Author-in-Training: Revising with the Pomedoro Tecnhique

Hello all! Sorry it’s been so quiet here this week. We’re in the final stretch in the production of Red and Black, which is soooo exciting, but it’s also consumed much of my regular blogging time. But before we head into the weekend, I’d thought I’d make a quick post about a technique that has proven to be really helpful to me as I’ve been working on my revisions for Red and Black 2.

My mindset for writing, and revising are very different. When it comes to drafting a new project, I tend to work best in one to two hour blocks of writing time with no breaks. If I can stick to this, I can produce a 80,000-100,000 word novel over the course of a month or two. I also tend to feel a little burnt, and need to take a few weeks off. Revisions, on the other hand, come with their own set of challenges. For me, revising a book takes much longer than one to two months, so I don’t want to burn myself out too quickly. In addition, while revising I’m less likely to find myself “in the zone,” so it’s more difficult to focus. To help combat these challenges I’ve embraced a new technique for my revisions of Red and Black 2, and it’s proven to be really helpful. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique isn’t new to the world, it’s just new to me. In fact, it’s been around since the 1980s and is a blessedly simple way to help you focus on work. Here’s the basic breakdown. The Pomodoro Technique alternates periods of work (traditionally 25 minutes) with short breaks (five minutes). After four rounds of this, you’re allowed a longer break (or, if you’re like me, have run out of time and need to head off to the day job!). The work times are meant to be periods of intense focus (so no messing around on your phone!), while the breaks can consist of whatever you want, such as getting up and stretching, grabbing a drink of water, or even messing around on twitter.

The Pomodoro Technique is named after one of those old tomato style kitchen timers, but I use an app called Focus Keeper to assist me. The app is free, and there is a paid version if you want to upgrade. The app gives off a light ticking noise that I suspect would drive me nuts if I was trying to draft something, but for revisions, it’s oddly soothing. Once you enter a new round, it lets off a sharp dinging noise and the screen changes from the orange-red of a tomato to blue. The longer breaks have a gray colored screen and the sound of calming ocean waves to hopefully assist you in unwinding.

I’ve found the Pomodoro Technique and the Focus Keeper app to be a great way to keep my off of twitter and focused on my work. If you’re the type of person that struggles with revisions or focusing in general, I’d highly recommend trying this. It’s an old fashioned method, but sometimes, old things work quite well.

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Roundtable: By The Cover — Speculative Chic

I’m not the type of person who buys a book based on it’s cover alone, but every now and then I make an exception. I recently blogged about one of those experiences over on Specualtive Chic. Go and check it out!

Let’s be honest: despite the adage, we are all guilty of occasionally judging books by the cover. We know we shouldn’t, but sometimes, we just can’t help ourselves. 35 more words

via Roundtable: By The Cover — Speculative Chic

Packing for Camp NaNoWriMo

Last April, I participated in my first Camp NaNoWriMo, the writing retreat-themed version of the famous NaNoWriMo that takes place each November. And while I still don’t know if the novella I crafted will ever amount to anything, I felt like it was a worthwhile experience, all around.

As a result, I will be doing it again.

Unlike NaNoWriMo, which is only once a year, Camp NaNoWriMo takes place in both April and July. Didn’t quite make it last time? Well now you have another chance! It’s also more flexible than regular NaNoWriMo, allowing you to set the goals that are right for you. Only want to write 20,000 words? Done. Want to measure your success in hours or pages instead of counting words? Go ahead! Camp NaNoWriMo is the perfect experiment for anyone that wants to knuckle down and tackle a writing project this July, and you don’t have to fit in a cookie cutter mold to do so.

As for me, I won’t be drafting anything new this time around. Instead, I’ll be working on revisions. As we speak, I am working my way through the sequel to Red and Black. Red and Black 2 has been through many hours of revisions over the past year or so. I’ve thrown out the second half completely, and then pretty much did the same for the final third during my next pass. And while it’s pretty common for me to have to re-write those final few chapters from scratch, this has been a little extreme. A lot of this has to do with the fact that this is a pretty emotional book, so nailing those character beats is even more vital than normal. It remains to be seen if I have to throw out an aggressive amount of words this time around (please, God, no!), but I know that the final third of the book still needs a lot of work.

To get in the swing of things, I’ve challenged myself to work on editing for 30 hours this month, or an hour a day. So far, I’m a little ahead of the game, but more or less on track. I’ve set the same goal for Camp NaNoWriMo, but find I may adjust that upwards depending on how motivated I’m feeling.

I would love to have the book ready for Beta readers by the end of July, but that’s soooo unrealistic. Red and Black will be published in August after all, and I want to make sure that I am properly prepared for that. So instead, the goal will be to get as far as I can and see where we end up on July 31st (which is also my birthday).

Will you be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this July? If so, will you be counting words, hours, or pages this time around? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

Author-in-Training- 5 Tips for Soothing Self Publishing Stress

When I write these Author-in-Training posts, they’re all about taking what I’ve learned from my own personal experiences, and sharing them with the wider world. Hopefully, that means that I help a few people during my self-publishing journey.

But with this post, I’m also looking to help me.

Red and Black is on schedule to be published in mid-August, and the closer the get the more often I find myself feeing unsettled, and (let’s be honest) more than a little insecure. I mean, who the fuck would buy my book? They don’t know me! Fortunately, I can usually push those feelings away. After all, we’re still pre-publication, and the process is more or less under my control. But the closer we get to August, I know that those unsettted feeling are going to be ramped up, big time. So I’ve put together a little list of things that have proven to help calm me down when dealing with writing or publishing-related stress. Hopefully, they’ll help you out too.


Tip #1- Cats (see also, dogs, rabbits, or your pet of choice)- I sometimes joke that my cats are the reason I don’t need therapy. And while furry friends are no substitute for actual medical help when it’s needed, there’s no denying the fact that they’re good at keeping me calm. Sitting down and petting a cat at the end of the day is the perfect way to help me unwind, and looking at their cute faces can be a welcome distraction from whatever is stressing me out.

Tip #2- Go the fuck outside– Seriously, as much as I joke about never leaving the house, I know that spending time outside is actually good for me. I make an effort to go for a walk every day, which is good for my physical health-not to mention my Vitamin D deficiency. Also, it gets me away from whatever might be stressing me out, from a frustrating edit, to my day job. And while the benefits of going for a walk are sometimes oversold on the internet (it will not, for example, 100% cure your despression), there’s no denying that it’s helps me. I put on a podcast, or an audiobook, catch some Pokemon, and give myself permission to relax, even if it’s only for a half an hour.

Tip #3- Motivation Clips- In Michael R. Underwoord’s Geekomancy series, his protagonist, Ree Reyes, has the ability to obtain superpowers through pop culture. So she’ll watch a clip of Buffy taking down a whole lot of vampires, and gain temporary ass kicking skills. And while this (unfortunately) doesn’t work in real life, there is something that we can take from it. Sometimes-like with cats and walks-destressing is more about giving yourself a mental break. Other times, it’s about building you up. Find different types of media that has been known to motivate you, whether it be a chapter in a book, or an episode of a podcast. For example, I find this interview with Rachel Aaron-one of my favorite authors-to be very motivating for some reason. Find the elements that you know will help build you up when your feeling down, and keep them reserves for when things get dark.

Tip #4- Focus on the process- As frustrating as it is to admit, you don’t have any control over whether someone buys your book. That’s their decision. And yes, you can try to stack the odds in your favor through marketing, but the “to buy or not to buy” decision isn’t yours. So instead of stressing over what you have no control over, focus your attention on the things you do, like writing the next book, or investing in attention grabbing cover art. Actually doing something is far more productive (not to mention satisfying) then just sitting around and freaking out.

#5- Remind yourself why you love about your book– Why were you motivated to write your book in the first place? What about it excites you? If you’re writing fiction, who are the characters you’ve fallen in love with? Go back and read over passages that you’re particularly proud of, and remember how much you enjoyed writing them. Maybe your book doesn’t set the literary world on fire. Maybe you don’t get as many sales as you wanted, but at the end of the day, you still made something that your proud of, and that should never be forgotten.

So those are my five tips (mostly to myself) for soothing self publishing-related stress. Let’s hope that they end up working,

 

Silent Superheroes, Grimdark Comics, and Alternate Histories: My Most Anticipated Reads

As per usual, I have fallen behind on my reading. Sure, there are plenty of recent releases (Tamora Pierce’s Tempests and Slaughter, Seanan McGuire’s Tricks for Free) that I haven’t gotten around to yet, but there are still plenty of forthcoming titles that I am itching to add to my ever growing TBR. Below, you’ll find a list forthcoming books and graphic novels that I am really jazzed about checking out. Every one of them has a 2018 release date.

Garrison Girl by Rachel Aaron (Science Fiction)– Tie in fiction is something that I’ve started to get into over the past year, which makes the timing of Garrison Girl, Rachel Aaron’s take on the Attack on Titan universe, pretty opportune. The summary promises plenty of action, and romance, two topics that Aaron has done very well with her original fiction in the past. Not to mention that cover art is just awesome. What’s the saying, again? Take my money! Release Date- August 7th.

Black Bolt, vol 2: Home Free by Saladin Ahmed (Superheroes)– The first volume of Black Bolt was such a pleasant surprise. I had never been a fan of the Inhumans before, never mind their silent leader, but Saladin Ahmed found a way to make his story, focused around a prison break, so compelling. Hell, he even made me care about Crusher Creel. I hope his second outing with the Midnight King will be just as intriguing as the first, now that we’ve left the prison setting behind. Release Date- June 19th

Competence by Gail Carriger (Steampunk/Paranormal)– The third book in the Custard Protocol switches perspectives from Prudence to Primrose, and I am jazzed to see what the results will be. Will we see a romance involving a particular werecat? This series (and it’s predecessor, the Parasol Protectorate) does a wonderful job mixing steampunk, humor, romance and paranormal elements. I’m glad it’s returning for a third outing. Release Date- July 17th.

Attack on Titan: Vol 25 and 26 by Hajime Isayama (Science Fiction)– I must admit, the Marley arc caught me a little off guard at first, but by volume 24, I was totally on board. The secrets behind the titans have been revealed, and it’s clear that things are winding down for a final encounter. I am very curious to see how that will end up. Release Dates- July 3rd, and December 4th.

The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal (Science Fiction)– These two titles are, without a doubt, my most anticipated releases of 2018, period. Written by one of my favorite authors, The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky take place in the same universe as the novelette “The Lady Astronaut of Mars,” where humanity starts it’s race to Mars in the 1950s. The novels focus on the women behind the space race, including the former WASP pilot/mathematician destined to become The Lady Astronaut. If these alternate history books are even as fraction as moving as the novelette it’s based on, I know I’m in for a real treat. Release Dates- July 3rd, and August 12th.

Monstress, vol 3 by Marjorie Liu (Fantasy/Horror)– Monstress is a series that’s received a lot of praise, and it’s earned every penny of it. Sana Takeda is my favorite artist working in comics right now, and the deliciously dark storyline is perfect for people who like their fantasy grim. Where does Maika Halfwolf’s journey take her next? We’ll find out soon. Release Date- August 14th.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 8: My Best Friends Squirrel by Ryan North (Superheroes)– Now, for the lighter side of comics. When it comes to comedy series, nothing can dethrone the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. The next arc takes things up to a cosmic level and brings back Loki- a character that writer Ryan North handle so wonderfully. Sadly this may be the final arc to feature art by the amazing Erica Henderson, who is moving into other projects. I suspect she’ll get a good send off. Release Date- June 26th.

Lies of the Beholder by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy)Lies of the Beholder is the third book in the Legion series, which will be released as a stand alone novella, as well as part of a collection of the entire series entitled The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds. This series, which focuses on a man who hallucinates multiple personae for himself, that then teach him specialized skills, is one of Sanderson’s most unique series, and I’m glad that we’re going to get a proper ending to it. Release date- November 2018 for the stand alone, and September 18th for the collection (weirdly enough)

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson (Science Fiction)– Speaking of Brandon Sanderson, he’s also releasing the first book in a brand new YA series this year, Skyward. According to his blog, it’s his take on the classic “boy in his dragon” storyline, only instead it’s a “girl and her Starfighter” which sounds all kinds of awesome. Sanderson is traditionally an adult fantasy author, but I have enjoyed both his YA work and sci-fi in the past (especially the Steelheart trilogy) so I suspect that this will be my type of read. Release Date- November 6th 2018

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi (Science Fiction) The Consuming Fire is the second book in Scalzi’s Interdependency series, of which the first book was one of my favorite reads of Winter 2018. However, it wasn’t a stand alone book by any stretch of the imagination, and I am really eager to see how things develop in book two. The summary doesn’t give too much away, but I predict (being a Scalzi book) that The Consuming Fire will involve fascinating sci-fi concepts, great characterization and snappy dialogue. Release Date- October 16th.

My Brother’s Husband: Vol 2 by Gengoroh Tagame (Contemporary)– Speaking of favorites, volume one of these wonderful manga series will be showing up on my top books for Spring post (whoops. Spoilers?). My Brothers Husband tells the story of a stay at home dad named Yaichi. When his deceased brother’s husband comes to visit, Yaichi must confront his own hidden homophobic feelings. is a really touching about family and love and I can’t wait to see how things turn out in this concluding volume of the series. Release Date- September 18th.

Saga vol, 9 by Brian K. Vaughan- So many favorites! The wonderfully weird Saga continues its story about a family on a run this fall. I love how volume 8 dealt with the aftermath of a miscarriage (such a grounded subject from a comic that’s literally out of this world), and really like the family portrait-style cover that artist Fiona Staples did for volume 9. Release Date- October 2nd.

Ms. Marvel, vol 9: by G Willow Wilson (Superheroes)– The eighth volume of Ms. Marvel was another one of my favorite books of Winter 2018, and it ended on a bit of a cliffhanger with (spoiler alert!!) Kamala Khan apparently stepping down as Ms. Marvel! What will happen to Jersey City next. Apparently I’ll find out this summer (on my birthday, no less!). Release Date- July 31st.

And that’s it! Those are my most anticipated readers for the rest of 2018! Any thoughts on the titles above? Is there anything I missed? Please let me know in the comments!

Final Edits, Cover Art and Self Publishing Stress: May in Review

May Posts
1. April in Review + Farwell Camp NaNoWriMo!
2. Author in Training- Real Advice from Real Indie Authors- The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast
3. Infinity War Reviewed
4. Author-in-Training- How I Used Reedsy to Find Editors for my Indie Novel
5. Roundtable: Villains Have The Most Fun — Speculative Chic
6. Author in Training: On High Volume Publishing
7. Sound Off! Deadpool 2 — Speculative Chic
8. Magic, Steel, Power: A Review of Born to the Blade, Season 1 — Speculative Chic

Damn, where has the time gone? I feel like I was just typing up my end of the month post for April. This month, I passed my six month anniversary at my day job, and they didn’t fire me at my review! Yes, that was highly unlikely, but I sometimes find it hard not to stress about even the tiniest chance of complete and utter failure. Now that I’m out of the probation zone, I have access to things like vacation time (I’ve scheduled one for July!), as well as a bountiful amount of sick time that I will likely barely touch.

Outside of work, I’ve spent a whole bunch of time on spring cleaning, which is equally parts frustrating and satisfying. Trust me, I’m the last person to gets excited over dusting/scrubbing something I haven’t touched in months, but I’m not going to deny that the place look nice when done. I only have a few things left on my list (including some work that will require a landscaping company, which I’m sure won’t be cheap). Is there a chance that I’ll actually finish my spring cleaning before summer rolls around? Only time can tell. On the less boring/adult side of things, I’ve put plenty of hours into playing the second Banjo-Kazooie game, Banjo-Tooie. I’ve found it to be plenty of fun, albeit not as satisfying as the first, which is admittedly a childhood favorite of mine.

 

On the writing front, May was a bit of a transition month. After two rounds of edits with my proofreader, I’ve fixed the last comma and formatted the final ellipses, meaning that Red and Black is officially doooone (!!!). Of course, there are plenty of steps left to follow before I can press the “publish” button. Cover art and formatting is a big part of that, two topics that also took up a lot of my mental space over the past month. On the cover front, I’ve done a bunch of research into potential artists, finding the most interesting candidates on Reedsy and the e-book cover design awards (although 99designs looks like a neat idea too). I’m not a particularly visual person, so I’ve known from the start that cover art is something that I was going to need a professional for.

Formatting, on the other hand, is something that I was looking to DIY. And after struggling for a little bit with it, I think I’m going to end up going with the Reedsy book editor. This is a free book formatter, where you basically copy and paste your manuscript in and get an epub/pdf at the end. It has its quirks-and a somewhat rigid structure-but I ultimately found out how to make it work for me. If you’re looking for a free formatter,  I’d encourage you to give it a try using this link, which will credit me with $25 if you decide to use some of Reedsy’s paid services (the book editor itself is free).

By the end of the month, I also figured out what I wanted to do about my cover art. To be honest, the process end up being a bit harder than I thought it would be. This, of course, wasn’t the artist’s fault, but my own limitations. As previously mentioned, I am not a visual person. Sure, I can look at a piece of art and go “I like that!” or “that fits in my genre” but actually mentally piecing together my own cover was a bit of a challege. Fortunately, the artist was super nice about the whole thing. If all goes to plan, I should be receiving the final cover art in just a few weeks.

At the end of May, with Red and Black officially hitting final draft stage, and my mind on cover art, it’s really hit me that I might actually do this. Actually publish my first novel. And while that’s exciting, it is also fucking terrifying. Because remember what I at the beginning of this post? How it’s hard not to stress over even the tiniest chance of complete and utter failure? Well guess what, there’s more than a tiny chance of that level of failure here. Let’s be serious. What’s the likelihood that my book attracts any attention beyond my close family and friends? That all of this money and time I’ve invested into this project will end up amounting to nothing?

I know that stressing over this is the opposite of healthy. That it will result in sleepless nights and stress eating, which do nothing towards getting me towards my goals. Instead, I try to focus on the process, like writing the best book to my ability. Commissioning fantastic cover art. Pricing the book fairly. Writing an intriguing blurb. Contacting reviewers who are open to accepting eARCs. And working on the next book. Those things are within my power and, to be honest, take up plenty of mental energy.

But even though I know that these are the right steps to take, I still feel that doubt creeping in from time to time. And I have a feeling that as we get closer to the publication date (still aiming for this summer!) that shaking off doubt is going to get more and more challenging.

Monthly Goals
I did well on my May goals. As previously mentioned, I did the final edits on Red and Black, selected a cover artist, and dug into ebook formatting. I also made nine blog entries (if you include this one) over the course of the month. So what are my goals for June?

  1. Writing– Spend 30 hours editing the sequel to Red and Black.
  2. Publishing– Complete cover art for Red and Black
  3. Publishing- Finalize the back of the book blurb
  4. Publishing– Compile a list of blogs that look like they might be willing to review an eARC of Red and Black, or be a stop on a short blog tour
  5. Blogging– Publish at least eight entries

That’s right, editing-not drafting-the sequel to Red and Black. I’ve already put quite a lot of effort into book two, and I hope to continue to make some headway this month. Let’s see how I can juggle two writing projects! I’ve also been toying with the idea of redesigning this blog, but am not sure if I’ll have the time for it.

So that was my May! I hope that everyone enjoyed their month. Don’t forget to get out there and appreciate that beautiful spring weather while it lasts! Before you know it, we’ll be sweating through summer.

Magic, Steel, Power: A Review of Born to the Blade, Season 1 — Speculative Chic

Do you like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Game of Thrones, The Legend of Korra or Naruto? They you should check out Born to the Blade. My full review is below.

Born to the Blade: Season 1 (2018) Written by: Michael R. Underwood, Marie Brennan, Malka Older, Cassandra Khaw Genre: Fantasy Pages: The weekly serial has 11 episodes. Not sure what the official page count total will end up being, but the ARC I received was 405 pages long. Series: Born to the Blade Publisher: Serial Box Disclaimer: I…

via Magic, Steel, Power: A Review of Born to the Blade, Season 1 — Speculative Chic