Sunday, February 7, 2016

Why No Pictures?

I was recently asked why I haven't had any pictures on my blog recently.  After all, they point out, the early days of my blog was chock full of witty pictures that enhanced my posts.  Those pictures gave a chuckle to otherwise serious topics, so couldn't I bring them back?

I wish I could, I really do, but I don't want to be sued.

Everyone reading this needs to remember that copyrights on pictures is kind of a big deal.  I realize that websites all over the place pull pictures and post them, but that doesn't mean that what they're doing is legal.  In most cases, someone owns that picture, and they have every right to demand payment if you use their work, both from a legal and moral standpoint.

The internet has given a lot of us a sense of self-entitlement when it comes to stuff.  We see something online and feel like it now belongs to us, or at least that it no longer belongs to the person who created it.  Sorry, but that flawed thinking will put you in a courtroom faster than the humiliation of announcing the wrong winner at some beauty pageant will get you death threats.

So what's the solution?  As previous posts have shown, you can always post your own pics.  I've taken plenty, mostly of wacky things my daughter has done, but my current work situation makes that difficult since I don't have my phone with me most of the time.  In other words, I can't post photos I don't take.

And let's be honest - it's hard sometimes to remember to take photos and/or find the right circumstances.  Since we don't always know what's appropriate to post as relevant - I usually think of it on the fly - we rarely get to set up the right shot.  How do I take a photo of a hillbilly pulling roadkill from the highway if I don't know that's the photo that would work in a post two weeks from now?  Therefore, many of us don't bother.

This is where the work of this comes in.  You have to be ready to take them, and you have to be prepared for many of your photos to never be relevant, which can be soul crushing.  If you find it too much work, then don't take them, but just know that that means you won't have fun photos on your site unless you're willing to risk some photographer or company coming in and demanding $20,000.  As much as I enjoy writing this blog, if I have that much money, it's going somewhere else.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Deadlines

Deadlines can be nerve wracking.  You wonder if you'll be able to meet the demands of a fickle audience or editor, and they can create so much stress that it can be paralyzing.  Whether it's for school, a job, or a family obligation, few things induce panic like knowing you have a timeline to meet and you're just not going to make it.

Under the right circumstances, though, deadlines can also be motivating.  Right now, I'm under a series of them.  As I mentioned in my last post, I'm in the middle of a new novel.  At the moment, I have seven beta readers who are helping me out, and they're demanding new chapters.  Since I need their input - and I don't want them to get bored and forget about me - I've set a weekly deadline to get them more stuff.

This is a motivating factor for me since I'm having fun writing this one.  Not only do I want to just write it, but I want my beta readers to be able to get it and get back to me quickly so I can determine what's valid and what's not.  In those late night hours, when I'm tired and want little more than to find the comfort of my bed, it pushes me to write just a little bit more.

John Grogan of the famous Marley & Me worked under a deadline while writing.  His editor would ask for a chapter to be complete at a certain point, and that deadline helped Grogan find a concrete goal to achieve.

Some of us operate better under pressure, while some of us get crushed by it.  I think a little bit of pressure can motivate you to push past the point of exhaustion when you need to because you have others counting on you.  And this is a good pressure, because it's something both sides have agreed to.  It gives me a goal to work towards, and it gives my beta readers something to look forward to each week.  It's not like we're racing the clock to defuse a nuclear bomb, but we've each got expectations of the other, and those expectations compel us to work harder.  Neither of us wants to let the other down.  So look to see if such a thing would help in your own writing.  Of course, it helps if it's a fun project, so make it fun if you can.  After all, the right pressure creates diamonds.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Joy of Writing

We've all been there - we've got what we think is a great idea, the writing flows out of us with ease, and we take joy in doing what we love doing, writing.  It's a rare time in a writer's life, for so many times we're searching for that sweet spot, aware of just how fleeting it is.  When you finally reach a place where you're not just having fun, but you're so excited that you plan your entire day around getting in front of your computer to write, you want to grab hold of that feeling and never let it go.

That's where I am right now.

In the past couple of weeks, I've begin writing my new novel.  It's a heretical notion about what life would be like if the Book of Revelation was just propaganda and the Devil wins the Battle of Armageddon.  I thought it would be a neat little idea to play around with, but I had no idea just how easily the prose would come.

Don't get me wrong - I've had fun writing other books, but I haven't had this much fun since my first couple.  While outlining, the images have come into my head so fast that I've had to consciously slow them down.  And while at the computer, I haven't been fretting over which word goes where or encountering obstacles that have make me wonder if this is all worth it - I've just been able to pound out the story.

I know that I sound like a giddy little schoolgirl who has just discovered roller skating or something, but this kind of fun isn't something we writers get to have everyday.  Those of you who've ever labored over a story and beaten your head against the desk in frustration, back me up on this.  Finding yourself totally immersed in the process is like finding the right love - you can't wait to get back to it, and even when you're not writing, you find yourself thinking about it.  There's a kind of innocence to it, and not only is it rare to find, it's rare to realize you've found it.

Sorry for the gushing, but this is a great feeling, and it's driving me into a blissful insanity.  Time to get back to it.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Staying Hard


In the modern age, one of the key questions that plagues writers trying to sell books is whether or not to produce hardcover books.  Years ago, this wasn’t an issue.  You either produced hardcover books or you had nothing to sell.
Today, however, the ebook has made this an interesting question.  Due to Amazon, Smashwords, and others, ebooks are all the rage.  What’s more, they’re cheap and easy to do.  Simply upload your work to the appropriate platform and voila, your book is on the market.
Still, there’s just something about seeing a hardcover book with your name on it.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve long dreamed of walking into a bookstore and seeing a display, preferably up front, where your novel is laid in with the other tomes.  It’s tangible proof of your hard work, and that dream can be hard to ditch.
This is where we need to take the emotion out of it and decide what we’re trying to accomplish.  If your goal is simply to see your book in print, then go for it.  It’s easy nowadays to create a hardcover book and have it shipped to us.  However, if your goal is to have a career doing this writing thing, you need to do a little more analysis.
What is the purpose behind creating a hardcover?  Do you have a distribution channel?  Do you have people ready, perhaps on a distro list or as a set of friends, to buy your hardcover.  Remember, until you’re established, getting your work into an actual bookstore will be challenging, so your work has to stay somewhere while it gets out(like in your garage).
Ebooks are much simpler in the modern market, but not everyone uses them.  Perhaps you want to try a strategy of amalgamation, where you supplement your ebooks with a limited number of hardcovers.  Remember, hardcovers cost more than ebooks(considerably more…this is where cold analysis has to come in to the business side of things as opposed to the emotional joy of just writing).  You have to set up an imprint, produce a proof copy(if you’re smart), get the production cost, figure out a profitable price point, etc.  I know, this is the non-sexy part of writing, but writing is more than good stories – it’s a business, at least if you want to put food on the table by doing it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Losing It


Random events in life can make me mad.  Like most of us, unexpected curveballs life throws at us that make things harder create triggers of rage in me.  Cut me off in traffic and I’ll let out a stream of curses that would make a sailor blush.  Let me get bumped while I’m eating so that I get mustard on the shirt I just pulled from the dryer, and I have to force the red out of my eyes before I jump up and turn into the Tasmanian Devil.
Why do I bring up how I can act like a two year old when denied a piece of candy?  Because it happens in writing as well.
We live in a world of computers.  In the olden days, a writer sat at a typewriter and belted out reams of physical paper to create stories.  Now, however, we use laptops and tablets and whatever else to create our work.  This usually makes life easier, but not always.  Case in point – I was writing a recent blog post and had just finished what I thought was a great point, so I went to save it.  That was when my computer shit the bed.  As I restarted, the archive retrieval only found half the document, all of which was written before the point I’d just labored over.
Obviously, I was furious.
Typewriters were cumbersome, but at least I didn’t have to worry about losing my work to the electronic ether.  I know, I know…confound that dadburn modernity.
The frustration of it all, of course, is that re-creating exactly what I just wrote is near impossible.  We operate in a stream of consciousness while writing, and getting it exactly as we had it just doesn’t work.  Sure, we can get close, and the basic point is still there, but we’ll never get it as we just had it.  Think I’m wrong?  Go ahead and try it – write a bit of a story, get a blank sheet of paper, and then try to re-write that same story in exactly the same way.  Dollars to donuts(mmm…donuts…) that your second try will be different than the first, even if those differences are only minor.
This is the problem of being a writer.  Something that requires no creative effort can be done over and over and over again.  But the creative process rarely asserts itself the same way twice.  That’s why I save my work in multiple places once it’s complete, for I know that I’ll never reproduce it the same way.  I don’t mind editing, but I despise re-creating.  That just unleashes my inner toddler, and that toddler is as capable of throwing a tantrum as anyone.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Doubts


I think all of us want to come across as confident.  After all, confidence draws people to us.  In survey after survey, women say that confidence is the biggest component to being attracted to a man.  In business, we’re all drawn towards the confident(but not arrogant) leader who seems to have all the answers.
Therefore it can be intimidating to us when we look inside and know that we don’t have the same level of confidence that those we look up to have.  What’s wrong with me? we wonder.  Everyone else seems to have it all together.
The largest place this comes into play with us is in regards to our writing.  What if people don’t like my stories?  What if someone says that I’m, no good?  Geez, that last thing I wrote doesn’t seem quite right?  Maybe no one will buy my books and I’ll have to go back to my window washing job.
We all have doubts about this writing thing.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  It’s natural to have doubts, for we’re engaging in an uncertain enterprise.  This is not some union-secured job where we know that unless we screw up in a major way, we’re going to get paid.  Our success depends on others liking and buying our books.  If the audience decides that we’re not interesting enough, then we don’t get paid and no one likes us.
This can be enough to cripple even the most prolific writer.  Some of us go to writing conferences or engage with other writers on blogs, and our fellow writers seem to have it all together.  Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret – they all have the same doubts you do.
Doubting, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing.  The key is to turn that doubt into motivation to work hard and make yourself a success.  Get out there and promote your work.  Do research on what audience will best enjoy your writing.  Get engaged with writing forums and learn the craft even better.
And, of course, do it all with confidence.
What does that mean, especially when we’ve just discussed that we have doubts?  It means to fake it till you make it.  Act with confidence, even if you have none.  I get it – that’s hard.  Doubt seeps into your soul like mold, spreading through your spirit until it feels like it’s everywhere.  Who cares?  Unless you express it, no one can tell, so long as you act confident.
I’ve known some great writers who have egos of crystal.  The slightest thing can crush their confidence, but you’d never know it.  If you need to find a friend to confide in so you can release your emotions, do it, but then put on your happy face and show the world that you know what you’re doing.  It’s not easy, but it will inspire true confidence once you’ve made it.  And you will make it – never doubt that, for if you let those doubts stop you, then all the naysayers were right.  It’s okay to have doubts(everyone does), but it’s not okay to let them stop you.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Defying Description


The writing world is full of contradictory advice – be vivid, leave it up to the audience, write boldly, write subtly, create a supporting cast, don’t overdo the number of characters, etc.  It’s enough to make you throw your hands up in frustration and scream.
One of the areas writers struggle with is how much detail to put into the work.  If your character is running someone through with his blade, how vividly do you describe the action?  Do you run through the sound effects of the gore, like maybe how it sounds like you’re slicing a turkey?  Can you describe the river of blood that splattered upon the floor?  Or do you merely allude to the gore by mentioning a trickle of red and telling how your character’s enemy collapsed to the floor?
Admittedly, one of the areas I’ve struggled with this is in regard to sex.  Sex is an ever-present part of our world, and ignoring it would be like pretending the sun doesn’t shine.  But do we get heavily into it, talking about penetration and bodily fluids, or do we dance around the subject and let the reader’s mind become the porno theater?
The answer will be different for each of us.  For me, I vary between excruciating detail and allusion, and which way depends on what I want the audience to experience.  There are times the story calls for specifics in order to trap the audience in the moment.  If I need to get the reader to hate the villain, I’ll describe his rape scene or murder scene in excruciating detail, for I need to evoke a specific emotion, so I need the audience to know just how depraved the villain can be.  However, if I want to get the audience to experience wonder or a little curiosity, I’ll leave parts out and let the reader fill in the blanks, where what the audience comes up with is sure to be more outrageous than I could conceive.
Pick up any tome on how to write a novel, and one of the cardinal rules you’ll encounter is to find ways to leave out adjectives and adverbs.  Usually, in BIG BOLD WARNINGS, experts tell us that this makes your work hard to read and no one will like it.  However, has anyone ever read Dean Koontz?  I picked up one of his novels recently and found it to be overflowing with added descriptors.  Koontz violates just about every rule on the use of modifiers that exists, yet he has a devoted following and has sold more than most of us will.  So why does he get away with it when all the “experts” say not to do so?  Because he’s found his audience.  His readers like that kind of stuff.
For all the hoity-toity lectures we get about the sophistication of the audience, most folks just want to read a good story.  Getting too flowery or pompous turns off the masses, and that leads to no book sales.  You have to tweak and grow as your writing grows, but don’t stray too far from who you are.  Remember, even experts can be wrong, and writers like Koontz prove them wrong every day.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Daydreaming


Daydreaming is held in some contempt in society.  After all, by staring into space and just thinking, you look remarkably like you’re just goofing off, and goofing off is frowned upon.  You’re not being productive!  You’re lazy!
Whatever.
Daydreaming is an essential part of being a writer.  That other people don’t get this is their problem, and one we have to learn to ignore.  How are we to come up with great story ideas if we can sit there and think.  Sometimes we get great ideas we can play with, and other times we have nothing come, but that doesn’t mean either way we spend our time is any less meaningful than the other.  When I’m daydreaming, I never know when that next idea will assert itself, so I never know if five more minutes staring into space will be wasted time or the most productive time of the day.
When we’re kids, teachers, parents, and other assorted “grownups” discourage us from daydreaming.  Get to your math homework! they’ll yell.  Or You’ve got piano lessons!  Most adults seem compelled to shut down daydreaming whenever they encounter it, as if its very existence is an affront to the established order.
However, we have to daydream.  It’s not lazy – it’s creative.  I daydream on walks with my dogs, while I’m sitting down to dinner, or whenever I need a break from my boss(I look interested in what he’s saying, but my mind is fighting battles through some far off nebula).  This is how I develop my stories.
So don’t let anyone tell you not to daydream.  Sure, there are times to not engage in it – during the conduct of open heart surgery is probably not the best time – but it’s not the wasted enterprise some would have us believe.  In fact, it’s as much a part of being a writing as, you know, actual writing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Your Own Universe

I was in a bookstore the other day, browsing the titles as I'm wont to do, and something struck me.  The Star Wars section was on display, still reveling in the success of the newest movie, and I realized just how many titles from that universe were out there.

This caused me to wander the store to see just how many other universes were represented.  Let's just say that they are numerous.

The two best known are Star Wars and Star Trek, but they aren't the only ones.  From Dungeons & Dragons to Zorro, the sheer volume of books set in certain universes is staggering.  I started pondering why such a thing would be so enticing.

I get it - setting a story in an already established universe is easier on several fronts.  First, the characters are already written, so you don't have to spend time developing them too much.  Everybody knows who Luke Skywalker is, so you can go right into the story you want to tell.  Second, there's already an established fan base - write a halfway decent story and the fans of that universe will likely buy your work.

However, I dislike this.  Don't get me wrong - there are many stories like this that are pretty good(chief among them, in my opinion, is the Heir to the Empire Trilogy from Timothy Zahn).  Still, as a writer, I find such things limiting.  For one thing, a character's direction is already set, so you can't do things too far out of the ordinary or people will abandon you.  That's the drawback of eschewing character development, that it allows little room for development you might like to see.  Additionally, you have to abide by the rules of that universe.  It's hard to stray too far outside of what's seen as "normal" in such a setting or you'll also be written off.  Finally, in addition to adhering to the general rules of that universe, there are consistency issues that mean you have to know what has happened in that universe so you don't contradict its history(sure, you can do it, but it creates problems of confusion for readers).

Maybe it comes down to a matter of imagination for me.  I feel trapped by working in something someone else made.  I prefer to design my own story and see if the reader will accept it or not.  Bluntly, I view using another's universe as lazy.  Yes, we all want to see what happens in stories we've already taken a shine to, but it takes a great deal less effort to write in one.  Shouldn't we be seeking to set ourselves apart rather than join the faceless morass of other writers?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Lazy Publishers

I've often touted the growing indie movement.  I think it's the wave of the future and that it allows writers to react more to market forces than the oligarchy of traditional publishing.  However, it's having the perverse effect of making traditional publishing both more lazy and more autocratic.

What I mean by that is that while ebooks and technological advances have made indie more viable, they've also helped traditional publishing by eliminating the need for risk taking.  Since many people can achieve success through indie publication, yet still yearn for greater distribution and possibilities from traditional publishing, the traditional houses can sit back and see if an indie book makes waves in the market first before taking the writer on as a client.  They can wait until the public shows interest, and then they can pounce with offers of bookstore displays and high paying advances.  This eliminates the financial risk of pouring resources into an unknown author.

Further, traditional houses can continue to treat newbie writers like crap.  After all, if the newbie doesn't bow down to the demands of the house, that house can just go look in the indie ranks for success.  This Sword of Damocles can force subservience into those so desperate for traditional success that they'll give in to any demand from one of the few remaining traditional publishing houses.

The only counter to this is for indie writers to shun traditional houses unless offers are truly in the favor of the writer.  Traditional houses know the perception most have about how to get rich and famous, and they use that perception to their advantage.  Only if indie writers, and writers chained to traditional houses, understand the power they hold will the power of the traditional house ever be broken.  It's a power balance shift that many don't even know has taken place, or at least not to the degree it has.

Traditional publishing is dying.  But like many behemoths, it's a slow death and the beast still presents the image of vigor.  However, this vigor is an illusion to those who understand it, and it's time we remembered that.  Until we do, traditional houses will have no real incentive to change their habits.  It's time we force that change by holding from them what they need most - our work.