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>Tired Writer Syndrome and The Glass Slide

>As it’s probably becoming apparent, I’m going through one of those times in life in which, though nothing particularly bad – knock on wood – is happening, one doesn’t quite know whether to scratch oneself or dig a deep hole in the ground and hide.
The last week has had two sick teen boys, workmen coming to fix the downstairs bathroom, two books that not only are due at the same time, but are insisting on coming out at the same time AND a con approaching – Penguicon in Romulus MI at which I am Guest of Honor this coming weekend – necessitating packing and all this.
This seems like a wonderful time to talk about two perennial issues of writers – at least of writers who also have to live (and make a living) in the real world.
This week I was asked by one of my fledgelings how one ever found time for writing. Well, he didn’t ask it, exactly, but that was the idea behind his probing. After all, he is in graduate school and he has no.time.at.all.
I run into this all the time with son number one and son number two, who are gifted artists and writers in their own right but who rarely “find the time” and are always “terribly busy.” Of course, those two with the artlessness of teens can often be found playing computer games hours a day. I’m sure that my fan/fledgeling is a better steward of his time. Almost anyone is. But life has a way of taking up all your time. It’s why they call it life, after all, not that thing you do when you have time.
I’ve found over time that it’s all too easy to find writing squeezed out of your life by the most trivial of concerns. As the mother of two kids, owned by five cats plus two and having the normal duties of home maintenance and cleaning, I can always find something that needs to be urgently done. Right now. Instead of sitting at the keyboard.
It’s all too easy to give in to this, and I’d like to say I’m strong – most of the time. The truth is that I’m not, and I let real life TM interfere all too many times. There are days I get nothing done in writing. And when I’m managing to do the writing, or on deadline, the house goes to h*ll and I hate that.
There is no magic answer. The best I’ve found is that “you make time for writing and you stick to it.”
The downside of this, when you have full time jobs, or other writing jobs, or children, or a family, is that you can fall prey to “tired writer syndrome.”
In its milder manifestation, you’ll find yourself telling what should be shown or using a lot of passive voice.
In the worst cases, the story will read – quite without your knowing how – as if you were floating on a sheet of glass above characters and situations. The only cure for that is to go back in and BE there when you write it, no matter how tired, no matter how difficult it is.
No one said this job was easy. You sit at the keyboard, and you open a vein. Ink must continue flowing, even when it should be dry. And if this is what you want to do more than anything in the world, you manage it. Somehow.

>Sarah’s will be here soon

>Good morning, this is the evil mini-onion. Sarah is running late this morning, but she will have a post ready later today. She apologizes, saying she’s been overtaken by preparations for Penguicon, the arrival of the tile guys and the incontinent geriatric cat.

Please check back later. Sarah promises to join us just as soon as she can. Thanks.

>Richard’s Writing Tips

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(Richard’s book that won the Golden Aurealis)

I’m glad I only have to do a blog once a week. My Tuesday slot comes around so quickly I’m left wondering what to write about.

I don’t want to blog about how I spent all day running after my children, driving them to and from jobs and Uni, and doing the shopping and now I feel flat.

I don’t want to write about how I spent all day doing a final draft of my book, only to discover a flaw in the plotting, so I had to go back 200 pages and rewrite key scenes to explain a certain character’s motivation and now I feel exhausted.

Today I have something upbeat to write about. My friend, Richard Harland, has created a web site with 145 pages of writing tips and put them up here.

Richard writes Speculative Fiction, with fifteen books out and his latest book, ‘WorldShaker’, due out soon. He’s been nominated for Aurealis Awards several times and won several times. (I can’t remember how many, but he did win a Golden Aurealis).

The tips range across all levels from basic to advanced. There’s (i) Good Writing Habits, getting feedback and revising; (ii) Action, Setting, Dialogue and presenting Inner Thought; (iii) creating Characters and character’s point of view; (iv) Story from beginning to climax, narrative momentum and pacing; (v) Language, style, first-person narration, names and titles; and, last but not least, (vi) Getting Published – how the publishing system works, how to break into it and what happens afterwards.

It is the sort of thing you can dip into when you feel you need inspiration, or maybe to clarify a point.

Very generous, Richard!

>Death by Numbers

>Following on the thread started by others (thanks John and Rowena), it’s not only who would be a writer, but who could be (and who could keep being one) and why. You see, anyone can write. And anyone can keep writing. Being published however, is another matter. That’s about numbers sold. Now there are examples of publishers ignoring numbers (I know one of an author getting into the amazon top 100, to have the publisher take her book out of print, and my publisher, Baen, showing faith in an author with lousy numbers, which was well-rewarded later.) but they’re rare, as rare as stories of publishers accepting that not every crash is a driver error (or every win driver skill) There are occassional stories of a publisher admitting the cover sucked, and trying again. It happens and much credit to those with the courage to do this, but generally bad numbers… are bad retail orders. It’s not even that your publisher hates you, or that no-one actually knows a bad cover, bad distribution, poor laydown can sink a good book just as a great cover and great promotion and spend (with the good distro and laydown this creates) can sometimes launch a very mediocre one to success. Of course even that can fail, and that really is driver error. But bad numbers = bad odor clinging to that author’s computer record = bad retail orders next time = death of the author’s career. Now, as Louise pointed out, there can be utter insanity applied to retail orders — and those are still your numbers, nothing you can do about it. (Which affect at worst your career, and at best the re-order status of your book. Low numbers put your ‘name’ into the re-order on demand category, not reorder on sale category of chain retail), and sadly these numbers do principally get dictacted by the chains. To put it comparible fishy terms (for me!), it’s like basing all your fishery quotas on a situation where the fishery is dominated by a couple of companies selling fishmeal – which they catch by purse seine of schools of anchovy on the surface. This would lead you to conclude demersal fish – such as hake – are very rare. In actuality the purse seined fish are overfished and the bottom dwellers abundant — but that’s not how it looks. The numbers -without mathematical correction for factors such as cover, targeting, marketing, distribution, sellthrough (ie. a measure of re-order and distrubtion-cover) – are the equivalent of estimating gut-length by measuring turds. It is true that short guts cannot produce long specimens, but the converse isn’t true. None-the-less, this is the situation right now and new authors need good numbers from chain retail. Which leads me to offer advice I detest (because I blame chain retail for a lot of the problems in publishing and reading, and I am a staunch indie supporter): If you are having a book come out, generate as much public interest as possible, and where possible get your audience to pre-order from chains, as this will affect their initial order numbers, and very possibly the re-order status.
That was distasteful, but had to be said.

>Books — why we buy them and how.

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Louise and Dave’s Posts about genre and sales of hardcover versus paperback books got me thinking about why people buy books and how. So I surveyed the Vision E-list. Since these people are readers and writers of Speculative Fiction, I thought they’d be a good example of dedicated readers.


Here’s a snap shot of readers:


Q: Why do you buy certain books?


Most people buy books on a recommendation or they like the author’s work. Brooke B said she’d buy a book if ‘ the back cover blurb gave me goosebumps’. Lee C is currently buying books to fill in gaps in their reading. And yes, people do browse and buy, after reading the first few pages, then skipping to the last page.


Q: Do you prefer certain genres?


While everyone did have favourite genres, these ranged from two or three related genres, to a broad spectrum, including mysteries, paranormal romances, historical and factual books. In fact, Nicky S described herself as a ‘book omnivore’.


Q: Would you follow a favourite author across genres?


Everyone said they would follow a favourite author across to other genres and Nicky S, bless her, said she has even discovered author’s alternate writing names and hunted up their books!


Q: Do you read books for kids and YA or do you stick to adult books?


Here the split was quite definite, a little less than half read only adult. But, Scott R said, it wasn’t that he didn’t like YA, only that there were so many good adult books around, he didn’t have the time to get through them. The others (slightly more than half) read YA and kids books and loved them. Sally N reads more YA than anything else.


Q: Do you pick a book up because of its cover?


Only two people said no, because they were looking for specific authors and titles. Everyone else said a good cover would prompt them to pick up the book, then it was up to the blurb and the writing to convince them to buy it. Sue B says a bad cover will turn her off looking at a book, and she always reads the first couple of pages anyway. No one would you buy a books for the cover art alone, although Sally N will buy a graphic novel. (Being an artist, I must confess I’ve bought books for the cover alone).


Q: Do you buy most of your books based on the recommendations of friends?(My question was flawed, I should have asked if people had bought some books based on friends’ recommendations).


Satima F said her friends loan books to introduce a new author, or she might borrow a recommended book from the library. Sue B says she always tries to borrow the book first , and has to love it before she will buy it (she’s running out of book shelf space!). Most people would consider a book a friend recommended.


Q: Do you ask bookstore staff for good reads?


I was surprised by the answers to this one, because when I go into our local independent book store (Pulp Fiction), I ask Iain or Ron if there are any interesting books that push the genre, particularly from independent publishers. But most people said they rarely or never ask book store staff for recommendations. Kylie Q found that staff were too busy or didn’t know anything, which is sad. Edwina H said she did read the ‘staff reviews’ on the shelves.


Q: Do reviews (good or bad) prompt you to buy books?


It is just as authors fears. All those review copies our publishers send out don’t reel in the readers. Only a few of the people surveyed would look at book after reading a good review, some actively ignore reviews. Graham S took an interest in reviews but only for scientific non-fiction. And S Wilson would buy a book if the review revealed interesting details.


Q: Would you wait for a paperback version or would you buy hardcover?


Most people were like Karen T, who said she would usually wait and wouldn’t buy hardcover unless she wanted it NOW.


Q: Do you prefer hardcover to paperback?


Four out of every five people said no. Although, Nicky S said she preferred hardcover because HC were easier to read while lying in bed. Edwina H said she preferred paperback because they were more portable.


Would you buy book two of a trilogy if you didn’t have book one?


Many people would definitely not buy book two if they didn’t have book one, or would only buy it by accident. Brooke B said she would buy book two if she was sure she could still get book one. And Edwina H would check to see if book two had a discrete story, before buying it. AJ Kay would buy book two if it was on special, then wait until they could get book one before reading them in sequence.


Q: Would you wait for all of a trilogy to come out before buying it?


Most people were willing to read the books as the trilogy came out. S Wilson would buy book one, read it and feel frustrated until book two came out. Really dedicated readers like Scott R would buy the trilogy, but wouldn’t read it until they had all three books. I have to admire his strength of will.


Q: Would you prefer an omnibus edition of a trilogy?


Most people wouldn’t buy an omnibus because the printing is too small and they get sore wrists because the book is too heavy. I must admit I’ve bought collected works in omnibus form but these tend to be classic editions.


Q: Do you visit independent books stores?


Nearly everyone visited independent book stores. Edwina H preferred them because they had better range and the staff had a good knowledge of their stock. Some people didn’t visit independent book stores due to distance. Kylie Q would have to catch two buses to get to one. Graham S lived even further. His local book store is 150 kilometres away. And Dave F had to drive for 5 hours to get to his nearest independent books store.


Q: Do you mainly buy from chain book stores?


Brooke B confessed she worked for a chain store and gets a discount, so she buys her books there. And about half the people surveyed bought most of their books from chain stores.


Q: Do you buy your books mostly online and get them delivered?


Half the readers don’t buy online. The other half do, especially if they are after something that is hard to get. Living 150 Ks from a book store, Graham S buys on line and gets his books delivered. Sally N orders books on line because she likes looking forward to something fun in her letter box. And Lee C, who prefers audio books, buys these online and downloads them.

>Who in the name of sanity would be a writer

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One of the paradoxes of our time is that the world is full of people who want to be fiction authors but fewer and fewer people want to read stories. Jim Baen always used to point out that he worked in a dyeing industry.

To take the first point first, so to speak. What are the motivations of the would-be author? Is it money? We have all read about the vast fortunes paid to JK Rowling and Dan Brown but these people are the literary equivalent of lottery winners. It ain’t going to happen to me, you, or anyone we know anytime soon. I probably earn less than minimum wage for my writing.

Another carrot is the prospect of status. Authors are respected intellectuals, aren’t they? Well no, actually they aren’t. I have lost track of the number of people who look condescendingly on my work. It is not literary so it must be worthless. A chap who writes a novel consisting of the word ‘crap’ tastefully arranged in patterns on each page is an arteeste. The rest of us are hacks. As a BBC producer told me, ‘anyone can write fantasy because it’s easy’. He went on to explain that I should write comedy about three generations of women who live together without men. This was the current fashionable BBC sitcom. It disappeared without trace shortly afterwards. This talentless, Oxbridge, twit (bitter? moi?) went on to reach the very highest levels of the BBC. Who said the Old Boy Network is dead. So my advice is to forget status. You won’t get any as an author. I guess you have heard about the starlet that was so stupid that she slept with the writer.

How about fame? Forget it. Performers become famous for their beauty or style, even occasionally for their wit, but writers – never! Yes, yes, JK Rowling is famous but she won the lottery.

So why do it? The only answer I can give is that I love to tell stories. If I make a few bob as well then that is all to the good but the real kick is when I entertain someone and give them pleasure.

>Writer’s resources, part one

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By Jennifer Stevenson

I collect old editions of thesauri, phrasebooks, familiar quotations, and weird specialty lexicons. Some just sit on my shelf, unloved. Others get used every day. Here’s some favorites, many of which you can get very reasonably at online used book outlets.

Best all time favorite:

1. Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, by Peter Mark Roget, M.D., F.R.S.
Grosset & Dunlap New York, revised 1935 edition

This book will not offer “text” as a verb. However, it’ll give you words you wished you knew and never knew existed. Handle it gently. The pages are brittle.

2. Barlett’s Familiar Quotations, by John Bartlett. Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Toronto, thirteenth and Centennial edition.

I have both the thirteenth (1955) and the sixteenth (1992) editions. Yes, they’re different. Just browsing gives you an idea what sort of education the author/editors felt the users would have, or would want to give the impression they have.

3. The Big Book of Filth: 6500 sex slang words and phrases, Jonathan Green ed. Cassell, London, 2002 paperback.

Unbelievably handy for someone whose characters from 1795 through 2010 talk dirty.

4. 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley, Israel Regardie, ed. Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1988.

When you need a name and slash or function slash appearance for a demon, alien, vampire, or just a bizarre character. Superior to, but not by any means completely overlapping with:

5. A Dictionary of Angels: including the fallen angels, by Gustav Davidson. The Free Press, New York, 1971

This is grossly historically inaccurate but full of fun stuff. I use it for a fantasy fiction idea source, definitely not for nonfiction work.

These three have lots of overlap but it’s hard to say which I like better:

6. A Dictionary of Euphemisms, by R.A. Holder. Oxford University Press, 1996.

7. A Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk, by Hugh Rawson. Crown, New York, 1980.

8. The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: Buckish slang, university wit and pickpocket eloquence, by a member of the Whip Club. Studio Editions Ltd., London, 1994.

The third is the real goods, supplying authentic English Regency slang, much of it impolite, from altitudes to zedland.

9. Butler’s Lives of the Saints, concise edition, Michael Walsh, ed. Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1985.

This is the short version. Good for many things. Think about it.

10. Backstage Handbook, by Paul Carter. Broadway Press, Louisville KY, 1994, third edition.

When I need stagehand geek stuff and my spousal unit isn’t around to tell me the answers.

11. A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve, F.R.H.S., Mrs. C.F.Leyel, Ed. Dorset Press, New York, 1992.

Written in 1931, edited, in 1973. Handy if you want to poison someone in the country.

12. A Pictorial Encyclopedia of Fashion, by Ludmila Kybalová, Oldga Herbenová, and Milena Lamarová, translated by Claudia Rosoux. Hamlyn Publishing Group, New York, 1968.

Has over 1,000 pictures, all useful, although I could wish for more underwear.

Sometimes you can find gems like these in the dusty, unloved section of a used book store and so save on shipping & handling. But when you gotta know what your Regency earl had under his inexpressables and what he called it, and you need to know before your galleys go in on Tuesday, there’s nothing like the online outlets.