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dictation_recorders-mainIf you’re like me, looking at the blank page can be intimidating at times. Where are the words and ideas going to come from to fill it?

Once I start writing, inertia takes over and I can usually keep going. It’s just that getting my fingers moving across my keyboard is harder than running a marathon.

I have found a way to make it easier to get started. Dictation.

I originally tried using a voice-to-text program on my phone. I would go out for a walk and dictate scenes and notes into my phone. The program would translate it into an e-mail that I would send to my home computer where I could cut and paste it into a document.

The problem was that the program didn’t pick up some of my words and mistranslated others. Sometimes, I would have to break my flow to make sure the program was keeping up with what I was saying. It would take me a while sometimes to figure out what I have been trying to say.

So, I cut out the middle man. I started recording my notes and scenes with a recording app. Then I would listen to the recordings and type it into a document. This took a little bit longer than direct translation, but I have few transcribing problems. I have also found that by writing this way, I have added to my original recording as I have been typing the recording up.

To me, this indicates that using the recording is working. It’s priming my creative pump so that I can keep writing on my own.

Using dictation has increased my productivity, which has made me a happy writer!

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37564145_1968752306492798_5403782325450309632_nI participated in a book signing this weekend that brought out hundreds of fans who wanted to get a signed book or a picture with the author. Unfortunately, they didn’t come to see me. Most of them came to see mega-bestselling author Nora Roberts. Also popular were New York Times bestselling authors Barbara Delinsky, Linda Howard, Julia London, and Kate Meader.

The location was in Robert’s bookstore, Turn the Page, in Boonsboro, Maryland. It is a nice local bookstore that fills two storefronts. Usually there is plenty of space to move around, but on this day, it was filled with so many people that you could barely move. I got caught on the opposite end of the store from where I needed to be, and it was easier to go outside and come in the back door.37633979_1968854289815933_3224202833523900416_n

I’m not complaining. I benefitted from the crowd and sold plenty of books myself. It also gave me a picture of what I wanted to shoot for. I want to fill bookstores with fans who enjoy my stories so much that they are willing to come out and wait for hours to spend a minute with me to get a picture and autograph.

It helped clarify that picture in my mind, so now I just need to keep writing until I reach that point.

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I’m usually pretty efficient and prolific, but in the past week, I have to admit, my heart hasn’t been in my work. If I worked in a typical business setting or newspaper, I might be able to feed off the energy of my co-workers or, failing that, take a few personal days.

I am a full-time freelancer, though, so if I don’t do the work it doesn’t get done.

That’s one of the big drawbacks of working for myself. I became a freelancer to write, which I love, but it involves doing a lot of the support work with making a living from writing. I use that to my advantage when I feeling dragged out like I do now. I work on one project for a while and then move onto another one and another one. It helps keep me moving, even if I’m moving slower than I typically do.

As far as days off go, I generally have to plan ahead for those, which requires me to actually get ahead of my work. That way I’m feeling now, that’s not likely to happen.

So I plod away waiting for Sunday to arrive when I can usually relax and recharge for the week.

If you are considering becoming a full-time writer, be warned. You need to be able to work when you’re tired and sometimes sick because it is all up to you when you are self-employed.

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UntitledDo you ever read a book and despair? It’s not because the book is sad. It is because it is written so well that you find yourself thinking, “I won’t ever be able to write that well?”

It happens to me from time to time. On the one hand, I love finding books like that because they stick with me. On the other hand, the comparison with my own writing leaves me feeling perpetually deflated.

I think that is one reason that I like going out to do talks or hand sell at festivals. I get to meet readers. Many of them come back to my tent year after year to see what my new publications are. Others stop by to talk about one of my books that they read.

That is manna for me. It keeps me from throwing up my hands and giving up because I won’t ever write like Brandon Sanderson, Erik Larson, or Ernest Hemingway.

Also, while fine writing sticks in my head, I try to keep from comparing my writing to it. For one thing, it would be comparing an author at the top of his or her game with someone (me) who is still getting better.9f2a936d3ba79285caad2a928ffd477705b98828-thumb

I would rather compare my writing with books that were published 10 and 20 years ago (Yes, my first novel was published in 1996, and I’ve been writing professionally since 1988.) I can see the progress I have made when I do that, and I imagine that my current writing will be that much better in another 10 or 20 years.

It’s not about the destination. It’s the journey, and my journey continues and will continue I imagine until I die.

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thDuring last week’s meeting of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade, we looked at some of the favorite writer’s websites of our members. These are sites that have lots of useful information for writers. We took a look at each of the sites and what they offer.

I’ve listed the sites below so you can take a look at them yourself and save them to visit frequently.

  • Writer’s Digest – The website for the nation’s leading writing magazine.
  • The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn’s website has lots of usable information, particularly for indie publishers.
  • David Gaughran – David Gaughran’s website has good information for indie authors.
  • Brandon Sanderson – NYT Bestseller Brandon Sanderson’s website has a great podcast and a lot of behind-the-scenes looks at a writer’s life and his process.
  • Alliance of Independent Authors – This organization’s site is filled with news that indie authors can use.
  • diyMFA – Another website chockful of useful writing information.
  • Daily Writing Tips – Learn something new about writing every day.
  • Writers Beware – Avoid the scam artists out there before they take crush your dreams and take your money.
  • Romance Writers Association Online Classes – Don’t let the name fool you. There are plenty of courses offered that have nothing to do with romance.
  • Publishers Marketplace – Get the news on what agents are selling, the publishers that are buying them, and what the publishers are paying.
  • Writer Unboxed – A great site with information to raise your writing to the next level.

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wayside2 (1).JPGI’ve done a lot of interesting things as a writer. Some have been fun like competing in a demolition derby. Some have appealed to the nerd in me like leafing through a 500-year-old illuminated manuscript. Some have made me part of history like being one of the first reporters on the scene of the Shanksville crash on 9/11.

Today, I’m taking part in something that makes me proud. A memorial wayside erected in Gettysburg to honor Marine Captain George W. Hamilton, a highly-decorated World War I Marine officer, and Gunnery Sergeant George R. Martin, is being dedicated today.

Additionally, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has issued a proclamation declaring June 26, 2018, as Captain George W. Hamilton and Gunnery Sergeant George R. Martin Remembrance Day “in grateful recognition of their military service.”

Marine Captain Hamilton, of World War I fame, survived the bloody Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918 (also known as the “Germans’ Gettysburg”), with honors, only to perish in a dive bomber crash on the Gettysburg Battlefield during Marine maneuvers held in 1922, along with Gunnery Sergeant Martin, a veteran of the Santo Domingo campaign.

On June 26, 1922, Captain Hamilton was piloting a de Havilland dive bomber over Gettysburg battlefield, with Martin, at the head of the column of 5,500 Marines arriving for training maneuvers and Civil War reenactments, when their airplane crashed while attempting to land on the Culp Farm, killing both aviators.

The deaths of the aviators were declared as line-of-duty deaths, resulting in their being the last such deaths to have occurred on the historic battlefield since the 1863 battle itself.

wayside1.jpgThe effort to create the memorial came about after I wrote The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg, (co-authored with Richard D. L. Fulton). The book is the only one on the topic, and it made local Marines and citizens aware of this forgotten event.

Years ago, a couple articles I had written led to a name being added to the National Officers Down Memorial. I was proud that day, but in that case, the memorial already existed. The Marine wayside would not have existed if not for the book Rick and I wrote. Now, the two Marines killed on the battlefield in 1922 will finally have their recognition.

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18077251_10155179628818290_9156547952808988124_oLast month, I participated in the Kensington Day of the Book, my first outdoor festival of the season. It can be an iffy time for an outdoor festival, but the weather was perfect this year. I always enjoy book festivals because not only do I get to meet people who like to read books, I get to meet other authors.

I’m always interested to see what other authors are producing. I expect mainstream published books to look great, but I feel a bit sorry for the author if they only have one or two titles to sell. Knowing how little mainstream publishers pay in royalties and how much the booth space costs, I know those authors need to sell a lot of books to break even.

For this festival, my guess is that they had to sell between 25-30 books to break even. I only had to sell four books to cover my booth costs. I also had a lot more titles to offer. With this combination, I can make back my booth costs with one sale, and I did.

I’m more curious to see what the indie authors are doing, especially if they have multiple titles. This means they have been writing for some time, and hopefully, have learned some useful things about publishing and marketing. These are the authors who I try to talk to. I want to pick their brains for things that I might try.

It’s always interesting what I learn. Some authors don’t believe in doing e-book giveaways. Others have seen its benefit in boosting sales. Some authors only work in a single series while others write stand-alone books or in a variety of genres. Some publish hardbacks, and others only publish softcovers.

If I see a great cover on a book, I question the author about who designed it, and I get contact information.

I ask about other shows the authors attend and things they have done to promote their books.

I have been a published novelist since 1996 and an indie author since 2001, and I am still learning new things about the process. I hope that I always continue to do so.

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Writing can be stressful work. I have multiple deadlines each week. You would think that I would get used to them, but every once in a while, one will sneak up on me. I will have to scramble and rearrange my schedule to get the story done.

Is it any wonder I have high blood pressure? (It’s not the only reason, but it certainly adds to it.)

Robert Frost said, “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” I agree with that.

So I make sure to laugh. I have a couple television shows I like to watch because they make me laugh out loud. I also enjoy two comic strips from my college days. I have read them time and again for years, and they still make me laugh.

So here’s my writer’s prescription for you: Read these two and write more in the morning.

41lrjtgSxjL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_The Complete Far Side by Gary Larson – This is a three-volume slipcased edition that collects everyone of Larson’s one-panel comics. I had all of the collections that were released over the years, but this collection has so many more that I had never seen before (according to the book, more than 1,100 of the comics had never been published in a collection before). This comic ran from 1980 to 1994, and I can’t think of a way to describe it other than wacky, irreverent, twisted, and funny.

41cEhCVtFnLThe Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson – This is a four-volume slipcased set that contains all of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips from 1985 to 1996. It’s the story of a mischievous and imaginative six-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger.

Both of these comics look at the world so differently that it’s hard not to laugh, and when I’m laughing, it’s hard to stay tense.

Writing should be a fun profession. Sure, it gets serious at times, but if you want to make a career out of it, you need to enjoy it. This is one way that I do.

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A page from my current project with some mark-ups.

Have you ever looked back at your older writings and wondered how you could have written that? Maybe the imagery was simplistic, the grammar poor, or the story cliché-ridden.

I have.

One of the things I like about being an indie author is that I can go back an update previously published works. Given that some of my books have been in print nearly 20 years, it shouldn’t be surprising that I find things that I want to update or correct.

I also discover older works that didn’t find a publisher when I initially shopped them around. I read them and think, “I still like this.”

I sometimes think that the piece is better than I can write now. That concerned me at first until I realized when I felt that way it was because I was comparing a finished book with a book in progress. Of course, there’s going to be a lot that needs to be improved in a draft.

When I’m writing a draft, I can get swept up into a conversation between two characters and forget that they are doing something while speaking. I might paint a scene with minimal details because I have fully visualized it yet. I may have pages of exposition with needed information that needs to be spread out through the story.

In my case, I need to be able to get these things written first to see where the flaws are that need to be fixed.

Still, it is nice to see that I have some unpublished manuscripts that I still like. That means I will probably go through them and publish them at some point.

I also like the fact that I can see how my writing has improved over the years. My goal is to make sure that I can still say that in 20 years about the books I’m writing now.

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DdfpPEkU0AATruuSo I’m back from a three-day weekend in Lancaster, Pa., for the 31st annual Pennwriters Conference. Once again, this conference did not disappoint.

I went looking for some tips to better marketing myself, and I found plenty of that. One session was called “School Visits 101” with Donna Galanti. I went looking for advice for how to get talks in schools. She delivered on that, but she also had information about preparing a presentation and publicizing it. I will be going over my notes from that session more than a few times to try and glean everything that I can from it.

Another session that I really liked was “Writing for New Technologies” with Katie Ernst. This session introduced me to some new possibilities for new markets using new technologies to sell your writing. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated by it since I am not an early adopter of new technology. However, I will try these new things out (slowly).

I had two classes and a luncheon talk that were all well attended. I thought I had flubbed the luncheon talk, but I got a lot of good feedback on it afterward.

I got to sit down 20 minutes with agent Louise Fury and talk about indie writing, marketing, and being a hybrid author. VERY INFORMATIVE! I loved it. She was very friendly and I’ve got more information from her that I need to follow up on. This was a new thing Pennwriters offered this year, and I hope they continue it.

I also pitched a couple agents projects I had done as J. R. Rada. This my pen name for YA, fantasy, and horror. I have been thinking about trying to get an agent for my work as J. R. Rada and continuing the indie route with my own name. Both agents asked to see different novels, so we’ll see how this all works out.

A great weekend for recharging the writing batteries!

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