S. J. Kelley

Official author website

Three month plan: GAME ON!

I’ve just finished my first round of taxes as a business. Complicated. I don’t have any revenue yet, but I’m claiming my craft/marketing books and training programs. Still have to figure out how to bring my personal library into a partnership. Fun times.

I’m also trying to plan out my next three months. I’ve negotiated having Tuesdays and Thursdays off at work from late Feb – July. February and March will be taken up with my second job (teaching as an adjunct), but I’ve got from March 29 – July 7 to make something happen (the last 3 weeks of July will be taken up with family activities, since the kids are off school).

So that gives me 14-15 weeks, or about 29 full work days plus whatever additional time I can steal from evenings and weekends (with my family responsibilities, it won’t be much).

I’ve edited down Act I of my WIP, and a bit of Act II, and I’m at 27,300 words. Good words! I think I’ve gotten into a groove now in terms of style and voice.

Each Act looks like it will be 24,000 words after editing. I’m a taker-outer rather than a putter-inner, so I have to learn to write in the leaner style I’ve developed while editing. In any case, this would make each book 96,000 words, and I want 3 books ready to go for launch, so 288,000 words less the 27,300 equals 260,700. That means I have to write 17,380 words/week.

Holy crapola!

Assuming I can get 7 hours in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and an hour in on every other day, I’ll get 19 hours a week. Let’s make it 20 to have round numbers. That means I need to write 869 words per hour. My top speed was about half that. Let’s hope I’ll be a bit quicker now that I’m more practices in my protagonist’s voice; yikes!

I’m going to make my goal 17 k/wk, 1100 words on MWFSS, and 6000 words on TR.

For the next two weeks, I’ll focus on doing scene-by-scene outlines of the three books. I’ve got a 9600 word narrative of where I want Book 1 to go, and another 3400 of ideas of the overall series, but I need to flesh out the nuts and bolts of how I’m going to translate that into scenes, and need to work on Books 2 and 3. I’ve got about 18 hours in the next two weeks to make that happen.

GAME ON!

Motivation

So much of the battle to become an established self-published author boils down to motivation. When I plan out my schedule, it looks like I can get in 10 to 15 hours a week to work on this business, but when reality knocks I’m exhausted, the kids want attention (and to be honest they should be getting more), and it seems impossible to work constantly without having some down time to read, watch a movie, or otherwise unwind.

Readers of this blog will know that I’ve waffled between getting up early or staying up late to get things done. Alarms don’t seem to work for me for longer than a one week period – no matter how much sleep I get it, even if it is 9 or 10 hours, I despise getting up in the morning. Conversely, if I stay up late my creative juices have run dry, extracted in the masticator that is my day job.

I’ve tried many ways to get around this conundrum. Since waking up to an alarm is so difficult, I have instead started setting an alarm to remind me to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and since my faculties are usually not as compromised in the evenings, this is easier to stick to. My latest is to set an alarm to remind myself to get ready for bed at 8:30 pm, and when I inevitably awake at night, if the clock says 4:30 or later, I get up. There’s a bit of science around this. If you wake up naturally, you are usually at the end of the sleep cycle, and thus even if you have had less sleep, you will be significantly less drowsy. This was how I managed to get up this morning. Let’s see how it goes.

I’ve also upped my game when it comes to cues, particularly after reading Heidi Grant Halverson’s book Succeed. I’ve made some very specific goals (related to my novel, healthy eating, exercise, and family), printed up some Don’t-Break-the-Chains, and have written some goal statements on the whiteboard that I pass every morning on my way to the shower:

“When my alarm sounds, I will finish whatever I am doing as quickly as possible and go to bed.”

“If I get up early, focus, and avoid distraction, I will develop my indie career and make steps toward being my own boss.”

Next week, I will once again request to go down to working 3 days a week at my day job, instead of 5. This will be the third year that I have reduced my workload in an effort to make this indie career work. In the first year, I continued to work 5 days a week, but got off a few hours earlier each day. That didn’t work out because no one else seemed to respect the fact that my workday ended earlier, and where I am management I don’t get paid overtime, so essentially I was working normal hours for less pay. I learned from this when the second year rolled around, and asked to work just 3 days week. This time I was sabotaged by my need to take on a teaching job that consumed the other 2 days more than I had anticipated. By the time that job ended I was burnt out, but did manage to put in about 25,000 words, so there’s that. This year I will again go for the 3 days a week, but unfortunately I do have another teaching job. I’ve taken the last 2 weeks off from my main job to try to do all of my lecture prep in advance so that the month of March isn’t a complete wash. Looking good so far, but only time will tell.

Book review: Sometimes the Magic Works, by Terry Brooks

brooks_magic4/5 stars

“In Sometimes the Magic Works, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks shares his secrets for creating unusual, memorable fiction. Spanning topics from the importance of daydreaming to the necessity of writing an outline, from the fine art of showing instead of merely telling to creating believable characters who make readers care what happens to them, Brooks draws upon his own experiences, hard lessons learned, and delightful discoveries made in creating the beloved Shannara and Magic Kingdom of Landover series, The Word and The Void trilogy, and the bestselling Star Wars novel The Phantom Menace.

In addition to being a writing guide, Sometimes the Magic Works is Terry Brooks’s self-portrait of the artist. “If you don’t think there is magic in writing, you probably won’t write anything magical,” says Brooks. This book offers a rare opportunity to peer into the mind of (and learn a trick or two from) one of fantasy fiction’s preeminent magicians.” — Amazon blurb.

I really enjoyed this book; I love reading about how successful authors started their career. The majority of this book focuses on Brooks’ journey: how his success was launched by a perfect storm at the start of Del Rey books, how he stumbled along the way, and how the mind of a continual, lifetime storyteller works. I found his discussion of how his imagination has interfered with his everyday life illuminating, and especially enjoyed his two chapters about playing and exploring with his grandson Hunter. His style made me feel like I was sitting down and hearing him reminisce with a good friend.

His comments on craft are interspersed throughout the book. There is a section on outlining, the importance of letting your mind wander, and some traditional advice on writing engaging fiction (show don’t tell, start and end strong, etc.) If you’re a fan of Brooks’ style of fiction and were hoping for an in-depth look at his craft, this book isn’t it. It is more of a endearing and meandering conversation, where old nuggets of wisdom are professionally spit-shined so that even the most well-read could appreciate a thing or two.

I loved the “show don’t tell” example on pages 125-126:

Telling: “Maud was eighty-one years of age with piercing dark eyes and s tiff, squared-away stance that suggested aching joints. Gray hair hung in a single braid down her back, tied at the end with a ribbon. Deep age lines marked her strong, plain face. She was missing her right arm, the sleeve of her cotton dress pinned against the breast and neatly folded at the elbow. For any years, she had worked in a bookstore, and before that, as a CIA operative. She loved cats and had two old toms at present named Kibbles and Bits. But while cats were welcome in her home, birds were not. She hated birds because as a child she had always been afraid of their beady, quick eyes and sharp little beaks.”

Showing (I particular liked the underlined sentences): “Maud moved gingerly today, the result of another twenty-four hours added to her eighty-one years. Oddly enough, she felt the same as always, although her dark eyes might give her away to someone looking closely enough. Ignoring her stiffness and the ache in her joints, she brushed lightly at her braided gray hair and smiled at the sunlight streaming through her cabin window. The smile gave her lined face a warm and reassuring cast, the sort that always suggested to those she encountered that she had a good heart. Kibbles, the better half of Bits, trotted up to her, and she picked up the old tom and held him in the cradle of her good left arm. She glanced down at the empty right sleeve of her dress, checking her appearance the way she had been taught to do during her years with the CIA. Government agent never forgot their training. Or maybe it was booksellers who never forgot, she couldn’t remember. She laughed silently at herself, able to push back the years and the past. On a day like this, she could even feel kindly toward birds, and that was rare indeed.

I also enjoyed reading the chapter “On the Trail of Tolkien” where Brooks talks about what he feels the greatest similarity is between them. In my own writing, I want to keep this chapter firmly in mind. Here’s my favourite part, from page 190: “It was Tolkien’s genius to reinvent the traditional epic fantasy by making the central character neither God nor hero, but a simple man in search of a way to do the right thing… Ordinary men placed in extraordinary circumstances are far more interesting.”

I would strongly recommend this book to someone who enjoys author biographies, but in terms of a craft book I think there are better ones out there. Regardless, if you are considering writing Fantasy, this is a great book to pick up.


Book Review: The Giver, by Lois Lowry

thegiver2/5 stars

“The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community. Lois Lowry has written three companion novels to The Giver, including Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.” — Amazon

I’ve had “The Giver” on my to-read list for some time, and eventually bought a very nice hard cover edition of the quartet some time ago (beautiful book; love it when they have the ribbon bookmarks in the hard covers). The book has since languished on my shelf. Then the other night I found myself too exhausted to read, yet too worn out from the day to go to sleep and face another after a long blink, and so I combed through the offerings on Netflix looking for some easy to absorb escapism. Then I saw that they had made a movie of The Giver in 2014. I looked up the trailer on YouTube and was intrigued. But of course, I can’t watch the movie before reading the book. So what did I do at 9:15 pm when I had to wake up the next morning at 6:30 am?

I decided that I would finish the book then and there.

Although I read about a page a minute, and the book is slim, it still took me 3 hours. The next workday was rough, let me tell you. And to be honest, I don’t think it was worth it.

After the first few pages I was really interested; I felt that Veronica Roth of Divergent fame must have read this book at some point. But then the story failed to launch for me. Granted, this is an old book, and perhaps the “science of the art” of commercial fiction wasn’t as prominent back then, but I felt it was a slow, slow launch into the story. And then, just as things were getting started, it was over. The midpoint felt like it should have been an inciting incident, and the ending felt like it would have been a great midpoint, where the protagonist finally switches from being reactive to being proactive. Yet the book just ENDS! And it ends AMBIGUOUSLY!

I am not a fan of non-endings. I thought to myself, “Surely the next book will pick up where this left off. Maybe I’ll just read a chapter or two.” But the next book had completely different characters. Frustrating.

I understand that Lowry won a Newbery for this. I understand that 83% of readers on Amazon give this 4-5 stars. But I just didn’t like it. As I was reading I had this strange feeling that I was reading a literary novel wrapped in genre paper, but the literary side wasn’t true literary, and the genre side wasn’t real either. I dunno. It just wasn’t for me.

That said, the ending did pull at my heart strings; I loved the relationship between Jonas and Gabe. So after throwing the book on my night stand in a huff, I proceeded to spend 20 minutes surfing the internet in an effort to find out if the ending was just a hypothermic hallucination or the real deal (while trying not to ruin the remaining books in the series). Thankfully I did find out, but learned that I would have to read all four books to have this resolved.

I’m not sure if I’m willing to make that commitment.

Book review: The Martian, by Andy Weir

themartian5/5 stars

“Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. 

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. 

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. 

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?” — Amazon blurb

I’m normally not a big sci-fi reader (my husband is the sci-fi fan in this house), but after I heard about this on the Rocking Self-publishing Podcast more than once, I had to read it. Both times the book was mentioned, those discussing it didn’t even want to talk about what it was about, for fear that they would ruin it for the audience. Color me intrigued. I bought the hardcover, because I figured this book would be good enough to earn a permanent position on my bookshelf. I wasn’t wrong.

This book was unputdownable. It takes place in the not so distant future, when mankind has just started sending manned missions to Mars. This is mission number three, and they accidentally leave one of the astronauts behind, thinking he was dead. The story takes off from there, chronicling his time on Mars and his attempts to survive.

A good portion of the book is a series of log entries, but then it starts to switch back and forth between log entries and regular third person prose. I initially found this quite jarring, because the voice of the main character is very distinct and the book had stayed in the log entry style for quite some time before introducing this other perspective. That said, after a while I got used to it, and even within those third person prose sections, the voices of the characters came out (although many of the characters shared the same personality in their quips).

Looking at this as a writer, I think Andy Weir’s strong point is his voice and his conversational style, but at the same time I felt there could be more diversity across characters. In a way the book had one dominant voice: a very intelligent person under pressure, who nonetheless can see the humor in a situation. I thought the character could develop more across the book, but I think his steady personality suited the story in the end. There were times when his base personality shuddered a bit, but I wouldn’t classify those times as “opportunities for character growth.”

Multiple times when I was reading this book, I told my husband that it was the best book I have ever read. It certainly kept me turning the pages. I have read other books with better world building, and other books with better character growth, but this one was one of the best at keeping me glued to the page, worried about the character. Mark Watney was a good man with an admirable personality, and I was rooting for him the whole way. I can count on one hand the times that I have flipped ahead in a book because I could not stand to have to keep reading to wait to see what happened (and I’m one of those people that if a book is said to be good, I try to not even read the dust jacket because I want the true immersive experience!) I had to flip ahead three times when reading The Martian.

I’d recommend this book to anyone and everyone, whether you like sci-fi or not. I really liked the message of the book, which was, for once, a positive and lovely statement about humanity: that when someone is trouble, everyone, in every culture, has a desire to help them. They also used this as the opening to the movie trailer. It was so nice to have a book that touted the virtues of humanity, at a time when most books seem to explore the tragic consequences of being human.

I’ve been busy

I haven’t posted in some time, but I’ve learned so much. I feel like I can take this writing business by the horns now. I stopped tracking my time, because tracking my time was taking too much time (oh the irony). I have to get over the strange feeling of not having metrics to track, and just accept that it’s for the better good. Not quite there yet.

I start my morning by reading The Passive Voice and the latest posts on KBoards; I check back in on them at lunch. In the evenings, I read books on craft and marketing. I’ve recently devoured several books by James Scott Bell, and have decided that I should really look at the iconic texts of storytelling craft: Larry Brooks’ “Story Engineering” and “Story Physics”; Robert McKee’s “Story”; and Christopher Vogel’s, “The Hero’s Journey.” I also tracked down a copy of Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat Goes to the Movies.” In terms of marketing, I’ve been enjoying Ryan Levesque’s “Ask” and Jeff Walker’s “Launch.” I’ll be reviewing all of these resources in the coming weeks hopefully (but with my track record of keeping this blog updated, who knows? Business comes first 🙂 ).

I also broke down and bought an AlphaSmart Dana; an antiquated piece of retrotech that runs off three AA batteries and can’t read SD cards over 1 GB in size. It’s an electronic word processor running on PalmOS and it does one thing well: typing. The keyboard is fantastic, and it’s a great distraction-free writing tool. Bought a whole set of them because shipping to Canada was so expensive I figured, why not? At least if one breaks I have a backup, and I also now have a dedicated machine for working on this new writing empire I’m building, heh. I’ll probably talk about it more in future.

I can’t believe another year is almost over… I started this blog in 2014; a few posts back I thought I’d publish my first episode around this time of year. Now, I’m realizing I really should have the complete series plotted before I get any further into my manuscript, even if it takes longer before I make a sale.

I’ve just been through our first crazy crunch time at work, and some serious burn-out. Now I’m heading head-long into another that won’t let up until February. Somehow, this year, I have to keep my head above water and keep working toward my business goals. This is despite the fact that I have taken on a part-time teaching job (yet again), as well as additional part-time consulting work.

Wish me luck.

New blog section: book reviews!

I read a lot. I read for entertainment; I read to learn. I read so much that all of the books sometimes start jumbling together. So I’ve decided to start reviewing the books I read, making notes of the things I enjoyed as a reader, but also as a writer.

In terms of fiction, I quite like young adult fantasy, dystopian fiction, urban fantasy, and paranormal if it hasn’t been overdone. I’m just now expanding into adult fiction, and have started sampling the romance genre as part of my research into indie publishing. I definitely sway more toward contemporary romance and sweet romance. I’ve also started reading some suspense and mystery novels, but again I prefer those that are a little softer around the edges.

In terms of nonfiction, my two main categories are books about writing, and books about productivity/reaching your goals. Although I am also a big fan of what I call, “stealth anthropology,” books such as Scratch Beginnings, and Nickel and Dimed. On my to read list are Black Like Me, and The Cross in the Closet. I also enjoy journalistic discussions of the way we think and psychology (The Psychology of Persuasion, Think and Be Rich, Choice), and discussions about sustainability (The 100 Mile Diet, How bad are bananas?, Garbology). I also devour anything by Malcolm Gladwell, regardless of the topic.

So now that you know my tastes, that is what I will be discussing in posts labeled with “Book reviews.” I have told myself that I am not allowed to write these posts during my writing time in the morning, so these will have to happen during my leisure time in the evenings. My plan is that once I finish a book, I write a review before I start another. The exception will be this week, where I am training myself to get up early and taking baby steps (i.e., all I have to do is get up and then I can play as long as I get my ass out of bed), so I will try to write reviews of my most recent reads.

Getting back on the train

I’m not one for excuses, but when I’m looking over this blog I want to know the type of things that tend to set me back. My last post was in May. May. That’s not to say that I stopped working toward my goal. During that time I devoured information about the indie publishing market. I’ve read many, many nonfiction books on the topic. I also started listening to the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast, with Simon Whistler, and it has been absolutely fabulous.

My in-laws visited for about three weeks, so things were a wash during that period, but since then I’ve been trying to get back into a regular routine. I still waiver between wanting to stay up late at night, and getting up early. During the day, I’m energetic, and think it won’t be any trouble to stay up late, after all I did it all through university. At nighttime, as soon as the kids are down, I may be able to make it for a half an hour or an hour or so before my eyelids start closing on their own. And I say to myself, “well, just get up early!” And yet when the alarm clock tolls the dawn of a new day (and I set it so that the new day starts before the actual dawn), I have become a zombie.

So I printed off a sheet for Monday through Sunday, when I would wake up, work on the novel, have leisure time, and sleep. I entered a period of optimization. I realized that I am not a robot. You would think that would be immediately apparent, butt it’s not. I love to read. I’ll often start a book at night when the kids are in bed, and because it is so good I will read until 2 o’clock in the morning and therefore be a zombie for several days. Yet when I was trying to maximize the amount of time I would spend writing, I essentially eliminated all leisure time. This does not work for me. I’ve also realized that I need more than the standard eight hours of sleep a night, and benefit from occasionally getting extended periods of sleep. Thus, I bring you my new schedule:

Day Wake-up Shower Write Leisure Sleep
Monday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs
Tuesday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am n/a 8 pm / 9 hrs
Wednesday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs
Thursday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs
Friday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9:30 pm 9:30 pm / 8.5 hrs
Saturday 6 am Later! 6-7:30 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 9 hrs
Sunday 6 am Later! 6-7:30 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs

Tax withholding and owning a company

When I initially looked into self-publishing, I came to the conclusion that I would have to register a business so I could get an EIN (Employer Identification Number) from the IRS in the United States so that 30% of my earnings wouldn’t be withheld. Apparently it took a long time to get a ITIN (Individual Tax Payer Identification Number), but registering as a business made it much faster. However, upon reading several threads on KBoards, it appears that the policies have changed and now all that is needed to reduce tax withholding to 0% is an international tax identification number (if your country has a tax treaty with the US). For Canadians, this is your SIN number.

It may seem odd that I’m looking into this so early in the process, but I’m very judicious in spending my personal time and if something won’t advance my life goals, I generally shy away from it. So while I enjoy writing, I’m in large part motivated by trying to become self-employed, and taking a 30% cut or an unfair exchange would significantly impede that. Also, I have a very strong desire to stay anonymous because I prefer to just blend into the crowd; not having to set up a company means my name isn’t attached to it in public record, which is awesome. (I had looked into setting up a company anonymously, but apparently this is very shady, even though Canada ranks in the top for these ‘shell companies’).

Aside from the ease of obliterating withholding tax, I also wanted to register a company so that I could have an official-looking publisher name in the publisher field. I have yet to determine how to do this, as once again the owner of the company would have to be public record. Maybe I’ll just have to skip that part in the interest of staying a recluse 🙂 I think I’ve figured it out! Nothing strange needed to keep your privacy after all, if you’re in the right province. Thankfully, I am! But being hermit-like, I won’t go into the details 🙂 Suffice to say that hubby and I are now the proud owners of Suspension Publishing.

When our books are finally written and we have to set up a mailing list, we’ll have to rent a P.O. Box, as to be in line with spam laws we’ll have to list a mailing address. I haven’t decided yet if we’ll do a physical box, or use a virtual mail service. We’ll see.

Registering a business, deducting expenses

As I contemplate purchasing some more software for my novel pursuits, I’m starting to seriously consider officially setting up a business so I can claim all these expenses. Altogether it will cost $175 to have an official home based business in my city. Ouch. But I do have to do it at some point, and it’s a one-time fee, so better to pay it now than when my dollars aren’t worth as much due to inflation. Also, going by the CRA’s definition, my business is already technically started because I know what I’m going to do and have been making steps toward it on a regular basis, so I guess I already have a home office? Of course, still making product so no sales yet. Not sure what my city defines a “start” as, but I’ll register soon regardless.

I’m kind of sad that I didn’t read through the CRA stuff before I filed my taxes. Last year I purchased a lot of writing books and software to do outlining and that all would have been tax deductible. I could go back and modify my return, but that’s a really big undertaking. Plus I think my big push in January is a good way to define the start of the business (seems to match the following from the CRA: “In order that there be a finding that a business has commenced, it is necessary that there be a fairly specific concept of the type of activity to be carried on and a sufficient organizational structure assembled to undertake at least the essential preliminaries.”). Anything in this tax year is game now that I have my head on straight! So far I have some writing craft books, a marketing course, and hopefully software if I can convince my husband of the expense, which looks dismal at the moment, heh.

The good news is I won’t have to register for any tax account, since I’m not earning more than $30k a year on this… ha! Hopefully I’ll have that problem at some point. But even so, I don’t sell the books directly, so not sure how this would work (the retailers would collect the tax so don’t see why I would need an account). I’m sure there’s some process for commissioned pieces in there, but I’ll open that can of worms if I ever get there.

Coming back to the topic of business registration: It appears that Canada does not have the LLC option of our American counterparts to protect our personal belongings should anything terrible happen in this process. The only choice I can go for for liability protection is a corporation, and the thought of corporate taxes is, quite frankly, terrifying. It appears the corporation would pay tax at about 11% for a Canadian-controlled private corporation (CCPC) claiming the small business deduction, and I think I would get paid as an employee and that would be taxed for income taxes. So double taxes? Confusing. In any case, the CCPC would function as it’s own “person” so I wouldn’t be able to deduct my expenses off my personal taxes. I think I’ll stick with sole proprietor (or partnership if my husband decides to get on board) for now, and if I become immensely successful I’ll look into this further.