Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Having homework for the rest of your life.....

 Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. ~ Lawrence Kasdan

Really think about that quote. As writers we are spending more time on writing than probably any single (non-family) other part of our lives. Those of us unfortunate enough to have to work 40 hours a week (or more) at a day job might find a close tie in time, but otherwise, most likely no other part of your life takes up so much time.

And for what?

The other day I heard an editor, when asked if she ever wanted to write, say, “OMG- no.” This is someone who loves what she does, loves being a part of the writing world, but doesn’t want to be at our end of it.

Part of me understands. We spend tons of time on our “babies” with less than optimistic odds that they will end up on a bookshelf somewhere. We give up parties, bbq’s, dinners, spending time with friends, family events, and vacations- all so we can write. So that we can have homework for the rest of our lives. Homework for which we may never get a passing grade.

And it’s never going to end for most of us. The unpublished will keep working on the next book, the next project of our heart and soul that screams to be put to page. Growing stronger and better with each book. All the while trying to find a way to get our worlds out to the public. The published will keep racking their minds for new ways to keep their fans and readers happy. Hopefully growing better with each book also.

The part of me that reads those above two paragraphs completely understands that editor’s quick and definite reply.

But the other part, the part that takes joy in creating new characters, jots down plot twists on napkins in restaurants, steals cool names from her day job (modified of course ;)). That part can’t understand. How could someone not want to write? How could anyone who understands the power of the written world not want to play god in it? To have your own creations suddenly take on lives of their own- going places you never expected. To re-read something you wrote a few months (or longer) ago and think that it’s really pretty good.

I guess that part of me will never understand why everyone doesn’t want to do this. I guess I’m just a homework junkie. (Or all writers are really stark raving mad- but that’s for another post completely. ;))

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"But is it a "real" book?"

Going on a bit of a rant here.  One of the reasons authors want an agent and a NY editor is so they’re seen as “real” writers.  The work has been supposedly vetted and found worthy by professionals. (Not always well- I often see errors in trad pubbed books). The thinking appears to be that vetted work means good work.
Now in comparison, I used to make and sell soaps.  Not the boil lye kind (lye kinda freaks me out ;)) but the buy high-end meltable soap base, add high-end essential oils and colors and mold it kind.  People would buy my soaps based on smell and looks.  And if they were looking for shea butter, hemp seed oil, goat’s milk, etc. They knew what they liked (Shea Butter for example) and they knew what smell they wanted (vanilla) when those two combined and the soap looked nice as well a sale was born.
No one vetted my soaps.
No higher soap professional looked them over and said, “These met the standards of what we think are viable products”.
The customer bought them because they met what the thought they wanted.  And when they liked them, they bought more.
But the book world is skewed.  The mindset is changing, but still many folks believe self-published books can’t be as good as “real books” (not my words here) because they haven’t been screened.
Now I am not talking about the “oh, I just finished my novel, let me find a photo and slap it on Amazon” folks.  I once saw a tirade about the reader being the first screener and putting crap up was ok.  Um- no.  Just No.  If you’re putting it up so Aunt Suzie can get a copy- fine- but if you’re trying to build a writing career-- no. Put the Photoshop down and walk away slowly.
I’m talking about folks who hired professional editors, professional artists, professional layout folks.  The work has been polished, crafted, worked on to within an inch of its life.  Why is that seen as less “real” than a book that has gone through the same process but outside of the author’s control?  If a reader buys my work, they are doing so because it looks interesting, and it looks like I might have a clue as to what I’m doing.
Indie authors are investing in themselves to get their writing career out there.  We're scrimping and saving so we have hire talented professionals to help us.  Which might be part of the problem actually.
Way back in the old days there were Vanity Presses.  You paid them a bunch of money and they gave you a bunch of books to use against your friends and loved ones.  I think to some point the taint of that still lingers.  And "paying" might be the trigger.  Yes, I am going to be paying professionals to do things out of my skill set.  But is that any different than when I paid professionals to get a graduate degree? Took me ten years to pay off my graduate school loans, and not sure how much of a return I got on that investment. No one questioned the cost or wisdom of me going to grad school.
And when I started my soap biz-- all those supplies, business license, etc weren't free.  I had to invest on that as well.  No one questioned the cost or wisdom of my initial outlay then- it was a business.
Writing is a business. Some of us chose different paths to get the work out there. 
As a writer, we all--indie and trad- have an obligation to make the very best book we can for our readers.  As Indies- we have the control and the say over just what goes into that.  But if we do our jobs right, our books are very very much as real as a traditionally published one.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Getting rid of the stupids

I hate stupid people.

Now when I say that, I am not talking about uneducated people. In my opinion there are plenty of highly degreed idiots out there and smarts are not always correlated with being able to sit through long lectures and regurgitate that information on command (I can mock them- yes, I have been through the education mill- I have the student loans and useless degrees to show for it ;)).

What I hate are people who just won’t try to figure things out. You know the ones who walk into the abandoned house right after a serial killer on the loose has just been announced? The ones who even though they meet the man or woman of their dreams just can’t forgive them for something extremely trivial? Now in these cases it’s not the fault of the character or actor- sadly we have met the enemy and it is us.

Writers create stupid people.

We don’t mean to. Sometimes it’s just that we are focusing so much on getting all of the little plot pieces where they need to go, when they need to be there, we fail to realize our characters have crossed into “TSTL” range (Too Stupid To Live).

We worry too much about “making things happen” that we fail to pay attention to the character. Most often, when a character is acting TSTL the cause is an author pushing the character somewhere they weren't supposed to go.

So how can we as writers make sure we don’t create stupid characters? By always questioning our character's actions, goals, and motivations. They not only need to be progressing through the story- they need to be progressing in a logical way through the story. When your character turns into that haunted house right after the news announcement of a crazed head hunter on the loose- she better have a damn good reason. (And no, chasing a missing cat, dog, or gerbil doesn’t count. BEEN DONE TO DEATH – aka BDTD). And for goodness sakes if your character absolutely has to do something stupid- make sure they acknowledge it. They can admit it’s dumb, they can fret about doing it, but their reasons for doing it had better be solid and stronger than the argument for not doing it.

Make sure your characters are moving how they are supposed to- not the way YOU want them to. Question EVERYTHING!

Have you ever found one lurking in your book? In a book you've read?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

IWSG: Trust

Welcome to another round of the monthly Insecure Writer Support Group! Yes, once a month writers from across the globe band together to cry, scream, and support each other.

There is an episode from a TV show I used to really enjoy, Eureka, it was a scene where the lead character, acting upon knowledge sent to him by a future self from the past (don’t ask) is charging his truck towards what looks to him like an open gorge (but isn't). The entire time he’s muttering, “I trust me.” “I trust me.” When he gets to the edge he yells, “I don’t trust me!” However, even as he yelled it, he kept going and thusly saved the day.

That got me to thinking, how many times as writers do we not trust ourselves? Self doubt is sadly a major component of what we do. It’s not like in graduate school where you wrote a paper then received a grade and a detailed list of what worked and what didn’t. Here you write and write, never really knowing if you’re good enough. The reasons for rejection are huge, unlimited, and may have nothing to do with your ability. Unless you get a revision letter you will never really know. Sometimes it feels we are screaming into a dark abyss and the only answer back is our own echo.

So what do we do? Do we scream, “I trust me!” and barrel forth into what looks like a certain death? Or do we let the lack of trust in our own skills and thought processes make us hover on the edge?

Now while barreling forward does sound more heroic, it could be argued that nothing will be lost by hovering. Less risk after all.

Here’s why writers have to trust themselves. Lack of trust can destroy the writing. We’ve all seen it, the story where the same point is brought up time and again. Where within three pages the same concepts have been stated and restated numerous times. Those are signs of a writer hovering on the edge. They worry that the reader may not get it. They don’t trust in their own writing enough to take that leap that their craft is strong enough to carry the reader safely to the other side.

Self doubt can affect the writer in other ways as well. If the writer has too many self doubts, they may constantly search for validation. To the point of getting too much feedback on their work and changing it each time. Now don’t get me wrong, I love feedback. There have been many times when someone reading my work has caught things I was too close to see. Or suggested a better way to put something. But for the writer with not enough trust in themselves, this can be devastating to the work.

I read a blog not too long ago where the author said how her agent hated the first three chapters. The ones that had been in contests, crit groups, and polished until they gleamed. All rubbish. The author didn’t trust herself enough to not re-work those chapters after each contact with another person. It turned out fine for her; the agent loved the rest of the book. But the point is that lack of trust could have been fatal for that book.

So the next time you find yourself doubting your skills- find a way to charge forward instead. Find ways to improve your craft through books, conferences, workshops. Don’t give into the mindset of dwelling on a concept or idea repeatedly. Do it once, do it well, and move on.

Be willing to charge your truck into the abyss, you might just save the day.

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