Posts about Productivity


Summer Writing Update

Wow! It’s the last day of August already. Summer is slipping through my fingers, and it’s time for my quarterly writing update. These posts help keep me focused, and for anyone who’s curious, they offer a sneak peek at what I’m working on and what’s coming next.

What I’m Writing

I’m currently hard at work on three writing projects, and I expect them to keep me busy well into fall.

  • Hostile Takeover (Emerald City Spies Part III)

  • A View to Die For (Butterfly Island Mysteries #1)

  • The Queen of Crows (A Bonus Story)

Keeping things Fresh and Interesting

I’m trying out a few new things! As always, experiments come with a bit of risk, but I really enjoy mixing things up.

Writing a Mystery Series with stories from more than one Sleuth : My upcoming cozy mystery series is set in a bustling island town in the Caribbean Sea. Butterfly Island is populated by all manner of interesting people: police officers and city council people, retirees and families and small business owners, organic farmers and tour boat operators, along with an endless stream of tourists. The first novel will be told from Paul Gumbs’s viewpoint, but instead of writing every book with Paul as the main character, I want to mix things up. I’ll write a mystery with Paul as the central figure, and then a second mystery featuring another character (with Paul still involved), and so on.

I’ll be curious to see what you all think!

Writing about a Character’s Past: Over the course of six Ellie Tappet mysteries we’ve heard rumors about Roberta Crowley’s past. Unanswered questions remain! How did Roberta come to own a cruise line? Did she really operate an underground casino in Las Vegas? Who was her first husband, and what happened to him?

Just for fun, I’m writing a short story (novella?) that answers these questions. It’s set in the nineteen sixties, and I’m calling it The Queen of Crows. Newsletter subscribers: you’ll get this one for free when it’s done. ☺️

What I’m Learning

On the word-nerd side, I’ve been spending quality time with Virginia Tufte’s book Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style as well as Brooks Landon’s Building Great Sentences. I’m learning about sentence structure, linguistic rhythm, and the beauty of concrete nouns.

Non-Writing Stuff

It’s been a mellow summer so far! Patrick and I take long walks almost every day, exploring the city on foot and enjoying all the beauty Seattle has to offer. Post-vaccine it’s been great to reconnect with people in the face-to-face sense, including visiting with family and friends, drinking coffee at our favorite cafes, and visiting bookstores.

Hobby wise, I’ve been tinkering with technology. I caught the electronics bug last fall when I bought myself an electronics kit for my birthday. Over the summer I assembled an e-Ink watch from a kit and used the Arduino programming language to customize watch faces for it. The watch screen is the same type of material as a Kindle!

An e-ink watch showing the time and a field of stars. The watch is a blocky plastic square, too big!

Speaking of technology, I was disappointed to learn that Apple will soon be mass-scanning photos on our iPhones in an attempt to catch criminals . Yikes! This kind of overreach really burns my cheese, so I shook my fist at the sky and resolved not to use my iPhone as a camera or store my data on Apple’s servers any longer.

But… life is full of silver linings and while I’m still irked with Apple I’ve found an upside to this mess. I dug my old DLSR out of storage, and it’s been a pleasure to use a real camera again.

Apple schmapple!

Just after sunrise, the Seattle waterfront is a dusky blue. A tall white ferris wheel is shown from the front edge. It rises up from the pier like a tall white stripe. Glass gondolas hang down, empty at the early hour.
The Great Wheel just after Sunrise. Seattle, WA

Fall is Coming

I can’t wait for fall to arrive and for our seasonal rains to return. Summer has been lovely, but I miss the way the rain feels tingly on my skin. I’m ready to feel the sudden rush of wind barreling through the city streets like an invisible wyrm. I miss the blue-tinted gloom that invites me to curl up beneath a blanket and read story after story until my heart and imagination overflow.

Our local Starbucks busted out the Pumpkin Spice lattes yesterday, and I found a single perfect autumn leaf on the ground. Signs of what’s to come? I suppose I should be enjoying the final weeks of summer instead of pining wistfully for fall.

I do enjoy a good pine though… 😂

Be well, friends and readers!

Until next time,

C

Spring Writing Update

Happy Spring, productive people!

This is my second writing update of 2021. These list-y posts help me stay accountable to my goals, and for those who are curious, they’re a peek at what I’m working on and what’s coming next.

What I’m Writing

The Case of the Red Phantom (Ellie Tappet #5) - My new Ellie Tappet mystery is out today! ☺️ I’ll have a blog post up shortly with all the details.

The Case of the Fond Farewell (Ellie Tappet #6) - I’m halfway through the first draft and zooming along.

I’ve also started working on Hostile Takeover, book three in my Emerald City Spies trilogy.

Cover Design During my last update I shared some rough drafts of new covers for the Ellie Tappet series. As much as I liked those covers, I decided not to use them. Instead, I created simpler versions of the existing covers that look better in thumbnail view.

Why? Well, I’ve been learning about marketing, and I need my cozy mysteries to look like cozy mysteries. But did I pout a little about shelving my new designs? Yes!

Businessy Stuff - I’ve been streamlining my non-writing days by setting aside two “admin days” per month to handle things like planning out book promotions and writing newsletters. I hired a proofreader, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

P upgraded our book build system. We can now build updated ebooks and paperback interiors for an entire series of books in less than five minutes. This is super-handy when you need to do something like update back-matter across a whole series. 😄

I’m learning that having a backlist of books is like having a large garden. Over time, files need to be maintained, links need to be updated, blurbs and keywords need to be tweaked, and late-discovered typos need to be fixed. This is the publishing side of self-publishing.

Huzzah for small business wins.

What I’m Learning

I’ve enjoyed reading The Heroine’s Journey by Gail Carriger and 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing .

I’ve got a laundry list of things to improve in my writing, and I’m working it.

Dreaming about the Future

When I need a break from my current projects, I work on outlines, research, and cover art for two upcoming series, which I’m calling Project Mars and Project Butterfly.

Summer is Coming

That’s all for this quarter’s update! Behind it all, behind all my writing and planning, I’m pee-my-pants excited about the shimmering image of a summer where we can reconnect with one another, and the world at large.

I’ve missed my mother, my sibs, my friends, and my father-in-law, so much. I yearn to hoist my backpack, lace up my boots, and hop the Link down to the airport for a fresh adventure. I can’t wait to toss on a jacket and carry my laptop to write at a coffee shop, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of my city. Bring on the hustle! Bring on the bustle.

I’m ready. 😎

Winter Writing Update

Header graphic: a woman holding a knife sneaks up on her victim

Happy New Year, productive people!

Yes, I’m a few days early, but I’m eager to get the new year underway. With every January comes fresh possibilities and a reminder to discard outworn habits and old frustrations. Whatever your ambitions are for the new year, go chase em!

This is my first writing update of the new year. These list-y posts help me stay accountable to my goals, and for those who are curious, they’re a peek at what I’m working on and what’s coming next.

What I’m Writing

Cutting the Track (Kat Voyzey #4) - Woot! The book will be out on January 22nd and ebook pre-orders are live . 😃

Ellie Tappet #5 & #6 - I’m working on the next Ellie Tappet novel right now, and I can already tell it’s going to be a fun one. My plan is to pause after the sixth book, with the option to add more books later.

Next up on my radar is Hostile Takeover, Emerald City Spies book three. I’m stoked! Before too long all of my mystery series will be in a good state and I’ll be ready to start a new series or two.

A side note: Does it bug you that the word series is both singular and plural? I find it irritating when using both forms of the word close together. Let’s revolt and create a new word: serieses!

Ugh. That’s even worse! I sound like Smeagol.

Dreaming of Space Opera

The other day, my friend M said that my future space opera series has been haunting me for a while. And she’s not wrong! Twice now, I’ve gotten out of bed in the middle of the night, exhausted, to jot down ideas that wouldn’t leave me alone.

I don’t mind being haunted by stories. But I need my sleep! I updated my site header to show my multi-genre ambitions. See, sci-fi ghosts? I hear you.

Cover Design I’m working on my cover design skills by building a fresh set of covers for the Ellie Tappet Mysteries. Under the principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” I won’t re-cover the books for a while yet, but here’s a peek at my rough drafts:

Updated Ellie Tappet Book Covers. They show beach sand, flip flops, and colorful elements from each story.

New Website - I have a new website and you’re looking at it. (Thanks, Patrick!) Most of the cool new features are under the hood, but I’m especially happy with the sortable “bookshelves” on the home page . And each book has just two dropdown buttons: buy digital or buy print. I hate cluttery buttons. This is better!

Thoughts for the Quarter

I’m sailing into 2021 with a mixture of relief and optimism. Sure, until the coronavirus vaccine is distributed, I’ll be on tenterhooks, concerned about the safety of my friends and family. But we’re starting a year with an amazing life-saving vaccine, sensible adults are about to move into the White House, and it seems that life and commerce are ready to flow back into our cities and towns like blood returning to a compressed limb.

I’m ready! I’m so-so-so ready. Bring it on, 2021! After the year we’ve all had, I’d say humanity is ready to bust down the doors of the new year and throw a party.

And there will be fabulous books at that party!

I know, because I intend to write some. ☺️

Concluding the Cozy Experiment

Alas, all good experiments must come to an end. If you’ve been reading along, you may remember that last fall I asked myself a question: Was it possible for me to write more quickly, publish more frequently, and have more fun? I’d been frustrated by my slow writing pace and I wanted to improve. So to answer my question, I decided to write a series of cozy mysteries, fast. Along the way I tried different techniques, and I made notes about what I was learning. I’ve written about the experiment here , here , here , and here .

Today marks a happy little milestone. My third cozy mystery, The Case of the Floating Funeral, is available to pre-order . Woot! And as I was putting together a reflection post about my third cozy, I realized that I’ve answered my initial questions. I pulled out my calendar, subtracted out vacation time, and saw that I’ve written and published three cozy mysteries in seven months. As someone who used to take a year (or three) to finish a novel, that feels really good! Best of all, I had plenty fun along the way.  While I’ll continue to use what I’ve learned, I’m ready to move my attention to topics beyond authorial velocity_._

And what have I learned by writing cozy mysteries quickly? Plenty. Here are my top six takeaways:

  1. Planning my story out in advance helps me write more quickly. But there’s a catch. I need to let my outline evolve – the story surprises me as I go – and that’s good!  A tight outline is too paint-by-numbers and a lack of an outline leaves me flailing.

  2. Working like a banker is ideal, because creativity thrives under conditions of routine.

  3. Some aspects of my editing needed less attention (over-edited prose is unflavored tofu) and some areas needed more attention (proofreading is haaaard).

  4. At each stage in the writing process, I should write as if I’m producing a final draft. No shitty first drafts! And no leaving a mess to clean up later. This mindset doesn’t eliminate the need for editing, but this whole “write trash and don’t worry about it until editing” ethic writers are encouraged to adopt is pretty damaging, IMO. Do your best work each time, and it will still need some improvement. But the flip side of editing is that I need to set a deadline and stick to it! That’s my counter-measure against getting stuck. Without a reasonable deadline, I’ll fiddle with my current story until the end of time and publish nothing.

  5. I’m physically capable of writing a novel in 12 days. But working at that speed isn’t sustainable if I want to have a working brain at the end of the day. Everyone’s different, but my productivity sweet spot is somewhere around 3000 words of fiction per day, 5-6 days per week. And if I were writing part-time, I’d keep the 5-6 days per week part and drop my daily word count way down. Consistency is king. Writing works best when we “get into the groove” and it takes time to shovel that groove out and maintain it.

  6. It helps to have a touch of that classic artistic arrogance if you’re going to make art. I’m not talking about being a jerk. But there will always be people who disagree with your choices, and your job isn’t to appease backseat writers. ☺️ Art involves choices, choices are what make a work unique, and tastes differ widely. As I get stronger in my own voice and perspective, I react to feedback differently. I used to think “Oh no! They hate it! I’m screwing up!” and now I ask myself “Are they pointing out a problem with my writing, or do they wish I’d written a different story with different characters?” It takes practice to discern that difference.

Not too bad for seven months of experimentation, eh?

What’s Next?

MOAR books of course! Now that I’ve set a sane-but-swift writing pace, I want to maintain it. As planned, I’m going to swing over to work on my Emerald City Spies series next. My overarching goal is to wrap up all my series-in-progress, and after three cute-and-fun cozies in a row I’m in the mood to hang out with my devious business bitches for a while. 😜 I have a couple more cruise cozies to develop, and I’m also doing prep-work for a Kat Voyzey PI novel.

Onward!

PS: My next cozy mystery is out in one week on May 15th.

Pre-order The Case of the Floating Funeral 

The Cozy Experiment: Part Four

Greetings from the land of bookish beginnings! At the moment, I’m 14,000 words into the first draft of my next cozy mystery, The Case of the Floating Funeral, and things are ticking along nicely so far. It’s time for an update on my Cozy Experiment, in which I’m trying to have more fun, write more books, and publish more frequently.

Tip: you can find my past posts here , here , and here .

For my first two cozy books, I focused on productivity. I’ve been asking: How do I write a first draft in a month? And how do I go through the editorial and publishing steps more quickly? Now, I’m focused on process & craft.

Here are some notes on how that’s going:

Painting and Banking

Writing six books in a year when you’re used to writing one is a big jump! I’ve gotten organized by spending more time up front figuring out what my book is about before I start writing it. I write the blurb that goes on the back of the book first, then I make a beat sheet and start getting to know my characters, and I even start working on the cover. I’ve got all that stuff down before I start writing.

Does the book diverge from my plans? Do characters grow beyond what I expected? Absolutely! And that’s fun. But all my prep work has left me feeling like a house painter. I put up scaffolding, check colors against the light, and mask off all the trim before cracking open that first can of semi-gloss. Careful preparation makes the writing process go more smoothly, and smooth is a very good thing when you’re trying to write six books in a year

To switch metaphors, I’m also getting organized by working like a banker. I’m talking about waking up at the same time every day, drinking the same coffee, sitting in the same chair, and working for a predictable number of hours. As a lifelong night owl who prefers to dance to her own drumbeat, this isn’t how I saw things going for me! But I can’t deny the results I’m getting. The more predictable my butt-in-chair time becomes, the more work I get done.

My biggest relief? None of these things makes the work any less creative, or any less fun. It’s all just scaffolding.

My takeaway: Creativity thrives under conditions of routine.

Writing Fat & Breaking Rules

I’m also learning how to reduce rework. Here are a couple examples:

I’m trying to write fat. My tendency is to write a first draft that’s skimpy on sensory details and then go back and add in those pieces in the second draft. Mysteries are tricky, structurally, and in the first draft I’m trying to keep the damn story straight. But I’ve found that writing a thin first draft means that the second draft takes weeks of work. Also, it’s awkward to shoehorn in the details later; they sound far more natural when I handle them in the moment. So that’s an improvement I’m making: Switching from thin first drafts to fat ones.

Also, I’m doing more editing as I go. Writers are told that they shouldn’t edit as they go, so this goes contrary to the “rules.” But I’m not talking about endless cycles of rewriting. I’m talking about finishing a few chapters, then taking 30 minutes to read them out loud, checking that the rhythm sounds good. A cursory style and grammar check takes only a few minutes, and it leaves my first draft in good shape.

What do all these process improvements add up to? Cleaner and better first drafts that don’t require a butt-ton of editing. Yay!

My takeaway: Writing clean first drafts is a time saver.

Craft Work

When you spend multiple months with your nose pressed up to your own writing, it’s natural that you’ll notice some of the weaknesses in your own work. One of my weaknesses is the stiffness in my third-person POV. To summarize, there’s a big difference between me writing “Ellie saw…” or “Ellie thought…” and simply dropping behind Ellie’s eyes and describing what’s happening from her unique viewpoint. Most beginning writers (me included) start with first person POV because there’s an easier intimacy with the character. Now that I’m writing third-person, I need to recapture that closeness with a slightly different camera.

Right here is a big advantage of writing more quickly! Now that I’ve got the basics of “write faster, publish faster” down, I can pick a skill to strengthen for each book. Thus I hope to “level up” with every story I write.

My takeaway: Writing quickly gives you more chances to level up.

The Lightbulb vs. The Wardrobe

February marks my fourth consecutive month of the cozy experiment. And I’m loving the writing life. It’s so different than the work I’ve done before.

In all my other jobs, I’ve felt responsible for maintaining a certain level of… outward energy. It was as if my feet were attached to invisible pedals, and I had to pedal furiously to keep a lightbulb lit. The lightbulb was my career! And this wasn’t a bad thing. I often enjoy doing difficult things, and keeping my lightbulb lit was a point of pride for many years. But I ended my days feeling wiped out.

In contrast, writing has a different feel. Those invisible pedals are gone, and there’s no lightbulb to be found. It’s more like… I climb through a wardrobe into Narnia six days per week, only it’s my version of Narnia. (So many murders!) And when I climb back out of the wardrobe at the end of the day, my energy isn’t gone. My batteries are still at 100% For a while, I thought this was a fluke, but maybe it’s the new normal?

Life is uncertain, blog buddies, and it’s always possible that I’ll need to return to the lightbulb life. And if that happens, I can certainly deal. But it’s been so strange and wonderful to be able to fully apply myself without feeling like the walking dead by Friday afternoon. And while I’d be a fool to expect this will last forever, because nothing does, I’ll grip the writing life with both hands and hold on for as long as I can.

Anyway, I’m due back in Murder-Narnia for my shift, so I gotta run. Thanks for following along with me while I figure things out.

The Cozy Experiment, Part Three

Happy Christmas Eve, everyone! I hope you’ve been enjoying some holiday fun. Patrick and I have been embracing the holiday spirit with our traditional activities, which include eating too many cookies, assembling a new LEGO set or two, hanging out with family, and seeing the latest Star Wars movie. We also watched all the Futurama holiday episodes, AS IS TRADITIONAL. And we watched some of those super-corny Christmas movies. My favorite of the bunch was Netflix’s The Knight Before Christmas about a Knight who was thrown forward in time to fall in love with a modern woman. That’s some quality cheese, my friends.

Today’s post is a quick update on my Cozy Experiment, which I’ve written about here and here . If you’ve been following along you might remember that I have three cozy goals: Have More Fun, Write More Books, and Publish More Frequently. And to test my goals out I’m writing cozy mystery novels.

During my last update, I mentioned that I’d written the first draft of a novel in three weeks. It was fun, but it also wiped me out. In November I repeated that process but I did it more slowly and took the full month to write a first draft. That was still plenty fast, but I had actual days off and the process was much less stressful. With some practice behind me, I can say that my first two goals of Have more Fun and Write More Books seem quite achievable.

Publishing More Frequently

In December I decided to tackle that third goal: publishing more frequently. The first thing I did this month was set some scary deadlines. I went to the front page of my website and added a notice saying that I’d have new books out in December and January. Stating my deadlines publicly lit a fire under my butt for sure. And it forced me to divvy up my work schedule. I only had so many days for editing, and so many days for proofreading, and so on. Patrick started working on our template for the ebook early in the month and we hustled.

Our goal was to get The Case of the Missing Finger out on December 23rd, and we released it on the 19th. It’s been an educational month, and a good one, but not everything went smoothly.

Lessons Learned in November/December

  1. Having a deadline is great because it breaks me out of my perfectionist cycle. I could have easily spent months tweaking that story and worrying about it, but because I had a deadline, I was able to publish more quickly.

  2. It’s great that I want to stick to a release schedule, but I need to put some buffer in that schedule. I got sick this month, and I ended up working anyway because I hadn’t built in any leeway. And I was sick for ten days instead of three because I never got the rest I needed.

  3. My proofreading process wasn’t sufficient! I released The Case of the Missing Finger and the ebook had a bunch of errors in it. As you might imagine, I was very annoyed with myself for letting that happen! Back in the day, when I iterated on a manuscript for a year or longer, I was better able to pick up things like missing words and typos. But how do you fully proofread a book in three days, after you’ve been staring at that same book for a month? It’s tough, because the eye tends to skip right past errors when you’re familiar with those sentences. I’m talking about big glaring errors, like my character Violet becoming Violent.  So I spent two days listening to the book in audio, going word by word, listening for errors. It turns out my ears are better at proofreading than my eyes are! Patrick uploaded the fixed manuscript tonight and I breathed a big sigh of relief. Audio proofing will be my new process until I’ve got the cash to outsource proofreading entirely. It’s slow but it works. To the very kind reviewer who wrote a review of my book and who didn’t say YOUR TYPOS SUCK, LADY, you have my eternal gratitude. And big thanks to my internet friend M who sent me an email and politely pointed out that the manuscript was looking sloppy. We all need friends who will tell us when we’re walking around with our fly unzipped. 🙂

  4. Writing these cozies has shown me that I love the traditional cozy genre! For the new series I let myself lean into the sentimental and the slightly-silly, and it’s been enjoyable. I worried that I’d be irritated by the no-cussing restriction (something most cozy fans prefer) but it’s been no big deal. My previous mysteries were more amateur sleuth mysteries than true cozies, and cozy-cozies are pretty darn fun too.

  5. Also, working on multiple books in the same series at the same time is rather efficient. For example, I wrote the first two cruise cozies back to back before going back to edit them. That allowed me to edit book one with a greater knowledge of the characters and what’s coming next.

  6. Writing “to market” can be great if you enjoy the genre. Before writing my cruise ship mysteries, I read other cruise ship mysteries. I took a week or two to learn what readers like about those stories, and then I included some similar themes in my books. On the one hand, that sounds very calculating, doesn’t it? But doing market research hasn’t stopped me from making this series entirely my own. In fact, the idea for the mystery came to me long before I did my research for this series. The story is 100% mine, but a few of the tropes (Ellie being a single woman starting over, for example) were taken from my research. Old-me would have thought that “writing to market” made me a money-grubbing hack, but now I can see it’s all about understanding readers better and making a few tweaks to fit reader expectations.

Anyway, I might be too deep into the nerdy authorial weeds with this post, but I wanted to say that it’s been an interesting month and I’ve learned a lot.

Moving Forward

The Cozy Experiment continues! In January I’ll post about my goals for the upcoming year including what books I plan to write. (hint: Not just cozies) I’m expecting a fun and busy multi-book year with a lot of new releases. That’s something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time, so it’s exciting to put those plans into motion. Scary too.

Thanks for following my Cozy Experiment, blog buddies, and Merry Christmas. 🙂