Author Archives: paulzimmer

“All the Way Home” blog post #7 – the video

Remember that the new working title of “Book #3” is “All the Way Home”. Thanks to the generosity of Glen and Helen Arceneaux, and of Curt and Tammy Worlock, who performed the dance and OK’ed the post, we can finally show you the title dance. Choreography by Christine & Theron Hixson:

Isn’t that just gorgeous!

“Book 3” blog post #6 – “Book 3” no more!

We have a working title! It’s “All the Way Home”. This dance plays an important role in the book and the title of the dance fits well with the overall theme of the book.

This won’t necessarily be the book’s title. Titles often change as books evolve (At’s Amore’s working title was “Cuando”), but I’ve got a feeling this one is going to stick.

I’ve written elsewhere (here and here) about the impact a name has on the development of a character. Before the character has a name, it is pretty maleable. You can make the character nicer, or meaner, or taller, or shorter. But, for me, once the character has a name, it becomes “real”. Some set of neurons in my brain gets assigned to “be” that character and the character begins to develop like a person. I can no longer make wholesale changes. In fact, sometimes the character grows in unexpected ways. It all starts with the name.

I wonder if book titles have the same effect? “Cuando” was never a particularly good fit, so the book never really bent itself around the name. But “All the Way Home”… We’ll see.

Lots of progress on the story line. I got another lesson in how much better it is to have a partner. I came down all excited about a new idea that might help bridge two chapters. I told Jean, and she suggested an alternative which was much better. A little back and forth and we ended up with a third way that was better than either.

Besides, it’s fun!

We’re down to the last couple of “Needs Work” sections of the story outline now. Then it’ll be time to “boot” Alan, Shelly, et al back up by re-reading both books. Can’t wait!

“Book 3” Blog post #5 – Keeping track of it all and staying motivated

Another peak at the process:

Some readers may not know that I (Paul) am an engineer. I spent the final 12 years of my career as a consultant, billing by the hour, so tracking the time I spend on particular projects is a well-engrained habit.

Since I started The Bicycle Waltz while I was still actively consulting, I naturally built spreadsheets to track my time.

The format evolved over time. Here’s what one of those spreadsheets looked like on At’s Amore:

By then, I was logging actual writing time separately from editing time or research time.

But, being an engineer, I wanted to better understand and measure the process. So, I started maintaining spreadsheets to track word counts on a weekly basis.

Here’s what one of those spreadsheets looked like on At’s Amore (prior to chapterization):

This is what happens when you let engineers write books.

Every Sunday (my writing “day off”), I would collect the latest word count data and combine it with my time logs to generate measures like “words per writing hour” and “words per total hour”.

At the time, I was just curious about the process. I soon found, however, that these Sunday “rollups” were very motivating. If I didn’t put in my hour (or more) a day during the week, it would stick out in the rollup like a sore thumb. And seeing the word count grow each week turned out to be highly motivating.

This time, I’m tracking the story development time as well. Seeing my time log grow is helpful, but turning N’s (not ready) into R’s (ready) in the outline is the most satisfying of all!

“Book 3” Blog post #4 – Storyline coming along nicely

The storyline for the book is coming together very quickly. I keep track of the status of each part of the storyline in a spreadsheet. Here’s the “status” column of the chapters/scenes (chapter/scene titles deleted):

R = Ready

M = Mostly Ready

N = Not Read

W = Waiting for more info

As you can see, a substantial number of blocks are either Ready or Mostly Ready.

At this point, we’re focusing on clearing those “N’s”. “M’s” are OK – that usually means there are a few details to be worked out or looked up.

Although I keep track of status, wordcounts, etc in spreadsheets, I use OneNote to organize the storyline:

You can see that the story is broken into 3 parts, and under each part is a chapter/scene. It’s difficult at this stage to tell exactly where the chapter breaks will be. As a general rule, each new “scene” will likely end up as a chapter, but there can be cases where a single scene spans multiple chapters or, more often, multiple related scenes form a single chapter.

Right now, it’s all about the story, not about the structure. And the story is coming along very nicely.

“Book 3” – Blog post #3

Another fruitful brainstorming session yesterday, but I want to talk about what got it started as it provides input into our (esp my) method.

I have a system I use when I’m actively writing a book. I dedicate 1 hour a day, 6 days a week to “writing time”. I try to do this about the same time each day and I follow a routine. I think this helps “prep” my brain for the task.

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame, but also a bestselling non-Dilbert author) recounted his method for keeping up an exercise routine. Each day, when it’s time to exercise, he puts on his workout clothes and drives to the gym, regardless of whether he actually feels like working out. He gives himself permission to turn around and drive home if he still doesn’t feel motivated when he arrives. But he said he’s only done that a couple of times in all the years he’s been working out.

The key is that the process of dressing, gathering his stuff, and driving to the gym boots up the “workout” routine in his brain. Research demonstrates that our brains are wired for routine. Common actions get transfered to the “basal ganglia” at the base of the brain – the “habit zone”. Once stored there, the habit routine can be kicked off easily and the basal ganglia will take care of getting everything ready to go, and even performing the actions, if appropriate.

This is why you can drive somewhere while thinking of something else. Your “habit loop” in the basal ganglia is doing the actual driving.

I try to use this brain bug to my advantage to get the “writing loop” running.

If I sit down to write and I don’t feel very motivated, which happens a lot, I don’t worry about it. I keep a list of non-creative tasks, like research, for times like this and work on those. After a while, I often find my creative juices flowing as I imagine the characters in these environments.

Or I just start reviewing and editing what I wrote the day before. Often I’m “in the zone” before I realize it.

This is the first book where I’ve tried to apply this disciplined approach to the story creation process. I still allow the natural, back-and-forth-over-dinner process to take place, but I also put in my hour at the computer.

Yesterday, I was feeling unenthusastic. At this stage, there’s plenty of research to be done, so I picked up one of those tasks. Avoiding spoilers, it had to do with learning about a venue important to the story.

Very much to my surprise, I found something inspirational almost right away. By researching real things in a real place, I was soon bubbling over with ideas for our fictional story. I finished my hour by showing all this to Jean, and the brainstorming really got into high gear.

These new, more real, venues suggested new aspects for the story, and I had that wonderful feeling of things slotting nicely into place.

In a future post, I’ll talk about some of the other things I do to keep myself motivated and keep the project moving forward.

“Book 3” – Blog post #2

We had another good brainstorming session on our walk today, but that’s not what I want to talk about. Instead, I’m going to take you behind the scenes of book marketing – “Indie” (independent author) book marketing in particular.

A primary impetus (pun intended) behind writing The Bicycle Waltz was to promote the wonderful activity that is Cued Ballroom Dance (this name is easier to promote than Round Dance, which is why we prefer it).

In fact, promoting our activity has become something of an obsession with us. In the past couple of years, we’ve started the DanceDemos youtube channel, a Zazzle store, and done several promotional videos for ICBDA.

But sales of The Bicycle Waltz (TBW) haven’t been high enough to really get the attention of non-dancers, which undermines the promotional value. So, I spent several months doing a deep dive on book promotion.

One of the things I learned is how to better use Amazon Advertising – basically, paying Amazon to promote your book (“sponsored” ads) while people are searching for, or looking at, other things. We decided to see if we could buy a little love from Amazon by paying for advertising.

I bought some software (KDP Rocket), and used it to generate appropriate keywords. We set up our campaign and, voila… nothing. No matter what I bid (the campaign “bids” for keywords against other advertisers), Amazon just won’t show our book to customers. Catch-22: Amazon doesn’t want to show your book if it isn’t selling well, and it can’t sell well if Amazon doesn’t show it.

So, that’s we why launched a $0.99 “Countdown Deal” for the ebook over the weekend. Note that, at this price, we will almost certainly lose money – the tiny royalty could never cover the cost of the advertising. But, within reason, we’re willing to take some losses to help get the word out (we’re still in the red on At’s Amore and the Zazzle store, but, hey, it’s all in a good cause, right?).

I also paid to have the book promoted on various discounted book lists, blogs, websites, etc.

It’s difficult to tell how well the promotion is working. Amazon Advertising doesn’t seem to be showing our book much, but sales have picked up (presumably through the discounted book lists). In fact, we sold enough to become the #1 Bestseller in the (admittedly small) book category “Ballroom Dance”!

That’s kind of fun. That was something I learned in my research as well. Amazon will automatically pick categories for your book, but you’re better off picking them yourself. Books about Ballroom Dance (which contains both fiction and non-fiction) seemed like an excellent fit. And, it’s a small category, so it’s easier to hit #1!

Notice the new cover, by the way?

It’s an attempt to make the cover more “click friendly” for the advertising campaign. Personally, I’m not a fan of it. But it does rather represent Shelly and Alan, doesn’t it?

Hopefully, the increased sales triggered by this event will at least get Amazon to show our ad. Keep your fingers crossed (and tell your friends how much they’ll love the book)!

“Book 3” – Blog post #1

This is the first in a series of blog posts about the creation of “Book 3” – the sequel to The Bicycle Waltz and At’s Amore.

2020.06.03

Had a great brainstorming session today! I (Paul) had been entering our earlier ideas into my OneNote structure (subject of a future blog post), so I took Jean through the notes from beginning to end. Lots of great ideas came up along the way. Then, right at the end, Jean mentioned an idea she had for a particular scene. I was initially cool to the idea, because I didn’t see how it helped to move the story along. Then, boom! One of those blinding flashes of insight that I love most about writing. I suddenly saw where it fit. It was as though there had been a gaping hole there before and I just hadn’t noticed it. My inner Shelly said, “Exactly. That’s why I did that other thing.”

More discussion ensued, lunch got cold, and pretty soon Jean’s “scene” was a sequence of scenes telling its own little story, and moving the main story along.

On days like this, I really love this job!

I promised not to insert spoilers, but here’s a hint: Think of something that combines Alan’s engineering skills and his talent with kids – and then add dancing! I can’t wait to write those scenes!

Introducing: The Bicycle Waltz / At’s Amore Sequel Blog

Many readers have asked about a sequel to The Bicycle Waltz and At’s Amore. We’ve been kicking around story ideas for some time, but with the COVID-19 shutdowns, we expect to have a little more time in the coming months to really get down and work on the book.

But our free time will be intermittent as we often have our son, his wife, and our grandson with us. We take care of little Dillon (as in Dillon Beach – our own family trips were the inspiration for the scenes in At’s Amore) while Brian and Anjali work.

Anyway, we thought it might be fun to take our readers behind the scenes as we work on the new book using this blog. We’ll avoid spoilers, but we hope to give you an idea of our process – and our progress.

Here’s how we expect it to work:

  • We’ll create blog postings and post them here, on thebicyclewaltz.com/blog.
  • You can be notified about new posts directly in your email by using the “SUBSCRIBE TO OUR BLOG VIA EMAIL” link on this page.
  • We will announce new blog postings on our Facebook page as well: www.facebook.com/thebicyclewaltz.
  • We’d love to hear your comments, but please do that on our Facebook page. Managing comments on a blog involves regular battles with spammers, so I’m going to disable comments here.

We hope you enjoy the journey!

Paul and Jean Zimmer