Committing to a Project

One of my biggest flaws as a writer is my tendency to be scatter-brained with my ideas. I think this is why I’m such a big fan of NaNoWriMo–the incentive of accomplishing something at the end of 30 days and getting that sticker on the website encourages me to focus on only one project. But when I don’t have that extra motivation, it’s hard for me to stick to one thing.

This mostly comes from the fact that I can’t turn off my brain to other ideas. Ideas for stories, characters, and scenes pop into my head constantly throughout the day. Most of them are worthless, of course, but some stick around. Sometimes, I’ll be on the train or in the middle of a workday, and I’ll think of a great scene in another project–maybe one that I’ve put to the side or one that I haven’t even started.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, my most effective way to address these ideas is to give into them–sort of. I keep a small notebook with me wherever I go, and when these ideas pop up, I jot them down, but I don’t feed into them any more. I just write down enough information so that when I come back to that idea, whether it’s in one day, one month, or one year, it’ll remind me what the idea was all about. Sometimes, that means I need to write part of a scene. I have dialogue or descriptions in my head that need to get out. But once that idea is written down, I can push it out of my head and focus on the project at hand.

The project I’m currently working on is tentatively called The Hylands. It’s about siblings who are brought together after their eccentric father dies unexpectedly, and since you should know my tastes by now, you know there’s something weird and creepy going on. I think it’ll into the science fiction and horror genres. I love writing these characters–they’re all weird, and they all have secrets. But sometimes, when I’m writing a connecting scene or I’ve been writing from one POV for awhile, I get bored. And boredom means writer’s block. So, I pull out my black notebook, cheat on my new project for just a bit, and get a burst of creativity from something new and exciting. I’ve found that when I do that, I’m able to go back to The Hylands with a fresh pair of eyes and get more accomplished.

What about you, fellow writers? Is it hard for you to stick with one project? What do you do to keep yourself on track?

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Developing Characters and the MBTI

Any writer will tell you that character development is one of the most important skills we need. It’s not enough to know what your character looks like or what she does for a living–you need to know your character inside and out. What are their fears? What was their childhood like? What do they do in their spare time? What do they do when they can’t sleep?

A great way to further develop your characters is through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. If you don’t know what the MBTI is, here’s a short overview: The MBTI creates 16 distinct personality types by testing for preferences in four categories:

Introversion (I) vs. Extroversion (E): How you approach the world.
Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N): How you take in information
Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F): How you process information
Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P): How you make decisions

Your preference for each of these four subcategories creates your type–for example, INTJ, ESTP, etc.

If you don’t know your own type, I highly recommend taking one of the many free tests online. Finding out your type is a just the first step–there is more fun stuff to do, like examining your cognitive functions. But for the purposes of this post, I’m going to stay focused on types.

Different types respond to situations in different ways. Deciding what your characters are is a great way to get to know them better and to make their actions consistent throughout your story.

Let’s say, for example, your protagonist is an ESTP. An ESTP’s dominant function is their extroverted sensing–in other words, your protagonist spends a lot of time in the present world. She notices things around her, and she takes in information based on what she sees and observes. She probably takes risk, and she’s not focused on past events. This protagonist isn’t the type of person to sit around and dwell on an idea. This protagonist is going to find a solution to her problem by doing.

Typing while writing can also create tension between your characters. If your ESTP protagonist has an ENTJ friend/love interest, look at their opposing functions to create realistic conflict. Js love rules and planning; Ps like to keep their options open. If your protagonist and the ENTJ are making a decision together, they’re going to approach it in very different ways. This will lead to conflict. Exploit their personalities!

How can you type your characters? Well, you can do it one of two ways: you can type your characters before you start writing, and structure your characters’ actions, or you can write a few chapters and type your characters based on how they’re acting. Also, these are YOUR characters, and no one’s keeping track but you, so if you type your protagonist as an ESTP, but she’s acting more like an ESFP, it’s not a problem. Typing your character isn’t rigid–it just creates a guideline for how your character might act.

There are so many great websites out there to give you more information on the MBTI. Here are some that give good summaries:
http://www.16personalities.com/
http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/
http://www.personalitypage.com/html/portraits.html

If you want examples of the MBTI in fictional characters, check out Funky MBTI Fiction here: http://funkymbtifiction.tumblr.com/

Does anyone else type their characters? Do you find it helpful?

Kindle Free Promotion: The Recap

Last week, I offered a free promotion of the e-book version of my book, The Historian. I didn’t really know what to expect when I did this promotion, and I’m sure a lot of indie authors feel the same way. I thought I’d write a recap to chronicle my experience.

I read on a GoodReads forum that some people have had upwards of 15,000 people download their books during a free promotion. I had no such luck. But I did do pretty well.

In total, I “sold” over 4400 copies of my book. That’s a jaw-dropping number to me. I never had any expectations that I would distribute so many. At the peak of the promotion, Saturday, The Historian topped out as the #3 bestseller in the Science Fiction (for free books), #2 in the subgenre Dystopian, and #1 in the subgenre Time Travel. That’s not too bad for a first-time author.  I think my peak in the overall bestsellers for free books was somewhere in the 20s or 30s, though I’m not entirely sure.

The promotion ended yesterday morning. Since then, I’ve had two reviews come in on Amazon, and two ratings on GoodReads. Of course, I would love more, but it’s still early.

My sales the next day weren’t great, but I did sell some copies, which is more than I was doing before the promotion. Likewise, my sales aren’t great today, but I’m still in the top 100 bestsellers in the Time Travel subgenre for books and e-books (for now).

Overall, I definitely consider the Kindle promotion to be a success. I’m glad that my book was distributed to so many people. I hope that people are actually reading (I know that I’m guilty of downloading free/cheap books and neglecting to read them right away), and more than that, I hope the readers are loving the book.

During the next cycle, I’ll try out the Kindle Countdown Deal and see how that goes. Any authors out there have experiences with Kindle promotions?

2015 Reading List

This year, I’m challenging myself to read 100 books through the  Goodreads 2015 Reading Challenge.  I usually read 2 or 3 books at a time, because I get too impatient to wait until I’ve finished one to start the next one.  There are just too many good books waiting! I know that books will crop up that I haven’t thought of, but here is a list of books on my must read list for 2015:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (*If I have to leave out one, it’ll be this one)
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Revenge of Geography by Robert D. Kaplan
11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King
Blood of Angels by Michael Marshall
Collapse by Jared Diamond
American Gods by Neil Gaimon
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Weaveworld by Clive Barker
Books of Blood #3 and #4 by Clive Barker
The Intruders by Michael Marshall
The Peripheral by William Gibson
The Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin (*Wishful thinking. I’m unrealistically optimistic for a 2015 release).

That’s 25 titles for the new year. That leaves me 75 to go. I tried to mix classics and contemporary novels, and I even put on a few non-fiction books on there.

Have I left anything out? Any recommendations for other must read books for the new year?