On Writing: Bujo Story Keeper 2

See part 1.

Continuing a series of posts about how I’ve been using the Tomoe River notebook for my writing, this time I’ll show how I plot at the highest level. I’m not the kind of writer that wants or even likes having every single scene listed out in gruesome detail. I really only need a roadmap to keep me on track. I need to know the main points – and I can capture enough to guide the story on two pages in my notebook.

I use a combination of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey for my plotting.  I’m almost always thin in the middle – which is one reason the middle can take me a long time to get through. I try to have at least one major candybar scene for the midpoint that I really want to reach, and then after that, the rest is downhill. Sometimes a book will have a couple of candybar scenes. Sometimes I’ll be writing a book, and an entirely new, unexpected scene will rise up and demand my attention. That’s all great – that means the magic is working!

I don’t care if things change or I mark out something in this initial plan. I mainly use this to help me figure out how much more story do I have to figure out. I don’t always write it down, either – though I should. I know it’ll go better if I write it down rather than relying on my brain to hold the whole thing, but sometimes I convince myself I don’t need to take the time for this step.  (Don’t listen to my brain and write it down if you can.)

Since I’m on a tight deadline for this story, I sat down and did this tonight. In less than an hour. So I really have no excuse not to do this every single time.

I start with 18 bullet points, basically, on two sheets of paper.  Some of them I don’t care about as much, but I write them down in case it sparks something later. The big MUST DO ones are: Inciting Incident, the Call, Crossing the Threshold, Midpoint, All is Lost, Climax, and Resolution.  Anything beyond that is gravy on top.

My favorite thing to do, though, is the opening and closing image. I love coming full circle. I love reflection. I love the words or thoughts a character have or say coming back in a new way at the end.

[Aside: I tried to do this with Queen Takes King, but ended up shifting the story line around. The line “Merry fucking Christmas to me” was supposed to begin and end the book, and it did, at first. But then you would have missed out on the smokin’ hot scene with Mehen, which I originally wrote for Queen Takes Queen. It made more sense to pull that scene to King (since, duh, he’s the king), but that messed up my perfect reflection. Having a complete and satisfying conclusion was more important to me than a cute catchy line ending at the right place.]

So generally, this is how I plot.

  • I know how the book opens.
  • I use that image and flip it, so I know how the book ends.
  • I figure out the inciting incident. What drives the beginning.
  • I figure out what the ending is. What needs to happen to get to that final image.
  • Then I fill in the spaces in between.

Below are two images from my TN. One blank, and one filled in. Note: the one that’s filled in may give you spoilers to the novella I’m working on, so if you don’t like to know a complete high-level plot, skip that one!  Though I kept it at a very high level.

Hope this helps! The most important thing I hope you see is that you don’t have to have a ton of information figured out. I’ve only got a few sparse sentences for each of these bullets, but that’s PLENTY for me to write this novella and find the end without wandering around too much.

 

On Writing: Bujo Story Keeper 1

I have a novella that I’m working on that’s due 2/18 and I need to put it together fast and well so I can write the book.  I’ve had some questions about how I’m using the bujo for writing – and as any good teacher will tell you, sometimes showing other people how to do something helps YOU figure out how to do it better.

So it’s the perfect time for me to capture some of what I’m doing since this is an entirely new world. This will be a series of posts as I have time. Hopefully it’ll be helpful for someone!

In the Beginning

My theme is something Irish or related to St. Patrick’s Day. The name of the boxed set/anthology we’re doing is “Shamrocked.” I already know I want to do a RH so I need at least 3 heroes. I need a story that I can introduce all the characters and the world quickly without a lot of set up – because I only have 30-40K to get the story told. And if I’m going to go to all the trouble of setting up a new world, then I want to be able to write MORE books in this world. So this story needs to be 1). satisfying in a shorter medium but also 2). extendable.

I did some brainstorming and got my premise. I don’t think I’ll go into a lot of that at this point – I’ll keep this generic and high level. As I’m doing my research and brainstorming, I put the pages into my existing bujo. This notebook has a bunch of other ideas, plus my revision notes for Queen Takes Queen.  I keep track of everything with an index at the beginning, just as you would for any other bujo.

The first few pages are just messy notes. Brainstorming. Interesting tidbits that may or may not have anything to do with the story. But eventually I get a better idea of what I want this story to be, and I make a list of what I know or my goals for the book.

Casting. Part of my process is to pretend I’m an uber-rich director and I can hire any actor or actress I want to play my characters.  I find a pic I like and print it out. Then I create a two-page “spread” in the bujo. Really all this entails is the pic (attached with tape or washi), and the information I know about the character. It may be very sparse. It may change. That’s okay. I just need something to start with. I usually have the left-hand page with the high-level stuff like name and age, and then I leave the right-hand page for notes and backstory as they come to me. Note: do a spread for your antagonist if you have one.

Places or World. I do the same thing for places, houses, anything unique that I’m using in the setting.

Leave plenty of white space to make notes or add research details.

Helpful hint:  If you have multiple stories in the notebook, use washi tape to make a little tab in a color that’s meaningful to your story. That way you can flip directly to those pages!

Next: plotting!

On Writing: Process 2

This is an update to this Process post.

Stephanie Christine asked if I was still using a bujo for writing and the short answer is YES.

I actually filled up an entire notebook!  Okay, this might seem like a dumb thing to be proud of — unless you saw how many notebooks I have with 10% (or less) of the pages used and then it’s stuck on a shelf, never to be used again.

Here’s proof that I filled up an entire notebook! You can see the word count stickers I continued to use all the way to the end, plus random notes to myself as I needed it.

My only complaint with this method was cutting out the word count stickers. They were just a hair too long to fit into my notebook without hanging out, and it annoyed me when it hung off the side or got crooked.

The Etsy shop where I bought the Tomoe River notebooks (Paper Penguin Co) had a new notebook they intended to be used as a monthly calendar/planner. It was so colorful and artsy with the watercolor splashes that it inspired me to give it a try, even though it’s not the super nice paper I like. I got the grid version, and now instead of having to cut out the word count stickers, I just color in the grids under each day’s totals. It’s not dated, so if I want to skip days, or need to go over to another day, it works perfectly.

(You can see those massive weekend counts I had in order to finish!)

My only slight gripe is that it bugs me that each day isn’t symmetrical. But I’m trying to just go with the flow and not be anal about one day having more space than another. It’s actually great (if I’d just get over my appreciation for symmetry) because I can’t write as much during the week as I can on the weekend, assuming That Man stays out of my hair.

I’m still using my other Tomoe River notebook that I customized a bit. For example, when doing my first pass edits, I make a scene list, a timeline, and a fresh character list, along with a master list of any questions or things I want to consider changing that involve more thought. It also has all my research notes in it. I know a ton of Maya mythology after the Bloodgate series – but did not know quite as much Aztec mythology as I needed for Queen and I had to look a bunch of things up.  There are *many* similarities, but unique items too that I had to document.

I’m also using a combination of several planners at the moment – but I haven’t settled into a routine with them yet.  I picked up both the New Release Planner and the Book World Domination planner from Nicole.  There are pieces of each one that I like a lot and have printed out, but I keep forgetting to use as much as I need to.  These are especially helpful for planning out release schedules.  I need a calendar to do that – and I don’t want to have to draw one in my bujo.

That’s one thing I’m still adjusting to:  lead time.  I have pre-order dates to set, coordination with the formatter, cover artist, editor, beta readers, etc.  It’s not just MY date I need to keep track of. I’ve already had one release go out with my crap temporary cover and it was my lack of enough cushion in the schedule to get other people’s things in place.  I’m also struggling with the best way to keep track of the various promotions I try, for which book, how much it cost, and what the ROI was.  I’m getting better at this with the New Release Planner though the sheets provided are for a single book – not across all my spending each month.

AND yes, I bought a different downloadable planner that is focused on tarot: The Biddy Tarot Planner. This one is more weekly and monthly focused with spreads to help you tap into your intuition. I’m behind on it already, but I’ve been trying to pull a card each day and think about what it may mean. It came with a cool printable tarot card set that’s the perfect size to stick into the planner for the card of the week. I printed them on sticker paper!  However now I’m back to having to cut things out, which yeah, I find annoying (I can’t cut straight and back to the symmetry thing again).

For each of these downloadable planners, I printed out the pages I liked and used an ARC system to make my own pseudo 3-ring binder. I’m reusing the cover I made ages ago because I love how it looks – even though I get annoyed because things slip around.

 

So what has all this tracking accomplished, you ask?  The numbers speak for themselves and you can see exactly when I started to shake things up and get some traction after a disappointing 2016.

  • May: 2,324 words
  • June: 49,281 words
  • July: 19,888 words
  • August: 3,589 words (a bit of a hiccup here with school starting, Princess went to college)
  • September: 29,851 words
  • October: 38,265 words
  • November: 41,194 words
  • December: 17,711 words (this would have been way larger if That Man hadn’t planned an Eureka Springs trip on my week I’d taken off from the Evil Day Job to write)
  • January: 61,434 and the month isn’t over yet.

Finishing the Damned Book

Silly me – I don’t think I’ve even shared the cover yet. Tada!

It was a race down to the wire, but thanks to a crazy weekend of sprints and an intrepid team of beta readers who are comma warriors, QUEEN TAKES QUEEN is done and dropped off to the formatter.  She’s usually very fast, so I may have ARCs going out as soon as this evening, and I’m set to meet my KDP pre-order deadline.

Now you may be wondering why I’d put myself under so much stress. I had to grind some huge numbers the last week or so to finish the book. I got about 4 hours of sleep two nights in a row. My hands are killing me.

But there’s nothing like the high of finishing the book and meeting that deadline.

And here’s the thing about my personality. I need deadlines. If I’m left to my own devices, I’ll putter around on five files at once and never finish anything. Then I’ll wallow in misery because I *know* I’m not making any real progress, and it’s pretty hard to write well when you’re wallowing in misery. (Note: see my lack of progress in 2016)

So yeah. Deadlines matter. I’ll continue to set hard dates for myself and keep the pedal pushed to the floor as often as I can, because it’s just me setting these dates now. I know what I’m capable of. I know I can write 70K in a month (The Billionaire Submissive) when I need to and the story is flowing.

I *am* letting up on the pedal a day or two to recuperate.  Though I have committed a novella for a St. Patrick’s Day anthology and I need to have it written and edited by 2/18.  So yeah, another crazy few weeks are just ahead!

I’ve also had some back and forth in my mind about which Queen book to write next. I was tempted to write a book in Mayte’s POV next, and then maybe even Leonie’s, rather than another book in Shara’s POV. I thought if I got into their backstories and really dug into them, that I’d be able to get the final showdown plot easier. Which is probably true – but doesn’t serve THE story well, which is Shara’s story.

However, I dithered long enough that I don’t have an excerpt ready to put into the end of QUEEN TAKES QUEEN like I’d hoped.  So if you’d like some sneak peeks, be sure to join my Facebook group, Joely’s Triune, to get the earliest tidbits of what’s coming next for Shara in QUEEN TAKES ROOK.

 

Counting Down the Days

I’m hard at work on Queen Takes Queen. A bit behind… but I can make up that bit once my downhill momentum picks up. It will, I know. I just have to trust the process. Eventually those 1k, 2k, 3k days suddenly become 5k, 8k because I want to finish. I was a bit under the weather this weekend with a stomach thing the family had Christmas – New Years, but I luckily only had a minor touch of it.

Each chapter of Queen reveals more cool things about how the courts work and how complex every political situation is going to be. I’m pretty sure I figured out the title for Mayte’s book too. At first I was thinking Queen’s Jaguars, but I’d like to stay with the “Take” aspect, so I might use Queen Takes Jaguars instead. Yes plural. Of course!

I have a lot of cover action happening this week.  I should get Queen Takes Queen’s cover going and I’ve already booked her for the next three months to get the remaining books in the series created ahead of schedule (so I don’t have another unfortunate mishap of not getting the correct cover loaded in time). I also have an appointment on a secret pen name project for the next 2 covers. And… I bought a premade cover last night for an unfinished work I’ve talked about before:  Grotesquerie. I think I may have figured out how to fix it, and then I saw the cover and it was perfect. So I have no excuse now.

Other than time. Always time.

Writing in 2018 – The Plan

The universal truth about me and plans….  If I write it down, it WILL change.

But I have to plan to the best of my ability, while remaining flexible. I know things will change. But I’d like to lay out a little bit about what you can expect from me this year.

First, let me start with a few things I’ve (finally) learned.

  1. I have to finish series as quickly as possible.  For many reasons, but the primary two: I get bored easily and it helps sales. Readers really really want complete series. Some won’t even buy it until it’s complete, because they don’t want to be stuck hanging around waiting for that last book for year(s).
    1. Corollary: I have more control over this if I’m indie. I won’t have to worry about publishers cancelling my series and killing my motivation to work on a “dead” book again.
  2. I have to have deadlines. I’m a “perceiving” personality type – which really means pressure. I like pressure. I like deadlines. Sometimes the only thing holding my attention on a single project is the deadline, and yeah, the tighter the better. I will have to be sensitive to burn out and pushing myself too much, but if I just work on whatever I want, whenever I want, I WILL NEVER FINISH. So, deadlines.
  3. I have to track. Words, sales, pages read, everything. I am becoming a spreadsheet master.

First Half of 2018:

So with that information laid out, my #1 priority in 2018 is to finish Their Vampire Queen. That means…

  • Queen Takes Queen will release 1/29/2018. I am currently behind schedule, but will keep pushing to get this turned around.
  • I’m going to stick to releases every 45-60 days as much as possible.
  • There are three more planned books.
    • Mayte’s book, untitled, end of March/first of April
    • Leonie’s book, untitled, end of May/first of June
    • Queens Take God, the final showdown, working title, end of July/first of August

I have a secret pen name series that I never finished that has a lot of potential. I’m getting the next two covers made in January to light a fire under my behind. Ideally I’ll release the next two books close together and have another complete series. I’m not sure of length or timing yet. I’d planned to write at least one in January – but it depends on how long Queen goes over. I may not be able to fit it in yet. I may cram the Queen books closer together to make room on my schedule for new things, rather than trying to switch back and forth. We’ll see.

I’ve verbally committed to writing a novella for a St. Patrick’s Day themed anthology, finished story due by 2/28. I’ve got a loose idea for it, but haven’t started it yet, and the idea could be “big.” e.g. it may not fit into a shorter piece and do it justice. I may back out of this one, pending timing, how everything goes in January, etc. We’ll see.

I am reworking the Shanhasson trilogy covers with the same cover artist in February. FOR PRINT! And I’ll plan to release a boxed set of the trilogy as well. Maybe some new content. We’ll see.

“We’ll see.” See what I mean? haha. Ultimately, my goal is to get to as close as possible to one new release a month. That may mean cramming the Queen books closer together. Or stretching them out slightly to let me fit a different release in between. I’m not sure which one will work best yet.

Second half of 2018:

New series planning. It’ll be reverse harem, and either SFR or dark contemporary. I have ideas for both, but haven’t spent time yet to see which one will hold my interest the most. But I will definitely be ready to kickstart a brand new idea!

I need to reissue Lady Wyre’s series and get at least the third book I’d planned finished, again, keeping with that “finish” theme!

I want to write Three Cuts Deader this year. Because this is a “want to” project, and I don’t have control over the first two books, this may fall lower on the list. I’m limited in promotions and marketing I can do when I don’t control the series. But a handful of you do occasionally ask about this series and I really would like to do one more.

Up for grabs.  AKA I have no idea.

I have FOUR premade covers I’ve purchased over the past few months just for fun. One is definitely fantasy, and I’d love to write a big, sweeping epic fantasy again. But I don’t have a specific idea or plan yet. Two are definitely contemporary. The other one makes me think royalty, but could go fantasy too. They were pretty and cheap and I couldn’t resist!

So, that’s as specific of a plan as I can get! I’ve got a lot of new ideas, which is great. I’m writing again, hard, which is the GREATEST. As long as the Muse continues to cooperate, my general goals are to

  1. finish what I start
  2. release nearly monthly
  3. get as close to one million new words as possible

Writing in 2017

2017 was a stinking pile of burning trash in a giant Dumpster for many reasons that I’m not going to rehash or get into here. I’m going to concentrate on only WRITING and mostly GOOD stuff. 

Between Samhain drama and my Carina series getting canned, I wasn’t in a good place. In 2016, the only new material I’d managed to finish was a short novella. I felt stuck in many ways. Then I had surgery at the end of the year. Up until May of this year, I wasn’t writing in 2017 either (at least not with my normal drive and determination). It was looking like another really bad year and I thought about walking away from publishing for good. Who would notice, honestly? (That’s what my brain was telling me. I hadn’t had a new release in so long I might as well have dropped off the face of the planet.)

But a few things happened in 2017 that set the wheels in motion for bigger and better things.

I could write paragraphs about how each of these bullets cascaded into new opportunities and challenges but I don’t want to write a book in this post! So I’m going to let the numbers speak for themselves.

Achievements/New Challenges in 2017

  • Set up my first pre-order in KDP (and met it).
  • Set up my first print book with CreateSpace.
  • Set up my first boxed set.
  • Re-released 4 of my old Samhain titles as an indie.
  • Re-released 3 of my old Samhain titles with Entangled.
  • Finished 3 new books (just under 200,000 words) and started a 4th.
  • Submitted a different proposal (3 chapters + synopsis) to Carina. Ultimately it was rejected but I’m still glad I went through the motions and I fulfilled a promise I’d made.
  • FINALLY hit #1 bestseller in an Amazon category!
  • Tracked all my sales across all channels and all books that I have control over for the entire year.
  • Created 3 graphs to plot out the optimum release schedule for the rest of the QUEEN books.

Here’s the GOOD STUFF – the numbers.

  • I’ve given away 11,072 FREE books to increase my newsletter and KU pages read.
  • Jan – Aug I had 2,318 page reads (very few books in KU).
  • Sept – 12,208 page reads (when I moved everything into KU).
  • Jan – Sept I sold 664 books.
  • Oct was the game changer with QUEEN TAKES KNIGHTS release.
    • Gave away 3567 downloads the week after release
    • Still had 125 sales
    • With 201,757 page reads
  • Then QUEEN TAKES KING continued to push the numbers up in Dec.
  • Bringing my 2017 totals (through today) to
    • 1987 sales
    • 554,097 page reads

These are not huge numbers for the big-time indie sellers. I’m not hitting any lists with these numbers!  But for ME, this is huge and means I can easily continue to fund new covers and books and even pay some other bills without depending on my Evil Day Job bonus to seed a new series. Comparing July sales (163, when Mal’s book released) to December (774, when King released) is a 375% increase.

It came down to THREE THINGS.

*   Not giving up when I really wanted to.

*   Not being afraid to give away free books to build my readership.

*   And stumbling across the premade cover that I fell so hard for, which went on to be QUEEN TAKES KNIGHTS.

That cover inspired the entire series that turned the numbers around in a huge way.

So here’s to a bigger, better 2018!  My pie in the sky goals:

  • 1 million words written
  • 1 million page reads
  • 5,000 sales.

Queen Takes King’s Cover

The good news:  I have the cover for King!  The bad news:  I didn’t get it uploaded to Amazon in time for Monday’s release.  *weeps*

We had some difficulty getting the King just right and one thing led to another. I got the final files last night, but the preorder was already locked, so I couldn’t upload it. Nothing I can do about it now, but stay up until midnight Sunday night and see how quickly Amazon will unlock it so I can upload the finalized cover.

This guy looks more like Shemar Moore than Idris Elba to me but who’s complaining?!?  Not me!

 

 

NaNoWriMo Update

I was so so close…. Just under 44,000 words.  I should have been able to get just 6,000 more, right?!?  And I planned to – but I had some stuff come up for the Evil Day Job that took priority.

I finished Queen Takes King, which was my primary goal.  And I started Queen Takes Queen. Although the 7,000 words I thought I was going to use to open Queen ended up getting pulled into King…  So I’m behind of where I want to be, but you’re getting way more with King than I planned!

So now the big thing to watch for is the cover for the King.  I can’t wait to see what Marissa comes up.  And of course I need another NaNo style month in December, because I intend to release Queen in Jan.

Annnnddd, I’m going to get a short piece put together for an anthology some other RH authors are working on. Due Feb.

So it’s going to be a crazy start to 2018!!

NaNoWriMo 2017

Let the race for words begin! Yes, I’m participating this year (you can find me as joelysueburkhart).

I wasn’t sure which book I was going to write for NaNoWriMo this year. I’d intended to start The Mummy’s Captive Witch, but Queen Takes King was flowing too well and all the stars aligned for me to just continue writing in that world. I had 32,000 words at the end of October and decided to just keep on going.

So my plan is to finish the King (guessing 60-65K) and then go straight into Queen Takes Queen. Ideally… I’ll finish both this month!  Though Queen might go a bit into December.

I’m taking every Monday off in November, plus the week of Thanksgiving. We’re not hosting this year, so I won’t have to burn days of vacation cleaning house and shopping and cooking.  So I should have plenty of 3-5k+ days to get both books done this month.  That’s the plan at least!

I’m still working out my release schedule for the next few months and beyond. I did finally hear from Carina and it was a no. The only remaining publisher obligation I have is a contemporary proposal for Entangled, but it’s not working yet and I’ve got other things cooking right now.

I haven’t decided if Queen Takes Queen will come in Jan or Feb yet.  I should have the cover early Jan, so it’s possible I could release that month. We’ll see.  I’ll firm it up once I see how this month unfolds.

For 2018, I’m really going to shoot for the moon. My ideal releases will include

  • Queen Takes Queen (Jan-Feb)
  • secret pen name release, books 2 and 3.
  • Another Queen book or two in a different queen’s POV.
  • Queen’s Checkmate or Endgame (haven’t decided which title I like best)
  • Three Cuts Deader
  • The Mummy’s Captive Witch
  • The Prince’s Beast under a new pen name
  • A spinoff of the Billionaire series for Entangled

I’m also working on

  • A Connagher boxed set. Have the cover–but need to get the formatting done.
  • Getting the Shanhasson trilogy into print
  • Getting the Connagher books into print
  • Getting Lady Doctor Wyre and her men back up for sale (new covers).

These all cost $$$ so I need new releases out to pay for everything. Hence the big push for words.

Words, all the words. My focus in 2018 is MORE WORDS.