Diligence is the word

I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order and thdiligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.
– Charles Dickens

Some writers can only write when inspired. Some suffer from writer’s block. Other’s cave in to popular culture or conventional wisdom. So, when they get around to writing words, they write words that are false, sentences that are flat, stories that are dead the moment the final period is placed on the page, then wonder why their their writing isn’t up to scratch. These writers become dejected, and repeat the process again and again. I know I have.

I think this because for writers, even young writers, the enemy is time. We are all guilty in luxuriating in the nonsense that is ‘waiting for inspiration’ or ‘ I need to research this in order to understand the subject’ or ‘when I accomplish ___________ then I can REALLY get down to writing.’

My first notion of writing a story came at 6 years of age. I wrote my first story at  10.  By age 14 I had written, in large print, on white ruled paper, nearly 100 pages of forgettable juvenile nonsense. I knew I had writing deep in my bones, but allowed interests in other things to overwhelm me – I lacked punctuality, order and diligence to keep at writing regularly.

And when I acquired a modicum of those habits, I really had no idea what to do with them, so far as writing went. Because I had no sense of urgency. I still believed I had time on my side. Then I turned 40. Time had slipped through my fingers, and I had nothing to show for my efforts but notebooks and short stories and a life contemplating writing without really doing anything about it. So I set out to write what was in my heart and on my mind. I resolved to be published in my 40s and earn my living from my stories  by the time I was 50.

I’m 58. Things are just now starting to come together.

It’s inevitable that one’s life takes over one’s art, unless one’s art is one’s life. I’m not talking about earning a living, raising a family, or being a productive member of society. It’s making time to write, or paint, or compose, or build, or cook – whatever it is – because, as every athlete or musician or painter or writer knows, it’s all about practice, practice, practice. And that takes habit, punctuality and diligence.

Jeff Goins says writers need to focus on resolve: that a write needs to commit, to develop new habits. I agree.

Still, I think Charles Dickens said it best.

Time to get back to it.

What about you?

To download a copy of my Shig Sato mysteries, click here for  The Gangster’s Son and here for The Thief’s Mistake.

See you soon!

B.B. King and Me

I don’t know B.B. King, I’ve never seen him in concert. I’ve listened to his music off and on since the mid-70s. I may have heard it earlier, but I can say with absolute certainty I became aware of his music during my stint as a music student in Kansas. I won a scholarship. I’m not  very musical. But I met musicians I admire, studied theory and composition, andBBKING__v1 heard lots of good live music of all stripes. At the time, many a guitar student was descending on Wichita State because guitar genius Jerry Hahn was teaching jazz guitar. I met some of these great student guitarists. They turned me on to B.B. King.

My creativity was born during that time. It later, withe time and experience, came to fruition, and I know that like pillars and beams, music and art are the pillars upon which my writing rests. Monet and Picasso and many others are the artists in on one beam. B.B. King is among the giants in the other.

I believe all art comes down to telling a story. In some cases it’s not so obvious what the ‘story’ might be. What is the story of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’? Everything is open to interpretation. A book written hundreds of  years ago, read by thousands if not millions generation after generation, is reinterpreted from one age to another. In B.B. King’s case, what I heard was not music but a musician telling a story with notes: bending, crying, wailing, popping, staccato, meandering notes from his beloved Lucille.

In the years to come I would learn the craft of writing, work in journalism, and try my hand at fiction. Music and art continue to instruct and inspire. Some artists remain in my heart as teachers I can rely on to guide me through my art and my life. B.B. King is one such teacher. Music is the foundation of my creative process and Mr King a pillar. Always was. Always will be.

Joseph Mark Brewer is a journalist and author of the Shig Sato Mystery series. To get a copy of  The Gangster’s Son click here . To get a copy of  Shig Sato Book 2 The Thief’s Mistake visit www.josephmarkbrewer.com.

photo: universalfreepress.com

What to say about an MFA

Wow. The MFA shit really hit the fan the past week or so. First, ex-instructor Ryan Boudinot  cuts loose on his I hate  rant. Commence comments, like the one by  Chuck Wendig – one of many around the blogosphere.banned

Why am I weighing in? I have not taken one creative writing class. And one of the reasons I’m on the fence about pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing is getting an instructor from the “you-suck-so-you’re-wasting-my-time” house of pedagogues. If I’m not the Real Deal, I’m wasting his time?

From reading the essay, I believe Boudinot did not have the vocation to be a teacher. Writing is a vocation. Teaching is a vocation. Writers who have no business teaching master’s level classes could be the topic of another post. This is what I want to know – what does some of his former students have to say about his article?

As for Boudinot, I would think that waiting to find The Real Deal and dissing the rest must have been a terrible way to make a living, much less spend one’s time. But the complaints: If someone didn’t start thinking about writing until a 20-something or later, forget it? Don’t have time to write? Not a serious reader? Dissing memoir writings for working out a ‘shitty life’ in a composition? C’mon. Anyone who decides to sit in front of a classroom of students, masters level or not, who do or do not have a writing background, surely must expect that half the class isn’t going to be up to the mark when it comes to writing anything worthwhile, much less publishable. Living for the Real Deal?

I’ve always been interested in storytelling, but my reading and writing as a teen consisted of newspapers, magazines, mysteries, and high school required reading. Serious? Not serious? Who knows? Not have time to write? No one has enough time to write, certainly not anyone holding down a job and raising a family. I can’t imagine doing that, throwing an MFA course on top of that, and having enough time to think. So a student tells that to an instructor. I would expect every student in an MFA course, low-residency or not, to utter those words at least once. And about this ‘wish you had suffered more” memoir rant. Maybe it’s a good think Boudinot left the business.

Full discloure: I’m trained as a journalist. I studied music for years. I use both disciplines whenever I try to write something. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have been writing and editing news stories, features, and manuscripts for over 30 years. I have never been published in any publication other than a byline story in a newspaper or magazine. That means: none of my creative output has been selected, agented, edited, or published by anyone, from the local arts quarterly to a Big 5 publisher. And I’m O.K. with that.

I know not everyone is not cut out to be a teacher, the same as not everyone is cut out to be a reporter or a novelist or any other type of writer. But it takes patient, tactful people who know how to deliver the bad news when the time comes to tell the pupil they don’t have it what it takes.

My real concern lies in MFA programs and the instructors: I wonder how many feel the same way as Boudinot but do nothing about it. Show of hands? I’d like to know.

 

Writing: Love or Money

Not so long ago, Kahlen Aymes had an article appear in Indie Author News entitled Writing … for Money or Love?

Ah. That is the question.Woman-Pulling-Hair-out

Which writer hasn’t dreamed of writing that ONE book and thinking of it as a winning lottery ticket? I have.

Writing: the urge to write, the need to write, to tell a story, to express myself, flows through our veins. It’s part of our DNA. It’s what we live for.

And I’m not ashamed to say I want it to not just be profitable, but make me rich.

But is that a realistic expectation?

Kahlen says writing is hard and publishing is harder. How true. Who hasn’t spent years on their book, their baby, only to have it rejected by the gatekeepers of traditional publishing? I remember the day I said “I can do this myself.”

Boy, was I in for a surprise. The editing. The marketing. The social media. The business side of being an indie author. I wake up mornings knowing my book is ranked  about 1,200,000th on Amazon because I haven’t sold a single copy for over a week. Or a month.

Where is the love? Where is the money?

I believe it has to be inside you. I write because I love it. It’s as simple as that. Whatever anxiety I feel about the writing, or business of writing, the overwhelming need to be an indie entrepreneur when all I want to do is sit in my pajamas and drink tea and write — well, that’s life.

There are two sides to everything. For every moment writing, there is a moment of reckoning that comes down: if I want anyone to read this, if I want to have an audience, I have to do something about this. And that’s where art meets commerce.

Or as I like to call it, living on the corner of Creativity and Opportunity.

And that’s why to answer Kahlen, it’s both. Love and Money.

What about you? Which is it?

 

To get a copy of my latest ebook mystery “The Gangster’s Son” click here . To get the latest news on my Shig Sato Mystery series, visit my website  www.josephmarkbrewer.com and sign up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not about e-books vs books

I find the e-books vs. books debate silly. Each day consumers make their choice about what to read and I’m willing to bet that it is seldom exclusively digital vs. traditional.

Rather, I always wonder when people talk about what children should read, when they read, why they read, why newspapers and magazines aren’t included in the discussion.

Sure, “reading” is about books and stories and the imagination. But comic books get thrown into this ‘just as long as they’re reading’ bag. Comic books, and not newspapers, are a part of this discussion?

Maybe so. We have two generations of non-newspaper readers, which has guaranteed that the medium will die, and not solely due to technological advances of the age. Did time pressure on the family or television or the breakdown of the family unit — pick any one you want, make one up of you like — really kill any incentive a child had in learning about the world around them on a daily basis? I don’t think so.newspapers

I believe that somewhere along the way, people bought into the notion that being informed is not important. But Being informed is being educated, as much as knowing reading, writing and arithmetic. Is it any wonder that in this new century arguments about evolution, health, history – whether a corporation is a person or not, for heaven’s sake – are taking place when education is failing our children, universities are being underfunded, teachings are vilified, and the simple act of finding out what’s happening in a community is on opportunity for political interpretation?

No winner in the e-book vs. book winner will decide any of those issues.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been working in the news business for 35 years. I have worked in daily journalism 28 years. I write mysteries and short stories to amuse myself, and hopefully, amuse other people enough so that I might sell some copies of my books. That reading has taken a back seat to so many activities in this modern world that people like Neil Gaiman have to argue that reading and libraries are necessary  is pitiful. I believe that pity has a twin. It’s name is information in the modern age. I believe we will attend its funeral quite soon.

What do you think?

 

To get the latest on my Shig Sato Mystery series and other stories, sign up for my monthly newsletter by visiting my website www.josephmarkbrewer.com – see you there!

 

 

I am an indie publishing noob

This is my confiteor:
When it came to wading into the pool of indie publishing, I did everything wrong.head_inmonitor
I had all the typical resources available to newbie author: great people are out in social media to help folks like me get started. Lots of good information. Really.
I just didn’t get it.
What I had in mind was launching my first book by a certain day in 2013. I read up on book marketing and indie publishing and came away with something I thought I could deal with. I had a book – the first in a series. Most of it is mapped out. Some it is written. I had it edited (not very well, either). I had an idea for a book cover a friend whipped into shape. I had no money for advertising.
I had no advance print copies – it’s an ebook – and I didn’t really reach out to bloggers and reviewers nor take advantage of some promotions offered at some web sites. I had both the second book in the series and the third book in the series half-written when I realized the third book should be the second book – big u-turn there.I released the first book during the holidays with no marketing plan other than playing around with free/99c. I have this blog that sometimes I really think is a waste of time. I have a website I put together (and don’t like). I created a Facebook pageand a Goodreads page.
But I had no budget for anything: editing, covers, marketing, no advertising, no membership to any groups or services to promote the book, and no email list.
I had no plan to have a print-on-demand copy or an audiobook until ‘sometime in the future’ – I had a plan that it might happen in year 2 (but the plan is very flexible).

Here’s what happened:
Had an advance order period of about three weeks – no orders, lots of downloads to check out the first few chapters of the book.
Heard from a dozen friends/readers who point out over 30 typos in the book.
Sought out some reviews – I got a few, mostly positive.
Did not know until two months later, after I made some corrections and raised the price of the book to $2.99, I had about 800 free downloads and about 80 sales at 99c. I didn’t monitor sales at all. I was busy writing Book 2.
On one vendor’s site I read reviews – mostly good – that I did not know I had. So I wasn’t tracking any response to the book.
On another site I had sales number less than a dozen throughout 2014 – at any price.
I did not finish Book 2 in time to take advantage of anything positive from book one. Book 2 remains unfinished, no cover art. Book 3 is half finished.
I still don’t have an email list.

What I learned:
For me,  writing every day is essential – I lose whatever momentum I have if I skip more than one day. Marketing sometimes can be more important than writing – pay attention to it, but remember to write every day. Social media is essential, but it’s no substitute for writing the stories or marketing. I now understand the value of an email list: I could have begun finding out who my readers are and sharing more of my stories with them. And I understand the value of promoting the book several months in advance, getting advance reviews, joining websites to promote and to find readers. Even $40 a month for marketing is better than nothing, and a lot of the free stuff out there is good, but limited. And social media is what you make of it: I found some good author-centric support and advice groups who want people to succeed. Curiously, I saw my sales rank rise 700,000 spots on Amazon if I sell just one book (image what it would be if I sold two, or five, or 10). Equally, that my sales rank can fall from 800,000 to 1,200,000 pretty fast when I don’t sell any books – as of this writing, it’s at 1,258,792.

Budgeting time is more important than budgeting money. But mostly, that being an indie author means you are an entrepreneur, that everything is on you. Get the help you need, pay for it if you can, do the heavy slogging and learn.

I have faith in my ability to write. What I don’t have is the marketing know-how. I have no marketing chops whatsoever – all of 2014 had been one gigantic cram session. I still have no confidence in what I’m doing, but I’ve learned a lot. Treat is seriously, and good things happen. Treat is like an afterthought, and that’s what it will become.

So as I tidy Book 1, finish Book 2 and 3, and begin writing Book 4, I know I have a lot of work to do. But it’s worth it. Why? Because shortly after I wrote the first book, I received this surprise, via Facebook:

“Just finished your 1st book and Chapter 1 of book 2. Bravo Sir, I’m a fan of your work. Love the characters, love the plot lines. Cannot wait for more!!”

Back to it, then.

 

 

Ready, set, WAIT! Blogging?

Road leading to the ocean with 'slow' painted on itJeff Goins.

Darren Rowse

Jeff Friedlander.

Michael Stelzner.

That’s just four of the great people giving great advice about blogging. They appear in my email weekly, if not more often. Blog blog blog.

A person can get sick of it.

I know you do. I do. I write fiction. I work at a newspaper. I’m writing and editing all the time. Why do I have to blog? Who has the time?

All good questions.

I don’t have the answer. These folks listed above, and many others, have plenty to say.

As for me, I’ve been wondering what to offer my readers. I started this blog six years ago in the fashion of a weekly column: my travel down the road to publishing. I’d had several novel-length manuscripts rejected dozens of times, and this thing called self-publishing still had the faint odor of ‘desperate’ to it. Ebooks were in their infancy. Writers like me who couldn’t even find a publishing gatekeeper, much less get past one, were sitting up and noticing. What ABOUT ebooks?

Well, here we are, October 2014. I took one of my novels, took a character from it and turned it into a mystery series. Since THE GANGSTER’S SON came out last November I’ve done EVERYTHING wrong when it comes to marketing and promotions — but I’m learning as I go. Much like blogging.

Going back four years when I began to think of this blog as something other than an amusement, I’ve wondered what it’s purpose could be. Thanks to Jeff Goins’ recent Intentional Blogging series, I’ve been giving a lot more thought to the blog’s purpose.

It’s not really about my journey to publishing. It’s about everyone’s journey. One thing I’ve learned since embarking on this trip as an indie author entrepreneur: We’re all in this together. Some of us will do well, some of us will do the best we can. But we can all have each other’s back.

The reason I decided on sticking with the indie route is what I’ve witnessed among my musician friends – Play gigs, connect with the audience, build a fan base, sell some merch, but DO YOUR OWN THING and keep doing it. Support local indie artists.

That’s where this blog is heading. There will be some trips to other destinations, but it’s all about supporting indie authors on the road to publication.

See you down the road.

The Worst Kind of Month

Despite all good intentions, getting through the second draft and rewrites of the second book in my Shig Sato mystery series has  been much more time-consuming than I expected

Such intentions led to a writing schedule, churning out 1,000 words a day, monitoring my (still very) anemic marketing for book 1, keeping track of meager sales, but the main thing I realized: getting it all done was a lesson in itself. I’m still learning, still striving, still adjusting to the fact I have to put in A LOT more hours than I am right now. Full-time job? Who cares. Home? Kids? These aren’t problems, they’re excuses. Everyone has things in their life that must be dealt with, If creating a writing life was so easy, everyone would do it.

Then came a death in the family.

The moment I knew I had to stop my life and go be with my family, travel from home for a week and tear my attention away from my job and my writing, was when I realized it should not take a death to sharpen my focus and get the job done. Every moment I spend with my family is precious, and I am glad for the time I spend with them. I wish I could spend more time with them. These thoughts made me think about time, and how I wasted it – days, months, years wasted when I didn’t put in the hours to make my dream a reality.

Being away from home to deal with a family tragedy forced me to realize that despite not knowing how much of it I have, time is the one thing I can choose how to spend. So how will I choose to spend my time? Watching a ball game on TV or staying up late and watching a movie on my tablet? I know I don’t read enough, write enough, spend nearly enough time on my indie author business. It’s the irony of our lives – time is the one commodity we have control over and yet we don’t know how much of it we have. That’s why it’s such a crime to waste it. When I arrived home, I realized I didn’t know how much time I have — but I know how many hours there are in a day, and what I do with them. So I must use them wisely, and make every hour count.

This writing life that I embrace has been a mixed bag of writing, stopping for years, writing some more, sending work off to magazines and agents, getting rejected, stopping altogether, then writing some more. It’s only been in the last seven years that I’ve put in the time to warrant saying ‘this is what I do’ and go flat out.

I’m not worried about the marketing, the sales — I know I will get into that more in the months to come, and that will come along eventually. For me, right now, the writing is the thing. Putting in the time is the thing. Focusing on getting the job done is the thing.

My goal for this year was to write and publish two more Shig Sato stories. One is nearly complete and may be out by December. The other is half-written, and needs a lot of work. I did not put in the time to meet my goal. I know that now.

So now I need to manage my time better, and get some more writing done.

How about you?

Be Your Own Best Peer Group

“Environment is EVERYTHING.”

Chris Jones, Creative Director of the London Screenwriters’ Festival, wrote a great lead for his article promoting the upcoming festival. And what makes the article even better is following up with this: “No one really wants to confront this, but it’s really simple. We become the five people we hang out with. And these five people may well be the biggest five reasons your career is not going where you thought it would be going when you started your journey.”

Mr. Jones goes on to talk about the people we hang out with and that they may not have the same dreams, goals, or desires as you do. And they may love you, and they may mean well, but most of the time, they are not 100 percent behind your quest to create.

thinking_manAre the people you hang out with holding you back? Do you listen, and say OK, I’ll put this off for a while and then get back to it. I know I do. But what happens if a while never arrives?

Everyone we know, everyone we deal with, even the ones who love us and support us, doesn’t have our dreams. We have our own dreams. It’s what drives us.

Mr. Jones talks about the thrill of working with a large group of professionals on a feature film, the kind of people who make you raise your own stakes and do great work. I don’t work in the film industry, but I know what he means. Working with great colleagues and producing a great product feeds an energy that makes you want to do it again and again. It’s why I’ve stayed in the newspaper profession for as long as I have.

But writing fiction is a solitary pursuit — so who are your peers? Where is that outstanding team that propels you to greatness? Speaking for myself, I sink into the blue devils of self-doubt two or three times a week, only to be pulled out by kind words, interesting ideas, or the simple desire of wanting to tell my story. Sometimes it comes from friends or acquaintances or family, or sometimes, from within.

Truth is, whatever greatness or effort or work ethic I have has to come from within.

This month has been a strange, sad, frustrating month (that I will write about another time), and not to court disaster, but sometimes I feel I’ll be glad to see it end. But that’s not really productive, is it? Taking each day as a blessing, striving toward a goal, being your own best peer group — that is something I will look forward to tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

For all you screenwriters, check this out.

How do you pick yourself up? Who is your support group?

 

Five feet high and rising

My absence can be explained this way. I’m deep into editing book two of the Shig Sato Mystery series — finished the first draft, started making corrections, decided some chapters needed to go, others needed to be in different places — and while making the corrections, finding other stuff that needs attention, and even while watching TV or walking to work, thinking about new and different plot lines and details.

Sound familiar?

Writing is rewriting. This is a hard lesson to learn. I came up through the journalism ranks, the “Get it right and get it out” school of daily journalism where rewriting was a luxury only feature writers and editorial writers possessed. One of the hardest things for me to do is turn off the journalism/non-fiction switch and turn on the creative writing/fiction switch. I liken it to driving 55 mph and then slamming on the brakes and putting the car in reverse at 55 mph. (Please don’t try this.)

I am usually pretty good at shutting down the editor part of my brain while writing, so when the time comes to edit and rewrite, it’s as if the editor part is catapulted to freedom, to run amok among the words that are just-about-there-but-not-quite ready. And it likes to play. What I find incomprehensible is the flood of ideas that pass through my mind like a raging flood. It’s scary and thrilling at the same time. And addictive. It’s my favorite part of the writing process.

The rewrite — aka second draft — is about 70 percent compete. After that, another edit and then copies sent to beta readers. Then it’s on to book three.

I am getting closer, and going further.

I promise to be back. Soon.