Category Archives: Writing

The Pleasures of a Deadline

Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without a deadline.

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Last week, I was 5000 words behind where I should have been on my NaNoWriMo novel, which meant I had to write 15000 words in the last five days.

I finished with half a day to spare. In fact, my final day was an easy one, and I only had to write a few hundred words today.

So how did I do it? How did I go from so far behind to easily ahead? I could think of all kinds of abstract reasons, from having a better schedule this week to coming to an easier part of the book. But the real reason I finished on time was because I had a deadline.

It’s funny. National Novel Writing Month is completely arbitrary. Nobody really cares if you write 50 thousand words of fiction in November. You don’t gain anything by finishing and you don’t lose anything if you fail. Reporting is done on the honor system—no one knows for sure if you’ve done what you said you did. But something about having that silly deadline made me want to meet it.

I pushed myself at the end, and I had a couple of very long days. I could have pushed myself just as hard in the beginning of the month. Only I didn’t, because things weren’t urgent yet. Deadlines have a wonderful way of narrowing a writer’s focus, so the writing becomes the highest priority. That’s what I love about them. A deadline names one goal, and one goal only, and that kind of tunnel vision is great for creativity.

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In fact, I was wide awake most of last night, not because I was worried about the deadline but because I was excited about accomplishing my goal. I knew which chapter I wanted to work on and I was eager to get back to the keyboard. These last few days have been productive, happy ones for me, thanks to the pleasure of a deadline.

About the author: Alex Kourvo has recently switched from writing science fiction short stories and novels to writing romance. She wrote 50,000 words this month.

 

Still Writing. Send Pie.

As of today, I am officially 5000 words behind.

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I started off NaNoWriMo so strong. Like many writers at the beginning of November, I was energized by the prospect of writing quickly, encouraged by the community of authors, and in love with my novel-to-be. My novel idea was perky and full of promise and I knew I was going to have fun writing it.

I attended three write-ins, once driving an hour each way just to write with my buddies. Election day came, and I added words to my novel in between checking online for results. My fridge went kaput, but I got it fixed. A friend asked for an emergency beta read, and I found a way to sandwich that in, too. I got ahold of an ARC from my favorite writer of all time and I absolutely couldn’t resist reading a little bit of it.

And still, my word count grew. I love the novel I’m working on so very, very much. My characters are delightful, my world is interesting, and my plot is fun.

But then Thanksgiving happened. I have a big family, we all love to cook, and I was all set to make three dishes, which meant cooking most of Wednesday.

Then my power went out.

After some scrambling, I figured out a solution. I packed up my ingredients, carted them across town to my friend’s house, baked everything there, and then transported it back home. My power returned about four hours later, just in time to think about making Wednesday night’s dinner.

On Thanksgiving day, I went to my sister’s house. I carved the turkey like a boss. My nephew made me cry laughing. We got my mom to play Cards against Humanity with us. Unlike previous Thanksgivings, this year, my sister’s dog did not sneak into the kitchen and eat an entire cheesecake.

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Thanksgiving was awesome. But it certainly didn’t leave any room in the schedule for writing.

I admit, my first emotion when looking at today’s progress bar on the NaNoWriMo website was resentment.

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Why did NaNoWriMo have to happen during such a busy month? How could anyone be expected to write during Thanksgiving? Maybe people who don’t have families can do it. Maybe young people who don’t help their parents cook or do dishes. Maybe rich people who don’t cook at all. So unfair! Woe is me! Wah wah.

I’m ashamed to say that it took me most of this morning to get over myself. I remembered that every single month of the year is busy, not just November. I remembered that I chose most of the activities that were cutting into my writing time. And I remembered how incredibly blessed I am to have such a loving family who wants to spend time with me.

And I remembered that there is never a perfect time to write. I know the origin story of NaNoWriMo. It was accidental that it landed in November. It could have just as easily been another month. But November is actually perfect. It’s a reminder that writers write, period. It doesn’t matter what else is going on, because there will always be something else going on. If it’s not a holiday, it will be a vacation or extra work or home repairs or health problems.

Sometimes my word count will fall behind. Sometimes I’ll surge ahead. Sometimes (okay, a lot of time) I’ll freak out about an upcoming deadline and work extra fast at the end. It’s all normal.

This is my first-ever NaNoWriMo and I’m in it to win it. So if you have any encouraging words to spare, I will take any and all you’ve got to give me. Right now, I’m going to eat another slice of pumpkin pie and dive back to the world of my novel. I’ll check in next week with my word count total.

About the author: Alex Kourvo has recently switched from writing science fiction short stories and novels to writing romance. She is on her way to writing 50,000 words this month.

NaNoWriMo is for Everyone

Even professional writers can do NaNoWriMo.

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I’m doing it. I’m going to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. I’ve signed up on the website and I’ve got my project outlined and ready to go.

I also feel a little bit silly. I’m a professional writer, author of four published books and numerous short stories. I teach a class for beginning writers, encouraging new authors to write more, and I practice what I preach. As a full-time writer, I typically write more than 1667 words a day and will have no trouble finishing 50k words in a month. I’ve written fast before, and sustained it long-term, so I know the pace is reasonable.

And yet, I still want to try NaNoWriMo.

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National Novel Writing Month has gone on every November since 1999. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in a single month. There are no prizes other than bragging rights, but NaNoWriMo is extremely popular, attracting hundreds of thousands of participants. Some people take it on as a fun lark, just to see if they can do it. Others see it as a viable way to write a first draft quickly. Most of the participants are beginners or early in their careers. Professional writers are usually on the other side of the fence, cheering the participants on.

But today, I’m a beginning writer too. I’ve started writing in a new genre, which means basically starting over. As I’m learning the tropes and conventions of romance novels, I’m freaking myself out a little bit. I’m keenly aware of how much I don’t know, and it leads to second-guessing myself at the keyboard.

Writing with one finger on the delete key is no way to finish a book. If I’m ever going to get out of my own way, I’ve got to keep moving forward, filling page after page until I reach the end. NaNoWriMo seems to be the perfect opportunity at the perfect time. I’ll have an online community of writers, accountability, and no fear of bad results. In NaNoWriMo land, there is no such thing as awkward sentences, nonsensical plots, or putrid prose. Those are problems for later, during the revision stage.

In November, the only thing that matters is word count. You either have words on your page or you don’t. By the end of the month, I will have 50,000 of them.

About the author: Alex Kourvo has recently switched from writing science fiction short stories and novels to writing romance. 

Three Books to Bust Writer’s Block

 

Three very different authors each tackle writer’s block their own way.

The other day, someone asked me about writer’s block. Did I ever get it? Did I ever blog about ways to cope with it? Did I have any advice for him?

Like I usually do in such circumstances, I recommended a book. Three of them, in fact.

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If you want to know why you’re blocked, read The Courage To Write. Ralph Keyes takes a deep dive into the fears that all writers experience. Why are writers afraid? Because a good novel is an intensely emotional experience. In order to make our readers feel things, we have to feel them too. Few people want to face their own deepest passions and then put them on a page for everyone to read. But Keyes will show you that you’re not alone, and that your anxiety is totally normal.

If you’re looking for the kind of compassionate wisdom an older sister would give you, read Make Your Writing Bloom. Shonell Bacon is frank about obstacles that get in the way of writing. But she overcame those obstacles and is absolutely sure that you can do the same. With a positive outlook and gentle encouragement, Bacon reminds writers why they love the craft so much.

On the other end of the spectrum is Break Writer’s Block Now. Jerrold Mundis is serious about writing, about hard work, and about getting out of your own way to get those words written. He wants writers to stop loading writing with a bunch of emotional baggage and just get it done. Mundis advocates forming a habit and writing no matter what.

So there you go. Psychology, sisterly love, or a kick in the pants. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, one of these should fit the bill. At different times in my career, all of them have helped me.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She reviews how-to books for writers at the Writing Slices blog.

 

Don’t Do What I Did

I made an expensive mistake so you don’t have to.

At the beginning of September, my co-author and I tried an experiment to market our new book. The idea was to do a free promotion for five days right out of the gate, when the book was new, in hopes of goosing the Amazon algorithms and finding new readers.

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This wasn’t an easy decision. It’s hard to see your book as a “product,” where its value is divorced from its content. After pouring all our creativity and love into Sleepless, it was difficult to step back and make hard-nosed business decisions about its fate.

But we did it anyway, in hopes that we’d either have wild success, or learn a valuable lesson.

Only the second one happened.

The promotion itself went very well. When Sleepless was free, it rose to #2 on the cyberpunk bestseller list and #3 in the science fiction action adventure category. It even briefly was one of the top 100 free books in all of Amazon.

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Since Sleepless has gone back to full price, its sales have flatlined, while page reads in the Kindle Unlimited program have grown. That means that Amazon is only promoting our book to people who have bought a Kindle Unlimited subscription. People who read on Kindles, but don’t subscribe to KU, aren’t seeing our book. Since KU payouts to authors are so low, we haven’t yet earned back what we spent on promotion.

That’s helpful information to know. The inner workings of Amazon are mysterious, and it’s good to have confirmation that Amazon will promote a book, but only inside their own walled garden. It makes our decision to leave the KU program easier.

And also, we got seven new reviews—all of them five stars—which makes me cry some happy tears. A thoughtful review from a serious reader is truly the best thing on Earth!

So am I sad we did this experiment? Not really. It was an expensive lesson and we learned some things the hard way, but now we know what doesn’t work.

And you do too.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She is always trying new things.

Why Make a Brand-New Book Free?

My new book was published on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it was free.

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In this new world of ebooks, we’re used to seeing freebies. Indie authors put their books on sale for scandalously low prices, including giving copies away. Often, the first book in a series will be permanently free.

But those are older books, some of them years old. Certainly an author wouldn’t set the price of a brand-new book to free and then keep it there for five whole days?

Oh, yes, we would. My co-author and I released SLEEPLESS, our fourth “Detroit Next” book, on Tuesday. The book was free the very next day. It seems counterintuitive and backwards and flies in the face of all the traditional marketing advice we’ve been taught. So why would we do that?

One word: Amazon.

Amazon is really, really good at selling books. We are not good at selling books. If you judge by our reviews, we’re good at writing books, but we need Amazon’s help to sell them.

And Amazon wants to help us. It has sophisticated algorithms that are awesome at matching the right book with the right reader. But what the algorithms can’t do is guess. They need data. Lots and lots of data. The bots need to know who this book appeals to. What kind of reader likes books about near-future Detroit and a badass female PI and her hacker sidekick and a twisty mystery and nanotechnology run amok? Who buys such books?

We need to teach Amazon. We need to feed the algorithms a core set of interested readers so they use those readers as mirrors to find similar readers. Once it “learns” who buys books like SLEEPLESS, Amazon’s own marketing machine (emails and such) should kick in.

But we have to do this quickly. Amazon needs to understand readers of new titles within the first 30 days, or they’ll stop trying. And the best way to get SLEEPLESS into the hands of many readers quickly is to do a free run, and then advertise the freebie in reader-centric newsletters like Fussy Librarian and Freebooksy.

And it’s working! As of last night, SLEEPLESS was #3 in Amazon’s cyberpunk category and #4 in science fiction adventure stories. That’s amazing! Usually, books that climb that high in the charts have hundreds of positive reviews and we have none.

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So that’s what we’re doing. I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a thing. This is the ebook world we live in now. And also? Honestly? We’ve tried everything else.

I hesitated writing this. I didn’t know if it was too much a peek behind the curtain, but I feel like I can be honest with you guys. And I also feel like I can ask for your help. As I mentioned, SLEEPLESS doesn’t have any reviews right now, and boy, could it use some. If you read SLEEPLESS, please give it a review. Reviews can be as long or as short as you’d like, and they don’t have to be positive to be helpful.

SLEEPLESS is free until Sunday night. And it’s the fourth “Detroit Next” book but the books can be read in any order, so don’t let that stop you from reading and reviewing.

Who knows? Maybe this won’t even work. Maybe SLEEPLESS will fizzle at full price. If it does, then we’ll all have learned something—you the easy way and me the hard way. In any case, I’ll report back in two weeks and let you know.

In the meantime, thank you in advance for the reviews. And happy reading!

Taking a Productivity Break

This is my week to write.

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I need a break. Lately, I’ve had too much internet, too much political news, too many interruptions, too much time in the kitchen and the laundry room and the car. Too much of trying to fit writing into the edges of my life. I’m craving long, uninterrupted hours to be creative. Forget chocolates and flowers and diamonds—a writer girl’s best friend is a quiet room with the day stretching out in front of her.

So I’m taking a week away. Not away from my house—I’m staying right here. But I’m taking a week away from the world. For the next seven days, I won’t socialize or do housework. I won’t read books or the news or the internet. I’ve put an autoresponder on my email and I won’t answer the phone unless it’s my mom calling.

My kids will be gone this week, so I’ll be home alone. I can wake up when I want, eat when I want, and go to bed when I want. I’ll let the crazy news cycle roll on without me for a few days.

I’m just going to write. I have a half-finished manuscript I set aside a few months ago and I’m aching to get back to it. I miss it the way you’d miss an absent lover. I want to lavish it with attention, get to know all its secrets, and write every page until I’m completely satisfied. I want to have my way with this book, and I don’t want to do it on the margins of my life. I want to give this book my full attention.

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I’ve been trying to find a name for this week. It’s not a staycation, because that implies leisure. The words retreat and sabbatical make me think of relaxed study. A friend suggested unworkshop, which I like a lot but it still doesn’t quite fit.

Then I thought of the words “Productivity Break.” It’s an oxymoron. It’s also perfect. I’m taking a break from the world to be more productive.

See you on the other side.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. Sometimes she needs a week on her own to get that done.

[Photos: Bitstrips/Snap Inc.]

Penguicon 2018

It’s my weekend with my people.

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It’s time for one of my favorite events of the year–Penguicon! Michigan’s SF/Open Source/Maker con is happening in Detroit, and I’ll be there all weekend. There will be costumes and ice cream and movies and games as well as panels about literature and science. I have three days to nerd out with other nerds. You know, my people.

I usually do a few panels and a reading, but this year, I decided to mix it up and propose a writing workshop, and to my surprise and delight, the con committee said yes! On Saturday, I’ll be presenting a workshop for writers called “No Hero Wants to Save the World.”

My introvert friends are amazed that I’d want to do a solo workshop rather than rely on the safety of a four or five person panel, but to me, this is actually easier. I’ve been giving writing workshops at the Ann Arbor District Library for years, so this is in my wheelhouse.

I’m also doing SF/F MadLibs. Remember MadLibs from summer camp? One person has a story with blanks in it, and the other person has to fill in random nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Hilarity ensues. The Penguicon twist is that the panelists have written the MadLibs and the audience shouts out the words to fill them in. The words they shout are usually somewhat dirty. (Okay, they’re filthy.) I wrote several MadLibs based on my favorite movies and I can’t wait to see how my fellow con-goers wreck them!

My last panel is Self-Publishing in 2018. Things have changed a lot since I started publishing my own books in 2011. It will be interesting to discuss all the changes that our industry has undergone in such a short time.

In addition to panels and workshops, I hope to see old friends, make new ones, drink a beer, see amazing costumes, and at some point, stop and wonder how the geeks somehow turned into the cool kids, and wonder even more how I became one of them.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She likes hanging out with nerds.

 

Viker

I have a new book out! My co-author and I have re-issued Viker, book three in the “Detroit Next” series.

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Morris Payne is a viker, an elite hacker famous throughout the virtual world. But now, someone has connected his virtual life to his real one, and Morris is on the run. Armed only with a virtual pirate ship loaded with the latest defensive hardware, Morris is up against a dangerous enemy—an artificial intelligence who isn’t supposed to exist.

Although it says “book three” on the cover, this book can stand alone. We re-introduce the characters and the world, so it’s okay to jump in midway. (Although starting with book one is awesome too.)

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The same cover artist is designing the whole series, and we love how this one looks. To us, it says “cyberpunk” without being too in-your-face about it.

Morris Payne would approve.

Viker is available on AmazoniBooks, NookKobo and other book retailers worldwide.

How to Talk to a Woman with a Broken Computer

There’s a right way and a wrong way.

Last week, I suffered a computer crash. All my files were backed up, so it wasn’t a disaster, just a bummer. But it could have been an even bigger bummer without my new friends Jason, Brandon and Joel.

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After trying to reset the machine myself, I headed to the Apple store. When they check you in, you don’t take a number. The greeter uses an iPad to check you in, jotting down some details of your appearance so the clerks can find you in the crowded store. I didn’t see what the greeter wrote down, but it was probably something like, “Middle-aged mom hugging her mac like a baby.  Looks clueless.” I braced myself for a guy half my age to mansplain my computer to me.

It never happened.

A tech named Jason was working on several computers at once at the “genius bar.” He listened patiently when I told him what was wrong with my mac, never interrupting me. His body language was relaxed, interested, even though I’m sure he hears the same thing all day long. He tried, unsuccessfully, to reinstall my operating system. He couldn’t figure out why it didn’t install, but he never acted like that was my fault or my problem to solve. (I’ve had that experience before. Yuck.) I peppered him with questions and he answered all of them, talking me through the problem without talking down to me.

He ultimately had to give up and turn my machine over to an even younger guy named Brandon. Brandon had a solution. I could either go to the earlier version of the OS, which would work fine, or get a new hard drive and use the current OS. We discussed price and time to service, and I decided to go to Best Buy for a new hard drive, since it would be cheaper and faster than going through Apple. Brandon thought that was a great idea and sent me on my way. He didn’t try to talk me into staying in the Apple family. He didn’t try to scare me into using their higher-priced services. He knew I could be trusted to do what was best for my own computer.

The next day, I went to Best Buy. I haven’t visited the Geek Squad in several years and my last experience wasn’t a great one. So my hackles were already up when I approached the counter. I was sure the Jack Black lookalike was going to treat me like an idiot.

It never happened.

Jack Black’s real name turned out to be Joel, and not only did he not talk down to me, he did the opposite. He empowered me. He said he couldn’t install a hard drive on my mac, but I could certainly do it myself. When I looked doubtful he said, “There are videos on YouTube. You’ll just need a phillips screwdriver and a star-shaped one. You have those, right?” (Bonus points to Joel for assuming I have tools.) He gave me his number to call if I had any trouble, but he assured me I wouldn’t. “You can do this!”

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Swapping out the hard drive was as easy as Joel said it was and so was reinstalling my OS and my backed-up files. (Always back up your files, kids!) And even though it was so easy a cat could do it, I’m still super proud of myself for accomplishing it.

And I’m proud of my new pals Jason, Brandon, and Joel for treating me as though I could.

Now, I’m not saying that sexism is solved simply because I had one good experience. In fact, a different man called me “sweetie” the day before and someone else talked over me the day after. And of course, there was the weird guy at the con last month. But I have hope. Somewhere along the line, these three young men were taught a better way. A mom, a wife, or (or more likely) a female boss clued them in.

Now let’s hope they clue in others.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She writes them on a macbook with a newly installed hard drive.