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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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What the hell did I just do?

I have no idea what I’m doing. I am attempting to do two things. One, learn how to use and write in Scrivener. I’ve heard so many great things about it. It sounds wonderful. It’s probably really easy to use. But, I’m kind of an idiot when it comes to anything more complicated than your basic email. Okay, I’m a little better than that, but, geez, it’s painful. It takes me forever to get a handle on something. So, this is me entering in what I’ve got written so far for the second Stevenson book, and kind of/sort of using the synopsis cards and comments and whatnot, so I can look at and really verify the rest of my outline works. This I usually do with a pencil and paper, which works fine. But a pencil and paper doesn’t, in the end, give you a supposedly easily-compiled MS to simply turn into whatever e-publishing file you need for whatever platform you want. That was the real selling point for me. Using Scrivener, right now, is less about the writing and more about the end result once it’s ready to go out into the world. I guess I’m hoping it’ll be good for the writing, too. If I can figure out how it works, as I work it. (Yes, I went through the tutorial. My brain, though, is like a sieve.)

The second thing I’m trying to do is set things up in order to build an email list of potential readers, so I can, well, let them know I have stuff for them to read. I just spent a half-hour trying to figure out MailChimp and how to get that going on my WordPress site. I have failed. And I am not a fraction of an inch closer to having any idea as to how to do anything in terms of that particular goal. *sigh* These are the days I really wish I could conceptualize this kind of stuff, you know, easily, in my head, like some folks seem to be able to do. For me, it’s a huge effort that requires going over and over and over something until it eventually clicks in some small way, and then following that way, painstakingly slowly, until I get to the end. It’s like reading instructions in another language I have just a rudimentary understanding of. If you want an idea as to how hard it was for me to earn that goddamn MFA, just imagine what I just described spread over six years, 24-7. No wonder my thyroid exploded.

I’ll get it, though. Goddamn it.

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Screenshot_2016-06-04-17-00-26-1

This was an actual break in writing.

I should probably not swear in blog titles, right? That’s a “don’t” in blogging, I think. Well…whatever…

About three months ago, just after my little episode, I wrote a 66k-page novel in just under 2 1/2 weeks. Despite being manic, pharmaceutically fucked up, and emotionally-driven to do it, the revision process (or, the editing-in-order-to-do-a-proper-revision process) revealed that it’s actually pretty decent. But I still need to actually do the revision. At this point, facing it seems too difficult, considering the conditions under which it was written. I just need some time away from it, but hopefully not too long. It’s practically finished. I know what the cover will look like. If I sucked it up and worked hard, I could put it out next month.

But I’m not going to do that. It’s just too hard, even if the story itself is probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever written.

But I do have a MS that is all ready to go. Here is something I’ve learned about myself: I really have no patience, and by that, I mean, I have no patience with the publishing submission process–certainly in terms of novels. Short stories–I would just sort of send it off and forget about it until the rejection/acceptance email. Not usually something I get bunched up about. Though, short stories aren’t really my thing, I realize. This I’ve learned. I write long. It takes a real effort on my part to keep short stories, well, short, and frankly, that cramps my style. Fucks up the flow. It just isn’t where I’m going when I sit down to write, and the end result, to me, always feels stilted. Sitting down and trying to tell the story I want to tell in the way I need to tell it, while trying to keep it 3k words or fewer–you know, if I ever want to see it published, which is sort of the end goal, really–it’s a pain in the ass. So…novels. Maybe novellas, I haven’t really tried that yet.

That’s not to say I write long novels. I don’t. As far as novels go, they’re fairly short, falling between 60k-70k words. That seems to be my sweet spot. And no, they’re not the 100k+ monstrosities some folks like to churn out, but despite my tendency to go on, I do also know when to edit myself. So, mine lean short. But they’re still work. They’re still often difficult to get out. I outline like a crazy person, so I cut down as much “writer’s block” as possible, but still. It’s work.

So, when an agent sits on it for 6+ months, or a press for even longer, with no word…I mean, what the fuck, folks? I know you’re busy and all. I do. But the MS I have right now, that’s all finished and ready to be read–I finished it more than three years ago. And I understand and am fine with rejection. But…tell me, right?

I’ve considered resubmitting it elsewhere. But I kind of know how these things work. We all do. It enters the slushpile and it sits there. And sits there. And sits there. And that’s sort of wasting my time. And here’s the thing, and this is going to sound egotistical, but since ego has been in such short supply for me these days, I’m just going to let it rip. The book is good. I read through it and even I–who is the very last person to give myself any credit for just about anything–even I have to say, hey, it’s good. It’s a good book. I did a damn good job with it. So, I’m not waiting for some gatekeeper to give their blessings. Especially with the industry as it is nowadays anyway.

There’s the self-publishing stigma, but really, who gives a shit? How can I possibly give a shit? Will published authors look down on me? Sure, but, you know what? I’m an editor. I’ve read some of their submitted, unpublished work, and guess what: A lot of it is crap. Not all, but a lot. There, I said it. And there are Stoker award winners I’ve started and just couldn’t get past the first fifteen pages because, Holy Christ, where was the editor? Who on earth accepted this for publication? (And yeah, it kind of makes me wonder what the fuck goes on there over at the Stokers). So, do I really need to be worried about what published authors will think of my self-published book? I’m leaning heavily toward “no.” All I guess I could say to them is, “read it.” Yeah, I’m actually that confident with this one.  “Read it and then come back and tell me it’s crap.” This one, at least. We’ll see what happens after it, but this one is good. It’s better than good.

And, I’m pushing 42 years old–I don’t really feel like waiting to find just the right publisher who thinks it fits their general marketing strategy, which, let’s face it, is never much to begin with. Again, I know. I edit. I publish. I do have a pretty fair idea how micro-small-to-medium presses function. And the way I see it, the only thing I have to gain with a publisher is “cred.” The rest of the work is up to me. I know what it takes to publish a book. I have enough experience in both traditional publishing and print-on-demand to not fuck this up too badly. So, basically, I can do what a publisher would do for me, work wise. Otherwise, the work is the same. If I published with someone else, I’d still be doing the bulk of the promotion and whatnot, if not all of it. I’m not bagging on presses…this is what it is when you either don’t have the budget, or you don’t know how to use your budget. Shit happens. Things are what they are. But I just don’t have the patience for the time it takes to deal with all that shit when the reward is so minuscule. The fact is that I could likely do just as well self-publishing, or better. Yes, it’s work, but it’s nothing I don’t do already anyway, so, again, it comes down to respectability and pub street cred.

So…fuck it. I’m no longer tying myself to this dying industry just because I’m a-scared of what anyone thinks–writers, editors, publishers, reviewers, etc. The times, they are a-changing, some douchebag once said. Other than myself. So, watch this space.

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Here’s me in a sweet-ass Rush shirt being all like, “Fuck it.”

The novel in question is the Robert Louis Stevenson werewolf piece I blogged about here forever ago. Yes, it’s a historical mystery horror novel. Tough to categorize, but still not unusual. I’ll eventually get around to revising the one I crapped out a few months ago. That is a somewhat bizarro adventure/love story involving meth labs, dildos, and extreme social anxiety. And the WIP, thus far, seems to be indescribable (I need to work on that). But it’s about a group of people set in the factual town of my upbringing, Fairchance, Pa. The main throughline character is a black albino former mortician named Ludlow. There’s death and ghosts. There’s child molestation and burning buildings. There’s religious fanaticism and explosions. I’ve been working on it on and off since about 2008, but I’m coming up on finishing it, finally. Then revision, but that generally goes pretty quickly. I think it’s more literary in terms of the writing and maybe the subject matter, but, again, I’m shit with that sort of thing. I appreciate labels and genres–they’re obviously helpful. But I kind of write what I write and unless I make a real effort to fit a certain genre, it can really be anything. I gave an large chunk of it to a writer whom I respect greatly and he liked it a lot, so, I’m pretty confident about this one, too. But, in time. It’ll get done.

I’m looking to get these three books out before the end of the year. Maybe more. I do have some fairly lengthy outlines sitting around and being tinkered with. We’ll see. So, here we go…

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Hungry bear is hungry.

Hungry bear is hungry.

In April, I handed out four copies of my novel manuscript to beta-readers. Two came back almost two months ago. One, I kinda knew wasn’t coming back (she was very, very busy at the time), which I had no problem with. The last I’m abandoning, despite being told that they’re *this* close to being done and getting it into the post.

I can’t wait any longer. I need to get back on this manuscript.

It’s been standing in the way of every other creative endeavor, so I just have to move forward with it, which, considering what great feedback I got from just the two MSs I did receive, isn’t a problem. It’s just frustrating that 1) it’s been four months, and two of those months, in the end, were for nothing, and 2) you want as much feedback from as many sources as possible. Lucky for me, the two readers I have gotten feedback from are tremendously smart and talented in their own right, so I count their input not as two, but as at least four, so we’ll call it even in the end.

Beta-readers. If you’re sitting in a grad school writing workshop right now complaining about how much you hate workshopping…stfu. No, really. Everyone hates workshopping (mostly because it makes them sad-clown-face inside when not everyone loves every word they write), but, unless you’re also really social (like, I think you have to be really social), this will be the last time it’s easy to find someone to read your work and give you feedback. (Granted, you might be cocky enough to think your fine writing requires no feedback, and to you, I say…stfu.)

It’s hard to find people willing to read your work. Maybe they’ll read it to read it. But to find someone to read your work and give you thoughtful, intelligent, non-ass-polishing suggestions is difficult. So, when I find people who are willing to do just that, I feel like I owe them a first-born (not mine, that’s icky, but someone’s). I’m intensely grateful.

So, tip to those nice and gracious enough to volunteer to be a writer’s reader: continue in the “nice and gracious” vein. Don’t take four months to return it; do your best to turn it around in a timely fashion. While reading the manuscript might be fun for you—something you don’t mind doing in your downtime—I guarantee you that the time waiting for its return is not downtime for the writer, though you might be holding them up and therefore it’s forced downtime. And there’s nothing worse than wanting to work on a specific project, but it’s in limbo because a reader just wants to push it off for one more week, but then take three more weeks to read twelve pages.

I guess the bottom line is—and this is sage advice for any similar situation: Do not fuck with a person’s creative process.

The “creative process” is a delicate, unwieldy, often vengeful thing. Where inspiration is frequently intense, yet fleeting, it’s best to tread quietly and cautiously around someone’s “creative process.” Treat it like a sleepy bear just having woken up from his winter’s nap; do you really want to stand between that bear and breakfast? And here’s the thing, if you prevent that bear from eating for the next four flipping months, that bear starves to death.

Why would you want to kill a poor, sleepy, hungry bear like that, miscreant?

And this bear is all like, fuck this, and it’s just walking over this reader and getting to breakfast before that shit’s cold and rubbery.

Seriously, the beta-reader process took twice as long as it took me to write the first draft. That’s pretty ridiculous.

So, yes, if you’re being nice and gracious, and offering to read your writer-friend’s MS, do it, do your best, and get it back to them before they go mad. Unless you’re preparing to move to South Africa for the next three years (I ❤ you, Marla…you are not the fourth reader of whom I speak!). That’s different.

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Insert Title Here

This is brilliant.

This is brilliant.

I wanted to write about titles today, because I’m so very terrible with them. Apart from math and numbers, nothing freeze up the ol’ brain pan quite like trying to come up with a title.

In preparation for many blog posts, I like to do a Google search on the topic, just to see what’s out there. This morning, I found this: How to Create the Perfect Title for Your Book. Check out Step Two.

Think of titles that could be used for your book and write them down.

This almost cost me one mouthful of coffee through my nose. Wait, what? First off, shouldn’t that be the last step? And second…is that really helping?

Well, heck! Why didn’t I think of that? Can’t think of a title for your book or story? Well, just think of them and write them down. Thanks WikiHow, you’re a life saver.

So, how do you come up with titles?

No, I’m really asking. I bet you thought I was going to help you come up with them.

How is it possible that someone can write a whole story—particularly a long one—with characters and twists and turns, hopefully all culminating into one big, intricate and interesting tale, but then when it comes to naming the thing, POOF. Blank.

Honestly, I always hope that, somewhere in the writing itself, the title is waiting for me to discover it. Problem with that is that I can never find it later. Like, I’m sure it must be there, but no matter how many times I go through the manuscript during the revision and editing processes, it’s no where to be found. Which leads me to believe that I really need to devise a better title-coming-up-with plan.

So, how do you do it? I’m sure there must be a thousand ways and everyone is different. Or the same. For all I know, there’s a special trick that all real writers know, and I just felt asleep during class that day. What’s the big secret?

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Time to punch in...oh, wait, you can't even do that, worthless writer!

Time to punch in…oh, wait, you can’t even do that, worthless writer!

I mean, my answer to this is a resounding yes, but then, I value my time and skill.

I’m noticing, though, that many writers don’t, or the people overseeing the various writing outlets don’t.

Okay, the other day I saw a call for writers for a website, whose name I won’t mention. I don’t know this website; don’t frequent it, and by “frequent,” I mean, I’ve never been there. I saw the call through a friend’s feed.

This website was excitedly calling upon fresh writing blood for its content because the person who runs the site has decided that the site is successful enough to take it to the “next level.” The “next level,” unfortunately, does not include actually paying its writers. You know, the people who work to provide his site content, without which there would be no point and it certainly wouldn’t have made it to this highly successful “next level.”

The call itself was very enthusiastic. It wanted only the best work; it wanted top-notch stuff. It didn’t want some crapped-out, run-of-the-mill writing; it wants great writing, dynamic writing. You know, writing on which you, as a writer, might actually spend some time and effort on. It even wants you, the writer, to go through some sort of application process, as if you might be unworthy and your work must be seen as fit enough to be honored with inclusion on this site. For free.

As in, they want your best work, but they don’t want to pay you for it. Not for the non-crapped-out work. Not for the time and effort and skill it apparently expects from its non-paid writers. And why does it not pay? Because “it’s the internet, after all.”

That’s the reason. It’s the internet. Because the medium somehow devalues the words you write. The medium somehow alters the amount of time you took, the research you did, the effort you made to put the words and information together in such a way that would make it interesting and readable. Something they’re not just getting their 12-year-old cousin to do, which implies that it must require some skill. But, it’s the internet, so the dog may as well shit it out onto the page…oh, wait! No page! So, it must be worthless!

I understand that writers have been writing for free for some time, but I feel like the reasons for doing that have changed and don’t really serve the writer quite so much anymore. Before, you used to write for free in order to build a relationship with the publisher/editor. Eventually, you’re going to get paid. Now, there is no relationship to build and there is no incentive to keep doing it because getting paid just isn’t in the cards, ever. Because it’s the internet, silly.

Furthermore, skills like writing weren’t always being taught. Creative writing programs are still fairly new, actually. Writing for free used to be a sort of real-world crash course for writers to hone their skills. Now, despite, say, earning a creative writing MFA (with your BA, that’s a minimum of six years of education), writers are still expected to write for free. (Never mind that student debt and all that experience you have, goosey-goose. You. Are. Worthless.)

For some reason, even though this is your skill and this is what you do, you’re expected to be happy (in fact, you should be grateful!) that they’re allowing you to write for them for free. Your payment is your pride (because they’re website is awesome!)! And maybe some free stuff via film copies for review or something (and no, you definitely don’t get paid for the time it takes to watch the movie you’re reviewing, or to read the book, etc.).

I wish I could say it was just online, but it’s print as well. The internet, though, is the primary problem. More often than not, if you are getting paid, crap copy gigs go to the lowest bidder, and you’re expected to work ridiculous hours turning it over for high-content sites, for practically nothing (it’s certainly not reasonable compensation for what’s expected of you and what that kind of turnover does to your sleep schedule). And what you’re churning out is meaningless drivel. But if you’re lucky, this is the only way you’ll get paid for your writing: in a word mill sweat shop. That is totally what I got that MFA for!

I really can’t think of any other profession that does this. Even an artist is expected to quote their own price for their work. Writer? You’d get laughed at expecting to get paid at all, let alone quote your price. I can quote my own price as an editor, but as a writer? Forget it. And frankly, although editing is painstaking, writing something new and interesting is much, much harder.

Don’t get me wrong; I do understand writing for free for friends, for networking purposes (usually with people you actually know), for strategic ways to build your CV, and such. I do it. But this is not the capacity that these folks who expect your best for nothing are working in. They will likely never compensate you for you hard work. And, again, the prestige attached to their site’s name (which is laughable) should be enough. They’re doing you a favor. Please.

So, how the hell can we writers call ourselves professionals if we aren’t being taken seriously in a professional way? Particularly if we aren’t demanding to be respected in this sense and we’re just accepting the rules of the game as they’re being created and upheld by the people who are profiting from our (unpaid) work.

I suppose there are a few things to do. Has someone formed an online writers union yet? If not, damn it, someone should. Until then, how about this? Every time you put in for a writing job, ask to be paid. Especially if you know the site is making some money, somehow (I know, they’ll say, hey, that money goes to pay for other things, and to that I say, enjoy your Capitalism, pal! Part of running a thing that makes a profit is paying for the things to run that profitable thing. That includes paying your writers when all you’ve got to sell is the content they provide).

Here’s the kicker: when they laugh at you and tell you they “can’t” pay you because “it’s the internet” and insinuate that “writers” are a dime a dozen (which is funny, because they aren’t even paying that), smile and then go start a rival website. And do it better. Form a kind of co-op with other, like-minded writers and create something with which to pay yourselves. You’ll be doing exactly what these jagoffs are doing, except that you actually have the talent, and they’re just managing (and taking advantage of) the talent. Cut out the middle man, value what you do, and pay yourself.

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RLSDogNY1

Today, I’ll quote Stevenson:

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.

I’ve got the breath and the light; the flowers at my feet are working on it (my first veggies seeds for the garden did sprout yesterday; I’ve got a million duties at my hand, and I do believe the path of right is just before me. The daily bread might have to wait.

The duties never end. The key is checking everything from your list and doing them in some semblance of order. In self-publishing, that seem particularly important. When I brought books through the process for a traditional publisher, I had a checklist. For everything, from shaking hands on the deal to putting the physical book in the writer’s hand. It’s been a little while since I’ve worked from that particular list, so I think I’m going to have to sit down and reconstruct it, only editing it to cover all those extra-special self-pubbing things, like: “Learn how to format your manuscript for electronic sales.”

On one hand, it seems a little overwhelming, but I guess it’s like anything else. You get to the end when you get there. There are wolves at my door, though. I will point out one great reason not to self-publish and why you should leave it to a publisher: This stuff takes time, effort, and a certain amount of non-creative brain-power that pulls you out of writing mode. And right now, the wolf at my door is the next story. It’s a-scratchin’, but I can’t quite open the door and let it in yet.

The path, though, is right. And if I work at it every day, I’ll get to the place where I can relax for a minute and go play with the wolves. I don’t think Stevenson had a quote about playing with wolves, though he did say :

You think those dogs will not be in heaven! I tell you they will be there long before any of us.

Certainly, rolling around on the floor with the writing wolves is closer to heaven than line-editing and formatting, but they’ll wait for us. They might be too hungry to play right away, but once they’re fed, fun will ensue.

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OpenBookWriting, for me, isn’t always easy. This is the case with a lot of writers; I’m not particularly special there. So, when at the beginning of January I sat down (somewhat unexpectedly) and started writing a novel, I was taken aback a bit. I tend to stew on ideas for a while, and then sitting down to actually write—even, say, a 3,000-word short—can take me a couple of weeks to a few months. Depending. What, exactly, it depended on has never been entirely clear.

Whatever the case, about a month and a half later, I had the first draft of a 64,000-word novel. It was almost like there was some per-destined date I was not aware of that marked the moment, finally, when I would become an actual, functional writer.

That being said, if you had told me on January 1st that I would have a novel on my hands, I’d have laughed at you. I would have pointed and laughed. I may have even made fun of you. Now, I’ve got this novel on my hands. It feels like it sort of just fell out of the sky. What exactly I would do with a novel—if I ever wrote one—was always this vague idea somewhere in the back of my mind; nothing I had to think too hard on as it wasn’t going to be happening any time soon.

Oops.

So, since I started homing in on the ending, as I was writing, I realized that I needed to really think about this. And I’m still thinking about it, though I’m leaning in one direction above some others. Over the next few weeks, as I work on revisions and such, I’m going to start discussing my process here. I invite you to follow along, hopefully to watch my success, but if worse comes to worse, the flame-out could be spectacular. Well, I would try to make it as Fourth-of-July as I could.

Stay tuned…

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