Beat feet immediately over to Agent 007's blog for an eye-opening look at how a book actually gets sold.
I am SO glad I'm not an editor.
Beat feet immediately over to Agent 007's blog for an eye-opening look at how a book actually gets sold.
I am SO glad I'm not an editor.
You know, there was a time – not that long ago – when I would say things in my journal like “Wrote an easy 1500 words tonight,” or “Added 600 to WIP x, 350 to WIP y, 200 to WIP z, and wrote five notecards for the novel.” Now I'm delighted and pleased with myself if I write 500 words in a night.
I keep reminding myself that my productivity has always been cyclical, and I'm just on the downside of the cycle right now. Autumn usually rejuvenates me, and it's just around the corner (we had to wear jackets to go out tonight, and the Pumpkin Spice Latte is back at Starbucks – both welcome harbingers of the season.)
I need to get comfy with 1500 per night, though – well, 1660 if I remember right. NaNoWriMo is coming up. We're talking about it in chat – people are already having panic attacks, and it's still almost two months away.
It's like any race – I need to train for it.
The day job is taking up a lot of spare cycles right now. On the one hand, I actually *like* my job for possibly the first time in my life, and I think I might turn out to be pretty good at it. That's a good thing. But it means that I'm still working even when I'm not working – I'm thinking about it, planning for it, reviewing it. That's processing time that used to be spent on story formation, world-building, and general day-dreaming.
So I think it's going to come down to discipline. I'm going to *have* to come out here to my lovely little sanctuary and make myself *produce.*
I still owe Camilla the crit, which I'm picking at a little at a time, and I haven't yet checked in with Dreamers. Sorry, guys. Give me a little more time to figure out how to juggle these things.
Oh, and the office – have I glowed properly about the office yet? I love it out here. I bought a massive wooden desk at an asset liquidation store, and had some spare pieces that I'm using to store office supplies and things, and I've hung some of the art (and can't wait to buy and/or make more.) It looks nice, it smells nice, and it's mine-all-mine.
Meanwhile – sleep. I have to work tomorrow (Sunday) but it feels more like I *get* to work tomorrow, and that is a very good thing.
Funny thing happened tonight. This is going to sound seriously lame to all of you Real Writers out there, but here goes:
I decided to start writing the truth, and suddenly it's not hard to write.
Remember Red Carpet, formerly 44D? It's a WIP that I started more than a year ago, at a writers' conference. It was a good idea, but I had a hell of a time making it work. I had created a setting I knew nothing about, a character I couldn't relate to, and an environment that even I wasn't convinced by. But I was totally in love with the *idea*, the central theme of the story, which was about fandom. It was important to me, but I wasn't willing to admit *why* it was – which was because I am, of course, a fan.
It just didn't work. I've tried over and over to rewrite it, and I get no closer to the story I'm trying to tell. And then it dawned on me that I'm going to such extreme lengths to disguise the fact that this is *me* that I can't touch the actual story underneath the disguise.
So I tried again tonight, only this time I told the truth about what the character thinks and feels – I put *me* on the page – and it was *easy.* I even stuck in some little factual details here and there.
See? You real writers are saying “Uhhh… DUH. Hasn't anyone ever told you to write what you know?”
Yeah, of course they have, but I didn't get it. It's astonishing to me that I could completely miss the point for so long. I figured I didn't know *anything* well enough to write about it, which is why I write fantasy and horror, because they're completely made up. Yes, I now understand how completely stupid that is.
A friend of mine called me on that a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about someone else's bizarre upbringing, and a bit of it happened to coincide with my own, and I said so. My friend looked at me wide-eyed and asked “What are you doing writing these little fantasy stories when you have stuff like *that* to write about?!”
The truth? Fear. Fear of being found out, of being revealed, of being accused of taking myself too seriously, of being seen and judged. Well screw the fear. I'm not writing what's important to me because of fear, and that's not fiction, it's bullshit.
So now the smell of the leather jacket is actually my ex-fiance's jacket from 15 years ago. The awful conference that the MC attends is the stupid circle-jerk that my former employer put on at a posh resort four years ago. The lists of overused words were made by both a colleague and my husband within the last month.
I haven't done that in the last eight years or so – put real experiences in a story.
Yes, I'm serious.
See? I'm a total fraud. What kind of writer goes to those lengths to hide?
This one still has a fantasy element to it (I think we're calling this Magical Realism these days, aren't we? I can't keep up.) I imagine they all will, because that's what I love. But it'll be interesting (to me, at least) to see what I produce from here on out.
What a long summer it's been.
The work thing is heating up as expected, which is taking up more processing power than I would like.
The fine people at the Dreamers crit group have invited me to join them, and I'm delighted and flattered and hope that I'm worth their while over the next few months.
I write this tonight from MY OFFICE, at my NEW DESK, with MY DOOR closed. It has been a long wait, and it was a long day of working on some final things like baseboards, but I'm finally in. I went on an Ebay art binge last week and bought some stuff for the walls – I intend to make this room a museum of peculiar pieces of art and miscellany. I want there to be story fodder everywhere I look.
I've fallen WAY behind on virtually everything. The first things I have to do are keep my commitments to other people – I need to finish my crit of the first 100 pages of Camilla's novel, and I have to write a proposal for a e-publishing panel for next year's conference. THEN I can turn to finishing the final draft of Sweetwater Kill, and get that submitted. By the time those three things are done, it will be time to outline in earnest in preparation for NaNoWriMo '05. I have about 35 pages of hand-written notes on this year's NaNovel, but it's still very nebulous and is not anything like a cohesive story yet. It had better come together quickly.
That's the news. It's good to be back. Good to be in this little 6' x 14' room. Good to have a plan. I hope everyone else is feeling good too.
I should be back online consistently about a week from now. There's a lot to catch up on – new critique group, Camilla's novel, works in progress, and other things.
I hope everyone's doing well and writing madly.
I'll close with the recommendation that everyone run out immediately to purchase and read Ray Bradbury's Zen In the Art of Writing, which is the most inspiring book on writing I've read, supplanting even Ann Lamott's fabulous Bird By Bird.
Tomorrow I leave for Dallas on business – the day job will take care of itself, but this is a writing opportunity not to be missed. In that spirit I have carefully packed:
That should do the job. I'm committed. No television viewing, no non-corporate-mandated socializing – just writing. A lot of it.
I was going to take my laptop, but then decided that I didn't need the extra seven pounds. I can live without the internet for two days, and I think writing longhand might do me good. The only thing I'll miss is music. It's one full day of travel (critiquing and reading time,) two nights in a hotel (writing time,) and then a full evening of travel again. I intend to make the most of it.
Just spent two hours trying to something that should have taken a few minutes: find and print two pictures of my kids to put in a frame in the hall. It's now 10:55, about an hour and a half later than I intended to start working. Ah well.
The DSL was down for a week. It's back, and therefore so am I. FM folks: I missed you guys.
At the end of every month I review what I've accomplished in my writing, and set goals for the next month (which are often revised as needed.) This helps me to feel like I've actually done something, because most of the time I feel like a complete slacker. I read Zette and Holly's blogs – Holly writes 6000 words a day come hell or high water, and Zette produces something like a novel a month, plus short stories, plus edits Vision and has her own imprint to run, and I think my god, I am *such* a loser, I am *never* going to make it in this business. The monthly assessments help to counter that. I didn't do what they did, but at least I did *something.*
Today is the last day of the month, so here goes.
In July, I:
Not bad. Not great – note the lack of word count produced in July. But I'm going to let that go, because June was *such* a rough month (that was Conference month, the Confidence Crusher) that I needed the down time to recover. But it is forward motion.
I'm insane. There is absolutely no way that I'll get all of that done. Not a chance.
The worst that can happen is that some of it gets rolled into September. I have a very convenient business trip this week that will give me lots of alone time – I plan to use it to work on the critique and the 2004 NaNovel.
How about you? What did you accomplish in July, and what are your goals for August?
Pat Holt's Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do), by way of Paperback Writer's blog (an excellent daily read, btw, by someone who writes full-time in five different genres.)
#1, coincidentally, is about overused words, which the author calls “crutch words.” Ms. Holt makes the point that they're most often simple words, but in cases where it's a unique word – a real 50-dollar word – you should only use it *once.* She then goes on to document the overuse of a couple of words by specific authors.
I wonder, if I were to go through The Scar with a highlighter, how many uses of “ossify” and “puissant” I would find. I'm guessing dozens of each.
This is one of those things that I do notice in other people's writing, and *sometimes* catch in my own. My novelist friend used “illuminate” twice in two pages and I marked it up. I caught a couple of overuses in Sweetwater Kill the last time I went throught it (can't remember what they were, though.)
Pat Holt makes useful suggestions here. (Those Empty Adverbs definitely creep into my writing.) I'll add it to my arsenal of editing tools. My writing will be better for it.
By the way, I don't want my little gripe about those words to put anyone off reading the book. I recommend it highly, and I will soon buy everything else Mieville has written. (Forgive me for being too lazy to find the proper code to produce the accented 'e' in his name.)
Brilliant post over at Agent 007's blog, which gently puts the smackdown on whiney writers who don't feel they get a fair shake from editors and agents. Go read it.
Are you back? Excellent.
I don't get to the bookstore very often (the nearest one that has enough stocked that I don't have to special order is an hour away,) but last week I did. I went in not really sure what I wanted – I was considering looking for some books on architecture (a new interest for me) and then remembered that someone at the conference had recommended China Mieville as someone I'd enjoy reading. So off to Sci-fi/Fantasy I went, and found one, choosing the title more or less at random. I chose The Scar – the title didn't do much for me, but the cover is right up my alley. (Note to cover designers: While our mothers told us not to judge a book by its cover, we do anyway.)
Then I went looking for something that I'd never heard of, but that sounded good. I found one, and I can't even remember who it's by or what the title is, but I know that based on title, cover, and back cover summary it sounded unique enough that I was willing to spend seven bucks for it. I also picked up a book of Kelly Link's short stories, and then put it back, because I felt like it was closer to required reading – and therefore work – than reading for pleasure. But that's another story.
I'm almost done with The Scar, and it's the best thing I've read in a long, long time. I keep backtracking to see how he handled certain things. The only things that bother me are his unconventional use of space breaks, and his overuse of two words (and all of their forms): ossify and puissant. Those words have become stumbling blocks in my reading now. I'm hoping that they thin out in these last few pages. (I had the same problem with Anne Rice's use of “preternatural.” I grew to hate the word so much that I will go to great lengths to not use it, and as far as I know I have successfully avoided using it except to bitch about her use of it.)
Anyway, Agent 007's point is that editors and agents choose books in much the same way that readers choose books. Based on a title, a cover (letter), and a summary (synopsis, or outline maybe) they decide whether or not it sounds like the same old thing (see Miss Snark's blog) or something interesting enough to read.
And we must remember – they don't just have to *like* it. They have to *love* it. They have to love it enough, and believe in it enough, to put all of their energy behind it. 'Good' doesn't cut it. 'Well written' doesn't cut it. We have to be absolutely brilliant and fresh. Our grammar has to be spot-on, our style consistent, our voice strong and engaging. And our story has to be perfectly suited to the agent or editor's unique, personal, subjective taste. That's on *us.* They do not have to be accomodating. They do not have to read the whole thing to know that it doesn't suit them, any more than I have to know that a book with a dragon on the cover is not coming home with me. (Sorry. It's probably a really good book. I just don't like dragons.)
They do not choose based on whether they think someone, somewhere will buy it if it's published. They choose based on whether they think *they* would buy it.
And it *is* fair.
Other posts from agents do indicate that there are exceptions, such as the Celebrity Memoire/ Sure Thing. We're not celebrities, though, so that exception does not apply to us.
During the last three years I have spent a lot of time reading as much as I can from people in all aspects of the industry. I wanted to go into this with my eyes wide open, with my artistic self-indulgence already shed, and a clear idea of how big the pond is and how to avoid the sharks (freshwater sharks?) I knew what I thought a writer was, and what an agent was, and how books get made. I was dead wrong about all of it. Forward Motion and Holly Lisle's posts were my first dose of reality, and since then I've added dozens of other voices of reason and experience to the chorus in my head.
I do not expect to succeed. Does that sound strange? Self-defeating? Maybe. I think it's also practical. I *hope* to succeed, some day, but I'm aware that I am far from the level I need to reach for it to even become a possibility.
Voices like Agent 007 keep me grounded. I don't consider it at all discouraging to read things like that. I feel like I'm ahead of the game, because I have the information I need to make my work better, and to understand the business as best I can.
Part of being a writer is reading. I read non-fiction for research and ideas, and fiction for industry education and — of course — sheer pleasure.
And for those of us starting out, we read each other's work and critique it. We learn from it, and try to help each other make our work as good as it can be. Of course we're limited in this task by our own skill level, but we do our best.
I've been a member of two online critique groups: Critters.org and Hatrack.com writers' groups. Both were good experiences. Both ate up a ton of time and left very little for me to spend writing my own work. I quit each of them after a few months, when my turn to submit came up and I had nothing to send. That told me that it was taking too much of my time.
When I read to critique I spend a *lot* of time. If something catches my attention, or doesn't read well, I will spend whatever amount of time it takes to figure out *why* and then convey that back to the writer. There is usually a lot of red on the page when I'm done, and it's usually story stuff rather than punctuation and grammar — contradictions, believability problems, characterization, logic problems. Lots of passive voice stuff, usually, too. But it takes *so long.*
So the critique groups didn't work out for me. Now I take on one or two projects at a time and try to get loose, comfy timelines. To date I've only critiqued short stories, or a couple of chapters of a novel.
And then a couple of days ago that changed, and I took on a 140k-word novel by a friend in Forward Motion. I totally want to do this critique – with my own novel scheduled to be finished at the end of August I want the experience of working with something that long. And she's been so helpful to me on two different projects, I definitely owe her.
I got started last night, and soon discovered that my method of critique is not going to work for something this size. She wouldn't get this thing back for a year. So I had to come up with something else. It won't be as thorough as I'd like – much more topical, with general comments at the bottom. It won't be the kind of line editing that I like to do. But I'll learn something from it, and I hope that it will be valuable to my friend.
It's a hard thing to do, sending your work off to other people to be picked apart. As writers we want validation, not criticism. I believe that it's a rite of passage for new writers to submit their work for critique. It's courageous and demonstrates a seriousness about the craft.
The truth is that we don't often receive validation. The nice things are always — ALWAYS — followed by a “but.” Even glowing comments in the context of a critique are followed by — well, the critique. Egos are bruised, confidence is slaughtered, will to live can get a little iffy.
The ultimate validation, the brass ring, the one that we all want and that I have not yet had is — of course — publication. Not “pretty good,” not “very good,” — good enough to print. That's the validation that I want, and my friend wants. We can't provide that to each other, unfortunately, because we are not editors. But we'll try to help each other along the way, to increase the odds that some day we *will* get it.
I was talking about reading, wasn't I. Before I sign off, here's some more reading for all of you self-learners out there: MIT's OpenCourseWare, where they've made the course work available for more than a 1000 (their number, I didn't count them) undergraduate classes. I'm going to drool over these course listings and hope that some day I'll find the time to work my way through a few of them. I think I'm going to start with “Imagining the Future.”
Have at it.