Okay so I was skiving today. Or diving. Much the same thing. A hard day at the office, not. I should have been working, Barbs just gave me her edits of TOM. But instead, carpe divem – the weather was good the season opened yesterday. It’s still rather physically tiring. I’m an old diver, and you only have one kind of diver after fifty years at it, and that’s a pessimist, at least by preparation (yes, and stupid. But young divers are stupid too, but can be optimistic.). All the others are dead or have sensibly gone on to play golf or something, having had one of those moments you normally need to take bowel-prep for before a Colonoscopy for. Much the same is true of trad rock-climbers, so I got a double dose.
That’s a 5 pound spiny lobster I took out of a cave 30 feet down today. Yes, I am claustrophobic.
One day I may well die down there, having picked on just too narrow an underwater cave to squirm into after a spiny lobster, or have my equipment fail, or just ask too much of my body. But in the meanwhile… I am a hunter-gatherer. I love my diving, and I’d rather die down there being what I am, than not. One day my health might not permit it. I might listen. I might be forced to.
Now this trip is mildly different to many others, as it was on my little old boat – a Zodiac so old it just about needs a zimmer frame (it is older than me) with the compressor I imported from the US (half the local price but good quality, because you cannot skimp on air.) and a far too small outboard I repaired – everything is scavenged, fixed and made from scrap, bought by conserving pennies, second or third or fourth hand. It’s all carefully checked, maintained, cleaned – because pessimist… It’s not the boat or the gear that my richer friends have and can afford. I can’t go as far with it, or catch as much. There’s a huge amount more work involved, for me. I’m a reasonably popular crewman – and I’ll get sites (a place = site on a boat) to fish or dive often. Minimal expense, some reward. Of course, the boat owners get a share of my catch for that, and my labor, and knowledge. I am a more successful fisherman than I am a diver, as local knowledge counts a lot more underwater.
But I can go when I can go, when I choose to go. This is very like being able to bring out your own books. It’s a lot of hard work, you will need to acquire a load of new skills, and quality costs, and there are some things you just can’t not spend on. You can be clever about it, spend less, and still get quality. You may not go as far, or sell as much. But, reality bullet – 1) you can’t always get a publisher to take you. 2) They don’t actually DO all that much for everyone. Oh yes, if you’re a darling they paid x million for, they do a lot. If you’re a minimum advance noob… they might do something for your ego. Will do some work on the cover. Not a lot else. It’s over to you to do the promotion. Quite possibly do a lot of the proofing. The distribution they offer will be not a lot up on ‘buy online’ – brick and mortar stores especially for noobs and even midlisters are not major display outlets.
It’s worth at least being able – and willing to push your own book out, especially if you have a following of some kind, but even if not, you can build one. It’s hard work, but may be better than no fish… uh readers at all. And if it is yours you will be more careful about putting it together, checking, maintaining etc. than any publisher ever. Well, it’s that or let your optimism kill your effort and quite possibly a good book.
Talking of pessimists-by-preparation, John Scalzi (and I paraphrase, I am too lazy to look it up) tweeted the other day “Pro tip for writers, don’t abuse authors or their work. They’ll remember you.”
A lot of us were very amused by this. It’s good advice. But it was coming from someone who has regularly done the opposite. Was he expressing regrets? Wishing he’d learned this earlier? Passing it on to his editor or Irene Gallo (who called Jim Butcher, among others, a bad author) or various puppy kickers? Commendable! Puzzling, if overdue. Still, good pessimist-by-preparation advice. Do unto others…
Then it came to me, putting myself inside his character…
It’s a threat. They can terribly effective if you do them well, Slartibartfast said.
It’s different when he or his friends do it, obviously. We are to respect them, not conversely.
I’m a very minor pro, and my tips are probably worth precisely what you pay for them. But here is mine: Pro tip for writers. Learn to put yourself in the shoes, thoughts and headspace of people totally unlike you. Learn to write from their perspective. A great deal of TOM is written from a cat’s perspective. Some of DOG AND DRAGON is written from the sheepdog’s perspective. JOY is from a spinster urban priest’s perspective. If you can’t do this, you may have one or two good books in you – but essentially you’re writing one character, yourself, and those who are very like you. Unless that’s exceptionally appealing… people get a bit sick of it.
Even if you detest those other people who see the world differently, and wish nothing but ill on them, and plan to destroy them… you’ll write it a lot better understanding what they do and feel and why they think or act as they do.
Now here’s your little exercise in putting yourself into an obnoxious Monkey’s headspace and character. Do you think threats work well on someone like me? 😉