challenge. As a result, I will be writing the first draft of the aforementioned “Fourteener” book this November. Ideas are easy,...
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