Managing a job, a family,
and a book

Managing a job, a family, and a bookComing back to my blog after a babymoon, I thought it would be interesting to touch on a topic that has been prominent in my mind, and something that I know many people struggle with: how to manage a job, a family, and personal time for creative expression.

Most people have a 9 to 5 day job (if they’re lucky; for many folks, it’s longer). Then, if they can muster the energy, they carve time out for their personal projects around their bumpers of sleep. Be it late in the evening or early in the morning they must preserve a time for creativity.

Derick and the Baby
For me, as a new father to an infant, my world has suddenly dramatically shifted from focusing on my own personal projects to ‘how much sleep can I recoup‘ or ‘when can I have a walk with my wife alone’. My energy and inspiration has gone through a dramatic reality check and I’ve had to evolve my discipline and schedule to meet the challenges of managing a baby. Simultaneously, as all parents know, I’ve been exposed to a new level of inspiration and love that has pushed me further to create.

To help myself try to balance everything, I created an ideal schedule to serve as a starting point, a foundation to help keep my work-life balance in order.

Schedule Foundation
Schedule Foundation

While this schedule may be my ideal, reality has forced me to move things around. For example, I’ve recently been shuffling my professional networking and social time to adapt to the baby’s sleep schedule. While it used to be on Tuesday evenings, recently, I try to schedule this time over lunch, or on a night when my wife has more flexibility in time to take care of our daughter. However, in moving one activity, I try not to steal time from another. So, if I need to have 2 or 3 networking or social events in one week, I then need to be accountable for the time that I didn’t have with my family and I have to shift time the following week to balance out the month.

Schedule Reality
Schedule Reality

Currently, with my new fatherhood responsibilities, my biggest challenge has been managing my lack of sleep. While this exhaustion has made getting up early to exercise or carving out time for writing difficult, having a foundation schedule has helped me keep reasonable short term goals. And now, as my daughter is getting a little older and settling into a routine, hopefully I will be able to as well.

Most importantly, despite my creative world being turned upside down, I’ve got one of the most inspiring little creatures at my fingertips now!

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Music to write to:
soundtracks that chill out

“Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time.”
-Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

09_28_2013As a part of my creative process, I find an organized iTunes playlist as valuable as a comfortable chair. To give you a peek, I’ve listed my “music to write to”– Enjoy!

# Song Artist Album
1) Time Hans Zimmer Inception (Music from the Motion Picture)
2) Astor’s Birthday Party Daniel Licht Dexter (Soundtrack from the TV Series)
3) My Number is 47 Geoff Zanelli Hitman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
4) That New Car Smell Michael Giacchino Star Trek (Music from the Motion Picture)
5) Earth Jesper Kyd Assassin’s Creed 2 (Original Game Soundtrack)
6) Su-Chou Prison – Original Motion Picture Harry Gregson-Williams Spy Game (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
7) Prologue Alexandre Desplat Birth (Original Score)
8) Capa’s Last Transmission Home Underworld Sunshine (Music from the Motion Picture)
9) Vide Cor Meum –
Patrick Cassidy
Hans Zimmer Hannibal
10) The Prestige David Julyan The Prestige (Original Score)
11) Chevaliers de Sangreal Hans Zimmer The Da Vinci Code (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
12) Adaptation (Fat Boy Slim Remix) Carter Burwell Adaption (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
13) Birth Watlz Alexandre Desplat Birth (Original Score)
14) May It Be and Themes from Lord of the Rings Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
15) Music for a Found Harmonium Penguin Café Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
16) The Son of Flynn Daft Punk TRON: Legacy
17) 503 Joshua Bell Angels & Demons (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
18) Vespertilio Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard Batman Begins (Music from the Motion Picture)
19) The Madam Jesper Kyd Assassin’s Creed 2 (Original Game Soundtrack)
20) Music from the Right Stuff Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
21) The Kiss Trevor Jones & Randy Edelman Last of the Mohicans
22) Recognizer Daft Punk TRON: Legacy
23) On the Similarity of Human and Orchid Forms (Instrumental) Carter Burwell Adaption (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
24) Epilogue / Bloodroom Daniel Licht Dexter (Soundtrack from the TV Series)
25) The Chase Philip Glass The Illusionist (Music from film)
26) Main Titles (From “Blade Runner”) Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture)
27) Long, Long Time Ago Javier Navarrete Pan’s Labyrinth (Original Soundtrack)
28) Perpetuum Mobile Penguin Café Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
29) Veridis Quo Daft Punk Discovery
30) A Kaleidoscope Of Mathematics James Horner Beautiful Mind Soundtrack, A
31) Scrooged – Main Titles / Show Time At Ibc / Elliot Gives Blood / Danny Elfman Music for a Darkened Theatre – Film and Television Music, Vol. 1
32) Main Title from Shakespeare In Love Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
33) The Illusionist Philip Glass The Illusionist (Music from the Film)
34) Lasiurus Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard Batman Begins (Music from the Motion Picture)
35) Love Theme (From “Blade Runner”) Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
36) Discombobulate Hans Zimmer Sherlock Holmes (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
37) The Orgy Basil Poledouris Conan the Barbarian (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
38) A Small Measure of Peace Hans Zimmer The Last Samurai
39) Batman Theme from Batman Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
40) End Titles- Tron London Philharmonic Orchestra & Wendy Carlos Tron (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
41) Classical Gas Mason Williams Rhino Hi-Five: Mason Williams – EP
42) Adaptation Versus Immutability Carter Burwell Adaptation (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
43) Adagio for Strings Leonard Bernstein & New York Philharmonic Barber’s Adagio and Romantic Favorites for Strings
44) Modigliani Guy Farley Modigliani: Music from the Original Picture
45) Spotkanie Z Matka Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
46) Operation Dinner Out-  Original Motion Picture Harry Gregson-Williams Spy Game (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
47) Rosasolis Penguin Cafe Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
48) The Last Man Clint Mansell The Fountain (Music from the Motion Picture)
49) No Expectation Boulevard Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
50) Elysium Klaus Badelt & Lisa Gerrard Gladiator
51) The Floating Bed Elliot Goldenthal Frida
52) Ave Maria Geoff Zanelli Hitman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
53) Main Title from the Last of the Mohicans Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
54) Blade Runner Blues Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
55) Rescue Mission Tyler Bates Watchmen (Original Motion Picture Score)
56) Burning Bed Elliot Goldenthal Frida
57) LV-426 James Horner Aliens (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [The Deluxe Edition]
58) Beetlejuice: Main Titles / End Titles Danny Elfman Music for a Darkened Theatre – Film and Television Music, Vol. 1
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Starting a Plot Outline

Starting a Plot OutlineTo write about the plot outline process,  I had to carefully balance not giving away every plot-line element in my current book while explaining how I landed on it’s structure. So, in order to shape a dialogue around this topic, I decided to dissect an existing story and re-tell it from a different character’s perspective. This technique has been used on many well known books and movies– it’s called the Rashomon Effect.

For my example, I’m going to take the story The Elephant’s Child from Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling and create an outline of the existing story with the Freytag pyramid. After which, I’ll use the Rashomon Effect to create an alternate storyline in a parallel Freytag Pyramid.

The Elephant’s Child–Original Plot

The Elephant’s Child, a child with ” ‘satiable” curiosity who lives in Africa is constantly getting in trouble with his family for asking too many questions.

Rising Action:
The Elephant’s Child keeps getting spanked by his relatives for his curiosity over what crocodiles eat. Out of desperation to know the answer, he leaves the safety of his family to pursue the truth.

Naively, the Elephant’s Child asks the Crocodile what crocodiles eat, not realizing he is talking to a crocodile. The Crocodile answers by chomping down on and tugging the Elephant’s Child’s nose.

Falling Action:
The Elephant’s Child’s nose begins to stretch and stretch as the Crocodile pulls. With the help of a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake though, the Elephant’s Child is able resist the crocodile until he gives up and lets go.

After waiting 3 days for his nose to shrink back, the Elephant’s Child unconsciously swats at a fly on his back that would have been previously out of reach. Then, he reaches down with his new elongated nose, pulls a large bundle of grass from the earth, and stuffs it in his mouth. Not even thinking, he then scoops up some mud and slaps it on his head to cool himself off. With these new found nose-abilities, the Elephant’s Child goes home to spank his family with his new trunk.

The Elephant’s Child–Alternate Plot

The Wise Crocodile who lives in Africa is frustrated over the younger generation of animals scaring food away.

Rising Action:
At the river bank one day, the Wise Crocodile gets inpatient when a group of young crocodiles refuse to hunt in the traditional ways. Out of frustration, he decides to go hunting upstream away from them all.

After a few hours of seeing nothing, the Wise Crocodile decides to take a nap on the river bank. To his surprise, he is awakened by a young elephant asking him what crocodiles eat. Rather grumpy and hungry, the Wise Crocodile decides to take this opportunity by the nose, and tugs…

Falling Action:
The Wise Crocodile has never seen a nose stretch so long before. Just when he thinks he has the young elephant in his grasp, a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake decides to help his naive prey. Afterwards, sitting high above the stream and out of the crocodile’s grasp, the young elephant proceeds to scare all other animals away by his very loud complaints about his new nose.

Annoyed by the commotion, the Wise Crocodile decides to go back to his original feeding ground. He swims back down to the main river bank and discovers that all the young crocodiles have finally moved on. With the water’s edge calm and quiet, and a little bit of patience, he is able to wait and eat a hearty fish dinner.

You can see that different perspectives of the same story create an opportunity to explore character development and plot possibilities. The Freytag Pyramid is one construct to guide your basic plot structure and fully explore what your story can be.


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Plot Development

Plot DevelopmentDid my book idea come from a long lost relative dying and leaving me a fortune? Unfortunately no… But the idea of how a person may struggle with that journey shaped a lot of the story. With a few modern twists and a little imagination, I took a historically worn topic (inheritance) and shaped my book The Heir to the Unexpected into a relatable experience for the reader.

I’m constantly reminding myself that my readers are making a commitment to invest time and energy to read my stories. If I write a book that’s a waste of their time and attention, I know they will not be opening another story by D.C. Sumrall again in the near future. So, I need to factor in my readers’ enjoyment with the story I want to tell, my own emotional investment, the actual entertainment-value, and how all of those things will co-exist as I start building a plot structure from there.

From a plot development standpoint, I’ve found the Freytag Pyramid to be a decent guiding principal to start with. Developed in 1863 by Gustav Freytag, his Pyramid is a 5-act dramatic structure that, with a little creative freedom, can easily anchor a conceptual story flow into a solid plot-line.


 Freytag Pyramid Freytag Pyramid

  1. Exposition- The opening… Who are players? What is setting?
  2. Rising action- The conflict or the build up… What is threat? What is the desire?
  3. Climax- the final conflict…  What is action? What is the result of the build up?
  4. Falling action- post climax… What are the immediate consequences? Where are we going?
  5. Denouement- resolution… How do the character move on? How does the day end?

While I would never recommend that anyone compromise their characters’ motives or personalities to a formulated story-telling methodology, I do think the Freytag Pyramid can help a writer better ground their characters’ humanistic needs, wants, desires (and the consequences thereof!) in the overarching story.

Not everyone though has their entire plot outlined when they begin to write though, myself included. While I know the general tale I want to tell,  I’m constantly scribbling ideas down as I go to better align my stories to my audience. Over a period of time, I start looking at how these ideas can be grown or expanded upon to inform a more defined plot. It’s a priceless collection of reference points on the days that I’m experiencing writer’s/creative block. More on that to come in future posts!

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Choosing the tools for writing

Choosing the tools for writingGot a pen that I can borrow?

We all have different ways of composing our thoughts. Some people prefer the tactile pressure they apply to handwritten words on paper, some enjoy the abrupt snap of a typewriter, or others appreciate the rhythmic-soft clicking that computer keyboards deliver to the fingertips.

Today, my methodology is rooted in Apple-based products. I bounce between my Macbook, iPad and iPhone to put my thoughts into words. Those three devices work for me uniquely in different scenarios.

My MacBook with an external monitor is for my scheduled writing sessions that are planned to be quietly desk-bound and focused on the words in front of me. If I’m on a plane or train and I can’t negotiate my laptop, my iPad (with Bluetooth keyboard) can offer a quick and easy way to capture a few in-depth thoughts. With my iPhone, I have an immediate way to capture any ideas or observations on-the-go. How I integrate these tools for writing is key. Here are a few software packages that I appreciate; I use all of these tools for slightly different purposes, described below.

For my MacBook:

Scivener LogoScrivener

by Literature & Latte

This is my primary tool for writing. It has a lot of valuable features focused on manuscript development. My favorite features are:

Corkboard– a card index sorting feature that breaks your story into larger flexible card set that you can organize.

Outlining– an outline organizer that helps you plan and write your story structure.

Collections– an internal folder organizer for multiple file types that we need during our research and refinement process. For example, a folder for your main character and various elements relating to him: a photo of his home, a map of the neighborhood where he lives, a moodboard with a collection of clothes he might wear, a PDF file for a user manual for a specific type of car he drives, etc.).

Full Screen editing– a great feature to hide all of those distractions that may be saved on your desktop, or any bouncing application icons that indicate you have mail or IM.

Scriptwriting– I currently don’t use this feature, but it can help you break your story out into Screen or Stage ready script formats.

Snapshot– If you have moment where you want to try something different and mix a few things up, you can save a snapshot before you do it. You have the ability to save and modify various scenarios and go back and reference sections as you go.

QuickReference Panes– If you have content that you need to constantly refer to, you can load it into a side-panel for easy/quick access.

Synchronise– you can set Scrivener up to back up to an external server, such as Dropbox.

Compile for Export and Print– this is a great feature to compile your submission ready manuscript with supporting footnotes and comments. This not only supports submission, but eBook ready book publishing formats.


MS Word LogoWord 2011

by Microsoft

This is my utilitarian writing tool because it has a lot of valuable features for basic writing, and because it has a vast reach in the current world. If I receive a pre-formatted Word document from someone else, I will open it in Word to preserve all original formatting. A few specific features that I appreciate are:

Basic formatting- it serves the purpose that I need it for (fonts, bold/italics, bullets, etc).

Track changes– by being widely adopted, I can utilize the track changes functionality that’s built into Word.

Office integration– when I need to communicate something in Excel or Powerpoint, the programs inter-connect fairly well.


Pages LogoPages

by Apple Inc.

Pages is Apple’s Word processing tool that is empowered by it’s cloud support across Apple devices (MacBook, iPad, iPhone). My favorite features are:

Price– For $9.99, you get a word processor with a lot of online and offline flexibility.

Capabilities– A robust word processor that supports basic formatting and track changes, similar to (and compatible with) Word.

Device Accessibility– With Pages available on iPhone, iPad and Macintosh computers, you have a word processor that can sync with iCloud and feed your spontaneous need to write. Just beware of font limitations and proper sync backups.

File export- you can export to .doc format or PDF.

Suite of integration tools– Just like Microsoft Office, you can expand your word processor’s capabilities by inter-connecting between Numbers (counterpart to Excel) and Keynote (counterpart to Powerpoint), but for a far cheaper price of $9.99 per tool.


For my iPad and iPhone:

Evernote LogoEvernote

by Evernote Corporation

A great tool built to be utilized on all OS platforms that works well for accumulating notes, pictures, and sounds. You can then organize them with multiple tags for access later. My favorite features are:

Free… (sort of)– it’s free for the basic account. I use it so much though, that I upgraded to the premium account which doesn’t require internet connection and has added security.

-Accessibility– it runs on my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone, and synchronizes all content onto a remote cloud server.

Tagging– When I document and create multiple types of files, I can assign my own form of topical organization to each—Recipes, Songs, Cities, People, Stories, Life moments, etc…

File support– It can retain and organize photos, sounds, single web pages, web links and of course, basic notes…


Dropbox LogoDropbox

by DropboxA free, remote cloud-based file server that’s available on most devices. What I find most attractive:

-Free… (sort of)- it’s free for the first 2 Gigabytes. If you are managing a lot of files, you’ll have to upgrade or refer several friends to reap the benefits of their memberships by expanding your disk size.

Accessibility– you can share and backup files from your MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. It’s an easy way to store and share files across multiple devices and their applications.

-Secure Backup- It’s another safe place to keep backup copies of your work.


Google Drive LogoGoogle Drive

by Google

Originally there was just Google Docs. Now, Google has expanded this service into a cloud-based collaborative service called Google Drive. Google Drive is a great alternative to Microsoft Office and it’s almost free. As an online and offline based tool, you and anyone you want to invite can have access to files that you want to share. What I like:

Free… (sort of)– it’s free for the first 15 GB. Higher storage spaces are available for a price.

Suite of integrated Tools– Just like Microsoft Office, you have the ability to freely access and inter-connect between their counterpart tools: Sheets (Excel) and Slides (Powerpoint).

Secure/sharable/collaborative documents- if you have a friend with a Google account, you can share access to a file immediately for editing and review and if needed, conduct Instant Message sessions over the doc.

Revision History– A backup system to help control versioning.

Cloud service- Similar to Dropbox, Google Drive provides a remote space to save and access your files remotely from multiple devices.

Online and offline access– By using Google Chrome, you can set-up an offline Google Drive.

Graphical Optical Character Recognition Search– Google has taken it’s search from pure text recognition to graphic text recognition.

File access– you can view over 30 file types (DOC, PDF, PSD, AI, etc.)


Stay tuned for more specifics about how several of these tools for writing have helped me during the creation of my book.



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Reaching a first draft: defining a timeline and milestones

Reach First DraftThere are several ways to plan writing a story as a First Draft. Some people have a clear idea of what tale they want to spin, they write it, and then they find a way to publish it. Other writers start by testing their market, and then writing a story to reach their specific target audience. In my case, I am pursuing a hydrid approach- we’ll see how it works… I’m still trying to figure out the right balance.

As I started preparing to write my story, I knew the basic plot structure and how I wanted to differentiate it from other mysteries. But having a big idea and making it a reality on paper requires some planning. First, I made a projected schedule of milestones to guide my story development (below). Having some form of protective boundaries like these during the creative process is a must, but my boundaries were carefully established so they were not too creatively restrictive or too lackadaisical. For me, as I write, I need to continuously step back and take a breath and ask myself what’s working and what’s not? Then, I refine my process. But, everyone operates differently, and what works for me may not be the best scenario for you. Moving forward, as I shape my ideas onto paper, I plan to share specific chapters with you, in order to gauge how the story is flowing.

For this post, I’m avoiding the role of an agent, publisher, and marketing requirements for story development and how the first draft is handled. I promise this will be further down the road.

For my First Draft timeline, I identified the following milestones:

*Defining Timeline

  1. Writing
    • High level- Plot Outline
    • Opening
    • Conflict
    • Climax
    • Post Climax
    • Resolution
  2. High level- Characters development
    • Personas
    • Dialogue
  3. High level- Environments
    • Setting
    • Subtles of life (my collected ideas for content bridging.)
  4. Plot, Character, and Environment integration
    • Refined Plot
    • Refined Characters
    • Refined Environment
  5. Editing Review
    • Self
    • Editors

*First Draft Completed


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Planning whom you’re writing for

Planning who you’re writing forToday, most people have very little time or patience to deal with sub-par storytelling. I’m constantly reminding my friends and colleagues that web browsers are not the only reading devices with a back button; tablets have them too. The back button has become the new trash can. It’s easy to delete a downloaded digital book that doesn’t connect to you, thus freeing up your time for something more interesting.

So, if you’re planning to write a book, you have to think about who your audience is and how you plan to keep them engaged in your story. For my book, ‘The Heir to the Unexpected’, I wanted to target my story to young professionals in the process of establishing their careers, who are learning to juggle their family and career responsibilities. This relationship dynamic opens up an opportunity to resonate with both young professionals and their older loved ones.

My main character is an art director at a communications agency named Jon. While he lives and works in NYC, the story involves him traveling to Mississippi to deal with a death in the family. I’m portraying his lifestyle in a way that speaks to my target audience– all of their hopes, dreams, insecurities, etc. In this journey, Jon uses social networks to communicate with friends and family. Today, a conversation on Twitter wouldn’t speak to a non-technically savvy individual as effectively as a phone call, so it could alienate a very large group of readers.

How have I addressed this problem? By writing the conversation from a non-tech point of view, I was able to construct a dialogue around an individual not understanding Twitter and the process my character Jon took to explain what he was doing. This created a contextualized experience that was informative and connectable to readers from various backgrounds.

What good is a great story when no one knows it’s out there? That’s where a marketing plan comes into play. As an author, you need to know what kinds of communication channels will be most effective to connect with your readers. I plan to use this blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and traditional book promotional methodologies. Will it work? Some of these venues may be better received than others. But my ultimate goal is to raise awareness of me and my book, The Heir to the Unexpected, and share what’s working and tweak as we go.

Cheers! Back to writing…

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Project: The Heir to the Unexpected

Glasses: The Heir to the UnexpectedFor the last year and a half, I’ve been working on a book tentatively entitled The Heir to the Unexpected. This project has turned out to take a little longer than expected! While working on this project, I met and married my wife, have traveled around home and abroad, and have maintained my day job. During this process, my book began to change with me along the way. Sometimes it was more prominent in my day-to-day activities, and sometimes it was placed in the background as I reflected on life. Recently though, I decided it was time to complete this writing project.

I started this blog to give my readers a narrative glimpse into my creative process, and to document this experience. Over the next few months, I will be sharing snippets of the book with you. While my plots and characters will have distinct arcs and personalities, I think it would be interesting to refine these based on the feedback of my readers. Therefore, I’d like to invite everyone not only to come along for this creative ride, but also to provide me with feedback that will make my ultimate story more rewarding for all to enjoy.

I look forward to sharing my journey with you.

D.C. Sumrall

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