Saturday, August 7, 2021

What Is Your MVWC?


Scott D. Parker

How do you keep going?  On anything. 

If you're a runner, you lace up the shoes, don your favorite running clothes, maybe grab your phone for some music, and head out the door. If you're a student, you keep studying. If you're lawyer or doctor or just about anything, you just keep doing the thing you either trained to do or are getting paid to do.

So why do we writers and other creative types fall off the wagon? 

There are countless posts--like this one--talking about how we writers get thrown off our game. Sometimes the forces are external and uncontrollable. Often, however, they are self-inflicted. We sleep in and miss that 5am writing time. We might always write at night, but the day job took everything out of us and we'd rather just watch TV or do nothing. No brain use tonight, thank you very much.

It happens. It always happens. It's like Houston summers, New York winters, and rain in London. The thing you expect always, always happens. 

What To Do About It?

Okay, so it happens. We writers lose our mojo for whatever reason. How do you get it back when you've been thrown off the horse. Get back on the horse. 

Ah, but that's easier said than done. Why? 

One reason might be that we remember how the mojo felt on our last project. Remember that feeling, when everything was aligned and your fingers could barely keep up with the images in your brain? I've had that feeling and it is like a drug. It's intoxicating. What we always forget about that project were the slow times, the beginning, the part where you had to pause and sort out plot points, and when you struggled with that one stupid chapter.

But you got your mojo back and sailed across the finish line to The End. And, most likely, we celebrated with something bubbly and decided to take a break. 

That's not what I'm talking about today. I think breaks are a necessary part of the creative life. Angel said the same thing on Wednesday. What I'm talking about is getting back your mojo. And that brings me to MVWC.

What is MVWC?

I think we're all familiar with the concept of a Minimum Viable Product. It's the phase in the development of a product or service where the inventor can start selling the thing even though all the bugs are not yet ironed out. The MVP can also be called the 1.0 Version. Early adopters love this stuff because you can say "I  was there when X was just out." Same is true for the early careers of actors, musicians, writers, and other creatives.

When it comes to us writers, we can use the same concept. What is the minimum word count I need to get back my mojo?

[Keep this bookmark right here in mind. You'll need it at the end of this post.]

The Minimum Viable Word Count, the MVWC, is the word count you can easily achieve without even breaking a sweat. The kind you can type in fifteen minutes or thirty or an hour each day you are working on a project. Because, as we all know, words on a page are words out of your head. We can fix them later, but forward progress was made and the momentum builds. When that happens, we have our mojo back and we can soar through the clouds and get to The End.

I think the MVWC is a key metric you'll need when you get back on the writing horse or after a break or when a project's really thrown you for a loop. You're irritated, you don't know where the story's going, you don't really know how to begin. So you reach for your MVWC and do the bare minimum. It is forward progress. You will feel better. And, soon, the MVWC will rise and grow and the mojo takes over and you hold on for the ride.

But the MVWC itself. That's what you have to find for yourself. For some, it might be 250 words. Maybe 500. If you do NaNoWriMo in November, that daily word count is 1,667 words per day to achieve 50,000 in a month.

A lot of times for me, it's 1,000 words per day. I often keep track of a story's progress by using a spreadsheet. I have it coded with a baseline number and it automatically color codes the numbers green (if I achieve my goal) or red (if I fall short).

That’s all well and good for when you are in the groove, however. What about getting started? Ah, that’s for you to determine. What’s your MVWC you need to reach each day you’re writing a story so that you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment? 

Whatever that number is, make it reasonable, easily achievable, and sustainable. Some writers might up their MVWC to a higher number, a goal they can’t reach consistently unless everything goes right. And, come on: how many days do we live through that are perfect? 

Keep the MVWC sustainable or you’ll burn out and then you’ll start back behind square one.

Remember that bookmark earlier in this post? I wrote the start of this post on my lunch break, in a conference room, with just me and my Chromebook. I was time-limited after eating so I set a stopwatch and timed myself. In 15 minutes, I wrote 477 words, give or take. So roughly 500 words in 15 minutes. One could extrapolate from there.

Now, when I’m getting back on the writing wagon, it’s always slow going. And I’m almost always time-limited be it part of the 5am writing session or the lunch hour one. I rarely have a long stretch of dedicated writing time so I have to adjust my MVWC.

Now that I’ve been writing this piece, I think my MVWC is around 500. That’s easily achievable in 30 minutes or less. I can blow way past it when I’m flying yet I can struggle to get there when the story’s mired in molasses. But it is consistently achievable and sustainable. When I log off at 5:55am or after lunch, I can always walk a little taller and with a smile on my face when I’ve hit my MVWC.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Don't Tell A Soul - Jay Stringer. Out Now, Innit.

 By Jay Stringer

My new book has been out for just over a week now. So I'm still within the statue of limitations for one last bit of blatant self-promotion. 

Louisa doesn't feel capable of murder. But her husband is missing. 

Did she kill him? Why can't she remember?

Louisa Mantalos is a C-list celebrity, and Dave is an indie rock star. Nothing about their life together is private. Drug problems. Criminal friends. Nightclub fights. They've lived it all in public. But Dave's been missing now for six months, and everyone in New York assumes she killed him. A popular true crime podcast is covering the case, and asking intrusive questions about Louisa's past, and she is struggling to hold her life together and protect her two young sons from the news. But now she has a medical condition affecting her memory. She can't remember what happened the night Dave disappeared.

Running out of options, feeling lost and alone, she hires Constantin McGarry, an ex-con private eye from Queens. He's down on his luck and buries his heart beneath layers of irony and jokes, but he's the only person left in town willing to take Louisa's case. And it doesn't take long for Con to realise Louisa's story doesn't add up. 

But is she lying, or does she really not remember? 

Gone Girl meets The Rockford Files in this dark, funny, and sexy thriller from the award-nominated author of Ways To Die In Glasgow

'Slick, sexy and suffused with cool, a psychological thriller cut up with the keenest of edges.'- Eva Dolan.

'One of the best books I've read this year, a great PI novel.'- James Oswald.

'Jay Stringer is a crime writer at the top of his game, I loved every page of this book.'- Jess Lourey.

'Smart, sharp, and edge-of-your-seat thriller that sinks under your skin.' - Hilary Davidson.

'...throws us into a world of secrets and lies.' - CrimeBookGirl.

Apple Books


Amazon UK

Amazon US

The book is also available in two paperback editions. The standard edition and a dyslexic

reader edition, formatted with the Open Dyslexic typeface, making it easier to read for dyslexics. ISBN for this edition is 9781916892323.

As an extra wee bonus, I slipped out a brand new collection of my stories and poems overnight. It's exclusive to ebook for now, paperbacks will follow later in the year.

Tight, little punches to the jaw


This week, Beau goes short with Scattered Little Pieces.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Big Pause

A writer always writes.

That's a crock of shit. 

I'm a big fan of taking breaks. It's something I learned to do when I got into running - knowing when it's time to let the muscles and tendons relax and heal up. That rest prevents injury or burn out. It helps you bounce back for the next big run in a better way. 

I'm coming off the longest time I've ever spent without writing in nearly decade - three weeks - and you know what?

It feels good. 

Not to write again or to find the rhythm I miss, that's obvious. It simply felt good not to write. I read. I got my affairs in order (of which there were many). I concentrated on everything but writing and it was a relief. That relief, as I sit here typing about it, translates to a better mental state. I'm not feeling stressed as I type these words. I'm not thinking about other projects or items in the pipeline that I need to be patient about because its simply not time to deal with them.

We need to be allowed to stop. To understand when we're reaching a breaking point and take the time to ensure our health, be it physical or mental, is taken care of. Especially relevant with recent Olympic and tennis headlines, no? If even the elite among us can be hurt by overworking; shouldn't we begin acknowledging that NOT writing is just as beneficial as the act of writing?

If you know me, though, you know I'm also not the biggest fan of catch-all advice. If grinding away works for you, by all means, grind. I'd just consider giving yourself a day even. A little time to simply not write. To be the anti-writer. Go read. Take a walk. Rest those muscles.

Then come back and grind away again. No time to be lazy.

Monday, August 2, 2021

What Could Be Better Than Autumn in Paris?

 by Holly West

First—I'd like to thank Scott for graciously allowing me to borrow his spot today. I appreciate it!

I always love visiting Do Some Damage, so when Steve asked me if I wanted to read a book set in 1920s Paris and then interview the author, I jumped at the chance. In these COVID times, an escape to Paris seemed like just the thing.

Tessa Lunney

Tessa Lunney is the Sydney-based author of the Kiki Button historical series. The latest book AUTUMN LEAVES, 1922, comes out today, August 3, and follows Kiki Button back to Paris for another adventure. The book was just the escape I needed, and the bonus was that I got to talk to meet and talk to Tessa about the book. Now, I'm sharing that interview with all of you.

Tune in below to hear us chat about the book, the challenges of writing during the pandemic (with one-month-old, no less!), the fun of writing historicals (especially when there's a famous cameo or two), and much more about life and writing.

Happy Book Birthday, Tessa!

AUTUMN LEAVES, 1922 is available wherever books are sold:
Indie Bound
Or ask your local bookstore!

Interview Transcript

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Timing is Everything

I'm delighted today to welcome my good friend Jim L'Etoile to the blog. His latest book, the Big Pharma thriller Black Label, just came out to great reviews. I'm lucky enough to share the same home bookstore with him, and we're both (along with dozens of our reader friends) ecstatic that in two weeks, the Black Label launch party will be there. In person. He picked a good time to release a book. Because as he tells us below, timing is everything. . .

By James L'Etoile

Many thanks to Claire Booth for letting me sneak into Do Some Damage for a guest post while she’s putting the final polish on Hank Worth #5. A great series with current ripped from the headlines plotting. Do yourself a favor and take a look at them.

Timing is everything. Ever notice how world events sometimes swallow up what’s going on? Sacramento mass murderer Joseph Ferguson killed five people and filmed a declaration taunting the police, with a promise to kill even more the following day. He sent his bombshell confession to local media, sure that his video would make him famous—or so he thought. Officers found him in a car stolen from one of his victims. Ferguson died in a shootout with the police—and no one ever saw his video because of the timing. Ferguson posted the video on the evening before the twin towers came down in New York. The media, and most of us, forgot about Joseph Ferguson in the wake of the terrorist attack.

My most recent novel, Black Label, was released last week, and it reinforced how timing is everything. Who could have timed a book release on the same day when all media was consumed with Jeff Bezos launching himself into space? I did run across a few websites taking bets on his return.

This time, the timing may have worked for me. The timing I’m talking about is when the plot of a book hits a moving target of what’s on everyone’s mind. We all know you can’t write to hit a current trend, jump on board the hottest new twist in fiction, or hope to capture the emotion of the latest social issue. The publishing industry isn’t fast or nimble enough to let us grab the brass ring. By the time you aim and fire, everyone has forgotten the trend you were so hot to write.

But, every once in a blue moon, the planets align, and the story lines up with current events. That seems to be the case with Black Label. I don’t think it’s a spoiler since there’s mention of it on the back cover copy, but the question of what’s really in those prescription drugs Big Pharma shoves on us by the fistful is central in Black Label.

The protagonist, Jillian Cooper, is a pharmaceutical executive who wakes up in a strange apartment, with no memory of what happened over the past two days. She discovers her CEO boss has been murdered, and the trail of evidence points directly at her—unexplained photos of Jillian and the dead man, her jewelry found at the murder scene, and blood on her clothes. Even Jillian begins to believe she might be a killer. In her search for the truth, Jillian uncovers a counterfeit pharmaceutical lab distributing diluted and ineffective drugs to unsuspecting customers.

When I wrote the first drafts of Black Label, I had no idea we’d be in a COVID world, grappling with unthinkable levels of death and devastation. Who could have foreseen we’d be arguing over what’s in the COVID vaccines, if they are effective, or if they allow the government to track your every move? Um—hello? Do you not have a cell phone?

Questioning drug efficacy and circumventing the FDA approval processes are on everyone’s mind now. But three years ago, when I started to put pen to paper, not so much. I came at the subject after talking with writer friends while teaching at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference in Corte Madera, California. It came out of a session where we talked about the things that motivate a character. One of the universal factors was fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of losing everything that defined you, and the fear that comes with a loss of control over your life. In Black Label, Jillian’s fear includes the broken trust when you discover a new drug, is killing people. Sounds like some of the narrative out there in social media, doesn’t it?

Some readers wanted to know if my spotlight on Big Pharma means I’m an anti-vaxxer. I couldn’t be more pro-vaccine. I got mine the moment I was eligible and encourage everyone I care about to go get theirs.

There was no planning for the collision of Black Label and the COVID vaccine hesitancy.

I didn’t gaze into my Magic 8-Ball and predict that 2021 would be the time to release a book bringing into question what we’re going through now. Timing is everything and I’ll gladly take it.

“It’s always about timing. If it’s too soon, no one understands. If it’s too late, everyone’s forgotten.” ― Anna Wintour

Thanks for having me on Do Some Damage today. Best of luck with your timing!

Find Black Label at your local indie bookstore; at Jim and my indie bookstore, Face in a Book; or on Amazon.

Author James L'Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, facility captain, and director of California's state parole system. He is a nationally recognized expert witness and consultant on prison and jail operations. L'Etoile's crime fiction work has been recognized by the Creative World Awards, Acclaim Film, and the Scriptapalooza Television Script Competition. Bury the Past was a 2018 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award finalist for best procedural mystery of the year. Look for Black Label in July 2021. He is also a frequent contributor to top short story collections.

Major social themes weave through his work, including the world of human trafficking, black market organ transplants, homelessness, domestic terrorism, immigration policy, political corruption, and the pharmaceutical industry.

Follow him on Twitter @JamesLEtoile.