Why We Write Shitty First Drafts

Dear Reader,

If your English teacher was worth anything in high school, then they should have told you that you must write a “shitty first draft.” I’ve talked about shitty first drafts before, but a friend complained to me recently that they didn’t like that advice.

Why? Because their college professor ripped apart their first draft, saying it wasn’t good enough. It traumatized my friend.

I stared at him a moment, not sure he was serious. Of course, he was. I said, “But darling, you never show your actual first draft to anyone. There’s a writer’s first draft, and then there’s what I like to call a Reader-Worthy-First-Draft.”

The writer’s shitty first draft is, more often than not, a really shitty draft. It is the definition of shitty. The characters are cardboard, the plot is dramatic and full of holes, the grammar is awful. That is the point. That draft is for the writer to get ideas to the page with as little judgment as possible. A Reader-Worthy-First-Draft is when you’ve gone back through so that the draft makes sense.

I am at that point for the first eleven chapters for The Rebel’s Hero. I had to go back through it twice. I wanted to share the result, in all its gory beauty.

I use a Red Pen of Doom because it means serious business. Now you know I’m alive and working on making my shitty drafts Reader Worthy. Look forward to my next blog post where I’ll detail some of the things I look for when the Red Pen of Doom makes an appearance.

Best,

Belinda

Creating Custom Tabs on Facebook Pages

Dear Reader,

Last week I talked about how I finally got a Welcome tab up on my Facebook fan page, and was asked to write a tutorial about how I navigated the murky depths of Facebook HTML editing. And so I shall, gladly.

The default for a Facebook fan page is for it to load on the wall tab, i.e. the list of activity that’s happened on the page.

This isn’t so great for branding, though, especially when trying to appeal to newcomers. What we want is a welcome tab where we can put our welcome message, maybe an image or two.

Good thing we have the option to use the Facebook Static FBML app, amiright?

Sure, once you figure out how to use the stupid thing.

Assuming you have a fan page and know how to edit it (click “Edit” below your page’s photo on the left), you should be familiar with this list of options.

When you click edit, you will see this list of options on the left. Your editing options will be in the center, and the typical Facebook ads will be on the right.

We want to go to the apps tab so we can customize our page with the additional functionality afforded through the Static FBML app.

Static FBML stands for Static Facebook Markup Language. When I saw this originally, I thought, “But I just want HTML. This is stupid. Why would Facebook make their own language?”

Turns out, you use this app for HTML as well. It will accept images, text, and tables. It won’t accept embedded media such as videos, as far as I’ve tried.

Anyway. At the bottom of your apps page, you might see an option to add the Static FBML app to your page. If you don’t see that, search “Static FBML” using the search field at the top of the left options menu to find it.

The app in the list of search results should look like this. Click it, and follow the directions to add it to your page.

Once the app is installed on your page, you will have no idea what to do next. Logically, clicking “Settings” would take you to a page that allows you to edit this random tab that is now appearing on your page, right? Wrong. But you are right to think that.

Facebook is stupid and actually makes you click “Go to App” in order to make edits. It’s ok. I can say Facebook is stupid from a heuristic standpoint: it’s my day job to find the weaknesses in a web design and point them out for the next iteration to improve the design. Are you listening, Facebook??

You should see a blank text box waiting for your HTML magic, like so pictured left. I made a 500 pixel wide x (??) pixel tall image that I threw in there for the welcome tab. Just to see what it would look like.

I noticed at the bottom, there’s a link that says “Add another FBML tab” or something like that. Don’t do that until you’ve saved your first tab.

Essentially, you can create as many customized tabs as you can think of, using this app. It’s pretty useful once you get to this point.

I made two tabs: a Welcome tab and a Buy a Copy tab. The latter is a simple 2×2 table that has the images of my books, descriptions, and links to where readers can buy them. Simple and straightforward.

From here, you’ll want to make your new Welcome tab the default landing tab. To do this, you need to choose the Manage Permissions option in the left menu.

There will be an option on this page to change the default landing tab from the Wall to your Welcome tab. Go ahead and do that. Or make the default landing tab something else.

Whatever floats your boat, I’m not the boss of you.

In the end, you will want to log out of Facebook to ensure that the landing tab is the one you specified. It took me an hour or so to realize that it didn’t matter how many times I refreshed it, I would always see the Wall tab as the landing tab because I’d liked the page.

The default landing tab, when made to be the Welcome tab, only appears first when you haven’t liked the page yet. So it’s kind of perfect. Welcome me if I’m new, but give me the juicy stuff if I’ve been around for a while.

So if you haven’t liked my fan page and are coming to it for the first time, you should see something like the image on the left. Otherwise, you will see the wall tab like in the first image of this post.

Ta-dah! Now you have a snazzy welcome tab. Hopefully you have some awesome content to throw in there.

Ask questions and provide additional suggestions in the comments!

All the best,

Belinda

Worderella Interviews James M Turner

Dear Reader,

I’d like to introduce you to James M Turner, my guest from across the pond today at Worderella Writes.

Turner is an author, composer, musician and screenwriter. Having had a successful career as a highly paid professional musician, he now works in the film industry. His first television series screenplay ‘The Taker’ is currently in development and will hopefully move into production later in 2010.

About ‘Beyond the Comfort Zone’

According to James, his newly released work Beyond the Comfort Zone is a memoir of a short period in the life of James M Turner. Having enjoyed a career as a professional musician for the rich and famous, in 2002 he moved to south east Asia where he eventually came into contact with the child trafficking trade.

Together with an acquaintance and the help of a US organization they attempt to gain the confidence of the traffickers and bring them to justice – saving the cargo in the process.

There is a little bit in there about James’ hedonistic days of travelling the world as a high paid musician, but this is really just a foil to throw into stark contrast the subsequent adventure in Asia.

It’s a tale that follows two young men trying to do the right thing and in the process nearly losing themselves as they spiral downwards into a shadowy world where human lives, at least their lives, are worth nothing. There is danger, intrigue, high emotion and a fragile love story woven together in what one reviewer called an exceptional journey …the making of a Hollywood blockbuster, in short a Shantaram for South East Asia.’

I’m very pleased to have James here to interview. So let’s get on with the questions!

How do you transform your passion into focused research?

Well, in the case of Beyond the Comfort Zone as it was a memoir there was very little research to be done, it was more a ‘method’ writing piece. I did a little historical research in the areas where I thought that people needed contextual help to understand the jeopardy, but again I was already fairly well read in that subject and it really was minimal internet verification.

However, when I was writing ‘The Taker’ my main research consisted of putting myself in the environment. I had a rough plot arc, stepping stones as I like to call them, but I wanted to feel the atmosphere.

This consisted of me sitting in downtown L.A. and soaking up the sights and sounds, making notes as I went. Also, as there is a technology component to the story, I researched cutting edge technology and then imagined how I could push it a bit farther.

Probably the longest gestation period in the development process in ‘The Taker’ was with the characters. I think I had between ten to twenty thousand words of back-story before they even set foot on page one of the script. That made for a fairly quick writing process as I had a very good idea how these people would react in certain situations.

How do you translate your research into an entertaining narrative?

As Beyond the Comfort Zone is a true story, the entertaining narrative really took care of itself. These were real people, very complex individuals. I had a location which was exotic (Thailand). Then the story itself was as dramatic as any fictional thriller.

I tried to make the writing as concise as I could which meant that if I didn’t feel that something was moving the story along or there was some part that needed to be told in a more succinct manner – then out it would go.

One of the things that people have picked up on is the ‘page-turner’ aspect of Beyond the Comfort Zone most people tell me they have read it in 24-36 hrs. I think that is something that my cut throat editing approach has enhanced. If it isn’t contributing to moving the story forward, then it has to go.

How do you sneak an underlying message into your entertaining narrative?

Well, there’s an old quote from Don Maclean who wrote the song ‘American Pie’. When they asked him what the lyrics and the song meant to him he replied ‘It means I don’t have to work again!’ But, to be serious, I’m not sure sneak is the right word. I have however been amazed at how people take away all sorts of ‘hidden’ meanings and sub-plots from Beyond the Comfort Zone. Actually I’m quite happy for them to do that and very glad that the book lives on with people for quite some time after they have read it.

For ‘The Taker’ however hidden meanings are very much an integral part of the plot structure. I had a rough idea of interconnections between events and people, but just wrote the story down without expanding too much on any of those. Then, when the story was complete, I went back to those moments I had identified and dropped in little nuggets that at the time don’t attract too much attention. By the end when the revelations appear there is a clear though (hopefully) surprising link.

However, as I said before, I am constantly surprised by the conclusions drawn by others as to what is sub-text and hidden meaning. Of course I’ll take credit for that…even when it wasn’t deliberate.

Thanks for joining us today! For more information about James, visit his website James M Turner.com and read reviews on Amazon (UK).

All the best,

Belinda

Worderella Becomes Her Own Hero (i.e. Cover Designer)

So I’ve been meaning to release my first book, Catching the Rose, as in eBook format, but wasn’t sure where to begin. As always, I turned to my friend Zoe Winters to see what she’s done, because let’s face it, she has her hand in every pot when it comes to self-publishing.

Smashwords, it seemed, was my answer. Smashwords is an

ebook publishing and distribution platform for ebook authors, publishers and readers. We offer multi-format, DRM-free ebooks, ready for immediate sampling and purchase, and readable on any e-reading device.

The really cool thing about this is I can upload a Word document and they do all the formatting for me. My book is now, as far as I can tell, available to read in the following formats:

  • HTML
  • Javascript
  • Kindle
  • EPub
  • PDF
  • RTF
  • Sony Reader
  • Palm readers
  • Plain text

How crazy is that?? I’m pretty excited, I’d like to see what sort of sales I get this way. But again, just because it’s out there doesn’t mean it will sell. I should market the new format, right? Well, I have been meaning to update the branding of the book, and since this version is owned completely by me I felt funny using the cover provided by Aventine Press, the subsidy that originally printed my work.

Turns out stock art is an amazing thing, if you find exactly what you want. I searched through istockphoto.com, gettyimages.com, and fotolia.com, and decided that Fotolia was giving me the results I wanted. The image below is the one I chose for Catching the Rose.

There is a masquerade ball during the book, so the masks are absolutely perfect. I wanted to step away from the ultra-pink of the original book, so the blue background really pulled me in. Veronica, the main character, has blond hair, and Brad, the interest, has brown hair. I looked for an entire week at stock photography and my jaw dropped when I found photos by Andrey Kiselev. Just perfect!

But of course, an image isn’t enough to make a book cover. I played around during my break at work today with Pixlr, a great online alternative to Photoshop just to see what I could do with the image (see below). After an hour, I had something I was in love with, and I couldn’t wait to get home so I could buy the image and make the cover for real in Photoshop.

You see, I’d like to do a reprint of Catching the Rose, give it an updated look. So I need a decent-sized file that will print well, as well as make a cover design that will scale to a thumbnail nicely. Smashwords requires that you upload an image that is at least 600 pixels in height. I’m not sure why, perhaps to fit all the different eReader formats. So the final version is below.

What do you think? I’d love to get some feedback. To thank you ahead of time, I’d like to give you a discount if you’re interested in supporting me in my first self-publishing venture. To receive a discount on Catching the Rose (Smashwords edition), type SWS25 into the promotional field at checkout.