Writer’s can’t take time off

Greatest Hits (Billy Joel albums)

Greatest Hits (Billy Joel albums) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s another National Novel Writer even this month and while I’ve ceased having anything to do with them I still haven’t got around to blocking/unsubscribing from the periodic emails, and I’ve friends who still do it and still peruse the forums.

There is this pervasive notion among those who give writing advice that boggles my mind so thoroughly it deserves a second post … I’m not sure I’m up to providing a link to my first tackling of this subject.

What topic? This idea you have to write. You can’t take time off for family, for holidays, for illness, for simple lack of inspiration. To this I say “bullshit“, emphatically and unshakingly bullshit.

Now the argument is that, if you find one reason to not write you’ll find other and fall into a vicious cycle of unwriting.

Lawrence Block says:

“If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.
If it persists, you probably ought to write a novel.”

Excerpt From: Block, Lawrence. “Writing the Novel.” Open Road Integrated Media, 2010-06-15. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=411349843

If you have a story you want to write, you’ll write it. If it is such a chore that you can talk yourself out of it, then you may wish to ask yourself what is your real reason to do this and if it’s worth it.

Me? I just spent a week in hospital. I’m fine, but in pain – major surgery is unpleasant that way; I’m on narcotic pain relief, suffice to say I’m not writing. Besides, I can’t pick up my writing back without popping my stitches so I can’t write if I weren’t vaguely out of it.

My point is, I still want to see the end of Now & Forever, so the day I can pick that bag up and complete a rational though at one and the same time I’ll be right back to writing, and probably better at it as the surgery fixed a painful problem that is not an open topic for discussion (not embarrassing or tragic, just personal and private).

Artists need not bleed for their work. Certainly they should not buy the razor blades, bare their wrists, and make all the cuts themselves. Our art should be part of us, it should be something we can’t not do. Art is also life, we cannot make good art if we do not live. Take musicians who take their music so seriously they burn out after a half dozen albums because they are never not touring or recording, now think of Buffett or Billy Joel with their decades long careers, upwards of hundred albums, and no burn out: they remembered to live. They took time off for love, divorce, children, getting shot at by Jamaican police, philanthropy, etc.

It’s true for all of us. Take a day off to climb a mountain, take a two week honeymoon in the Italian Riviera, relax and recover when you find yourself stapled shut after a visit to the ER, take a nap in a hammock on a warm sunny spring day … it’s okay, your book will still be there when you get back.

To those who say I should have written while in hospital and should be while recovering, I repeat: bullshit.

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Getting fed up with Amazon

Warning:  I’m highly annoyed, in a foul mood, and not much inclined to be remotely charitable to a certain major corporation just now.

Well, my 75% off sale is up and going. … except Amazon.

They were one of the first places I set the sale, but they haven’t seen fit to post the new price.

I contacted their support and, after an unprofessionally long wait (most others respond within hours if not minutes, Amazon typically is best measured in days) they replied … the price change page hadn’t loaded properly so a key step was missed. Lovely of then to finally say so this morning. Got it sorted, and it’s been almost 12hrs … still no change. Should I mention that the price hasn’t even dropped through automatic price matching yet?!

This is not my first issue with Amazon, and I imagine it will not be my last. Simply put, they can be decently professional to their consumers, to judge by anecdotes at work, if people need to return or exchange something, but in their inter-professional dealings they are, frankly, insulting. So much so that if they were not currently such a major bookseller that I sell more copies per month there than I do in all other estores combined in a quarter, I’d drop them.

They have the slowest response time when contacted for issues and their responses are less attentive to what was said. Their terms are among the worst in the industry. Their format is obtuse and needlessly complex; not to mention stiflingly proprietary. Their KDP site, while not horrible, is not so intuitive as others. Finally there is the treatment: you are a charity and potential customer, not a serious business interaction – you are inundated with offers for premium services you can buy and denied options afforded to larger publishing houses (pre-orders and certain options that Tor has without exclusivity that little ol’ me mayn’t have).

Why say all of this? Information is a powerful tool. Most people perceive Amazon and Kindle in a very positive light. Certainly they are not Satan manifest, but neither are they the greatest company on Earth.

For those who prefer companies that treat everyone interacting with them with equal respect and professionalism I recommend Apple, Kobo, and the group behind All Romance eBooks (all of whom carry my book).

I’m not saying to cease using Amazon nor to trash your Kindle … but if you are already feeling a bit dissatisfied, perhaps this is one more reason to look at that iPad or similar you’ve been eyeing.

An idea for anyone interested …

I love to hear about new books as much as the next person.  And I’ve noticed that some of my readership is comprised of writers.  And a simple fact of life is that some have more and others less readership than I do.  Certainly it’s a given that we all have different readership.

I’ve heard of blog tours, guest bloggers, etc.  And this isn’t so different as that; but a little bit, yes. Continue reading

Half way there

This edit pass of Ready or Not is going amazingly smoothly.  I’m already about half through it all and have mostly been fixing typos.  This bodes very well for moving up the release date!

I’m hoping, if this pace continues, to have this in my editor’s hands by the end of the month — maybe end of the first week of February at the latest.  She has to do another pass; no way to avoid it, my grammar and orthography can get pretty lousy at points — my schooling included little education, and less where English was concerned.  Too, I’m loathe to ever release anything that hasn’t been looked at by another set of eyes after being written/changed.

Depending when she can start the editing process on her end … in a perfect world we’d be looking at an early March release!  But more realistically I’d say no earlier than April or May.

Getting somewhere

Ready or Not is a step closer to release.

I’m in the process of another proofreading pass.  This one, sadly, is less a polish run and more of a revision/redraft/rewrite than when I’d don’t this for Love or Lust, but such is life.  The importance of that distinction is that it means I’m that much more likely to need till June to release.  With luck things will be swift and smooth enough that I’ll be done with this by March and able to give over to my editor for that last check for typos and grammar mistakes … if that’s the case we could see release by April or May.  So, fingers are crossed.

I’ve written one, and may write other short stories that expand things from the final book.  Still trying to decide if I ought to do that before or after putting the book out.  Probably after, at least for the one written already, since it spoils a surprise.

And the month comes to a close

So ends another November, and with it another National Novel Writing Month.

Those who participated, I hope the experience went well for you.  You’ve now got pages of text — or one hopes as much, at least.

Just because the month is over, doesn’t mean you’re done.  Is the novel finished?  Excellent!  Time to get hard at work proofreading and editing.  Before you ever hand it to another, sit down and read it with your read pen in hand and fix it.  Make it say what it ought to say.  You got the idea on the page, now polish it, sand it, take off the rough edges.

Maybe it’s only half done.  50,000 words sounds a lot, but it’s maybe around 200 pages, give or take — many’s the novel that’s 100k or larger.  Is your’s one of them?  Don’t give up.  You may not have the cute graphs and such to guide you, but the practices you started to get this far, keep them up!  If you’re stuck, my deepest sympathies, I’ve been there and it’s Hell, but those who aren’t keep going!

The world waits with bated breath to see the prose you so diligently stamped upon the page.  Okay, possibly not.  Odds are, we don’t know yet who you even are; change that!  You believed in yourselves enough that you have 10,000, 25,000, 80,000 or an even million words … buff them and polish them, turn them over to a good editor and let her polish them further, check her work and watch for places that just don’t quite jive as yet … there is such a thing as over-editing, but do try to make sure it gets a good few proofreads for mistakes and 2 good hard reads from yourself for clarity.

When you’re done sweating, and crying, and tearing out your hair — editing is truly the hardest part of writing, in my experience — unleash your masterpiece upon the world.  Be warned, you’ll not please everyone.  Maybe I’ll love, maybe I’ll hate it, but the man standing next to you on the train may have the opposite opinion.  Someone will read your words, place their emotions in the hands of your narrative and your characters, bare their emotional heart and hand you a proverbial sword … they’re who you’re writing for.  Someone will love you, so give them this story they didn’t even know they were looking for.

Just remember:  the story will no more edit nor publish itself than it will write itself.  Don’t give up.  I’d add not to despair, but perhaps a little despair wouldn’t go amiss — means you’ll be carefuller in your editing — and it’s not like many artists have sufficient ego to listen to such advice as “don’t despair” in any event.  Regardless, good luck.

Show & Tell

Show, don’t tell” it’s something you’ll find a certain class of critic and some writers repeating over and over.  It sounds good too; I mean, if I only tell, the story will be rather short.  To tell Now & Forever: Lauren and Sally meet, they fall in love, there’s some crap because they’re lesbians in modern America and because they attend a religious private school, they overcome it, they graduate and live happily ever after.

Not too exciting is it?  Needless to say, I’ve got some showing to do.

Like most writing advice, ‘show, don’t tell’ is a fantastic guideline.  It, like everything else, cannot be a hard and fast rule.  Even the Rules of English Grammar, high and mighty they may be, are malleable in the crucible of creativity; just be sure you violate them on purpose, not by mistake.

Writing is a game of show and tell.  Humans are visual and auditory creatures.  We are not predesigned to communicate by little glyphs on paper or monitor, we just have the capacity to discuss a codified system of describing our natural communications methods in a symbolic fashion – we call this ‘writing’.

You’ll see mention of ‘invisible words’.  There are no invisible words.  There are words more or less obvious in the course of a sentence, but ‘a sentence’ versus ‘the sentence’ holds different meaning.  ‘Said’ is not invisible.  If I ‘say’, “I am going to the store,” then you will picture in your mind a different volume, tone, and such than if I ‘yell’, “I’m going to the store,” or ‘exclaim’, or ‘shout’, or ‘scream’.  Each word conveys a different context.  I show the dialogue “I am going to the store” but I tell the description of how I say it.  When writing fiction, you use the same language you would use to tell a story to your friends face to face – you will use it slightly differently, yes, but there’s a reason that both practices are called ‘storytelling’.

Some say it insults the reader’s intelligence to tell how something is said, others just simply don’t like adverbs so will use an adjectival phrase that has precisely the same meaning as the adverb.  The adverb is brevity, it’s pacing.  ‘She asked coyly’ is the same as ‘in a coy tone, she asked’.  One just pads the word count out a bit.  True, in some cases, the latter might hold a better sound or rhythm, so you may well choose it over the former, but the opposite could also be said.

The key to writing, and it doesn’t matter what you’re writing, from an IM to an epic series of novels, you are engaging in symbolic human speech.  You must consider how your punctuation, use of formatting, use of word choice, and – when need be – use of adverbs and adjectives will come across to the reader.  If you have no specific in mind, then you can keep some things neutral:  ‘I’m off to the store,’ she said.  But if it’s important that all readers hear that line in their minds the same way because it is critical to the moment you might try: ‘I’m off to the store,’ she sobbed.

You’re not insulting the readers’ intelligence by either confirming what they suspect, or by guiding them subtly down the infinite branches of probable scenarios that something could contain.  “Stop it,” she growled as the man kicked her harder.  Is different than “Stop it,” she whimpered as the man kicked her harder.  In this case, clearly the context up to this was a fight; this poor woman is being beaten.  In the former example, she is getting angry, she is hurting but she’s pissed and likely about to retaliate; in the latter she is in suffering in pain, pleading for succour from her assailant’s aggression.

The language we use in our storytelling is vital.  We must paint our scenes, scenarios, and situations for an audience who is not privy to the inner workings of our own imaginations.  Even when writing non-fiction, there should be an eye to what the reader will ‘hear’ in their mind as they read as you still must be certain that your text conveys with it the meaning equal to the lesson you’re providing.

It’s been said, and it might be true, that prose has suffered in the age of the word processor.  In the days of longhand and typewriter you would carefully narrate your tale, leading to accolades of the brilliant prose and resulting in your story reading as though some invisible storyteller were, indeed, speaking your words.  In the age since the word processor – both the devices (for those old enough to remember them) and the software – we treat our text as pieces of a mosaic, something we can shuffle around and turn and tug until we have the picture we desire.  I can’t say, myself, my approach is the same regardless how I compose the text, but I can say that there seems to be a distinct difference between the average piece of fiction of old compared to one of today in regards to how comfortably it can be read aloud … though I will say that some of the books of greatest impact seem to read more like older tales, than newer, and have a more tangible voice in the narrative.

We each write like that which we most enjoy reading, but the thing to keep in mind is that there are no rules.  If you don’t want to show something, because it isn’t important beyond the acknowledgment: this happened, then just tell.  Remember, if your character’s reaction, tone, expression, etc. is important, then be certain to say what it is.  Show and tell, we cannot communicate in the written English without doing both.  Not all people see the same body language, the same situations, from the same point of view, be sure to tell your audience just what is going on.  The argument that “no one on TV says, ‘I’m really upset now’” is a very daft argument about text; on TV we can see and hear that they are angry, and you can bet that the script has something like:  Helen:  Angry with Jillian.  Can we get the hell out of here now?!

How serious should I be?

Perusing NaNoWriMo’s forums I keep coming across variations of an interesting, and generally unanswerable question for all artists – but one I swear seems to come up more and be more vehemently … argued? among authors (writing advice books, other writing forums, etc.):  how seriously to take the writing?  What priority should it hold in your life?  And other similar veins of thought.

Now, really, as with all things – no one can tell you what works for you; they can only say what works for themselves and you may take it or leave it.  So I offer my advice, my ‘what works for me.’

Take the story seriously.  Not as in ‘the story should be serious’, just that you should care about staying true to your setting and characters.  A criticism I saw once of Twilight is that the personality and behaviour of the characters is what it must be to satisfy the whim of the moment – to visit the realm of hyperbole, for the sake of make a point, if you have someone a professional dancer in chapter 3, they ought not be unable to dance when asked in chapter 33, or in chapter 3 of the next book.

The work itself?  Writing is a labour of love.  Writing pays worse than waiting tables.  I’ve seen it argued that slavery is a higher paying job.  Unless one is the proper mix of prolific and lucky (mostly lucky) wealth will not be yours; you will want to keep that day job.  As such, treat it, maybe not so much as a hobby, but rather as … a joy.  Take pleasure in it.

Family, and life should take precedent.  If you truly love telling the story you have to tell, then you will tell it eventually.  Keep your promises, certainly.  If you have promised your fans a book a year, put out a book a year – or else apologise and give them a good reason for tardiness.  If you have made no such promise, then write as you may.  I tend to find myself in a point between these to places; I have made no specific promises to my readers regarding the frequency of Now & Forever’s releases, but I have made a promise to myself – that can be just as important.  So far I’m keeping that promise, but I fear sometimes I shan’t continue to do so.  We’ll see.

Even if you are so fortunate as to live on your writing – if you force yourself to write in such a manner as to impact your quality, what favour have you done your readers?  What favour have you done yourself in the name of word count, to sacrifice happiness, health, and time with those you love to stress over a chapter simply because you’ve decided that writing should be a 9-5 job the same as any other?  Or, as I’ve seen it suggested on a few of this year’s pep talks, a 365-day a year project – weekends, holidays, sickness and health; being married to your work, be it writing or banking, is not healthy.  Writers of that sort are infamous for dying young in suicide or drowning in a bottle of whiskey.

I am motivated by my own curiosity of what happens next.  I am motivated by my characters’ clamour that I tell their story.  I am motivated by a personal sense of perfectionism that hates to leave things unfinished unless it is absolutely indisputable that they cannot be finished.  Not everyone is.

I know a woman for whom NaNoWriMo is the biggest boon to her word count.  She writes throughout the year, but does far better during NaNo events.  This has to do with her own personality and the presence of the NaNoWriMo.com progress graphs – she has OCD, graphs make her very happy apparently.  Still, 50k words in a month – 1667 per day – is not really so much, an hour’s work or so when feeling inspired, a few hours if you sit down and put your mind to it … if your issue isn’t writer’s block so much as a need for an excuse to put aside the browser and stop wiki-surfing.

We’re all different.  A writer I adore rents an office, one she goes to for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, in order to write.  Why?  Because if she doesn’t, she forgets to write; she finds an hundred other things to do besides write.  She wants to tell her story, and she likely would tell it eventually, but it may take her decades to write a single novel – and she was writing for contract, this was not an option, nor was it personally one given that she had more stories afterward that she wished to tell.  Some writers have an office at home, a place to shut out distraction and find a little peace to work – understandable, it can be very difficult to produce quality work if you can’t keep a coherent thought for 30 seconds running.  Still, office, or a hammock in the backyard with pets and children running and screaming – write as you will, and as you may, but don’t forget to live; one who forgets to experience life, is one who will have a harder time expressing and illustrating life in her work.

There are those who will argue with me:  “But Ray Bradbury siad you must write every day” and such like.  Yes, he did.  He also said to read things, any random thing that strikes your fancy, pick up books on anything that interests you, and to live.  He may have been speaking hyperbolically.  Also, maybe that worked for him – he seemed to recognise that, sometimes, you spend a few hours staring at the page trying to write and getting nowhere, but at least you tried, and other times you write 200 words in 12 hours of endless struggle, and then the next day erase it all to replace it with 3000 words of the most fantastic prose you ever saw.  No one, no one, no one, can tell you how to write, when to write, how much to write, what to write … well, I suppose if you write for hire, then the person who drew up the contract can, but then there’s the argument that you can refuse to sign said contract … never mind that, though, only you can tell yourself that.  Just as it’s your story, it’s your life that you’ll be writing it around; what is important to you?  If the story is more important than your children, or your spouse, your health, or the state of your home – then, so be it, just be sure you are aware that such an attitude will have consequences.  Be sure that your novel, or poetry, or screenplay, or whatever, is worth it to you.

Should my character …

Should my characters get hungry?  Should they eat?  Should they become aroused?  Should they bark like a chicken, or crow like a pig?

Some of those are hyperbole, obviously, some are truly questions asked in writing forums.  Not just NaNoWriMo‘s, though the non-hyperbolic examples are taken from those very boards.

Again and again, when writing the only should is:  you should write — the story won’t write itself, and you should use proper and clear language — without it your story is unreadable, or not understandable.

Beyond that, it’s just a question of what matters.  You will find novels where the characters never go to the bathroom, never eat, never sleep, never sneeze, etc.  You’ll find others where they do often.  Obviously it is assumed that these activities are being engaged in, at other times it is quite clear that the author did not consider it as you have no room within the scope of the narrated time-frame for such to have happened.

You will never please everyone.  Some people what to see everything.  These people read Wheel of Time.  Some people want nothing of the sort — I’m not sure what they would read because, at the minimum, food is generally going to come into things somewhere.

Should your characters have sex?  Well, maybe.  If you’re writing for young children, this may be a very peculiar question, and one that should be approached with caution as most feel that such things are rather inappropriate; certainly one should assume that graphic and explicit sex ought to be avoided in this situation as far as the culture of most English speaking readers are concerned; the values and mores of other segments of humanity I cannot implicitly speak for.

Should your characters eat?  Well, at the very least, they should eat within your own mind.  This avoids them going three days without a single moment to have a bite of something and not being the slightest bit affected by it.  Then again, maybe you’re writing a very simple fairy story, and people don’t tend to worry about such trivialities as eating in those, except at banquets or the like.

Should they sleep?  Again, it’s probably best to assume they do, and then decide when and where it might fit to show this — or not.

Should … yes, and no.  Tell your story.  Some conversations will take place over a glass of wine.  Some will happen while trying to decide where to eat or what.  Perhaps it will be necessary for the large carnivore to burst into the toilet where the character is currently occupied by …

But do not tie yourself down to necessary.  That’s a sticky word.  It implies that the scene, detail, whatever is vital, inviolate, unremovable.  No.  Not necessarily.  Sometimes little things that hold no import to the plot or the larger story are in there just to keep the setting real, to keep the people real.  Does it matter if Lauren wears green shoes with her dress?  No, not typically.  It does, however, matter in the sense of it gives little clues about the person that Lauren is.  Does it matter in the slightest if Salencia is wearing a pink shirt?  Well, once, actually, but any other times — no.  But then again, yes — if I do it often enough it becomes evident that her favourite colour is “dusty rose” (that’s true, by the way, she loves that shade of pink).  It’s Bilbo Baggins and his pipe — it hobbitises the character, gives him depth and shape.

You should leave out tedious details.  If you learn nothing about the character to describe, in detail, how they comb or brush their hair — don’t.  If, however, they brush/comb their hair in some remarkable way — show it!  In the former, it suffices to tell — “she combed her hair, washed her face, and headed to the party.”  In the latter it does an injustice to leave out the scene of the complex, Wallace & Gromit style automatic hair combing device, though once it’s established it might be best to skip it in later uses, unless there is some literary device served by showing its repeated use; maybe it is quirkily changing over time, or in the case of W & G’s movie about the Were-Rabbit, we learn that Wallace is, in fact, losing weight.

A good rule of thumb, if you are bored and don’t give a damn about what you’re showing, just tell it.  If telling it seems like tedium and padded word count, then don’t even bother to mention it.  You can never go wrong by assuming that, if you don’t care, your reader won’t care.  True, some readers will, but probably not the ones who want to read a story you’d care to write — best to write for yourself and entertain the people who read as you do.  You may or may not get better or worse sales for it, but it’s safe bet you’ll enjoy the process of telling the story far better.  And anyone who writes for the money is probably someone who believes they’ll get rich playing nickle slots in Vegas; true, it happens, but it’s always pure, outright, dumb, blind luck.

Considerations

You know, it’s strange.  As a fan of Scifi & Fantasy stories I’ve, naturally, heard of the SFWA … hard not to given that its members seem, so often, to be the winners of the Hugo, and certainly its members would be the ones winning the Nebula (or is that the other way around?  I can never recall).  The SFWA never much appealed to me though.

In the mean time I’ve discovered that there are other writers’ guilds.  The RWA, the MWA, and HWA to name a few.

Given that I write romance, the RWA was something I looked into.  I must say … it’s significantly more impressive and … nice?  Whatever the word I’m looking for, I was intrigued by it.  Seriously considering joining.

Thing is, $95/yr isn’t a lot, but it is if I’m paying it for nothing.  Certainly the benefits of the RWA look promising, in the ad copy and PR.  That’s kind of the point of ad-copy and PR.  I do, also, know that Elaine Cunningham — a personal favourite among the authors producing Forgotten Realms novels — is (or, at least, was) a member of both RWA and SFWA and had quite a lot of positive things to say about the RWA — especially as compared to the SFWA (Færie Patrol would qualify me for the SFWA in case any are wondering why I’d really care much about the SFWA beyond amusement or head shaking at the latest scandals).

In practical, rather than “this sounds good” terms — anyone know what benefits there are to joining a writers’ guild?  Is there, especially for a self-published author, much use to the networking (I’ve always hated that term, don’t know why) opportunities?  Anything for a shy person not wont to spending over much time in internet forums to gain?  In good ol’ plain English — what is to be gained for the price of one’s dues?

Ah me, but decisions are rough — especially when one has so much caution and so little idea where to begin in researching?