Thursday, April 28, 2016

Laziness


I’ve often said that writing is like going to the gym – once you skip a workout day, it’s easier to skip the next workout day.  With writing, when you decide not to write for a day, or not to write as much, it becomes easier to blow it off the next day.

When I first arrived to my current residence of employment, I was able to write between 15,000 and 20,000 words per week on Fight or Flight.  It was necessary because this was the largest novel, in terms of volume, that I ever attempted, and I had to knuckle down if I wanted it done before I started collecting Social Security.  I’d write 2,000 words four days a week(it takes me about an hour to write 2,000 words if I’m on a roll), and 5,000-6,000 words per day on the weekend.  As such, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  Then I finished that novel…

After finishing a novel that comes in around 220,000 words, I decided to take a break.  I felt burnt out from such a massive undertaking, and I figured a month off would recharge my batteries.  Wrong!  Not writing at all during that month, except for the occasional blog post, atrophied my writing desire.  When I took up my next novel, my prowess wasn’t nearly as high.

This has followed during my days writing my latest novel(which still has no title).  The novel is only 90,000 words in length, and it should’ve been completed by the middle of March.  My goal was a modest 10,000 words per week…mere peanuts compared to what I did for Fight or Flight.  However, while the creative process still flows, breaking the inertia and actually writing has been hard.  I’m lucky to get 10,000 words in a week, and I usually average 6,000-8,000(more often than not being on the low end of that).

The only way I can explain it is that I feel lazy.  Although I’m doing more than I used to, I’m still not back at peak form.  Think of it like you took a month off from working out – at my age, it takes me three times as long just to get back to where I was before I took time off, let alone get in even better shape.
Don’t rush your work, but be cognizant to know that if you stop altogether, starting again is rough.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

To Copyedit Or Not To Copyedit


I’ve listened to a lot of people ask if they really need a copyeditor.  After all, it can be expensive to hire a good one, especially if your novel is large.  Can’t you just look through it yourself, or ask a friend to do it?

Of course you can, but you run the risk of having a poor product if you do.  First of all, don’t do this yourself.  You’re too caught up in your own work and you’ll miss things.  As for asking friends, make sure they’re good(ie, an English teacher).  Getting the guy who fixes your car or the lady who you know reads a lot is a recipe for disaster, because they’re not used to looking only for grammar, much less correcting it.

I think getting a good copyeditor is worth the expense.  Most folks simply aren’t good at grammar, nor are they good at rewording something to meet the standards of good grammar.  You need a set of trained eyes that are not invested in your project to look at it and make sure it’s coherent.  Yes, they may want to correct things you’ve intentionally written poorly for voice or something, but nothing says you have to take all their suggestions.  Further, they might catch what you miss that you didn’t mean to look like a bumpkin over.
You can find a decent copyeditor online, and rates aren’t prohibitive.  If you want to be successful at your business – and this is a business – then find a way.  It will help distinguish your work as being professional.  Yes, you can risk not getting one and rely on your grammatical genius, but you’re taking an awful chance at that point.  Remember, there’s a fine line between bold risk taking and brash overconfidence.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

After Armageddon

I wanted to let everyone know that I completed my 9th full length novel this weekend!  I began working on this story back in January, and it's one of the darker and more unusual books I've written.  I promise that if Salvation Day doesn't get me burned at the stake, this one will.

After Armageddon is the story of what life would be like after the Apocalypse...if Satan wins instead of God.  It posits that the Book of Revelation was nothing more than propaganda designed to convince everyone that God's final victory over the Devil was inevitable and preordained.  This leads to massive overconfidence, and Satan wins in the Megiddo Valley, kills God, and enslaves humanity.  What would like be like in such a shitty circumstance?

The story is a lot more graphic than anything I've ever written, and in more ways than one.  There are horrific descriptions of violence, but it also delves into sexual depravity in ways that made me very uncomfortable writing.  Still, those parts were necessary in order to convey how bad things were.  Mankind basically became demon playthings, and lofty language and literary allusion just doesn't cut it in that scenario.

It's not all bad.  The spark of humanity that hopes, loves, and leans on each other comes alive to stand up to the demons and try to find a way out.  None of it is easy, and it's certainly not clean, but it flows within the confines of the universe it's set in, and it gets its point across.

I originally wanted to finish this story about a month ago, but things got in the way, and I dragged my feet as I seem wont to do sometimes.  But it's done.  It's also the last novel I will write for a while.  My first novel, Akeldama, will be out in May of 2017, and I need to devote my energy to getting it published.  While I may write the occasional short story - likely leading to a short story collection for book #10 - grand stories are going to have to take a backseat for a bit so I can actually get stuff in front of an audience.

Besides, I'm beat.  Nine novels in seven and a half years is enough for me to have earned a break.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Story Control


This post is for the writers in the audience, because most “regular” people won’t understand.  I’m going to sound snobbish and elitist and like I’m trying to be an arteest.  You know – we’ve all encountered people from one industry or another that tells us that there’s something about their work that we normal folks find off-putting.  With writers, it’s the notion that the story writes itself to a large extent.

Non-writers don’t get this.  “What the hell are you talking about?” they’ll stammer.  “You wrote the damn story – of course you control it.”

Anyone who has written more than a three page story for their high school English class knows that that’s not always true.  As the writer, we have a general outline of where we want the story to go, but stories often surprise us.  Characters come up with the strangest twists, and the action often leads us to an unexpected rabbit hole.  We think the hero and his girlfriend are destined for marriage, only to discover that the female partner who led him to the break in the case has a lot more heat with him than we thought.  Or maybe the explosion that destroyed the enemy’s camp didn’t take out the enemy leader because that person was off on a walk at the time.

Whatever it is, it sounds insane.  How can we not control what we’re putting on paper of our own free will?  Well, most of us see the story as a movie in our head first, and as we jot it down, the movie changes(something that’d be really cool if it happened when watching a movie in the theater) – we’re just along for the ride.  As a new plot point develops or a background character becomes more important than originally envisioned, the novel changes from where we thought it was going.  Yes, it can be frustrating at times, but I’ve learned it’s best to just let it change, for trying to shoehorn your original story into one that no longer works is a recipe for literary disaster.

So when your friends tell you that they don’t get how your book just suddenly changed, smile and nod at them, supplying them with whatever stock answer you feel will placate them.  They won’t understand, and trying to explain it to them will make you sound like an effete snob.  Just accept it happens and that no one will know how or why.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Grammar And Spelling Versus Voice

Writing can be so frustrating sometimes because the written word is notoriously bad at conveying all of the non-written signals we use in everyday speech to convey meaning.  We lose tone of voice, body language, eye contact, volume, etc.  In order to make up for that, we use grammar.  For example, since I wanted to convey a pause both in that introductory phrase and prior to the next clause in this sentence, I use commas to denote meaning.  If I want someone to know I’m really excited, I use an exclamation mark!  Or perhaps…I just want to slow things down…so I’ll use ellipses.

I think most of us, or at least those of us with a smidge of talent, understand that good grammar is a necessary part of writing.  The same goes for gud speling.  If I didn’t right to much gud, you people might wunder if I no wut i talking about.
However, there’s also a fine line to walk with this stuff, and that comes into play when we want to convey the voice or our work.  Sometimes the rules of grammar…just.  Don’t.  Work.  Perhaps a character is talking and I want to convey that they’re a speed talker and that they rarely pause for breath between thoughts so that maybe the reader can get a sense of just how frantic that person is.  I might also seek to convey a person’s accent through speech, like how if I bee talkin’ and stuff fer someone in da back woods of Tennessee.  Obviously many of these things work best when incorporated into dialogue, but there can be times when the voice of the story is important to change up as well.
Just make these kinds of things the exception rather than the rule, and don’t confuse poor grammar or spelling with the way you want to tell the story.  Voice has to have elements of both grammar use and the way you break up the narrative(use of dialogue versus action, how overwrought you want your action, etc.).  As always, I’m telling you to be balanced and aware.  You need to know the rules of grammar, as well as how to spell things, so that you can make a conscious decision to break those rules when it’s appropriate.  To me, that’s the difference between a poor writer and a great storyteller.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Are You Advertising Or Are You Annoying?


As much as we’d like to think that someone will magically discover our talent and shove millions of dollars into our faces, the fact is that the real world doesn’t work that way.  Writing a novel is actually the easy part – getting folks to read it is hard.

That means we have to find ways to market ourselves to our potential audience.  The advent of social media networks like Facebook and Twitter make that a lot easier than it used to be.  There are even writer friendly social media outlets like Goodreads or associated writing forums.  And the temptation can be great to plaster yourself and your work all over these things.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know the difference between getting your name out there and coming off as a spotlight seeking douchebag.  I’ve seen writers – and painters, and computer programmers, and fashion designers, and prep football prospects – lose no opportunity to tell EVERYONE THEY KNOW that they’re a writer and that they’ve written a novel.

“Hi, glad you joined my friends’ list – did you know I wrote a novel called Firestruck?”

“Hi, I know we’re talking about your family’s vacation photos, but I’d like to butt in and remind you to go on Amazon and review my new novel, Kick ‘Em In Da Nuts.”

“Hi, everyone else on Twitter and Facebook are talking about that terrible Paris terrorist attack, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to let you know I’ve started to write a new book called Giggles of Sadness.”

Yes, at this point, nearly everyone is picturing you at the end of a rope, preferably while dangling over a pit of hungry alligators.

On the main social media accounts, set up a page specifically designed for your writing career, and update it at least once a week, but don’t go shoving it in people’s faces.  Maybe on your personal page, mention it once a month.  If someone asks, obviously be ready to talk about it without seeming like a cult member.  If you comment on a message board about a writing topic or a novel, put your website on your signature, but don’t make it the main thrust of your post(let the strength of your argument intrigue others).
The last thing you want to do is create a backlash to your work, and annoying people could do that.  If people feel revulsion when they see your name and/or picture, you’re doing it wrong.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Don't Rush


Having a set of goals as you write your novel is a good thing.  I’ve spoken previously about how I view two writing “seasons” per year, and I try to stick to that.  However, don’t get so caught up in that kind of schedule that you let it impede the creative process.

I recently caught myself in that trap.  I had pledged to get 10,000 words per week done on my new novel.  Unfortunately, the combination of work and literary demands created an exhausting climate that stressed me out, and that was becoming apparent in what I wrote.  I was putting down drivel on paper so that I could simply meet my word count goal.

Luckily, I snapped out of my melancholy and remembered that the only pressure that existed was what I put on myself.  My creative process was suffering, so I pulled back and decided that the weekly word count goal, while nice, was a bit arbitrary.  What good was a word count goal if the words created sucked?

I’m about a week and a half behind my original goal of having my novel complete by the end of March, and I think it will be much better because I took pressure off myself.  I have no major literary commitments afterwards – in fact, I’m taking some time off and will only write the occasional short story – so why was I in a rush?

The creative process is fragile, and it doesn’t operate well under stress.  Yes, you have to push through sometimes, but don’t let stress crush it.  It will only make things harder since you’ll have to rewrite garbage made during that time.  Why write twice when you can calm down and get it closer to right the first time?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Shuddering


There are times our stories go places we wish they wouldn’t.  Notice that I didn’t say they’d go where they shouldn’t, for a story will often dictate its own terms, only that you wish it wouldn’t.  That’s because it can sometimes create situations where the writing is much harder.

I believe I’ve said in the past that there are things I’m uncomfortable writing.  In Salvation Day, when I had to write about a family murder to show a villain’s depravity, I barely made it all the way through.  And in my latest work, there’s a great deal more sex than I’m used to writing.

Don’t get me wrong – I have as active a fantasy imagination as the next guy, but I’m not the one to usually verbalize it.  I keep those kinds of things to myself.  I don’t know if it was the way I was raised or if it’s just the way I’m made, but expressing those kinds of thoughts in a way that others would find appealing isn’t my style.  However, in order for this latest book to have an impact, there are times I have to present it, and I have to present it in graphic detail.  So I shudder as I write.

That’s not always a bad thing.  As one does something more and more, one grows more comfortable with it.  I’m sure there will come other times during my writing career that I’ll have to detail that which I’m uncomfortable with, and knowing how I handled it before will help me do it better next time.  In the end, it’s all about painting a picture to entrance the audience, and a shaky picture caused by shuddering isn’t one a reader always wants to see.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Happily Rejected


As I move forward to my first actual publication by May of 2017, I reflect on what might’ve been.  When I began this whole process, I was focused on getting published by a traditional publisher.  I had grand visions of being on a display stand in Barnes & Noble with some big name publisher’s brand on my inside cover.  Knowing I needed a literary agent, I started querying and sending out notes, hoping to get picked up and linked in with a Big Six(at that time, it was six, not five) Publisher.

Of course now I’m glad that never worked out.  The more I researched traditional publishing, the more I disliked the way the odds were skewed in the favor of the publishers.  With slow payment schedules, small royalties, rights of first refusal, and fixed numbers in terms of amount in print, it became clear that I would have almost no power over my own career unless I hit the lottery and became the next JK Rowling.

But what to do?  I’d grown up thinking that self-publishing was for losers who weren’t good enough to get picked up.  Well, it turned out I had a very 1990s view of self-publishing and that things had changed dramatically in the last ten years.  Not only were self-published, or indie published, books now on the same level of quality as traditionally published works, the advent of ebooks made access to the market a snap.  We could remove the middle man from the process and access customers directly.
Needless to say that I’ve never been so happy to have been rejected by people in all my life.  I now shudder to think what would’ve happened had one of those first few agents I queried signed me.  I’d have gone blindly and naively into the business and gotten disillusioned very quickly.  Now I have more control over my career.  If it fails, it’s on me, but if it succeeds, that’s also on me.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lightning In A Bottle


Football player Marshall Faulk once said that he hated breaking a long run early in a game because it made him tired the rest of it.  Maybe that’s the way we writers are if we come up with an exceptional effort on one of our first attempts – it affects the rest of our career.

I say this because that’s what Salvation Day did for me.  As I’ve mentioned many times, Salvation Day was by far my best effort.  I wrote it shortly after reading The Shining by Stephen King, and in the intro to that book, King talks about how most successful writers expand their writing repertoire very early in their careers by stretching beyond what they thought they could do.  Reading this, and then writing Salvation Day, I felt pretty good about myself, figuring I’d found “it.”

What I failed to realize was that I’d captured lightning in a bottle with Salvation Day, and I’ve been trying to do the same ever since, all while realizing just how rare that was.  That’s not to say I haven’t written some novels I feel very good about, just that I haven’t been in a zone like that since.

So how do we go beyond that one-time feeling?  This isn’t one of those times where I ask a rhetorical question only to answer it with aplomb – I really want to know if anyone has insight into this, because the longer one goes without recapturing that result, the more it becomes apparent just how rare that was.  It’s akin to an NFL rookie who makes it to the Super Bowl in his first year – he simply assumes that was the norm and he can look forward to going every other year.  However, as a career goes on, he figures out that getting to the Super Bowl is pretty special, so he should savor it if it ever comes around again.
Go out and find your lightning, and when you find it, enjoy the charge it gives you.