Thursday, September 25, 2014

You Know More than You Think You Do

As you may or may not already know, I'm a freelance writer, editor, and web coder. I even do some document formatting and HTML conversion over on Fiverr. I actually enjoy being handed a PDF and making a website that matches, insofar as matching is possible.

Although I can build things from scratch—my website is a case in point, and this blog is likely going to get an at-its-roots overhaul, itself, one of the next times I'm sick—I'm generally a fixer. A tweaker.

You hand me this thing that doesn't work quite how you wanted—some writing, a website, a document. I hand you back something that's working as close as possible to what you wanted.

Tweaking's how I learn.

For instance, I recently had reason to want to take all hyperlinks in a document and convert the URLs to footnotes. I found a macro that converted them to endnotes. I took the macro, copied it, and changed the "Endnote" in the script code to "Footnote". Worked like a charm. Then I found another macro to deactivate all live hyperlinks. (These two steps are useful for converting an e-book ready file into a p-book ready one.) Considering how long my macro lists are getting, I'm likely going to end up combining the two into a single macro…which could eventually grow into automatically setting page size and margins and such, too, but I'm out of practice with that side of VBA.

Programming = code that does stuff. Coding = HTML and CSS, which describe stuff. I'm good at coding. But I'm not an expert writer of macros or user of any other programming.

I've had some people assume I'm better with programming than I am, because I have a solid foundation in the Find & Replace functions for 2 different programs (MS Word and TextWrangler) + how those functions work with 3 different automation languages/programs (VBA, AppleScript, Automator). I'll even use some simple Terminal codes (namely ones that convert file types and sizes).

Analogy for you readers who don't know what I'm talking about: I essentially have people who think I'm a FANTASTIC baker because I can make chocolate chip cookies. But don't ask me to make cake.*

*Actually, seriously: don't ask me to make cake. Egg yolks make me unwell, so I'd have to use an egg replacer, which makes the texture difficult to get right. I also don't particularly like cake, so I'm disinclined to figure out what to do instead. (Though I have been craving the traditionally dense and rich pound cake. Is it worth the two-day ache? Hmm.)

I tend to think of myself as so far from expert that it's not funny, but…

I know more than I think I do.

I've been pounded over the head with proof of this, lately. (It can take me a while to accept a hint.)

For example, I know far more than the average person about MS Word alone. I didn't fully realize that when I set up my Fiverr gig to help with formatting cleanup. I was expecting to get more folks who had some idea of what they were doing but didn't want to be bothered with the details, or maybe who had an idea but who had a few details that they didn't know yet.

I have gotten a few clients of the type I expected. At least once, someone has asked me, "Can you fix this?" and my answer was, "Right-click on it and select X." Which made them not need me at all, but I'd rather garner goodwill than money now + annoyance later once they learn how simple it is. At least once, I've delivered screenshot instructions of how I fixed something.

But far more often?

I'm getting "Is this possible?" queries about things that I thought were basic.

When I respond to such queries, I try to use enough of a description of how it's done so the person can look it up and do it themselves, if they're so inclined. I'm not sure anyone has, so far.

That's not to say that those people are stupid. They aren't. They must know plenty of things that I don't.

It's just been awkward and blindsiding to realize just how little many people know about those things I can function with. I'm no expert in macro code, but I can comprehend the logic of how to piece one together and even adjust one that's comparable to what I want. It's like being able to understand someone's Spanish and answer them, while your ability to monologue on a topic of your own choosing is limited to specific things.

There are several things I think of myself as able to "get by" in or with—with "get by" sometimes meaning that I can do X, Y, and maybe Z—but don't ask me to do more. Things like macros. PHP. Unix shell codes. Cover design. Cooking. Understanding Spanish. Knitting.

Am I actually an expert in those things? No.

But there's a huge spectrum of ability between "inability" and "expert". There are "beginner" and "passable" and "adequate" and "moderate" and…

When we think about skills, we so often consider ourselves no more than "average" at best, until or unless we hit "expert" level. But here's the thing.

Moderate ≠ average.

In fact, the average person? Doesn't have your skill at all.

So sit down and consider what skills you have. Not the ones where you think yourself an expert (if there are any of those). But the ones where you're middling or passable, somewhere between beginner and expert. What can you do with them?

I've intentionally started working more with macros, myself. It's helping all sorts of things. And after I recently was able to untangle some PHP and comprehend what I was looking at (more or less), I might intentionally work on that, too, but I think studying Spanish is gonna take precedence, there. (I have plans in place that mean I'll need the language—and I want to get stable in it and study something else.)

Your skills might not be as easily applicable as mine.

Or maybe they'll be even easier to implement.

Or maybe you're just too busy, right now, to want to do that or even care.

That's all okay.

But next time someone asks you what you're good at? Don't insist you aren't good at anything (which I know some of you reading this do).

Remember that "good" doesn't mean "expert", and those things you're middling at or with count, too.

What skills do you have that you're "adequate" or "passable" or "moderate" in?


Thursday, September 18, 2014

…Annnnnnd it's out! (A Fistful of Water, + some other notes)

It's out! It's out! It's finally out!

"A Fistful of Water (Chronicles of Marsdenfel: Book 3)" by Misti Wolanski on Ganxy

A Fistful of Water is available now, for $2.99—and that price is going to change back to $4.99 any day, now, so if you want to get the e-book, now's the time. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, elsewhere

Not in print, though. I've been, um, slacking a bit on that. (I have reason! I've been having a formatting detail that I can't quite get right.)

The first draft of the sequel, A Fistful of Life, is hitting the climax on Wattpad, too. That means I'm likely to have the first draft done this month, and it's possible that I'll have the book out by New Year's. Possible. Don't know if I'll make that deadline, though.

…And I really do intend to post things other than release announcements. I even have another lengthy, thought-provoking post (with definitions!) all drafted up, which likely won't get posted until December. (The reason will make sense when you see it.)

But anyway, the first note I really have to address is that I may not be able to post much until December, even if I manage to keep on target with my goal of releasing something every 2 weeks. I pretty much have some major things I'm working on, which mean I need time and energy, which means I have to give something up. (Having said that, watch me post somewhat regularly over the next few months…)

Second note: As I type this, I am feeling better than I have in weeks or months. I pretty much have realized a few details were leaving me vulnerable to infection, so I'm working on correcting those things. I have energy. I was able to do some cleaning and not feel as if I needed a nap afterwards. (I actually stopped yesterday before I started feeling worn by it, for fear that I'd drive myself into a relapse. I'll be doing more today.)

This comes after discovering a really weird remedy for a cold, which I'm going to try using as a general preventative: onion. Specifically, onion against my feet, in a pair of socks.

Erm, Huh?, right? That's what I was thinking when I first heard it. But I'd tested just having pieces of onion out by me when I was sick, and that had resulted in palpable improvement, so I figured I might as well try a piece of onion in my sock. I was peeling a new one, anyway, right? So I broke two palm-size pieces off the outer layer of onion, stuck one on each foot, put socks on to keep them there, and…

I was feeling noticeably better within the hour.

How/why does it work? I've seen various explanations, but one is something to do with the sulfur. Maybe it's aromatherapy, or maybe the released vapors have an immune-boosting effect, or maybe folks are right when they say onion absorbs bacteria. I don't know, and I don't care. It works (for me, so far—I haven't tested it thoroughly, nor had enough other folks try it to get a sense for its general efficacy and limitations).

Presumably, white onion works better than yellow onion works better than red onion at this. Which is interesting. Red onion is best for allergies.

And then if the effective agent is the sulfur, the root should be more efficacious than the main part of the onion. I plan to test that.

Now, to jump back into a publishing topic… I've completely changed the covers on my Overhill stories again. They look a lot more professional now.

See? So much more professional.

But even with "For Want of Cruelty" being free, the stories essentially don't sell. (Small surprise, considering the old covers really sucked.) Hugh Howey's recent post on exclusivity presents the data on going exclusive with Amazon vs. being on all vendors, and per his math, being on all vendors costs him readers.

I do not plan to go exclusive on Amazon with my Aleyi or Darkworld writing, but it occurs to me that if I'm going to unpublish anything from all other vendors and make it exclusive on Amazon—and I really cringe at the thought of doing that—then those stories are a fantastic choice for doing so.

I'm currently reformatting the innards of the stories to use the new covers. Once that's done, I'm thinking I very likely will pull them from other vendors and put them in Amazon's KDP Select program (and in the Kindle Unlimited program), unless you readers convince me otherwise.

So… Do you think I should make the stories exclusive to Amazon (for the time being)? Why or why not?

But if you don't want to influence my decision, here are some other questions:

Have you tried (or will you try) the onion remedy? Are you staying healthy? Are you looking forward to the finishing of A Fistful of Life?


Thursday, September 4, 2014

On Progress, Plans, and Pain (…and Patreon?)

There's a Yiddish proverb, "Man plans and God laughs." So true. Plans can go awry so fast.

Case in point: I planned to have A Fistful of Water out and A Fistful of Life done months ago. I planned to not miss any updates on my Wattpad postings. I certainly didn't plan to spend intermittent hours on the floor in pain, over the past two days. I didn't plan to spend last night tempted to take four or more ibuprofen.

I was smart this morning and took all the various herbs that stop/prevent that pain first thing, before it knocked me to the floor. And I took booster doses at lunchtime.

As far as progress goes, I haven't updated my website yet (bad author, I know), but newsletter subscribers have gotten the short story: "In the Hands of the Smith", whose narrator was picked by Pneumarian.

See, every 3 months, I have a drawing, where newsletter subscribers can pick a PoV character they want for a story. I'm behind on the writing of them, but I have that one done and 2 more in the queue. Want a chance to pick a narrator, yourself? Sign up for my newsletter.

Winning once doesn't disqualify you for another round. Pneumarian won "Mrs. Strongman" for a short story (from my flash fiction "Butterfly Boots"), and so he was the first person to receive an e-copy of the story of how Mr. and Mrs. Strongman met. Newsletter subscribers also got the story before it was available for sale.

That short story came out two weeks ago today. Today I released "A Badge and a Bully" (a Darkworld short story preceding "A Blackmail and a Birthday"—and you might want to hold off on buying, since I plan a mini-series with those that will end up in a bundle, and you'll eventually get to see what happens when a raised-as-human selkie meets Destiny in an emergency situation). Two weeks from today, I'll be releasing A Fistful of Water.

Hmm. Methinks this looks like a pattern…

And it is! I've decided to do something about the many short stories sitting on my hard drive in various stages of incompletion. I have a specific, hmm, setup that I want before I start bundling them. I could go ahead and do a bundle of what I have—I certainly have enough short stories for it—but the prospect makes me grimace. It doesn't match. My plan is to bundle when I have several stories with the same narrator or in the same mini-series, maybe including a "bonus" story that's another narrator at the end.

But to do that, I need to write more short stories. They don't take long—"In the Hands of the Smith" took me about 5 hours to write and edit, and that was with a false start. (Of the 4438 words I wrote in coming up with that story, I kept 3186 of them.) Add in the cover and formatting, and that was 9.4 hours total. If I'd gone the KISS route on the formatting, it wouldn't have taken that long. (I both made it fancier than necessary and made a template, which is included in that time.)

Theoretically, more time spent on short stories means less time spent on novels and other things. But more time spent on short stories (and finishing them) means better morale and improved mindspace for working on novels and other things, so that might just lead to more time spent writing overall.

All I can do is try it and see what happens. ^_^

I've gotten the "oops" checks back for A Fistful of Water, so that'll be going up for pre-order soon, to be released 9/18/14.

As another "*poke* *poke* Huh" item, I've set up a Patreon page. (Patreon, for those who don't know, is essentially a way to treat your relationship with artists as a patronage. Patrons voluntarily pay X per release or per month, which can be adjusted at any time, and a payment cap can be sent for those donating per release.) Feel free to look at it, poke around, and tell me what you think.

How are you? What are you working on?


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