Friday, July 12, 2013

10 New Things I've Learned as an "Experienced" Author

After having written eight novels, multiple A-grade academic papers, and a couple award winning short stories, I feel I have the right to call myself "experienced."

However, I am still a newbie in the grand scheme and I have learned a ton of things in the last few years. Some are laughably simple, especially the ones involving formatting manuscripts. Please don't laugh at me, more technically inclined people.

After all, the first one and a half books I wrote by hand in large notebooks because I couldn't afford a computer. So of course when I finally got one, I had to learn how to use the thing along with Microsoft Word. And let me tell you, after nearly five years I am still learning Word. So about half the things on this list will deal with that. :)

Without further ado, here's a few things that have improved my job.

1.) Holy Crap there's a difference between "enter" and "tab?"

Apparently hitting tab instead of enter not only adds an extra space, but it also screws up the format. Paranormal Romance author, Terry Spear, directed me to the little paragraph symbol on my MS Word toolbar. Tabs are revealed as arrows and extra spaces....

2.) Whoa, a better way to find extra spaces without relying on eyesight alone?

That nifty paragraph thingie also reveals extra spaces as dots. When you have them before a paragraph break it looks like the paragraph symbol has a nipple and that makes me giggle. Then I sigh in gratitude that I don't have to rely on my eyes alone anymore.

3.) I will always need fresh perspectives on my work. 

No matter how many tips I've received from other writers or how much I think I've improved, there are still times when I think I've written my best work ever and have others reinforce that belief...and I still need to be struck down by those who know better. Because one's work can and should ALWAYS be improved.

4.) More in depth outlines really help me.

I'm like a hybrid between a "plotter" and a "pantser." I always have the characters and at least a scene or two in mind before I start a project. Then I slowly make placeholder notes of scenes between whatever I'm writing.

However, once you're contracted with a publisher you need to have the synopsis and other plot details figured out often BEFORE you write the first sentence. As daunting as it is, I've noticed that doing so makes writing the book go a whole lot easier as it clears a path away from too many rabbit holes.

5.) Habit words will never cease to haunt me.

Like a persistent and constantly mutating virus, habit words infect EVERY manuscript. Most recent ones have been "Was," "That," "And," "But," and "Now." Critique partners and beta readers are priceless for spotting these buggers. The "Find" feature in Word really helps too.

6.) You can set your preferred font.

I don't know how many times I reopened word to have it automatically reset itself to Calibri 11 and exploded into screaming expletives. I mean, who the hell uses that stupid font? I think I manually reset it and shrieked, "Times New Roman 12, bitch!" for over two years before someone, not even a writer, pointed out, "Hey, you can go to 'set default font' y'know."

It was too much of a happy day for me to kick myself for being a moron. Speaking of which...

7.) Inserting page breaks REALLY helps!

Seriously, I spent 8 manuscripts and countless revisions scrolling up and down entire documents and manually tweaking stuff so each chapter is neatly centered on the top of a new page. Then someone's all "Insert Page Break is a lot easier, y'know." This is another D'oh! moment.

8.) How to center stuff like chapters and scene breaks.

I am so grateful for the times I brought by laptop to the bar. Especially the time my drinking buddy leaned over and said, "Control E."

9.) Other authors are incredibly supportive!

Seriously with everything from promo help, advice, and a shoulder to cry on, other authors have been there for me in ways that have me overcome with gratitude. I hope to repay the favor whenever I can.

10.) How to be assertive about my "I need to work" time.

Being a writer is a work at home job for the most part. Some are lucky to have an office to lock themselves in. I am not. My writing area is the couch with my laptop sitting on a TV dinner table. Couple that with 3 kids, a husband, 3 cats, a dog, and surprise guests and it's damn near impossible to get anything done.

Over the years I've had to learn how to make it clear to others that writing is my job and when I'm on my laptop, I am AT WORK!!! Sometimes it gets through their heads. And sometimes I need to have the feline overlords guard me.

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