Tuesday, March 13, 2018

PPM. Post Publishing Malaise

There is PMT or PMS, depending on which country you live in, and involves normally nice girls and women turning into monsters a few days before their periods. There is PTSD and we all know how serious that is, no matter what has caused it. There is IABOS, Independent Author Burn Out Syndrome, when an Indie Author has worked themselves into the ground and must rest or perish. And then there is PPM, Post Publishing Malaise, also mostly applicable to Indie Authors. It's that strange state we fall into after hitting the Publish button on KDP and all the work that preceded that simple action is behind us.

And that is where I am at right now. So here is how it goes. Two years of solid research into my first historical fiction novel (SARAH ANN ELLIOTT Book 1), then another year of writing it, during which I realise it will be a series of books rather than a one off. I let the story have its wicked way and by the time I have it ready for the editor, it is 400 pages. How did that happen? I do another edit myself and am reassured that it needs to stay exactly as it is. It goes off to the professional editor and I begin the process of updating all my sites - Facebook, Twitter, my website, etc etc etc. That takes a day of non-creative slog. Then I decide on the cover and it's done at my end.  I have given the editor my brief and a timeframe of a month and I know she will have the manuscript back to me by the deadline.

While I wait for the editor to do her stuff, I begin outlining Book 2 in the SARAH ANN ELLIOTT series and am excited by the story I still have to tell. I also turn my attention to the next book I will publish, OLD FARTS ON A BUS, and I have a lot of fun with that. It flows because the creative energy is still there. And then the editor is finished, I make the changes needed, upload Book 1 on KDP and hit the Publish button. And there is nothing more to do.

Well, that's not exactly true. I should be tackling the marketing and promoting campaign, but something is happening that I can't seem to control. It isn't IABOS. I am familiar with the total wipeout that causes, the fatigue, depression, anxiety, feelings of low self worth etc etbloodycetera. I recognise IABOS now and deal with it accordingly. This is more a surreal, dreamy state in which I know I have worked hard, a lot has happened inside my head to get this book finished, my writing brain knows the creative stuff is finished (until I start Book 2) but the business end of being an Indie Author is awaiting my attention, and I must step into that space and focus. But my brain will not obey. I start doing other things in short bursts - water the pots, empty the ironing basket, hem my black trousers, order ten lipsticks online because they are on sale, ring my sister for a two hour chat about nothing in particular, go out to lunch with my husband because I can't be bothered making a tuna sandwich, and snacking. Lots of snacking.

Now, when you snack, you need somewhere comfortable to sit. That's usually my recliner in front of my TV. Hubby and I have separate TV rooms and we firmly believe it is the secret to a happy marriage. He watches Fox Sport, reality shows about police and prisons and current affairs programs. Being a writer with my toes in the screenwriting world (had my first short film FLAMES screened last year) who writes mostly for women, I watch well produced, well written dramas, comedies and sagas aimed at the female demographic. No soaps or reality shows. Never that. So while I'm snacking, I decide to catch up on the good stuff I've missed out on because I've been in my study writing so much. And I realise that there are 7 seasons of Game of Thrones, but I have only seen 3. Oh boy, a distraction! A major distraction! Better than a squirrel!

So I snack and binge watch all 7 seasons back to back and it is glorious! It is so good that it clears my mind completely of the book I have just finished and it feels like someone has gone into the attic and dusted, vacuumed, cleaned and polished my brain. Hosed it out, blow dried it and made it habitable again. Seriously. That is what it feels like. Cobwebs all gone. And I wonder at the state I had fallen into, to be able to sit in a chair and watch TV for a couple of weeks without a break. Oh well, I did go to bed for a few hours at night, and I did eat when Hubby cooked, and I did shower and change clothes. But I didn't go out for a walk or do my regular morning exercises or watch my diet. I just let it all go. Not like me at all. I didn't feel depressed or anxious or particularly tired. I just didn't want to be bothered for awhile. With anything.

I've always said that writing is like surfing. You wait for that creative wave to come along and you grab it and surf it with all your heart. When it has passed, you paddle until the next wave comes along. I had been surfing the writing wave without a break for so long, now I just needed to paddle in shallow water for awhile. And it worked!

The malaise is passing and I can feel the mental and creative energy returning. I'm writing this, aren't I? I love writing and it distresses me if I lose that passion. How would I fill the void if I couldn't write? While IABOS (see my previous blog about that) is devastating and can leave you wiped out for long periods of time, PPM is more like a coffee break that you need to take with fresh choc chip muffins, soft music and a beautiful view to stare at for an uninterrupted length of time. A coffee break that can last for a few days or a few weeks. You can still function, you still feel well and sane, you just don't wanna write!

Stay out of the study. Don't turn your computer on. If you do, you'll just sit and stare at it and wonder why you turned it on in the first place. If you are like me and don't read other books while you are writing your own (outgoing conflicts with incoming, something about the voices of the characters in your head), well now is the moment to pick up another author's work and wallow in it. Or binge watch your favourite TV shows. Or catch up with friends who thought you had moved because they hadn't heard from you for so long.

Recharge and renew. PPM can actually be thoroughly enjoyable when you understand what it is. Oh, and when you check your sales report on KDP and nothing much is happening, don't be too concerned. Indie Authors must realise they are in it for the long haul. Your published work will outlive you. Bet you hadn't thought about that. It's out there and it's going to stay out there. You have plenty of time to get onto that marketing and promoting campaign. You have plenty of time to connect with your readers and watch those sales figures gradually increase. Sure, your books will peak and subside, that is true for all books, but you'll have moved on to your next book and, hopefully, will be focused on what really matters. And that is telling stories. Good stories. And PPM will happen again, and again. Learn to expect it and and cater to it.

It's a writer's life. That's all it is. And a writer's life can be pretty bloody good. Enjoy it!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Joys of Editing. Not!

I love writing. Love love love it! It's my happy space. But let me be clear about something - to me, writing is the process of putting down a story, building worlds, creating and caring for characters both good and bad, and ensuring that the stream-of-consciousness writing of the first draft is not tampered with.
Then there is editing.
Editing is different from writing. Yes it is. The story is already there, the characters complete, the best ideas safely deposited in the first draft. The first draft is always a joy. The second draft is the beginning of the actual work phase for me. And it goes like this.
Second draft - read through to proof errors and make changes to plot threads left hanging, characters who need completing, check for doubling up and ensure the story energy reads consistently. Make sure the chapters are linked and there is plenty happening on each page. Check word count and page count aren't too little or too much for one novel. If it needs adding to or culling, this draft is where that is done.
Third draft - edit the story paragraph by paragraph, now paying attention to grammar, word placement, adjectives and adverbs, dialogue and narrative. Be picky. Be cold. Be critical. It hurts sometimes, but it has to be done.
Fourth draft - now read through sentence by sentence, ensuring they have correct spelling and grammar. Then do a computerised spellcheck and grammar check to see if it comes up with anything I missed.
Fifth draft - the book now goes to an external editor in hard copy (I hate editing electronically) with my briefing of what I want, which is usually "don't touch the story, just proof and note anything that doesn't add up or jars when you read it." When it comes back to me, I make any changes required and I'M DONE!
Next, I format it for Kindle and Createspace and Smashwords. The book covers are ready. And finally I publish the blighter, which by now I am usually glad to see the back of! 
And then I start the marketing and promotion. Which, incidentally, I find harder than all of the above. That's just plain hard work and I know that most Indie Authors feel the same, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I do it diligently, I do it reasonably well (past sales attest to that), and I have complete control over it. Which is the best part.
And I get to sleep again. 
Sleep. That precious, underrated gift that eludes so many writers during the whole process, but for me, especially during the editing process. Here's how it goes.
The typical sleeping pattern of a writer in the editing process: 9.30pm go to bed, asleep within half an hour; 1.30am wake up with ideas buzzing in my head about what needs to be added/deleted/changed in SARAH ANN ELLIOTT Book 1; 3.00am still staring at the ceiling because the brain won't shut down, but too tired to get up and write; 3.30am going crazy, so turn on Netflix and watch a couple of episodes of Grace and Frankie; 4.30am back to bed and sleep finally; 7.00am wake up exhausted. Back at my writing desk by 9.00am. Do as much as my tired self can do, then repeat the whole process again the next night. Sigh....

Monday, January 1, 2018

My two "F" words for 2018 - FOCUS and FINISH!

2018 begins!
2017 was a year of distractions for me as a writer. I should have finished and published the first SARAH ANN ELLIOTT book. Well and truly. However, I got distracted. The first distraction was getting two producers on board for my TV series, MRS P. I have to admit to getting excited about that. Acknowledgement and praise are heady things for any writer. Great things were discussed and promised, but as yet nothing has come of it. I should know by now. This is how things work when you have to rely on someone else to get your project off the ground.
In the film and television industry, many people are required to get a screenplay from the page to the screen, and every one of them has their own ideas about what works and what doesn't, what is good and what isn't, what is financially viable and what isn't. One person's enthusiasm is another person's boredom. Which is why I adore being an Independent Author. It's up to me and me alone to write, complete, launch and sell a book. And it has been working for me for the past decade.
But I took my eye off the ball. The novel ball, that is. I turned my attention to my screenwriting. I set about polishing up MRS P which I enjoyed, as I love the characters, setting and stories in the series. There was to-ing and fro-ing with the producers, changes asked for and made, and one particular opportunity seemed full of promise. But that opportunity was blown, and not by me, and won't come again, so that was a disappointment to be dealt with. I dealt with it quickly and moved on.
During the latter half of the year, a young family member who is an actress asked me to write an audition piece for her. I did so happily, she liked it and it was suggested that it could be tweaked a little to make a short film to be entered into an interstate short film competition. I tweaked, my talented relative produced and starred in it and it has indeed been entered into that competition. It will be another week before we know if it made it through to the final cut, but regardless of that, it was a wonderful experience to FINALLY see something I wrote on film!
While all that was going on, I was asked to take part in a screenwriting program that runs over several months and finished up in December. I so enjoyed working with other writers, being in a "writers' room", tossing around ideas, listening to other creative spirits. It was a real buzz! Out of that, I developed a new TV series to the stage of completing a Show Bible and a Pilot Episode. And while I did well with anything that required writing, when it came to a verbal pitch, I discovered I was lousy at that. I wasn't surprised. I used to act on stage in the 80's until I developed stage nerves and gave it up. Racing heart, sweating, shaking, blank mind - I FROZE! Now there's an "F" word I want to forget! So the lesson learned from that program was that I should read from a prepared script when pitching to anyone. Easy peasy!
And did I do much work on SARAH ANN ELLIOTT? Nope. An occasional burst, but I found I had stopped lying in bed, writing the next chapter in my head which is what happens to most writers when they are mid-writing. SARAH ANN  had been given the boot by various screenwriting projects. Without those midnight lying-in-bed-staring-at-the-ceiling-writing-tomorrow's-chapter sessions, I found myself empty when I did sit down to work on the book. I was mentally and creatively scattered and I actually could feel it weakening me as a writer. Strange feeling. Like losing hold of all the necessary threads that go into making a strong cord. I was diffuse instead of focussed. And I didn't like it one bit.
So 2018 will be a time to pull myself together, FOCUS on SARAH ANN ELLIOTT (I am soooo close to The End), get it to a professional editor, sort out the cover, prepare the marketing and promotion and FINISH the damn thing!!!! And this is only Book 1!
Fortunately, I love writing and I actually feel comforted by the knowledge that I will be spending a lot of time alone in my little study with my characters and plot lines and story world. Bring it on!
So cheers to all those writers out there who are feeling diffuse, dispersed, scattered. May 2018 bring you FOCUS and may you FINISH at least one book. A book a year would be such an achievement and not hard if life didn't keep getting in the way. And for those of you who are not writers, may you enjoy reading our finished books.
Wishing you all health, happiness and prosperity. In the immortal words of Bill and Ted: "Be excellent to each other - and party on, Dudes!!!"