Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I Hate Walgreens

This morning, I awoke to discover that, much to my dismay, I was out of dental floss. Unfortunately, I don't use just any shitty old dental floss your dentist might throw in the bag with the Crest toothpaste and Crest toothbrush that he's obligated to throw in because of a deal he cut with (you guessed it) Aquafresh. (I mean, seriously--those samples are so awful that I'm convinced competitors pay to place them in dentists offices so that it'll drive more folks to buy their products).

No, no, no, Captain Fancypants over here has to use those individual floss picks that you can easily use and discard after one use, saving me the trouble of twisting floss around my fingers way too tightly, and the resultant poor circulation in my hands.

And not just any individual floss picks: the Oral-B ones are for shit--the floss part breaks way too easily. Seriously, I go through like four or five picks in one flossing session. It's devastating.

The sad thing is, as simple as this technology may seem, pretty much ALL of the competitors use the same horrible, cut-rate floss probably made from chicken tendons in China.

All, that is, except for two brands: Plackers, and the Walgreens store brand.

Somehow, some way, an organization as ass-backwards as Walgreens managed to get the exclusive rights to both.

Which means that once a month or so, I have to make the trek over to Walgreens pretty much exclusively to get dental floss picks.

Wanna know where all the old people are at 9:30 am? WALGREENS! Of course, while I'm dragging my up-'til-2:00 am-writing-or-copywriting-or-learning-wordpress-or-some-other-godforsaken-computer-skill ass in there on the way to the gym, these lunatics have already been up for 6 hours, bright-and-spry. "Hurry up, Harold--we're gonna miss lunch at IHOP!"


...

"What?"

Needless to say, these old people are ALWAYS slow in line, WITHOUT FAIL! One suspicious old lady stopped the line for a legitimate five minutes because the cashier asked her "Do you have a free rewards card?", and she took that as an invitation to try to suss out all of the "gotcha!" loopholes these jerks at Walgreens had obviously laid for her. Ridiculous!

Not to mention the crazy shit they try to pull. Today in line, an old guy was in front of me and had two things to pay for--what must've been a $15 bottle of Tyenol, and like a $0.69 candy bar. He put the candy bar on the counter, opened his wallet full of $20s, took out a $5 and handed it to the cashier.

[Five Seconds]


[Ten Seconds]

[Cashier tilts head to the counter to check the candy bar again]

[ANOTHER ten seconds]

"Sir, you need to give me that Tylenol."


[Long pause]

"What?!" [Mock outrage]

"The pills that are still in your hand--I need to scan them."

[Seething] "Oh..."

These cashiers need to put up with this garbage every day! I would've said "poor" cashiers, but sadly they're just as miserable as the patrons. Unfortunately, there seems to be a set "timeline" for Walgreens employees. Here's what I've been able to figure out thus far through my Dr. Doolittle-like observations:

-Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed: "I got me a job at Walgreens and boy-howdy, I'm ready to take on anything! Look out, world!"

-Bored out of their mind: "How many more fucking people are going to ask where the goddamned Metamucil is?"

-Zombie employee: "BREAAAAAAAAKSSSSSS..."

-Methed-out: "This oughtta make this shift excit--WHO THE FUCK JUST SAID THAT?!? I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU, EVERY ONE'A YA!"

-Totally batshit: "What're ya' gonna do with those floss picks?"

"Uh...floss?"

"No, no...WHATchya gonna FLOSS?"

...


"I gotta go--keep the change!"

-Old and awful: Absolutely true story: I like to go on long walks during the summer (vitamin D and whatnot), and there's a Walgreens on one of my walking routes. If it's especially hot out, I'll stop in at Walscreams for a big, cold bottle of water.

One day this summer, I waited in line forever as four or five of the walking dead bought their various sundries and finally got to the front. The cashier was a rather portly elderly woman, who had stopped the customer in front of me to discuss the weather and her purchases--pretty much anything but having to check me out.

HER: "Sorry about the wait." (What she meant: Fuck you.)

ME: "No worries." (Just get me out of here.)

HER: (Notices I'm in workout clothes): "A little hot to be running outside, isn't it?"

ME: (Unwilling to explain I'm only walking): "That's what the water's for."

HER: "Yeah, when it gets to be this hot, sometimes you just wanna--"

This next part is going to seem CRAZY, but I swear to GOD ALMIGHTY it's 100% TRUE!


[She takes the cold bottle of water and RUBS IT ON HER WRINKLED, LIVER-SPOTTED UPPER BREAST AND NECK AREA] "--cool off a bit, am I right?!"

ME: (Words cannot describe how angry I--)


HER: "Would you like a bag?"

At that point, I could've asked for a condom for the water bottle and it wouldn't have made a difference--it was one of the most disgusting things that's ever happened to me in a retail setting.

FUCK THESE PEOPLE! I HATE THEM ALL! AVOID WALGREENS IF YOU CAN!

In addition to being the co-founder and CEO of Hunt to Read, D.J. Gelner is a writer in St. Louis Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Calling All Writers

Are you a writer (or aspiring writer)?

Do you write science fiction or fantasy?

My good friend J.M. Ney-Grimm and I are putting together an anthology of short stories for release Spring 2014.

The writing prompt is "zoo." That doesn't mean that the story has to take place in a zoo, or that animals even have to be involved; it's really just a jumping-off point for getting your creative juices flowing.


J.M. and I thought this would be a great way to pool our collective resources, to get indie writers more exposure and publicity.

"Ha! Writing for 'exposure?' I've heard that one before!"

Actually, this time, it's true. We're plowing 100% of our sales in advertising the anthology, to a point--once we reach a certain threshold, profits will be divided equally among the authors.

Let's face it, advertising costs are too high nowadays for any one mid-list (or lower-list) indie (did I just create a new term? Sure, why not?) to roll the dice on by themselves, unless they like putting hundreds of dollars down on a single roll of the dice.

Some might--heck, everyone knows I've hit the blackjack tables from time-to-time in my younger years.

But now that my hairline is receding more quickly than the French army, it seems more sensible to pool the risk, to try to expose our audiences to similarly top-notch fiction, and then see what works in the goofy realm of book promotion.

That way, some of my readers can become your readers, and your readers can become our readers...

You get the idea.

The price of admission? One well-written short story that somehow hatches from the idea of a "zoo."

We might not be able to accept every story--at the moment, we're thinking 10-15 stories or so, but there's no set limit. If it fits, it fits. If not, it doesn't mean that your story is somehow "bad" or "wrong," just that it's not right for this particular anthology. If that's the case, we encourage you to submit it to other publications and/or indie publish it--by all means, prove us wrong!

Here's the relevant info to get you started:

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Submission Deadline:
January 31, 2014

Word Count: No more than 9,000 words, please

Writing Prompt:
Zoo (as discussed above)

A little bit about J.M.-- J.M. writes wonderfully visual fantasy stories that dazzle the imagination with their vivid imagery, and tear at the heart with a touch of romance.

Still interested? We hope so--this should be a great chance to connect with some similarly-minded indies on this project and future endeavors. Email us at zooSFFanthology@gmail.com for more information.

J.M. and I look forward to hearing from you!

-D.J.



Monday, November 18, 2013

The Value of YOU (or "Always Be Improving")

I had a conversation with someone close to me a few weeks ago about how everything's going, and we got to talking about my rather extensive (and expensive) education. This person said something to the effect of, "Well, you spent all of that money on that education, and you're not exactly setting the world on fire right now."
Photo Courtesy Flickr, User Photoloni

I was crushed. But deep down, for some reason, it resonated with what's inside of me. I should clarify: it didn't resonate WITH ME, directly--but rather that voice that lives inside, and comes out at the most inopportune times.

You know the voice, what Seth Godin calls the "lizard brain" poking through, questioning ourselves, making us doubt what we're doing, where we're headed. Trying to keep the status quo at all costs, results be damned.



(Uh, am I the only one who hears that voice? I'm not that crazy...at least I don't think so...yet...)

It was only recently that I discovered that wasn't the root of what that voice inside my head was actually saying. It wasn't saying, "Your writing isn't worth anything," or even "Nobody wants to read that."


No, what the voice was actually saying was much worse, in a low hiss so sharp and cutting I could barely recognize the full scope of the underlying pain for a long time:

"YOU are worthless."

As a writer, a lot of times I'm "expected" to work for free. "Can't pay you anything, but this'll be worth its weight in exposure." As a natural people-pleaser who's working on saying no, too often my meek reply has croaked out:


"Uh...okay..."


It's terrible, I know. Sometimes I value myself and my work so little that I can't even stand up to these people, looking to make a buck on an eager young writer, who, worst of all, has written quite a bit professionally!

When someone like the unnamed individual at the beginning of the post steps in and basically confirms my worst fears, it can be a bit jarring.

That conversation was a bit of a low point for me--for a while, it made me question what exactly I was doing. Is this it? Writing blog posts for others for nothing? Selling some books, but probably not enough yet to warrant a full-time career? What am I doing? Where am I going? Worst of all:

Is there a future in this for me?

I soldiered on, doubts swirling in my head as I worked on my writing, my business, freelancing, pretty much anything I could to get my mind off that awful feeling I had, that I was somehow "wasting" this tremendous opportunity I had been given.

A few days later, I was out on a first date with a nice young lady--didn't work out for other reasons, but that's not important at the moment. We got to discussing our backgrounds, and she kept asking questions, so I filled her in on all of the crazy stuff I've been up to, half-expecting her to just laugh in my face all the while.

When we were done with the conversation, she paused for a minute, and looked right into my eyes.

Her: "So let me get this straight--you went to Dartmouth, went to a top law school, been an attorney at a premiere law firm, visited Australia, Europe, and a bunch of other places around the world,  covered an NFL team as a writer, co-hosted a weekly radio show, covered the Super Bowl, published two novels, AND started your own company?"


Me (taken aback): "Uh...yeah, I guess when you put it that way..."

Her: "And all by the time you're thirty?"

Me: ...


You know what? She was right! I couldn't believe it--here I was letting one person get me down, playing into my own self-doubt, confirming all of my deep-seeded fears, all while this perfectly normal, happy person--a stranger, for all intents and purposes--was blown away by all I had accomplished already.

As people, I think we're the sum of our accomplishments, for good or ill. These can range from helping others to self-improvement, from selfishness to selflessness.

A lot of times, we may try to downplay our own accomplishments, somehow attributing them to "good luck" or "just doing my job." It doesn't help that there will often be a cadre of haters along the way trying to put you down, hold you back, tell you that "you" can't be successful because of jealousy or impossible standards.

Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, we all know people who aggrandize their accomplishments, who trumpet imaginary accolades without proving results and expect the universe to cater to their wishes.

Obviously, you should try to align the two: if you have a skill, and that skill has value and can help you make a living, by all means, let people know! Show them how you can help their business or help them solve a problem. Explain how what you're offering will help them out.

And always, always, always be improving. I've recently thrown myself into freelance copywriting (writing sales letters, website copy, brochures, etc. for businesses). It's a fun business where I can put my skills to work and earn some cash. Also, apparently I have a knack for it, at least here in the early going, which is nice.

Do I think that as a new copywriter, my sales letters are going to be worth tens of thousands of dollars (yes, people actually pay that for the top copywriters--it's the writing profession's dark secret!) right away? Probably not. Maybe if I negotiate a royalty or whatnot, but some businesses don't want to deal with that.

If I read every book I can on the topic, if I comb through the masters' blogs looking for new techniques and advice, if I practice my craft, honing my writing through courses and spec ads, if I take on a few smaller clients and get big results for them, then could I justify the increase?

I sure hope so.

If you think you should be earning more for the work that you do, you have a problem with either (1) your mindset, or (2) your skill set.

It's important to approach any project with a ton of confidence--get your mind right first. But if you do so and you still aren't earning what you think you should be getting, maybe you need to take a good, long look in the mirror and reevaluate your skill set.


The good news? I've found that with the proper amount of drive and a thirst to improve, you can absolutely improve your skill set. After all, unless you're trying to make the NBA as a 5'1" 50-year-old, odds are that you can learn whatever you need to get to "the next level."

That doesn't mean that it won't be hard, won't push your limits and boundaries, won't make you question "is it all worth it?"


You'll be questioned. You'll be tested. Heck, sometimes you might be downright laughed at.

But persevere through the rough spots, through the muck and the crap where other fall, through the pain and regret, and I promise you, at some point, doors will start to open.

It might take some longer than others, and require some selling of yourself (another post for another day), and taking yourself out of your comfort zone, but you will start to see results.

Those results start by accepting one thing: that you do have value, that you can help others, that you can solve problems.

And that all of that is just the start of a very long, and ultimately satisfying journey.

Thanks for indulging me in this personal essay--have you ever been at a point in your life where others questioned you? Or worse, made you question yourself, the very fiber of your being? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

In addition to being the co-founder and CEO of Hunt to Read, D.J. Gelner is a writer in St. Louis Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com. Check out his marketing writing portfolio at www.djswriting.com.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Should I Upgrade to iOS 7 with an iPhone 4?

When Apple announced their iPhone event a couple of weeks back, I eagerly awaited the wonderful changes they had in store.

Keep in mind that my current phone, an iPhone 4 that replaced the one I lost to a crushing lap bar at Six Flags, seemed to be on its last legs. It took ages to open menus, let alone apps. I'd frequently hit a "button" on the screen, only to find that the phone was still working, and it processed the "click" as having triggered a different button entirely. Also, the battery life was garbage--on a "normal" day, I'd have to either recharge mid-afternoon or sweat it out to get a full day's work out of the thing. Safari took forever to register my keystrokes.

As a CEO of an early stage startup, novelist and freelance writer, I'm not exactly rolling in dough here, but I thought that upgrading to the 5S was going to be a necessary expenditure.

Then the press conference came along.

Consider me underwhelmed.

Aside from a much faster processor and the fingerprint scanner, it sure seemed like most of the big changes would be to the phone's operating system, iOS. Though the interface was a bit "cute" for my liking (it looked a bit like Wall-E had a robot kid with Hello Kitty), Apple put design guru (and "Guy Who Should Be CEO") Jonny Ive on the project, and I trust his eye and sensibilities implicitly.

iOS 7 was scheduled to be released yesterday, and even though I usually wait a few weeks to download the new iOS so that Apple can iron out the initial bugs, I figured that my plodding iPhone 4 couldn't do any worse than it was already doing. Worst case scenario, if the update bricked it (and I've heard of this happening to some folks, so be mindful of that), I could get a 4S from AT&T for free, or if I was really feeling like The Monopoly Man, I could always upgrade to a 5S or (shudder) a 5C.

So I fired up iTunes on my MacBook Pro (Late Fall 2011) and transferred all of my purchases from the phone to iTunes. Even though my phone was set to auto backup to iCloud, I also did a hard backup to my computer, "just in case" the worst happened.

Finally, my phone was ready for the upgrade. It took me a while to get through to Apple's servers, but I persevered, making sure that I chose "Download Only" so that I could transfer it over to my phone at my leisure.

After a while, I was all set up with iOS7.

So far, so great.

Here are the ways in which my phone has improved:

-It's faster. Some people in online comments sections have indicated that iOS 7 is slowing their iPhone 4 down. I've found the opposite to be true; my phone gained a noticeable performance boost already. I don't have benchmark scores or anything like that, but the input recognition of the phone seems to be way up; when I type something, it displays almost immediately, no lag.

-The battery appears to last longer. I say "appears to" since I've been testing it for less than 24 hours. However, I'm here mid-afternoon, when the phone previously would be at 60-70% or so, and it's at 87% after the change. That's a significant bump--I should be able to go the rest of the day without charging.

-The interface is more intuitive. From the quick "pull-up menu" that lets you access the most commonly-used features of the phone (Airplane Mode, Flashlight, Calculator, etc.) to little things like not having to scroll to the top of the Safari window to enter a URL, it really is a better user experience that will shave seconds off of each interaction throughout the day. Those seconds add up, if for nothing else than to diffuse my frustration at how damned slow the thing used to move.

-More default ringtones. "What is this? 2005?" I know, I know, ringtones aren't a terribly exciting feature nowadays, but I always left my phone on the factory presets (tri-tone and chime, I believe) since I didn't like any of the other ones that came with it, and was always too cheap/lazy to buy/make custom ones. I've already set my phone, email, text, twitter, and facebook notifications to different, equally pleasing sounds. Hey, every bit helps.

Not all is sunshine and roses, though. Here are a couple of gripes:

-The Podcast app is somehow worse. I'm not sure how this happened, given that I listen to a ton of podcasts and Apple seems to think that no one does, given the effort (or lack thereof) they put into the app. Imagine my surprise when playback just stopped twice this morning, once when I switched from wi-fi to 3G (I guess it's understandable, but come on--it's 2013!) and the second time for no apparent reason. Wonderful.


-A bit too colorful. I'm guessing Jonny Ive is a fan of the movie What Dreams May Come, given his sudden infatuation with over-the-top color. I've come to tolerate the "whooshing" icons every time I unlock the screen, but the colors on the icons that populate the home screen are borderline seizure-inducing. I'm sure I'll get used to them over time, but my God, Jonny, maybe go a bit softer next time!

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how "out-of-the-box ready" iOS 7 was. The few bugs I've encountered thus far are far outweighed by the performance upgrades and (apparent) extension of battery life. I would highly, highly recommend that iPhone 4 users upgrade as soon as they can, provided they do a hard backup first to make sure that they don't lose any data.

Questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments. Thanks everyone--hope this helps!

In addition to being the co-founder and CEO of Hunt to Read, D.J. Gelner is a writer in St. Louis Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Introducing "Twilight of the Gods"


Twilight of the Gods
D.J. Gelner

Orion's Comet 2013


13,000 words (~50 pages)

$0.99 for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo

"Long forgotten by man, the ancient Greek gods sit in squalor atop Mount Olympus, having grown weak from centuries without decadent sacrifices to sate their hunger and slake their thirst.

Only clever Artemis can devise a plan to shepherd humans back to worshiping at their altar. Success requires driving mortals around the world to a dark place beyond faith and reason, a place that would find them open to extending…the Twilight of the Gods."

This was a fun one to write, and one that I had been sitting on for a few years now. It's an interesting story about science, faith, and what it means to be a human in the 21st century.

Full disclosure: this is being serialized every Wednesday on the Hunt to Read blog for free, but if you can't wait for the ending or want to contribute a few quid to the till, feel free to drop by one of the sites above and pick it up. If not, no hard feelings.
Tomorrow: How you can get Twilight of the Gods or any one of my other books absolutely FREE! Stay tuned...and thanks!



Thursday, August 8, 2013

Introducing "The Big Book of Hobby Ideas"


I realize I haven't updated the site in a while. I apologize for that, but it's been for good reason:

I finished another book.

Let me back up: two years ago, I made what I thought at the time was a one-off post entitled "36 Ideas for New Hobbies," in large part because I was in the market for new hobbies at the time, but didn't find a good list of a bunch of ideas all in one place.

Somehow, through the years, more and more folks came to the site looking for new hobby ideas, until one day I woke up and At Wit's End was one of the top sites on Google for new hobby ideas!

I was shocked and thrilled; more than anything, I enjoyed receiving all of the comments and emails that indicated that I had helped people break out of their rut and find something new and rewarding to do with their spare time.

That said, I finished up that post in a couple of hours. I thought if people found that helpful, how helpful might they find an entire book, complete with links to sites, books, and other resources to get you started on your new hobby?

Behold! The Big Book of Hobby Ideas: Hundreds of Hobby Ideas for Men and Women, Complete With Links and Resources to Help You Find Your Passion (Whew! That's a mouthful!)

I spent hundreds of hours researching what eventually became over 200 pages of hobby ideas, each with convenient links to get you started on your new hobby, as well as a linked index to make book navigation that much easier.

For now, it's only available on Kindle, but I hope to have it out in other electronic versions and in paperback shortly.

As much as that one post has helped a lot of folks around the world through the years, I hope that the book has an even bigger impact on people, and allows them to go beyond finding a hobby to help them discover their passion, what truly inspires them.

I'll update the bottom of this post with links as the new versions become available. For now, my sincerest thanks on setting me down this wonderful path of helping others!

-D.J.

The Big Book of Hobby Ideas is now available at the following retailers:

Amazon
(Kindle Only for now): HERE


Paperback: COMING SOON!

iBooks: COMING SOON!

Nook: COMING SOON!

Kobo: COMING SOON!

Smashwords: COMING SOON!

Friday, July 12, 2013

So You Want to Write a Book...How to Write More Words Per Day

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Note: I'm syndicating these over on the Hunt to Read official blog. Check it out if you haven't yet.

You've finished the prep work. You have your tools. You even managed to sit down and start writing; it might not be Hemmingway, but hey, at least you have a jumping-off point.

Yet if you're anything like I was, you're struggling. Maybe you've inched your way through 10, 15, even 25 or so pages. Well done! My guess is that unless you really have a story burning a hole in your brain (it happens) or if you're just naturally juiced up about writing (also happens), you've probably hit a bit of a lull.

I should know; when I quit my previous job, as an attorney at a large law firm, it took me a while to really get going as a writer. Keep in mind that most of my work as an attorney was writing! I often had to churn out incredible numbers of words on very short deadlines, proof my own work, and deliver it to partners or clients.

And yet, when I no longer had that structure in place, those quick deadlines or nudging emails from eager clients, I struggled.

It didn't help that I bought in to a lot of the myths I heard about creative writing: that it's hard. That you have to write, then re-write, then re-write again, send off the manuscript, get rejections, re-write again...etc. I would sit down, focus for a couple of hours, look at the page progress in my double-spaced Word document, and figure, "Well, five pages is pretty good for the day. Maybe I should write a blog post to build my all-important 'platform.'"

It's amazing how young and naive I was only two short years ago!

Even if I wanted to write more, it was about that time of day that the "brain fog" seeped into my mind. I could hardly think, let alone conjure up how a "scene" with these ridiculous "characters" was supposed to go. Much easier to do some "research" to figure out how the characters would react!

[Blood boiling...can't resist...urge...to strangle...self!]

Dean Wesley Smith does a fantastic job of laying out a lot of these myths and chopping them down in his fantastic Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series of posts. His post about "Writing Faster" absolutely altered the course of my life.

Let me back up; in law school, my last "class," if you can call it that, was a sixty-page independent study paper under the fantastic Professor Anne Coughlin. Call it a thesis of sorts. It was about how law and trials had served as entertainment for the masses from Ancient Greece through the Lizzie Borden trial and beyond; what was so compelling about the law that turned us all into slack-jawed lookie-loos, even in ancient times?

It was a decently fun paper to write, but it was also very research-intensive. Fortunately, the school gave us an extra week after graduation to finish up the project.

Unfortunately, I was my immature, younger self. Instead of doing the responsible thing and finishing the paper up by graduation, I left campus with a grand total of 20 pages written.

With three days left, I had 25.

I wrote the rest of that paper, all 38 pages of it, in three days, heavily researched, writing about ten hours per day. Proofread, edited, the whole nine yards.

Yet there I was, three years later, struggling to write more than five pages in one sitting.

Of fiction.

Something wasn't right here. I knew I had the capacity to write more, but how in the heck was I supposed to get back to that level that I was at when I finished my paper in those manic three days?

More importantly, how could I keep that pace up, or even surpass it for long stretches of time?

Here are some of the tips I've gleaned along the way to do just that.

Get a Job Writing


This is easier said than done, but nothing helped me more than becoming a beat reporter covering the St. Louis Rams during the 2011 season.

I wrote six columns a week, each one at least 1200 words and often closer to 1500. One of those columns each week was my colorful "Power Rankings," which contained clearly fictional, outlandish scenarios involving teams that developed a bit of a cult following.

Those Power Rankings columns averaged 5000 words.
I wrote them in a single day, on what was supposed to be one of my days off: Tuesday.

I went above and beyond first of all because I loved what I was doing, but also precisely because I wanted to push myself, to get back to that level of stamina that I previously was at.


Not only that, but by writing so much, my ancillary skills (thinking up topics, editing, researching) all developed a lot during that single season of football.

But even more than that, I was getting paid to write; it made it seem like more of a profession to me. Though my work outfit was often a polo shirt and jeans instead of a suit and tie, I still learned to put fingers to keys and write, write, write.

That said, it's very tough to earn an opportunity like that. I'll be the first to admit that I was very lucky to land that gig; if I hadn't quit my job two months before, I would've seen the posting, fantasized about applying for it, then shook my head as I went back to tedious legal work.

Even without such an opportunity, there are things that are entirely in your control that can help you write more words per writing session:

Start a Blog, or Better Still, Write for a Blog


Anyone can start a blog. It's free and easy on sites like Blogger and Wordpress. I prefer Blogger because it's what I'm used to, but a lot of folks swear by the functionality of Wordpress; to each her own.


I tried turning my personal blog into a "platform" in the early going, tried posting to it every day back when it was about self-actualization. This was pre-Rams gig, and the results were less-than-thrilling; I churned out post-after-post, with no comments and minimal traffic.

I was going about it all wrong, and would have absolutely done things differently if I was starting up now (but that's a different post entirely). It did help me get into the habit of writing every day, so I guess that was helpful.

However, I would suggest writing a blog for a while and then use that blog as writing samples to book a regular guest post gig on another, more popular blog. It's sad, but if you know that more people are reading what you write, and you have a regular schedule, even if it's once a week, I guarantee that you'll take your writing to the next level.


Once you guest post a few times, try to leverage that into a role as a regular contributor. It might scare you now, but remember, this is about increasing your word output.

Mastered that? Maybe pick up another gig as a regular.


I'm just trying to have you replicate what I did as best you can. It'd be great if you could get a gig where you were expected to write 12,000 words a week all in one place. Until then, though, try to replicate the quantity and commitment of that output as best you can.

Write a Long Form Piece on Something You're Passionate About...Then Do It Again


Pick a day. Clear your schedule. Plan out and write a 5,000 word piece on  something that you're passionate about.

I wrote the Power Rankings because I enjoyed writing them on my old blog. They allowed me to mix my natural affinities for football, humor, and fiction. In short, I was passionate about all of those topics, and created a way to combine them.


I'm sure there are similar things that cause you to smile, that put a little more bounce in your step and wind in your sails. Maybe it's a hobby, or politics, or sports, or food. There are literally millions of topics that qualify.

Pick one of them and write a 5,000 word essay, all in one day. You can take breaks, but be careful; the break is a fickle creature that you have to be careful with until later in your writing career. I don't care if it takes you until early the next morning to finish, but write those 5,000 words no matter what.

Then, the next weekend, do it all over again. In fact, keep doing it until churning out those 5,000 word sessions doesn't seem so hard anymore.

Maybe when you're done, if the topics are somewhat related, you can collect these essays into a book and throw it up on Amazon...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The lesson behind this is that not only does it feel good to write those 5,000 words in a day, but you prove to yourself that you can do it multiple times. It's not just a one-time thing because you were writing on your favorite topic; if you do it twice, then why not a third time? Then a fourth time? And so on. Prove that you can write the sheer volume, then repeat it over and over again until you're comfortable with it.

Use the Tools!


By now, surely you have Scrivener. You don't? What!? We covered this two posts ago! Yes, yes, absolutely go get it now!

One of the great things about Scrivener is that it has a "Project Targets" tool that tracks the number of words you've targeted for the day, as well as the entire manuscript. It's under "Project" - "Show Project Targets" in the Scrivener menu bar.

It's absolutely a great way to both hold yourself accountable and also see the steady progress that a 4,000 or 5,000 word day will bring. Use the tools that you already have.

Limit Distractions


Doing all of the above, but still not writing much? Why not try writing at home instead of at Starbucks, or turning off the internet while you write? I'll admit it, because I'm part of a team running a website now, it's incredibly tough for me to turn off the internet at any point during the day or evening. That said, when I started out writing, there were long stretches of days that I forced myself to go without internet to make sure that I didn't just "hop on" a site. Then you type for a while, and before you know it, you're thinking "how did those 3,000 words get up there?" It's amazing what a little forced focus can do!

Don't Edit


I'm not one of those people screaming "Never edit...NEVER SURRENDER!" from the rooftops. I think a lot of folks think that this is what Dean Wesley Smith advocates under his "don't rewrite" philosophy. It's not at all. Don't know why so many people misread that post.

Editing (meaning copy editing and cutting excess fat) has a place in the life of every book.

Just not while you're writing. Re-writing (changing scenes, characters, etc.) is even worse; you start questioning your own work and spinning your wheels.

Get that first draft out on paper. Odds are that you'll think your first draft of your first novel is a lot better than it is. That's fine. Trust me, each subsequent first draft will get a little cleaner, look a little neater. For now, get the words on the page. Don't let an impromptu editing session ruin the flow.

Take a Walk


I used to think that traditional "writer's block" was something. Now, I think it's just me being lazy. Don't get me wrong; I still give in to it from time-to-time, but I do so knowing full well that I'm making it up; if I want to know what happens next, I just need to look at my mind map.

What I usually mean by "I have writer's block" is that I think my dialogue is too boring, or my characters sound too flat at the moment. If this happens, I go for a nice long walk of at least two miles. I always throw on a comedy podcast while doing so; my current favorite is You Made it Weird, with Pete Holmes, but I also really enjoy Alison Rosen is Your New Best Friend, The Adam and Dr. Drew Show, and The Adam Carolla Show. They may or may not be for you; there are literally thousands of other podcasts out there to choose from. The important thing is that you pick podcasts that have elements of improv within them

DO NOT steal their jokes; that's absolutely wrong, and NOT the point of this!

DO absolutely imagine that you're the third person in the room, and think what you would say if you were there. This gets your brain back in "improv mode," which gets you closer to being able to be in the moment, writing as the story comes to you. It could be one-liners or bits or whatever, but I've found that listening to improv-y podcasts gets my mind flowing, and gets my "dialogue brain" back on track. Similarly...

Get into Sudoku


I picked up Sudoku on a lark probably about a year-and-a-half ago. I usually do USA Today's puzzle pretty much every weekday; it's always solvable without guessing, and the Thursday/Friday ones can throw you some real curves.

It doesn't have to be Sudoku, but think of other ways to get your mind moving, keep it nimble, and solving problems. After all, solving problems within a set of rules you've created for your characters is absolutely what fiction writing is about.

Learn to Touch Type


If you can't, I'd strongly suggest learning how to touch-type. The crazy thing is, my parents tried to get my brother and I to do so as kids, first through the boring Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, and then through the slightly-more exciting Mario Teaches Typing.

It never really took until I was in college, and simply had to find a way to type more quickly than via hunt and peck alone. Since then, just by writing a lot, I've gotten to the point where I can touch type as fast and accurately as pretty much anyone I know.

Some people need a course or software to learn it, though; my brother was one of them. He took a class over the summer one year in high school, and for a while he could type a lot more quickly than I could. There's absolutely no shame in it, and it'll be money well spent. Remember, you're aiming to be a professional; treat your training accordingly.

Summary


All of these activities boil down to a few simple lessons:


-Write. A lot.


-Create a set of circumstances that forces you to write a lot.


-Stretch out your sessions by writing long-form pieces on topics you enjoy.

-Use the tools already in your toolkit.

-Limit Distractions.

-Use physical and mental exercises to break through so-called "writer's blocks," which are often a creation of our own minds.

-Increase your physical typing speed so that when you're "in the zone," you capture all of your thoughts more quickly, and thus capture more words in a shorter period of time.

I know it was a long piece--2,500 words or so. Total time it took me? 90 minutes, start-to-finish. Sure, it helped that I had some idea of what I was going to write ahead of time, but it was largely "just write, dummy!", with purpose and dedication.

Follow these steps, and some day, you'll be able to keep this pace, as well.

Have any tips on how to get more words out on the page per session? How to fight through writer's block? Leave them in the comments.

Previous Posts in this Series:
#1: Before You Start
#2: The Idea Hunt
#3: Tools of the Trade ("What You Need to Publish Your Indie Book for Cheap")
#4: Sit Down and Start Writing!

In addition to being the co-founder and CEO of Hunt to Read, D.J. Gelner is a writer in St. Louis Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

So You Want to Write a Book...Sit Down and Start Writing!

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In this series, I've already written about questions you should ask yourself before you start writing, as well as ways to capture the ideas that you have at odd times, and tools that I use to write and publish my books.

"Yeah, yeah--that's all well and good, but when do I get to start writing?"

Right now.

[Silence]

Not so easy, is it?

This may be the most difficult part of starting a book: your first opening.

A lot of people stress about the start to their book for good reason: it's arguably more important than ever to hook a reader in the first few pages. Amazon and other retailers allow people to "Look Inside" the book at the first several pages. If they don't like what they see, you can imagine they'll just move right along to another, more interesting book.

Believe me, I know. I asked a buddy of mine to read a rough draft of what will eventually become the Debt of Souls series of books. The first comment he made was, "You kept saying the same thing over and over again for the first ten pages, but after that, it got a lot better."

You know what? He was absolutely right. A lot of folks get bogged down in the academic mindset of describing every...little...thing in a room in excruciating detail. My first attempt at a short story back while I was in law school was ten pages of a guy waking up, followed by me cataloguing his apartment as he brushed his teeth and showered. I know--really original!

The same goes for non-fiction books; no one wants to read a dry summary of the rest of the book up front. After all, if you boil the book down to a few bullet points, what incentive is there to read the rest of it?

Here are a few tips on how to avoid these common pitfalls.

Non-Fiction: Know Your Audience and Start With an Engaging Anecdote

I'm still plugging away on a non-fiction book about wine. I could have gone on some flowery rant about how wine is the drink of the "civilized person," but my goal is to write about the opposite; how someone who thinks that wine is for snobs can come to enjoy and appreciate wine without all of the brow-beating and condescension usually associated with it.

I should know; I used to be one such person, until [aha!] my first trip out to Napa. I quickly dashed out the story of the first time I had an educational wine-tasting out at Cakebread. There's a protagonist (me), a villain (a snobbish fellow tour-goer), and a surrogate for some of the wine knowledge I wished to impart (the wine professional in charge of the tasting).

In so doing, people hopefully get a chance to see a bunch of things; that I'm not fond of wine snobs, that I'm all about opening up wine to a broader audience, that I have some expertise and facility with wine-related terms, and that I'm setting an at least partly humorous tone from the get-go.

Think about starting your non-fiction book similarly, even if you have to fudge facts a little (but just a little) to make the story fit your purposes.

Fiction: Action, Emotion, and Intrigue

I was an avid Lost watcher back in the day. I tore through the first season DVDs in a matter of days while killing time studying for finals. I couldn't believe how hooked I was; whenever each DVD was finished, I drove over to Blockbuster for the next disk (yes, yes, if you're under twenty-five, you likely have no idea what I'm talking about. Just imagine that you actually had to go somewhere to get TV and movies back in the day instead of downloading it immediately. I know: we were barbarians.).

Even though the ending was ultimately a huge let-down, Lost drew everyone in with a combination of action (Plane crash! Pilot is dead! Trees sucked out of the ground!), emotion (Character-based flashbacks! Ooooh, they have to do with what's going on on the island!) and intrigue (What killed the pilot? Why does it sound so weird? Why is this John Locke guy so creepy?).

I think my openings have gotten better with each successive story. In Jesus Was a Time Traveler, I was still a bit verbose, chewing through a bit of backstory in the first chapter, though I stand by it because it's absolutely what the narrator, Phineas Templeton, would do.

Hack was a little more straightforward and to the point; an old guy gets bad news in a hospital right away. By chapter three, he's made a big, life-altering decision and is caroming around in an enormous old car without any regard for pedestrians in his way.

Rogue is probably my best yet: a man, waiting in another man's apartment for some unknown reason. They have a conversation. "He" is upset (who is "he?"). There's a big day the next day, a lot is at stake, the two men are friends, but they fight (why?). It's basically the penultimate scene of the book up front; then the book goes back and catches the reader up to that point until the third act. It's an old trick called a framed narrative, that's been employed by writers for ages; find an intriguing scene toward the end of the book, put it up front to create mystery, and work up to that point.

If you get too much into a character's surroundings, unless there are active chainsaws being dangled from the ceilings and swung from one side of the room to the other as a character desperately tries to dodge them, you probably need to fast-forward to another scene for your opener. Once you have a solid, action or emotion-packed scene, then you can go back and determine if your initial description-laded scene still fits later on in the book; odds are that it doesn't.

Sit Down and Write

I'm going to be honest: unless you're some kind of freakish prodigy (it is possible, but unlikely), you'll look back one day on your first opening and think, "Man, I really could've tightened that up."

That's perfectly fine; writing is a constant learning process. It's okay to experiment a bit with your openings until you get one right.

The important thing is that you try. No book was ever written because someone kept mulling over problems with an opening in her head. Especially for your first book, any opening will be "good enough." By "good enough," I don't necessarily mean "publishable;" rather I mean  "good enough" to get you writing. Once you have something down on the page, everything gets a lot easier, and you can go back and cut-and-paste as necessary.

Do you have any specific tips for starting books? Anything that gets those words to flow onto the page just a bit easier? If so, leave them in the comments.

Previous Posts In This Series:
#3 Tools of the Trade ("What You Need to Indie Publish Your Book For Cheap")


Next Time: Write More Per Day
D.J. Gelner is a fiction and freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Introducing "Hunt to Read"

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After months of traipsing around in the shadows of dark hallways, cloaked in the chilly blanket of secrecy, I'm pleased to announce my latest business venture:

In an era where bookstores are shuttered every day, Hunt to Read recreates the excitement of hunting through bookshelves for those hidden gems that one would stumble across in a bookstore, but online. We eschew stuff like "virtual bookshelves," and try to boil the experience down to its essential components for readers: look at the cover, if interested, click through and look at the blurb, let us know what you think of both via a rating, and then if you like it enough, click through to find the book on various retailers.

For authors, we provide a suite of cutting-edge analytics that show you how often folks clicked on your cover to get to the book detail page, how often they expand the blurb, how often folks click through to the various online bookstores, etc.

It may not seem like a big deal to the layperson, but this kind of data is absolute gold to even traditionally-published writers and even publishers, who don't get much in the way of feedback aside from sales numbers.

We can do this in large part because my business partner, Rick, is a analytics programming genius. Even though this is just the "first build," the analytics interface is already incredibly polished and reliable, and is drawing rave reviews from the folks who have already put their books on the site.

We think there's great value in these analytics, so down the road we'll charge a small monthly fee to list books, as well as access to other cool stuff we have planned for authors and publishers down the line.

For the moment, though, we need books on our site so that our readers don't get bored! So we're offering unlimited free 6 month listings for a limited time to build our library. That includes full access to our analytics and a spot on the site, absolutely no risk, we don't take your credit card number or anything.

Eventually, we have some exciting new improvements waiting to enhance the reader experience, all kinds of good stuff that I think people will really enjoy. And, of course, once we have enough books to make it workable, we'll separate out books by genre, devices they're available for (i.e. Kindle, Nook, iBooks, etc.).

But for now, we need more books. If you're an author, feel free to list your book via the link below, absolutely free, no risk, for six months:


If you're a reader, by all means click through and take a look at the interface; we're always looking for feedback (both positive and negative) on how to improve the reader experience. Know that a lot of cool new stuff is in the works for readers in the future, but for now, browse and enjoy.

And by all means, let your writer (and publisher) friends know that they can list their books for free; we need more listings so folks have more books to browse.

Happy to answer any questions in the comments, but for now, just very excited to finally be able to tell you all about the site!

-D.J.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

So You Want to Write a Book...Tools of the Trade (or "What You Need to Publish Your Indie Book For Cheap")

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So you've thought about what it takes to write a book, and you have a killer idea, as well as some prep work done on that idea. Great! Congrats on making it this far.

I know you're itching to "start writing, damn it!", but before you do, there's a good reason why you should pause and take a personal inventory before you start.

I mean that literally; inventory all of the writing tools currently at your fingertips. It might be something as simple as "Laptop, Word, notebook, pen." That's pretty much what I started out with, but I'm going to tell you right now, especially if you plan on writing more than one book, you'll be better served by beefing up your toolbox a bit before you start. While it's possible to, say, convert a manuscript from Word to a program like Scrivener after you start, it's much, much easier to just start in Scrivener and go from there.

"What's Scrivener?" I'm glad you asked...

The Tools

Idea Notebook: This is the small notebook you should be carrying around with you at all times. I prefer the Moleskine Ruled Pocket Notebook, especially since I tend to be pretty tough on stuff in my pockets and Moleskine has some of the most durable products in the business. I've also had success with the thinner Moleskine notebooks, which you can get in a pack of three for a little less cash.

Budget Option: Pocket notebooks can go for as little as $2 for a two pack at a place like Target.

Larger Notebook: I also like to have a larger notebook that I can use for mind-mapping, free-writing, and ideas. I usually go with Five Star Three-Subject Notebooks, since, again, they're durable and high-quality. But anything from a legal pad to one of those black-and-white-covered Composition Journals that everyone remembers from high school should be just fine.

Budget Option: A cheap notebook or legal pad is available for under $1.

Pens: Ever since grade school, I've been a bit of a pen snob. I don't have any idea why; I just like the "flow" that a superior rolling ball gives me. Though back then I preferred the trusty old Pilot V5s and V7s, I since had a mishap with a cap on one of those, so now I favor retractable gel-based ink. For my money, there's nothing better than the Uniball Signo Blue Pens. They're a bit expensive, but like I said, I'm a pen snob--feel free to use cheap pens or even ones you "conveniently forget to return" at hotels. Keep in mind, I like blue ink for versatility's sake, since you might want to use these for editing proofs of your paperbacks, as well.

Budget Option: You can't beat free pens that are given away at any number of events. Barring that, you can find 60 more than adequate ballpoint pens for a little over $6.00, and can probably do better than that if you're hunting for deals.

Computer: Even if you write out every word of your book longhand with a quill pen on parchment, you're going to need a computer to publish your book. If you have the money to splurge, I strongly recommend the MacBook Pro. I got the most budget-conscious 13" edition almost two years ago, and it still runs like brand new, despite how many different programs I constantly keep open on it.
Budget Option: If you're working on a budget, or don't feel comfortable with a Mac, I'd suggest looking at sites like Tiger Direct, New Egg, or Buy Dig, as they run sales on cheaper laptops quite frequently. Be sure to look up reviews on CNet or a smilar site to make sure that you aren't getting a lemon. Also keep in mind that if you want to do your own covers in inDesign, you'll need a machine capable of handling that beast of a program. The best I can do for something that is "functional" (but likely can't handle inDesign) is a $199 refurb from TigerDirect. The link takes you to their current refurb deals--that's going to be about as good as you can do.

Scrivener: I can't sing the praises of Scrivener enough. When I started out as an indie writer, I thought for sure I'd have to spend a ton of money formatting books, not to mention the headaches that become apparent with Word once you get over 30,000 words or so in your manuscript.

Scrivener is the one product that absolutely is not optional for the writer starting out today. It's only $45, and will pay for itself by the time you finish your first book. For now, just know that a formatter will charge you $50 to get your book properly formatted into a single file type (.MOBI, .EPUB, or even .DOCX--you'll likely need at least two of the three). Scrivener will do it quickly and painlessly for no additional charge once you've bought the program. You can try it for free at the link at the beginning of this paragraph; I did, and had bought the full version within an hour.

Budget Option: There is none here. Even if you have to scrimp and save, do it to get Scrivener.

Scrivener for Dummies: Gwen Hernandez has done a wonderful job of putting together a resource to help you fully harness the power of this wonderful, powerful program. Get a copy of this book and start reading it, cover-to-cover, in your free time while writing. Even if you have to put it in your (ahem) "reading room" to get it done, if you catch my drift.

Budget Option: You can go through the Literature and Latte tutorial site for free and Google various Scrivener support options for nothing. I still prefer Gwen's book, though, since she has all of the info in one place.

Microsoft Word: I know, I know: "Word's so expensive! I thought you said that this Scrivener did everything for you!" Scrivener does a lot, but as I've discovered more about advanced formatting of paper books, I've found that having a copy of Word helps a lot. I still write blog posts in Word, for what it's worth. If you're only putting up ebooks, then I think you can get away with Scrivener just fine. If you want to have your book available in print, or even if you want to start a blog as a promotional tool, you're going to have to bite the bullet and get a copy of Word.

Budget Option: I really, really dislike Open Office, but some people swear by it. It's likely "good enough" if you just want a Word substitute for blog posts and such. I cannot speak to its functionality as far as blocking and formatting a print book, though. It's free, so have at it.

Adobe inDesign: inDesign is a tool that separates the pros from the wannabes. A lot of folks see that I'm paying $20 a month for a piece of software (the horror!) and think that I've lost my mind. While I have lost my mind for other reasons entirely, I can't tell you how often I use this program to make covers for books and short stories (like the cover for Rogue, at right), for articles that I put up on Scribd, for header and footer pictures, for title pages; the list goes on-and-on. Sure you might be able to get by with a Photoshop facsimile like GIMP, or you may think it's cool to pay $50-500 per cover, but I've already gotten the $240 of value from this program so far this year and then some. On a side note, if you are going to use inDesign to make covers, I'd highly recommend taking a class like Dean Wesley Smith's cover design course; it may seem like a chunk of cash, but consider that the (admittedly awesome) cover for Jesus Was a Time Traveler cost me $349, and would now cost $549. DWS's cover class has made it so that I feel comfortable enough making my own covers for the cost of some good art off of Dreamstime.

Budget Option: Hire a cover designer who's starting out to do your cover on the cheap. This can run anywhere from $20 to $50 (and higher, if you want a pro). These folks used to be all over the KDP boards, but they haven't been too active as of late.  Still, Google searches are your friend here. I cannot stress this enough: if you don't know how to make a pro-looking cover, outsource it to someone who does.

A PDF Reader: Finally: something for free! I love using Preview on Mac, but Adobe has made some upgrades to their free Reader program that make it a worth rival to Apple's product. You don't necessarily need it at the start, but when looking at print covers and formatting your book proof for print, it will be invaluable.

The Kindle Reader App for Your PC or Mac: You need this to make sure the formatting in your book looks okay; no weirdly-spaced lines or hanging orphans, if possible. The good part is that the Kindle apps for computers are the absolute worst that your book is going to look. Sure, the spacing might get a bit wonky on your phone reader from time-to-time, but I think folks are more forgiving of that because it still happens with the big-time publishers, as well.

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I think that about covers it. Did I miss anything that anyone else uses to write and/or publish? If so, let me know in the comments.

Next Time: Start Writing!

Previous Posts in this Series:

1) Before You Start

 D.J. Gelner is a fiction and freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.