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Posts by Margaret Ball

The Price of Freedom

It’s happened before, of course. Three-quarters of the way into a book, it suddenly appears to me as a huge, lifeless pile of words. The ending is not credible. The characters won’t talk to me. I should probably give up even trying to write.

The difference is, in earlier times there were constraints that forced me to go on and finish the book anyway. I usually had a contract. A delivery date. An editor who was expecting a book bearing at least a passing resemblance to the synopsis she’d signed off on.

Not to mention a nice chunk of money to be paid on delivery of the completed manuscript, and a mortgage payment that the bank was going to expect to see no matter how I felt about the matter.

Writing indie has meant flying free of all these constraints, and for the most part I’ve loved it. I’ve been writing faster and more happily than I did back when every word had to be filtered through an editor’s belief about what readers would like.

But now?

Two weeks ago I wrote about being derailed and muscling the train back onto the tracks. Then I got sick again, and stopped writing again. And now I’m looking at the manuscript that’s been just lying there limply for nearly five weeks, and I’m seeing a huge lifeless pile of words. I look at my synopsis – my map of how to get to the end – and all I can see is a heap of rocks lying across the road. And the old motivators aren’t there any more. I haven’t promised this book to anyone, nobody’s going to be peeved with me if I throw it away, there’s no guaranteed financial reward for finishing, and thank goodness the mortgage is paid off.

Freedom. If I really believe this project is hopeless, there’s absolutely nothing to stop me from dumping this book and starting a new project? Except – as soon as I think that, the voices of despair switch from “This is a terrible book” to “You don’t have any good ideas.” So evidently they will not be satisfied with anything less than my total defeat. Well, good. At least I know where I am now. I’m not looking at a dispassionate critique of this partial book; I’m looking at the personal demons that want me to stop doing anything at all.

Time to start moving rocks.

 

On (Not) Writing Daily

They tell you to write every day, and that’s a very good habit to develop. However, since most of us live in this messy place called Real Life, it’s seldom possible to follow that advice literally. The babysitter just quit, the ten-year-old broke his arm, the nursing home has an emergency with your father, the kitchen caught fire, the garage roof fell in… Only someone completely without human connections and supplied with a large staff of perfect servants gets to be that rigid about rules.

I think most of the people who are sufficiently interested in writing to read a blog like this come as close as humanly possible to writing every day, even if Real Life does force them into some complicated detours. Read more

Comfort books

There are times when I don’t really want something new to read, times when I feel so beaten down that all I really want is to pass my eyes over a book I love so much I’ve all but memorized it already. The last couple of weeks have been like that, as what I thought was just a summer cold got nastier and lasted longer and left me too wiped out to write.

Most of the time I’ve even been too tired and shaky to make my way from the bedroom to the “library” at the other end of the house, where fiction and non-reference memoirs and humor live. In between actually reading, I’ve been visualizing those shelves and thinking about what I want to grab next time I venture all that distance. And thinking about what constitutes a “comfort book” for me.   Read more

Dangling the bait and fishing for readers

[Full disclosure: this is mostly an excuse to yak about the fact that the 4th Applied Topology book is live now. But who knows, maybe the topic will be of a little interest beyond that.]

Earlier this year, Pam pointed out that chapter headings may catch a browser’s eye on the “Look Inside” feature at Amazon, or in a downloaded sample, and I’ve taken that advice to heart in my last few indie books. I try to come up with a pithy line for each chapter, hopefully something that’ll make a reader want to know what the chapter’s about. Anything that lures them into the story is good, right?

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Write What Somebody Knows

I ‘ve touched on this before: to supplement my own experience, I make shameless use of relatives, friends, friends of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. By now most of them are used to this and do not get (too) weirded out by questions such as:

“If you were going to (non-fatally) shoot the pilot of a plane to encourage his cooperation, what body part would you choose so as not to interfere with his ability to fly the plane? Or would it be better just to kill the co-pilot?”  Read more

Get Out Before It’s Too Late

Actually it’s never too late to cut out these associations, but the sooner you recognize them and do so, the less risk you run of getting hurt. Some of them can be damaging to your health, most of them to your career, and all of the ones I list will waste your time.

What? Oh, I’m talking about writers’ groups, of course. Those voluntary associations so many people encourage you to join. Your fellow writers, they say, will cheer you on when you’re experiencing an enthusiasm sag, will warn you if your story seems to be taking a wrong turn, will brainstorm with you over a sticky plot point, and – if necessary, which of course it wouldn’t be for any readers of this blog – gently explain the difference between imply and infer.

Oh, wait. I can take care of that last one right now.

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Where did it all start?

It all started with Aunt Alesia and the Balas rubies, and that dance at the Austrian embassy in Paris.

Purists would go farther back, maybe as far back as the day a couple of years ago when I was concentrating really hard on the Axiom of Choice and accidentally selected several objects out of my kid brother’s miscellaneous collections of plastic junk. Without touching them. You could make a case that it all started there. Read more