Author Archives: accordingtohoyt

About accordingtohoyt

I am a novelist with work published in science fiction, fantasy, mystery and historical "novelized biography". I also write under the names Elise Hyatt and Sarah D'Almeida. http://sarahahoyt.com/

Gripping

Recently I was trying to talk to a friend who was one of the beta readers on a novel, along with a dozen other people.

My friend was the only one who returned the book with “needs to be completely rewritten.  This is not a novel.”  It appears everyone else returned it with “not my thing, but it is very well written.”

Of course, under the Sarah rule of thumb, if only one person complains you ignore him/her and my friend was in near hysterics because this person, who is a mutual friend, will now think she’s being evil or has it in for the writer, or something.

The catch there is that my friend is the only writer in the bunch of beta readers.

I was reminded of this yesterday as someone dropped by my blog to chide me for a typo (would you believe, a green grocers apostrophe? Yep, it’s one of my pet peeves, too, but the fingers have a mind of their own.) He said he normally wouldn’t have mentioned anything, but the author is an author, and a well-regarded one (that last was news to me, but okay.)

It brought home to me again that writers talking about writing, and lay people talking about writing mean completely different things.

First, typos happen. I have a friend who used to work for a scientific publisher, as the head of a team of copy editors.  Because he’s very exact, he had each of his team initial each paragraph after they proofed it.  And yet, there would still be typos when it got to him.  This is because humans don’t have it in them to be exact, and because typing is largely muscle memory.  In my case, I’ve determined I type by taking dictation from my head.  If I’m tired, I started exchanging words that sound alike to me (because accent) like leave and live.  If I’m exhausted my fingers invent their own language.  For instance, the only f sound in the alphabet is ph.  So I phall phatally phorward.  I don’t know why, but my older son has the same issue (can this kind of typo be genetic.)  If I’m TRULY out of it, like at the end of a three-day novel, I type entire sentences in reverse, something I couldn’t do if I TRIED.  My fingers are weird.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

It is a mark of the amateur novelist that there will be no typos at all in the manuscript.  This is because the manuscript has been gone over a hundred times.  It is also the mark of the amateur novelist that there will be no life in the manuscript.  This is because the manuscript has been gone over a hundred times.

However, when you have first readers who aren’t writers, you need to be alert to “what they think we do” (like those posters with, you know, what my mom thinks I do, what I really do, etc.)  The general public thinks the first qualification of a professional writer is to be sort of a super spelling and grammar person.  We are extremely good with written language.  We never make a mistake!

(At that you should be grateful, because now we have computers, and before that typewriters.  My grandfather, otherwise an intelligent man, once told me that I’d never be a writer, because my handwriting was impossible to decipher.  Apparently, in the times before typewriters — in Portugal, at least — we were also supposed to be expert calligraphers.)

In fact there is a not inconsequential overlap between writing fiction and dyslexia.  No one is absolutely sure why, but there is.  As in, more of us are dyslexic than of the general public.  Also, in matters of grammar and punctuation, we are much like the rest of the public.  We’re often uncertain where commas should be, and each of us has a theory of how to apply them.  Except me, of course, I missed punctuation day in all seven languages, so I punctuate by guess and golly.

Because I’m a writer, and writers have fledgelings while they’re still fledgelings themselves, as we all trudge around looking for someone with just a little bit more of a clue to show us an inch more of the way towards craft mastery, I’ve read manuscripts at all levels of professsionalism, from raw beginner to best sellers (yeah, I have bestselling friends.  Yeah, sometimes they too want to know if a scene or a chapter, or a plot works before mailing it in.)  Typos, grammar mistakes, dropped words and haphazard commaing (totally a word) happen at all levels.

However, when readers-who-aren’t-writers tell you “it’s very well written” or “it’s beautifully written” what they mean in fact, is that they found no typos or grammar mistakes.

If you let yourself be lulled into a sense of false security by this, and slap your manuscript up on Amazon, you’ll be riding for a fall.  You could have written how to boil cabbage for 400 pages, but provided all your letters are in the right place, and your punctuation works, amateurs or lay people will tell you “it’s beautifully written.”  In fact your manuscript could BE boiled cabbage.  They’ll still tell you it’s beautifully written provided it accords with the rules of the English language.  And, by the way, in passing, yeah, that can be a problem too.  If you’re writing dialogue, or first person, or whatever, sometimes you have to break the grammatical rules for it to sound “alive.”  People do talk in sentence fragments and run on sentences ALL THE TIME.

But the part you should pay attention to is “it wasn’t my type of thing.”  If a group of readers who have enjoyed your work in the past are all telling you that, no matter how grammatical your work is, you’ve misfired.

Your job is not to make sure every comma is in place, there are no spurious apostrophes, and no letter got misstyped.  Your job is to take the reader on a journey of the mind.  Your job is to make sure people live through the story, ideally as vividly as if it happened to them.

To mind the commas and the periods, the articles and the conjunctions is your copy editor’s job.

Your job is to start with a gripping sentence, then introduce details of your world as the story unrolls, and do it so sneakily, so stealthily, so exactly right, that people are captured in the story and would rather continue reading than eat, sleep or make love.

Your job is to be gripping.  Leave the copy-editors to take care of the typos.  You are the writer, and only you can weave the spell that will make readers live in your world for a little while and care about non-existent people as though they were their dearest friends.

THAT is a “beautifully written” novel.

Now go do that.

 

 

 

 

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It’s A Job – Christopher Nuttall

*This is Sarah — my being very ill over the last few years caused me to lose a lot of my professional habits.  Regaining them is harder than acquiring them the first time, so listen to the man.  However this trick of taking a week off between books is new to me.  When my last book dragged and I kept getting ill, several friends recommended I take a week off between books.  I’ve just finished the second book of the year, two months late. The temptation is to roll right over to the next one.  I’m trying not to.  This time I’m trying to take a week off from writing.  Of course this means doing work on my hobby which at this time in my life seems to be being a wife and mother.  (It used to be full time but the kids are grown and we only have one sort of in the house.) So I’m doing spring cleaning and going over my edited manuscripts so I can put stuff that reverted back up for sale and getting websites designed and back up, after we changed providers.  Light work.  What is the difference between that and a normal workday?  The difference is that when I woke up this morning and was really tired, I had the option of rolling over and going back to sleep.  I didn’t DO it, but the option was there. Normally it isn’t, because it’s a job.  You don’t say “Today I don’t feel like going to the office.”  And neither do I.-SAH*

 

It’s A Job – Christopher Nuttall

 

As I may have mentioned before, I get asked a lot of questions about how I write – what’s the big secret.  And I say, as I always do, that the big secret is that you need to work hard, that you have to treat your writing like a job.

I’ve had a lot of interesting responses to that answer over the last few years.  Some people – mainly other writers – have agreed with me.  Others, people who aren’t writers or don’t see their writing as anything more than a hobby, have disagreed with me.  I devalue writing, it seems, by classing it as work.  I understand that attitude, but I don’t agree with it.  Here’s why.

There are generally three kinds of authors in the world; the wannabe, the hobbyist and the professional.

The Wannabe wants to be a writer.  He or she will happily tell you about their great idea that will sell a thousand copies and bring in a million bucks, but – for some strange reason – their portfolio is a little light.  They will probably never have completed a manuscript, perhaps, or they’ll talk for hours about how something they wrote was picked up in a minor publication you’ve never heard of.   In short, the Wannabe wants to be a writer, but is unable or unwilling to do what it takes.

The Hobbyist has a day job.  He goes to work, 9-5 (or whatever) and then comes home, where he sits down at the computer and churns out a few hundred words.  It doesn’t matter to him (much) if he loses a day because he’s tired – writing is his hobby, not his job.  Quite a few authors are hobbyists; they’ve written a few books, but they’re not bringing in enough cash to justify quitting their day job and writing full time.

The Professional also has a day job – it’s called writing.  Writing is his sole source of income – he needs to bring in enough cash to avoid having to find a second job.  And so the professional has to treat his writing as a job.  You cannot take more than a few days off, at a regular job, without your boss giving you the stink-eye and threatening your career.  Writing is the same, only you’re your own boss.  You have to force yourself out of bed and write because no one else is going to do it for you.  Even my wife doesn’t make me work.

A writer who wants to be a Professional has to treat his writing as a job.  I cannot repeat that enough.  He has to have the discipline to work every day, to overcome minor setbacks and writer’s block, to start a project and carry it through to the end.  He doesn’t get to goof off in front of the computer, any more than the average office worker gets to use Facebook more than a few times during the day.  (My old workplace was death on Facebook.)  He has to work.

The writer is his own boss, but also his own business manager (unless he happens to really hit it rich, whereupon he can hire a business manager.)  He must handle everything from hiring cover artists and editors to promotion and doing his tax returns.  (And if he wants to hire an accountant, he has to do the work of hiring one.)  Negotiating with agents and publishers … the writer must do that too.  The writer is fundamentally alone in the world.

In addition – and this is something I don’t think most of the Wannabes grasp – he has to maintain his professional reputation.  In a normal job, you don’t want to give your boss a reason to dislike you, let alone fire you and badmouth you to your next set of prospective employers.  In writing, you don’t want to acquire a bad reputation.  There are no shortage of horror stories about ‘indie authors behaving badly.’  If you’re a boastful braggart with nothing to boast about, people will start avoiding you; if you unload your frustration on reviewers who dare to criticize your books, people will start thinking you’re an idiot.   Going to a convention and acting badly – however defined – will impinge on your career.

The writing world is bigger than it used to be, I admit, but someone who makes a bad reputation for themselves will find it haunts them for the rest of their career.

The professional writer has to be professional.  He must write a manuscript, then have it edited … without losing his cool.  He cannot afford to blow up at an editor who is only trying to help, even if the editor is in the wrong.  He must approach his work in a professional manner, considering each suggested change carefully before accepting or rejecting them.  He must read contracts carefully – getting legal advice if necessary – and then stick to them.  A publisher who feels that an author did not live up to his side of the contract is one who will not offer another contract.  (And a publisher who feels that he can take advantage of the author is one to be avoided.)

Above all, a professional writer cannot afford to give up.

As a general rule, my alarm goes off at 7am.  I get up, stumble downstairs and pour coffee down my throat.  Ideally, by 8am I’m in front of the computer working on the first chapter of my current project.  If I’m lucky, my infant son will remain asleep until I’ve finished the first chapter; whenever he wakes, I get coffee for my wife and then feed my son his breakfast until my wife comes down to take over.  And then I get back to work.  I spend between four and five hours a day on my computer, writing roughly 9000 words.

After the first draft is completed, I check through the beta-emails and insert all the changes (or at least the ones I accept) and then send the book to the editors (or to kindle, if it’s a self-published work.)  I generally take a week off between books, but I have to work on plots and suchlike during that time.  I carry a notebook around with me to scribble down ideas, just in case something hits me while I’m out.

How you comport yourself often has a bearing on your career.  Disagreeing with the boss is fine – depending on the boss, I suppose – but being an a-hole about it is not.  Writers have opinions, just like everyone else; writers have every right to express those opinions, without being a-holes about it.  There are quite a few people who disagree intensely with me about politics, but I still get on with them because they’re not a-holes about it.  Picking fights over politics (or whatever) is pointless, when it isn’t destructive.  And picking fights with reviewers just makes you look like an ass.

Professional writers remain focused on their work.  Writing is good, editing is good, designing covers is good (assuming you have the talent to design a good cover.)  Going to conventions and suchlike is useful – I’ve made a few contacts there – but it’s not the be-all and end-all.  I’ve noticed that people pay more attention to your opinions after you’ve achieved something in the field – a couple of people I know seem to spend all their time going to conventions and none actually writing, despite which they still call themselves writers.  Let your work speak for you – offers of publication, collaboration and suchlike come in after you’ve proved you can do the work.

Like I said, professional writing is a job.

There’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about your job – or your writing.  I wouldn’t hold that against anyone.  But enthusiasm has to be tempered with hard common sense.  Most of the mistakes I’ve seen newbie writers make wouldn’t happen if they didn’t let their enthusiasm overwhelm their judgement.  Wannabes become professionals through learning from their mistakes.

It isn’t easy.  There’s a basic rule of thumb that suggests that each writer has to write at least a million words before he or she has anything publishable.  Too many wannabe writers have wasted too much time trying to find shortcuts.  (If you hear a story of someone’s first book selling well, I’d bet good money the author has quite a few unpublished manuscripts in his stable.)  There are too many shortcuts advertised on the web that are – at best – useless; at worst, they’re nothing more than scams.  I understand the desire to find a shortcut, but it doesn’t really exist.  The only way out is through …

 

… And the only way to go through is by treating writing as a job.

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You’re Real

Lapin nain photographe

It is not the first time I heard this argument.  It won’t be the last.  Today, talking to a friend, discussing a definitely unfavorable contract I once signed, I got this answer “I’d sign that.  If I had just one contract, I’d know I was a real writer.”

Seriously?  Seriously, guys, you’re going to go with that?  Do you need your manuscript to be hand-copied by real monks too?  Or do you just need it to be printed in an authentic traditional hand operated press? Or will you just be happy if your books are stitched together by hand?

Look, ascribe this — and the fact this post is really late — to my having a blinding headache and feeling generally like an eighteen wheeler ran me over.  The reason Kate filled in for me yesterday is that I had a doctor’s appointment at eight am.  Today I have antibiotic from hell.  Which is good, because pain from a double ear infection and sinus and throat infection was making me scream and moan, sometimes in public.  (And no, you shouldn’t be worried.  This is all part of the edge I walk, between managing the auto-immune, with meds that knock out my immune system, then managing illness.  A single severely stressful episode (January.) can set it off and it takes months to stabilize.  On the good side, I’ve been doing this my whole life, and I’m still here.)  So, I’m crankier than usual, which is something NO ONE wants to experience.

However, you DO have to understand our field is experiencing a great change because of technology.  If you write non-fic you’re still fine, but if you write fiction, the traditional publishing slots will keep diminishing and traditional publishing will slowly shed anyone not a proven bestseller.  Why?  Because that’s the only way to support their greater expenses in publishing AND to make it worth it for a writer to sign a part of their profit away.  I expect in as many as ten years, as few as three, traditional publishers will be the people already successful authors sign with to go to “the next level.”  At least they will be if both sides are smart.

MOST people, and certainly most midlisters (including me.  I’m not being snooty) will go indie as a matter of course.  And many more of them will thrive than could under the old model.  And readers will be more choice.

BUT I also predict that any number of writers will sign bad contracts with small to medium presses that can do NOTHING they can’t do themselves, but which will happily take 90% of the author’s profit for…

What?

Legitimacy, it seems.  It seems most of you are Velveteen Writers TM.

Well, no one ever accused me of being the blue fairy, but I’m here to make you all Real Writers TM.

How do you know you’re a real writer?

Real writers write, most of them every day or pretty close.  If you’re doing that, you’re already a real writer.

Ah, but you want to be a professional writer.  When is that magical threshold crossed?  Surely you need a contract for that?

Sh*t.  If you need a contract that bad, print one up and sign it.

Professional writers make a significant amount of their living from writing.  If you’re doing that you’re professional.

But what if you’re only making a few hundred a month from writing?

Well, congratulations.  You’re making as much as most traditionally published writers.  With first time advances not at 2 to 3k and a book a year for those without a following, you are probably making as much a year as most “professionals” eligible to join “professional” organizations.  I hereby dub you a professional.  Go get yourself a glass of water and celebrate.  And then work, so you can make more money.

But what if you only make a few hundred a year from writing?  If only you could get some contracts.

Sh*t and shovel!  I spent the first four years as a published author (short stories) making about $200 a year.  It was enough to take the kids out for pizza a few times.  This is known as semi-pro.  It’s also known as apprenticing.

A contract won’t make you real.  Writing more will make you real.  Indie and traditional both thrive on content.  The more you write the more you’ll make.  And in indie, this is all in your hands.  You don’t need anyone to give you permission.

Go write and publish.  Stop obsessing about being real.  I say you’re real, and in proof thereof, I’ve made the following certificate, which you can download, fill in and print at your convenience.

STOP GIVING AWAY part of you income for nothing, particularly to small presses of dubious value.  Write.  Publish.  Repeat.  Become a professional.

certificate of real

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Write Like The Wind

There was a time I wrote a short story in six months.  I took days to write it, weeks to lovingly polish it, MONTHS of agonizing over every word.  Then I sent it out.  And it was rejected.  (All but one, which was accepted eight times, but killed magazines and/or editors. No, I don’t know why.)

Then I attended the Kris and Dean Oregon Coast Professional Writers Workshop (the first) and in those two weeks we HAD to — had to — produce five short stories and two novel proposals.  I did.  Also, at this point all of those short stories have sold.

After that I launched into a year of a short story a week (while writing two novels.)  It was a challenge of my writers’ group.

We didn’t succeed.  I think I ONLY wrote forty short stories.

The funny thing was, recently, reading over my past stories (I was transferring things from diskette) that the quality difference, after about a quarter of a story a week, more or less, was marked, visible and obvious.  I was much better after a quarter of forced production.  And from that point on, pretty much all the short stories have sold.

Novels too started being much faster.  Honestly, if I can stabilize my health at some point, a novel a month is neither unfeasible nor unreasonable.  I once wrote two novels (Heart and Soul and Plain Jane) in a month, and finished another one, though I can’t remember which (might have been one of the Musketeer books.)  In fact the main reason I didn’t write a book a month back when I was healthy was that in traditional publishing there was nothing I could do with that many books.  (Ah, for a way to send my old-self a little note.)

One of you emailed me last week and asked me if writing that fast was some trick that could be taught.

Sort of.  I’m not sure it can be taught, but it can be learned.  It’s a frame of mind you put yourself in, a mental block you remove.  And the only way to put it firmly in place is if you PRACTICE it and set yourself deadlines and goals.

However to the extent I can help, there are some principles to keep in mind that might help break the barrier.

1- how long you take to write a story doesn’t make it better or worse.  My highest-selling book was written in two days, and the next-highest-selling in two weeks.  By the standard that counts “how many people pay out good money to read this?” my faster written books are the best.

2- nine times out of ten the things you’re agonizing about on the story aren’t really important.  No, seriously.  Things like passive voice, overuse of to-be and too many adjectives and adverbs are things editors and critics care about, but most readers don’t notice, not if your voice is confident and strong enough.

3- Keeping a strong voice is much easier if you write the story fast.

So, that’s why.  Now HOW to do it.

1- Write as fast as you can.  If you are a slow typist, try voice dictation.  Put your mind in the story and write as fast as humanly possible.

2- Don’t edit.  I can’t say that enough DO NOT EDIT.  Write to the end without editing.  If you typed teh instead of the, it will wait till you’re done.

3- To facilitate do not edit, DO NOT read back to see what you did yesterday.  For best results leave yourself a sticky note about where you are going next.  That way you don’t need to read what you wrote and be tempted into editing.

4- if you’re an outliner, have a complete outline before you start, and then mark on the outline what you’re doing tomorrow.

5- if you’re a partial outliner like me, outline what you’re doing tomorrow at the end of the work day.

6- Did I mention write as fast as you possibly can?  Short story or novel race to the end.

7- Once you’re done fix typos then let it sit for a week.  This is an excellent time to send it to your betas, unless like me your idea changed in the middle and your beginning and end don’t match.

8- Fix continuity issues.

9- Make sure all your foreshadowing points right.

10- Make sure you got all your points in.

11- Do not revise/get caught in rewrites more than three times.  Three times, and let it go.

12 – move on to the next project.

Now I can say all this till I’m blue in the face, but you HAVE to practice it.  You HAVE TO PRACTICE it.  But if you do, I guarantee you’ll get better.

 

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Finding Meaning

Years ago, when I went to the Kris and Dean Oregon Coast Professional Writers’ workshop, I found myself listening to the things they were saying on HOW to write, and finally asked Kris, “But what about why you write?  How do I work on that?”

I got back a puzzled look (as I should) and the words that we were each supposed to find WHY we wrote.  Or words to that effect.

Which was right and just, since while most of us have no clue why we write, we know we can’t stop.  If we want to make up a pretty story about why we write, GOOD.  No one can stop us.

In my case I write because otherwise people object to my kidnapping total strangers to tell them stories.

But is every story alike?  Do I write to tell people a certain set of facts?  What meaning do I find in my work.

Ah.

Well… No, every story is not alike.  Very early on I identified certain stories which I called “heart’s blood.”  More on that later.

Do I write to tell people a certain set of facts?  Not noticeably.  There are two short stories I planned to write, to get a point of view across.  The first, the point of view was supposed to be that there is no such thing as perfect diplomacy.  Sometimes even with the best translations and intentions, diplomatic efforts will only precipitate war. It never got written.  Yes, the story made sense, and had a point, but I had no impetus to write it.

The second story was about how boomers were using social blue models to loot the younger generations, and what this would cause, in terms of upheaval and backlash.  Never wrote it.  True, but way too depressing.

So, no.  I write stories that form complete in my mind, and which do, sometimes, include elements of political or cultural things I believe.  I write things that fascinate me and interest me.

They might have my beliefs in them.  But they aren’t started or written to preach.

But if not to promulgate my views, what are stories for?

Well, “heart’s blood” stories come alive.  There are real people with real things at stake and a real struggle to make things come out right.  I CARE for the characters and the situation.  I want it to come out right.  I’m riveted.

Which is why heart’s blood stories usually capture others too.

I mean, what kind of art is it if when you look at it you need to have it explained to you how it’s good because it supports the right principles?  Oh, wait, modern art.  Never mind.

Art: real art throughout the centuries can speak across the centuries, regardless of how much society has changed and how much the principles believed in have changed.  We’re not any longer the solid Catholic society in which Leonardo DaVinci worked, but the Virgin of the Rocks still speaks to us and hits us in the emotions.

Shakespeare’s wording has aged, and sure we know some of it was Tudor propaganda, but the stories still live and the characters are true.

But what about promulgating the just and right ideas?  What is art if it doesn’t speak truth to power?

Art is art.  Whether it serves propaganda purposes or not, art remains art.  Whether it opposes or endorses the “power” in society doesn’t matter.  Richard III was an hatchet job.  It’s also, undeniably art.

Do not let yourself be gulled into writing this or that because “this must be said” or that “Is speaking truth to power.”  Sure, if those are your reasons to write, that’s fine, but ultimately?  It can mask what you’re doing so you produce very bad art.  I.e. if you’re concentrating on preaching the “right” (or left) “truths” you’re not concentrating on making the world and the characters live in their own right and be true art.  Sure.  Some people can do it.  But you’re making it exponentially harder.

Write heart’s blood.  Write what makes your heart sing.  If people tell you that it’s wrong, and that you should write truth to power, or power to truth, or whatever they tell you you should do, ignore them.

True art, or as close as you can get to it, is eternal.  Ignore ephemeral concerns.  Go and write.  That is the meaning and the whole of the meaning.  Go and write stories that live.  Nothing else matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stretching Exercises

Both of the posts this week, Dave Freer’s and Amanda Green’s are about not fully being able to anticipate the future.  I thought about them both when we drove past our old neighborhood and I realized the college is expanding dorms massively, now within a block of our old house.

All well and good, and my kids’ college, which is different is doing the same.  Expanding the dorms, making them spiffier, adding to the on site facilities, etc.

At the same time, tech marches on, and as usual, marches in directions that makes these dorms and facilities a supremely stupid “investment.”

It reminds me of five years ago, when, in the first flush of selling ebooks, and frankly not accounting for them too well, all the NY publishers were expanding their quarters, and getting spiffier buildings.  Now they’re firing authors.

The truth is that Education might think it’s immune to the tech stick, because governmental loans have made them fat and sassy, and who will trust an internet educational certificate?

But you know, the change is already in the wind.  The same way that trad publishers made the indie revolution easier by having this idea they could push taste onto their readers, instead of treating them like customers to be wooed, the traditional educational system is cooperating in its own demise by pouring out totally useless graduates, or worse, those who have been actively poisoned against the culture that shelters them.

When things change, they will change rapidly and terribly, as they did for publishing.

Six years ago I thought I was too late to the indie revolution.  And nowadays I live in fear of not catching up to change fast enough.  Other indies and I discuss options all the time.  And sometimes things still blindside us.

In this environment it doesn’t do to be too confident, or to get set in a rut.  And not JUST on how to market.  How to write too.  It helps to scope out the competition and “spontaneous hits.”  (That means those that don’t have push and money behind them.)

Not that you should write what other people write, but you should be aware what is selling, and what style it is, so you know what to do.

One of the things that is important to do, as it’s been borne upon me in the course of my (argh) starting to be long career is to have what Kris Rusch called “as many tools in your toolbox as possible.”

All of us have restrictions, and some of them are internal.  Currently, for various reasons, I’m writing a book I’d never write on my own.  Its structure is not something I would ever conceive of on my own, though I’ve read and enjoyed books like it.  I think I can do it, and hope so, since other people are depending on me, but it’s so new that everything feels “odd”.

Because your first time at everything will feel odd, better to try everything before it’s crucial.  Er… everything in writing.  Step down from the ledge. You only die once.

A lot of your internal stopping points are false ones.  There was a time I couldn’t write female characters.  This wasn’t exactly true but I couldn’t write female characters that made sense to Americans.  (I could write other ethnicities fine.)  However, I wrote Athena, and then I figured out how to write other people.  Kyrie didn’t even feel hard to write.

I’m still working on writing action, but I can see the time coming when it’s natural.

A lot of our stopping points are lack of practice.  Others will always stop us cold.  For instance, I can’t write sex.  Not because I’m prudish, but because I’m not a voyeur.  Described sex holds me out and bores me, whether I’m reading it or writing it.

So, include some writing stretching exercises in your routine.  Take a day a week, say, to write something that “doesn’t count” like, say, a short story, or a chapter of a story you’re not sure you’ll ever write.

Try a pov you’ve never written.  Try a genre you’ve never written.  Try a style you’ve never written.

Give it a whirl.  You might discover it’s not your thing.  Or you might add it to your core competency and enlarge your toolbox, the better to face the future with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Starting Out

This post is inspired by something on my blog.  But it’s also a post about writing.  It’s very much a post about writing.  It’s also a post about life, because life and writing partake one thing: we all start out somewhere.  And we all have something when we set out.  Some will be very fortunate, golden children, and have everything they need to succeed.  The stories on those always go that they end badly.  But that’s stories, and that’s not always true.  It’s mostly a projection of our envy.  However any number of them WILL end badly.  There’s a reason for that.  Of course a lot of us, who come from nothing and got no help, also end badly.  Or often never start out.

I won’t go into the blog, because it was a commenter who inspired this.  I won’t say who or precisely what he said, just that he seemed to think the world had done him peculiar wrong because his parents weren’t very good at parenting and because he didn’t know how to get on with… well, anyone, but particularly the opposite sex.  The thing is, even on the blog, he demonstrated a social style that was simultaneously aggressive and whining.  This is a combination guaranteed to put off most normal human beings.  He seemed unaware of it.  I think he identified it, subconsciously, as “the way to win arguments” at a very early age, and therefore has continued using it, not realizing it’s creating a vast desert around him.

Most of us don’t have ideal upbringings.  Some have less ideal than others.  I’m not going into mine, because it’s none of your business, and because I love everyone involved, including the difficult ones.  I’ll just say that around ten, having realized my brother was the family favorite, I decided to imitate his social style.  Since he’s introverted and thinks manners and fashion happen to other people, this meant I took created my social desert around myself and was very miserable.  Around 16 I started to realized what I was doing, and started consciously changing.  I started paying attention to the popular-but-not-mean girls I knew and figuring out how to interact.  And it worked.  Combined with attention to grooming and dressing, I soon found myself very popular.  And even though some guys ran when they heard long words come out of my mouth, an equal number of them (not all of whom KNEW long words) stuck around and became fascinated.

But wasn’t it terrible, changing who I was, that way?

I wasn’t changing who I was.  Merely the presentation.  Note I still used long words.  I was just using social graces to make the medicine go down.

Of course the side effect of this is that it’s all too easy to become a chameleon and say things you don’t believe/act in ways you think despicable, to succeed.  That is a particular temptation when it comes to hiding your political opinions, when they’re taboo in your field.  That didn’t work too well.  Not for me.  I was getting to the point it was hard to look at myself in the mirror.  Which is why it’s important to remember the line between social style and your core beliefs and motivations.  Social style is and should be plastic, your core should not.  Not if you truly believe what you profess.

But the truth is as an adult, if your social life doesn’t please you, you should identify what you’re doing that makes it the way it is, and you should change.

No changing won’t be easy.  Social styles are ingrained.  It’s like breaking an addiction: it will take time, effort, and extreme self-awareness to get it to work.  But it can be done, and while I can’t tell you that most adults did it, I can tell you most adults OF MY ACQUAINTANCE did it, for good or bad, big or small reasons.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

Everything.  You start with certain talents.  You start with certain inclinations. You start with a “writing upbringing” whether that was, like mine, an aged teacher in a one room schoolhouse who delighted in your creativity, or a college friend who said “you should be a writer” or just a delight in long hours with imaginary people.  That’s what you have.  That’s where you’re starting.

NO ONE told you it would be enough, that it would be easy, or that it’s all you can do.  And you should be aware it can change.  In fact it will change, on its own, if you pay it no mind.  It’s better to change it the way you want to instead of to the subconscious demands of your mind.  Your mind is a gorram idiot, who doesn’t know the market.

Of course, marketing is harder now.  It used to be that you marketed to the gatekeepers.  If you were lucky you hit in that thin sliver where readers liked you too, but that was a crapshoot.  Mostly you marketed to gatekeepers, which could be understood as paying attention to what they chose, to the interviews they gave, etc.

Now…  well.  It’s more like being a teen and judging your social style.  You get many inputs.  You have the example of successful peers.  You have to be awake and alert.

If you’re not doing that well at sales, look at who is, and why.  It could be, honestly, it’s not your writing.  It could be your marketing, your theme, your ideas.  So, if it’s those, work on those.

But what if it’s your writing?  Isn’t that who you are?  How do you change that?  What if your type of talent just isn’t marketable?

First of all, I’m not sure talent exists.  Not as neural programming, before birth or something.  No, I don’t believe in tabula rasa.  Obviously, you have certain innate propensities.  But the thing is, when it comes to writing…  Writing is not something that just happens.  It’s not even as simple as speaking, and that’s not simple either.

Your speaking and your writing will be influenced by the language you learned as a child, the style of speaking and writing your family/friends/society valued.  And in turn what they valued might hinge on hereditary stuff in your family/group/society.

For instance, is my talent for lyrical language something innate?  Or is it because dad read poetry to me in my cradle? And did he read poetry to me because he came from a long line of  very successful poets?

Do you know?  Do you care?

The lyrical style, which arguably survived my changing languages, is what I get “for free” in writing.  The one talent.  The one thing.  Freely given.

Unfortunately I realized after my first published trilogy, it also limits your readership.  And if it’s the ONE thing you can do, it restricts it even more.

So I worked.  And learned.  BTW NEVER let ANYONE tell you writing or style or timing or plot or whatever can’t be learned.  EVERYTHING can be learned.  It all depends on how much you want to learn it and how hard you’re willing to work.

But what if you can’t?  Then you’re just making excuses for not being able to work hard enough. Or not wanting to.

I know.  I did it for years.  I told myself my style was unique and special and someone would eventually LOVE it.

It’s not true.  If only two people read you, even if there’s a vast reservoir of readers out there who would love it (and it’s unlikely.  Most such writing has innate defects that are keeping most people away and which you won’t even see till you overcome them) they’ll never find it.  But, like holding fast onto self-defeating social styles, it IS comforting.  Hence “Well, people like romance in their books, and I won’t write that trash” which is one of my own friends’ excuses.  “I’m better and smarter than that.”  Which must be a great deal of comfort, when you need to work menial jobs because no one will buy your books.  And when your great dream of sharing your invention falls flat.

I don’t like cold comfort.  I like succeeding in my dreams.  So I took the other path.  I’m still taking it.  It’s hard, because oftentimes what I must learn is completely antithetical to what I naturally do.  But it’s possible.  And once you do it a few times, it becomes easier.  It becomes an habit, like your previous mode was an habit.

“But should you write to market?  You always tell us not to write to market!”

Waggles hand.  I don’t know.  I know things like Twilight were DESIGNED to be written to a market and to succeed, and they DO.

It comes back, though, to observing the more popular girls and imitating them.  How far should you go?  Do you want to also mimic their opinions and their attitudes until you become trapped in that persona?  That way, I think, lies suicide, real or metaphorical.

But imitating their smiles, their social graces?  That’s okay, and allows people to get to know who YOU are without being repulsed by dysfunctional social modes.

It’s the same thing in writing.  I have a friend who really ADMIRES nineteenth century writing, and tries to imitate it.  That’s fine.  Except no one ever reads the great stories he has to tell.  Our storytelling is different because our conditions are different.  Nineteenth century writing wasn’t competing with TV or games for entertainment and it was self-consciously elitist.  It was leisurely, slow, and often determinedly obscure, so it sounded “important.”  Sure we read authors from that time, but we go in knowing they’re from that time, and adapt our expectations.  Modern authors, we expect other things from, and soon grow impatient with nineteenth century mode, particularly when combined with some newby mistakes (and we’re all newbies compared to the greats who have survived centuries.)

Or you can take your ideas, the core of things that matter to you, that which is exclusively yours and dress it in the right clothes, and put in the right manners, so the reader will actually read and like what you do.

Look, 90% of the books I get from KU hold me out.  I want to like them.  I want to get into the story.  But the writer holds me at arms length by not telling me what I need to get in; by cloaking it all in weird, stilted language; by not researching; by making their opening scene/character/world DELIBERATELY repulsive.

It comes back to being a teen again.  The world is not going to adapt to you.  Not in the ordinary way.  Sure, sometimes you’re so rich, so powerful, the world will.  And if you are a billionaire, you can promote your book until it becomes the “new thing.” But most of us aren’t billionaires. We have to adapt to the world — and the writing world — not it to us.

And yes, even the golden children, the fortunate ones, to whom the gods gave everything in society or in writing need to know these facts, and to learn to adapt.  Our envy notwithstanding, most people I know who succeeded with their first written book hit a wall shortly thereafter and never wrote/published again.

Part of it is that the world changes, and if all you have is what you were given, you don’t know how to adapt.  Say you come in doing spy thrillers, then the cold war ends, and you don’t know how to do anything else.  Worse, you don’t know how to LEARN to do anything else.  Same could be said for horror, or, now, UF.  All of these had times of great bloom, then failed.

Even if you have everything, there are probably details that could be better.  It will be even harder to learn to change them, BECAUSE they’re details.  But if you do it will increase your ability and longevity.

Strive. It’s the best you can do.  And if you’re lucky, it will be enough.

 

 

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