Saturday, March 28, 2020

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 13 AKA Be a Historian

Well, how's everyone doing?

So far, my family has heeded the local directive to stay home and stay safe. It seems like such a small thing, but it's really something giant.

Consider voting. It's our duty and honor to vote, but when we do it, the action itself is small. Here in Houston, we have voting machines that include a scroll wheel. Back in the day, I'd go with my parents into those voting booths with the curtains and the levers. No matter how we do it, casting a vote is a small, simple action on an individual level but can have sweeping power when counted all the other votes.

The same is true for our various stay-at-home orders. My family of three is safe here in the house. The virus--we hope--is outside and we are inside. I've only ventured out last weekend to go to the grocery store and the hardware store. That's it. As of last night, we've eaten take out only twice, both times on Fridays. That's now become the thing we look forward to doing.

We took some extra precautions last night with the food: we used our patio table as a staging area. We emptied the Italian food out of the to-go containers and into clean plates from inside. The plastic containers remained outside until I used a plastic grocery bag to take them to the outside trash can.

I'll admit: it was a little weird going into the restaurant. It was bustling and busy, but I just didn't want to touch anything. I didn't. I had my protocol in place: credit card already removed from my wallet, my own pen, plastic gloves, and a paper bag in the car on which to set the food (and throw away later). Overkill? Nope. Not in this environment.

The New Normal

Speaking of environment, this is still a writing blog and I do have a few writing things I read this week.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch published the second of two business-related post on what she is calling The Waiting Game. In these posts, she discusses how we writers can weather this black swan event and emerge on the other side ready to face the new normal. Because that's what is going to happen: there won't be the old normal. There will only be post-Coronavirus normal. It's best we prepare for it.

Speaking of the new normal, yesterday, writer Kevin Tumlinson published a fantastic series of tweets on his Twitter account (@KevinTumlinson) about the new normal. In his series, he posits that YouTube is well positioned to become the go-to location for on-demand entertainment. Most of us already know this, but not as many writers are there. Our own Beau Johnson does his posts via video on Fridays. Ironically it was something I had considered in 2019, but pushed aside for reasons I can't remember.

Anyway, back to Kevin's thread. Just read it. There is lots of good information in here, and it really makes you think differently about the future.

Be a Historian

The historian in me continues to be fascinated at some of the parallels that 2020 is reflecting. The obvious is the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. Another is The Battle of Britain, 1940, as the folks in England hunkered down every night for nearly three months and endured the constant bombing.

But another is the sacrifice folks made who survived the Great Depression. For most of my 51 years, I looked back at those times with awe and reverence at how everyday citizens survived the greatest economic disaster of the Twentieth Century.

One of the things that lets us know what life was like back in history are personal letters and journals. When I conducted research for my Masters thesis, I studied the 14th Texas Infantry in the Civil War. A key document was a journal of one of the captains. It gave me a first-hand account of camp life, and even provided me with a title.

I encourage everyone to keep records of this time. Write a daily journal, or jot down your thoughts and fears and expectations and the little things you are doing now to get through each day. Save emails in a special folder. I've already got my "Coronovirus" folder in gmail. Write it all down to help you remember.

I used to ask my grandparents what it was like in the Great Depression and World War II. Those questions started in the 1980s, forty years after the fact. Sure, their memories were fine, but imagine if they had kept a journal.

Decades from now, it'll be our grandkids who ask us what it was like to live through 2020 as the Coronavirus inexorably swept across the world. All the events we haven't experienced yet might color our memories. Now, those future memories are real life.

Write them down and remember.

Stay safe, my friends.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 12 AKA Control the Contollables

I’ll admit something: I often write these posts with little reference to real world. I’ve always thought folks who read the posts here at get enough of the real world, so why inject it here?

Not today. I do have writing comments, but I’ll get to them later. Let’s talk about what’s happening.

Coronavirus Is Changing the World

I’m a historian and I always look at things in the long span of history. It’s why many things that irritate me don’t surprise me because we’ve likely seen it before. Back when this virus started, my wife asked if it would get over here. I said of course it would. If the 1918 Spanish Flu could reach American shores with only boats and trains, the 2020 Coronavirus would have a much easier time with planes thrown in the mix.

Now, we’re all hunkered down in our homes and apartments. Many of us are losing our jobs. When this whole thing started for us Americans, I likened the Wuhan portion to the start of a war, the invasion of Poland, for example that initiated World War II. This week, however, I’ve taken on a more nuanced viewpoint: this is like the Battle of Britain in 1940.

For months, England was bombed by the Nazis. Nightly, the population spent time in bomb shelters, praying the bombs wouldn’t fall right where they were. They carried on their lives, but it was different, challenging, and seemingly forever. What ironic timing I started listening to Erik Larson’s new book, The Splendid and the Vile, about that very event.

Eventually, however, the bombs stopped falling. There was an end. The Allies persevered, but things had changed.

Things will change in 2020 as well. As much as we want this hunkering down to end, what we really want is to know what happens next in the story of human history. Ain’t that the truth. I opined to the family that the ‘words of the year’ might be ‘flatten the curve.’

But that got me to thinking about New Year’s Eve 2020. Nine months away. What’s it going to be like then? Will this be over, or will Phase 2 be in full swing? Boy, do we want the answers to that, huh?

Controlling the Controllables

On the writing front, I’ve posted here about controlling the controllables. That is, we can write, edit, format, and design a book all we want right up until it’s published. After that, a book belongs to the world, and readers will make up their own minds about the book.

The same thing applies here with our current crisis. The sheer enormity of the situation can almost paralyze us into non-action or, worse, destructive action. I can’t fathom what doctors have to do on a daily basis in Italy. I can’t imagine needing medical supplies but having none. I can’t comprehend some of the numbers and data I see on the news.

If I were to let it get to me, I’d probably cry every day. I did, once, mainly because my son is a high school senior and his memories will be of staying home and away from his friends, likely no prom. Graduation is iffy. It freaking sucks.

But I had a moment of clarity one morning as I said my daily prayers. I think it was Tuesday, the first full day I worked from home. I am not a doctor or a medical professional. I’m not a decision maker, a restauranteur, or a guy stocking shelves in the grocery store. I’m just one guy—a son, a husband, a father, a friend, a co-worker—who is in the same boat as everyone else. The best thing, the absolute best thing I can do for me, my family, and my community is to do my part.

To control what I can control, and that means staying put.

I listen to the mayor and the police chief as they talk about local directives. I listen to the state and national leaders. I monitor the news, but do not obsess over it. Nor do I check it frequently. One reason is that it can be so depressing. Another is I have a day job at an oil and gas company. Talk about double anxiety.

That moment of clarity I was talking about? Well, here it is: my whole life has prepared me for what’s to come. I am who I am today as a result of every single decision I made from the time I could make them until today. Did I ever think I could work from home? Not really, until I discovered I could in 2011 and learned how to be even more productive. Did I ever think I could stay optimistic in times like these? Yes, because I had family members who showed me how. Did I ever think I could write a book? No, until I did, and I did it word by word, chapter by chapter, day by day, until the words ended up as a book.

Day by day is the only way we have to deal with our situation. You are stronger than you can possibly imagine. If you can simply get through a new day, count your blessings and do it all again the next day. It ain’t easy. In fact, it can be damn hard. But it’s not impossible. A thing is only impossible when you haven’t done it yet. After that, it gets so much easier. Well, how about more straightforward. Life isn’t exactly easy nowadays.

Control the controllables. Works for writing books. It’ll work for the year 2020.

The Secret Weapon for Creatives: Keep Creating

I promised something writing related, so here it is.

I’m writing a story for an upcoming project. It’s one of my Calvin Carter, Railroad Detective, stories set in the 1880s. I’ll admit all this real-world news killed the imagination for the first part of the month.

But this week, something changed. Maybe it was the work-from-home environment where I don’t have to commute and, thus, have more time prior to work time, but I found myself getting through this story in chunks.

And man oh man, did it feel good to write those words! For a little bit each day, I got to escape to the 1880s and stand next to my characters as they figure out how to stop a hijacked train.

So, you writers or creatives out there: keep creating. Keep writing. If nothing else, you’ll escape.

Stay safe. Stay calm. Stay focused on what you can do to help.

That’s my message to you this week.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 11

Well, it's been a week.

I'm not going to spend much time about the COVID-19 virus because it's all over the news and sometimes, we need to step away from the news. Just for a little bit. It's good to put some distance between the constant news scrolling across our screens or the various tweets on Twitter.

This is Spring Break down here in Houston and my wife's birthday. I took two days off from the job. One day was spent here in town, having a nice brunch, catching a showing of "The Invisible Man," and ended with some excellent sushi. The other day involved us traveling to Alvin, Texas, to visit the antique mall, a lunch at Killen's BBQ in Pearland, Texas, and a Half Price Books stop. Found HELLBENT, the third Orphan X novel by Gregg Hurwitz. I love finding books you want out in the wild.

Both days had me away from the news and social media for large swaths of both days. It was a nice break, especially when we tuned back into the news and seeing our new reality set in. I'd recommend it from time to time. Remain vigilant, of course, but you don't have to be vigilant 24/7.

The two-day break wasn't the only good thing this week.

Between Stories

Over on his website, Steven Pressfield had a timely post. It stemmed from a question: What to do between books.

His answer: there should be no 'between books.'

Why? Because it kills your momentum. Pressfield paraphrases the bodybuilder Jack Lalanne: every day we miss, it is that much harder to start writing again.

Boy, ain't that the truth. I started writing a new story for an anthology this week. Yay! The opening scene was pretty easily penned in one session. Yay again. Chapter 2 not so much. I know what I am going to write--mostly--but the words didn't flow as smoothly as when I was writing every day.

But the good news was the words came. And it felt good to be writing again, especially this week.

I started on 11 March, which was my grandfather's birthday. I aim to keep the momentum going.

For both things: writing and in creating breaks from the news.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 10 AKA Organic Growth and Contingency Plans

I started the week thinking I'd write about one thing. I ended the week with a cautionary tale

Organic Growth

My son is a fan of a particular franchise. He makes videos about it, sharing them, and watching videos taken by other fans.

But he also takes a break from active fandom. For the latter part of each year through February, he doesn't devote much time to watch videos of other fans or much of anything. He sets a date for his new season to start, and he hit that mark this week.

On 1 March when he started up again, he marveled at how many more views his videos had received during his time away. He was really happy that viewership rose without him uploading new content. His subscriber list also grew.

"That's organic growth," I told him. "It's the kind of thing all creatives long for."

I asked him more questions about his videos. Turns out one seems to be a catalyst. It's an adjacent video, one not directly related to the franchise, but one that melds two franchises together. (I know I'm being vague, but he didn't want me to name drop him.)

His one, out-of-the-ordinary video actually got him more interested viewers. It also brought it viewers of that other franchise who watched, liked what they saw, and watch more of my son's videos.

In other words, his back list brought him more subscribers, more fans. Now, this year, as he makes newer videos, he'll be able to grow his fan base.

But I was struck by that one franchise-merging video. For him, that was the one of the key drivers to earn more viewers. I got to thinking how a writer might do something like that.

I'm still thinking, but the possibilities are exciting and nearly endless.

Oh, and I can't help but wonder if he's onto something in taking a break from a beloved franchise. His excitement built up until his new season started, making it all the more sweeter.

Contingency Plans

I'm thinking the vast majority of us writers--both traditionally published and independents--do not make our money solely from our writing. For those of us in this group, we have day jobs that serve as the primary means of our income, leaving the book business as a side hustle.

That's where I am. I love the book business, but for me, it's the second thing I do. By day, I have a job.

And, after this week, I still do.

Every company goes through a reorganization from time to time, and my company's doing it now. Well, just my team. I am incredibly blessed and fortunate to have maintained my position. I've been on the other side before and it ain't pretty. Most recently, in October 2017, was without a job. I thought I'd get tons of writing done with all the free time because, really, how much time could looking for a job take?

All of it. Looking for a job is a full-time job. Not only that, but it drains the mental energy, too.

Some of that dread seeped into my mind this week before I was told I would stay. It naturally got me to thinking about the side hustle. At the present time, it's not a lot of money. I get nearly all my joy in the writing of the tales. The icing on the cake is where others read them. But I really do enjoy readers who read and share my books.

I have lots of ideas about improving my discoverability, but up to now, I've not acted on them. After this week, and after the example of my son's franchise, maybe it's time to start.