Post hoc learning
Over the past 20 years, I’ve begun and abandoned at least seven or eight books. Usually after a single day of writing. And these repeated failures had me convinced that writing a book is a mystical art practiced only by the lucky few. Either that, or I just didn’t have the correct tools. With a dream of publishing a book before I kick the bucket, I was always on the look-out for some tricky program to learn that might give me a boost.
There are tons of them out there, all designed to help aspiring authors stay focused, stick to the plot, develop characters, outline their story, set daily quotas, etc… Downloading the free ones and playing with them can be a blast. I’ve started several books in yWriter, one of my favorite little programs. Only–and here’s the problem–I spend more time playing around with the program than I do writing my book. You can export to .rtf AND .html with this thing? What would my synopsis look like in Firefox? Cool! I’m gonna add another character and write their bio…
In no way do I mean to generalize my personal experiences, but these programs were a detriment, not an assistance. I’m sure they help some people, but I’m too easily distracted. What I really needed was a typewriter and a ream of paper. Or Microsoft Word without knowing how to use the options. And this is precisely what I employed to knock out two 100K manuscripts. It could have been notepad. I wrote each book in a single document and made notes in a separate one. I keep the two files side-by-side on my widescreen monitor and clack away for eight to sixteen hours a day. Just like a hermit-author with a Remington Standard 2.
This is easy! I thought. There’s nothing to learn, no programs to mess with. Just write!
If only that were true. The reality is: writing can be done with minimal tools. Pencil and paper will suffice. All you’re doing is transferring words from your brain to a more permanent medium. Authoring a successful book, however, requires more than jotting down a rough draft. And it wasn’t until after I had already written a decent manuscript that I realized how much I had to learn. Hey, I’m a starving artist. It’s not like I can afford to pay someone else thousands of dollars to help me produce my first book.
Some of the tasks I needed to learn were simple, like changing a Twitter background to help stand out from the crowd. But, if you want to do it well, you really need to create a custom background so you can include some more info. Have fun learning Photoshop. Oh, can’t make out the text when you’re done? That’s because Photoshop is raster-based. What you need is a good vector-based design program. Good luck learning Illustrator. Yeah, it’s made by the same company, but you wouldn’t know from trying to move from one to the other.
Got your Twitter background all set? Good. Did you include a link to your blog? Don’t know what a blog is or how to set one up? Time to start learning. Oh, once you’re done with that, it might help to hear that free blogs don’t give you an air of professionalism. What you really need is your own url and site hoster. Don’t know what these are? Neither did I. Once you figure this out, you’ll be happy to hear that WordPress is available, a free blog program you can install in your new site. Of course, you’ll want it to look original, so get ready to sort through thousands of themes and learn how to modify one for your purposes. You’ll probably need to learn a little PHP and a lot of HTML. Oh, and your publisher is going to want you to learn Adobe Acrobat, because everything is better with a program that takes ten minutes to boot up.
It’s never-ending. And it all starts after you’ve written your first book. Something to look forward to after your champagne-induced headache wears off.