Thursday, January 30, 2014

World Building for the Blonde and Disoriented

A reader told me the other day that they love my world building, and that I made her feel like she was really there, in the story.

I checked the email address and the rest of the conversation to see if she was really talking to me.

Because here's the thing - I'm blonde. And when it comes to being grounded in place and time, I'm really blonde. This blonde, in fact:




I'm the sort of person who can get lost on the main street of a small town, who can't remember where the car is parked in a parking garage, and who has been known (truth) to write scenes where the sun comes up in the west and sets in the east.

So when I get feedback that I've managed to create a scene that comes alive, and that the setting seems vivid and real and people feel like they're right there in the middle of the action, I really experience a moment of shocked surprise.

Maybe in this case my disability has worked in my favor. I have to work hard to ground myself, and that in turn helps to ground my reader.

When I was a kid in school we had a teacher that used to take us out of the classroom, sit us down somewhere outside and make us write  descriptions of the scenery. I drafted horribly flowery passages overflowing with adjectives and adverbs, more purple than a giant singing dinosaur. At the time I thought they were lovely beyond words. Then I spent years learning to cut out the crap.

But I still remember those sessions when I'm writing. And I try to engage all of the senses. What does my writer see? Hear? Taste? Touch? Feel?

Most of us are more tuned to sight than the other senses, so descriptions tend to be heavy on the visual. Don't get me wrong - this is very important. We need to see where we are. But Science has actually shown us that some of the other senses have a more visceral connection to emotional memory. Just think about that one love song from twenty years ago (or thirty or forty) that can still pretty much reduce you to tears. Or that smell that evokes a powerful childhood memory for you - baking cookies, or pine trees, or the smell of a pig farm - whatever.

Just for fun, try a writing exercise sometime where you take yourself somewhere away from your desk and sit with your eyes closed for five minutes. (No napping allowed!) Focus on all of the sounds you hear. How the air feels around you. What you can smell. And then take a few minutes to write all that down.

Next time you're writing a scene and you need some description, do that for your character. Of course you can't put all of that in or your readers would toss the book before the end of the first page. So the next step is selecting which details have some emotional significance or might serve to help develop plot or character.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Your Genre Is So Yesterday's Formula

I was chatting with another author about trends in romance novels on Monday, and the conversation turned to "romance stories are basically fairy tales set in the modern world."

She didn't say it. I did. Because it's true, not because it's bad. Let me explain.

We discussed how main characters still have to fit the same basic roles of prince and princess, with the cool ride as noble steed and the ex as the villain. The basics are there, and that's okay.

Problem is we're all so used to people having a sneer in their voice when they say "romance stories are basically fairy tales for grown ass women" that it gets our hackles up. And then those same people go on to bitch about how romances are too formulaic for them to bother with so they read ________ (really, you can fill in the blank here with any genre of fiction and the argument I'm about to give remains).

Guess what, boys and girls, all fiction is formulaic within a genre. I'm going to go with mystery because it's the easiest example:

  • Intro: crime scene (but maybe not THE) crime scene--serves to either intro the mystery and/or the main character (often but not always an underling detective or a retired one of some sort)
  • Refusal: Hero(ine) either tries to step away from the case or is forced away form someone higher up. 
  • Call to arms: Criminal hits too close to home, hurting someone the hero(ine) cares about, that makes them insist on being on the case (with or without that higher up's approval)
  • Clues: Pretty much act 2 is all about seeding clues and playing cat and mouse with the bad guy.
  • … 

And really, I'm bored now. The point is mysteries follow the same basic formula of
Bad guy does something, good guy chases bad, almost loses him, and catches him in the end.
Let's compare that to romance, shall we (heteronormative for ease of writing only):
Boy meets girl, they chase each other, they almost lose each other, but catch each other in the end. 
Yep. Not so different. Yes, subplots. Yes, backstory. Yes, all those things that make each book unique--but that is true in any genre. Here's the dealio--people like formula, even if they flavor it with bourbon. We all want to sit back with our bottle full of formula and snack on it--because it's comforting. Like having a nipple in your mouth.

So, they naysayers shall say nay, but romance readers need to stand tall and proclaim their love of fairy tales. After all…

And no matter what our genre of choice, don't we all have dragons we'd like to slay?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

You Are Going to Miss Something

I was talking with a friend yesterday about an opportunity she had to do some content editing. She's new (but will be excellent, I have no doubt), and was struggling with what to charge. Of the many considerations and issues she weighed, one concern that came up was charging money for a service like this and then missing something during the work.

A typo. A plot hole. An improper word usage. A pacing issue. There are all things that can be missed.

And here's what I told her, which I wish someone had told me way back when but I had to figure out with a lot of trial and error: you are going to miss something.


Just get that out of the way immediately.

Whether you're writing, or you're beta reading, or you're editing. Whether it's paid work or a favor. Whether you're the first set of eyes to go over something or the fifteenth.

You are going to miss something. You are going to make a mistake.

I know this because I read. I've been a reader since I was a toddler and able to hold a book.

And I have never, in my life (or at least recollection), read a single book without some kind of error in it. Whether it's something small that changes the sentence (recently I saw "didn't" when it should've just been "did"), or a grammar thing ("lay" when it should be "lie"), or a style thing ("my Mom" when it should've been "my mom"), or a chunk of text that was accidentally copied and pasted twice, or factual error, or something that contradicted something else (like a character wearing one shirt removing it twice in one scene).

No, not self-published books, either (let's not even touch those ones for the moment). Books with large publishers--in some cases, by NYT bestselling authors. And no, I'm not bringing this up to support the utter bullshit "editors don't edit anymore" cry that idiots spout.

I have a crystal-clear memory of when I was eight years old, on a trip to Santo Domingo, sitting at the resort poolside with a book in hand. It was one of the Nancy Drew Files. And suddenly there was a girl named Beth in the scene.

Beth.

I went back a few pages, scanned. No Beth. Who the hell was Beth? And then I realized it was meant to be Bess. Nancy's friend. Two letters off.

This happened well over twenty years ago. So my point is that this is not a new occurrence.

I know a lot of writers and editors. I know how hard people work. All of the examples above? The Nancy Drew book from the 80s? People worked their asses off on those books. Multiple pairs of eyes went over them. Extremely skilled people, who are damn good at their jobs, combed those books thoroughly. I have no doubt many, many errors were caught.

Something always gets missed.

As an editor, I've been handed books that went through three to four beta readers, multiple rewrites, and I still found timeline confusion and logic holes. And even then, after publication, I've been notified of yet another error I missed, and felt like a complete idiot over it.

As a writer, I spend hundreds and hundreds of hours on my books. I reread them dozens of times, poring over all 100K-odd words of them. Other people go over comb them for errors. And yet someone, even years later, inevitably finds a typo (and deigns to notify me of this fact with implications I'm a moron for not seeing it).

None of this is meant to excuse deliberately sloppy work. In fact, this post isn't even directed at those sorts of people--as far as I'm concerned, they are still sitting in the corner without dinner and I will speak to them later when I think they've learned their lesson. No, I'm talking to those of you who try so goddamn hard to be perfect and beat yourself up later when you realized something slipped through. Or those of you who get so paralyzed by the fear of missing something that you don't get started.

You are going to miss something.

This doesn't mean you don't try to be perfect. It's not an excuse to get lazy. It's not a reason to stop striving for improvement.


But it means accept that even busting your ass, you're going to fuck something up somewhere along the line. It's just going to happen. It is like death and taxes that way. The most skilled people with extreme attention to detail and years of training and experience will still do it. We call it "human error" because we're humans: people with eyes that get blind to text and brains that get tired and workdays that get interrupted and memories that forget.

You are going to miss something.

You accept this, strive to do your best, and if you find out you made a mistake, take note of it and try better next time. Beating yourself up after the fact or being too paralyzed to start in the first place (both of which have happened to me) isn't going to Fix All the Errors, and even if it did...

One day in the future, you will still miss something else. Accept that now and save yourself the stress, because your energy is better spent on doing the work rather than worrying about the work.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Chair

For many years I was discouraged by others when I told them I wanted to be a writer, mainly because they were concerned I would starve and struggle and that it would be hard. They were right to a point, however, I ultimately decided that this was it, I was going to 'take writing seriously.' Once I did that, there was no turning back, I was in it and going to follow through, no matter how many bullets I had to take. Like many writers after that initial, stubborn eureka moment, I started reading everything I could about the craft, the process, publishing, editing, and a lot of articles warning about falling into certain traps and how to watch out for them.

One of these warnings I kept seeing was about spending too much time in THE CHAIR. The idea was that writers who were doing it full time, or just making a serious go of it outside of their day job, would begin to spend all of their time writing, forgoing things like exercise, hygiene, family, you get the idea, and how this could be bad for your health and your relationships. But back then I was working a day job, I always took time to exercise, EVERY day. Without fail. I was vigilant, programmed from growing up in the 80s with Jane Fonda and step aerobics and the mantra that you gotta get your 45 minutes a day of cardio or you won't burn fat and will turn into Mama Cass overnight.

So when I read this warnings, that I might end up with stuck-in-chair syndrome, I thought, psssht! That ain't NEVAH gwon happen to ME! Hell, if I ever get lucky enough to write full time, if I ever reach the magical nirvana of actually publishing books that people want to read, if I ever...oh God, I dare not dream...get to WORK FROM HOME! Well I'm going to feel so fortunate that I'll have a schedule, and I'll get up every day at 5am, workout like a fiend, clean my house, make breakfast for my husband, shovel a ton of coal, diaper the baby, and THEN I'll spend the rest of the day writing. Bliss! And I'm not stupid enough to over-do it, I'm not like those other people. I'll never get burned out, I'll never have achy wrists and strange cramps in my forearms. I'll never stand up and wonder why my knees are throbbing in pain since all I did was sit all day and write, it's not like I ran a marathon, sheesh. And I'll never spend so many hours in the chair in a mad, frantic race to finish a novel until it's three in the morning and I don't know my name and am so tired I fall asleep in the office and wake up with a Dorito stuck to my face. I'll  never be so concerned with what's going on in my mind that I put my body and its needs on the back burner. Not ME.

But that's exactly what happened. Not right away of course. It took years before I got to the point where I could actually quit my day job and have that coveted WORK FROM HOME nirvana I'd so dreamed about. But I made it, and at first I stuck to my 'schedule', getting up early, exercising, calling it a day at five when my man came home from work. But after a time, bad habits began to creep in. I got busy, which is what every writer wants. I had contracts. I had deadlines. I had actual readers for cyring out loud, can't let them down! And so I started making concessions. Just this one time, I won't exercise. Just this one time, I'll stay up and write until 3am. Just this one time, I'll not go outside or see sunshine for a week. I'm on a DEADLINE, after all! It's a special occasion! Gotta put the work first after all, this is what I wanted all my life. It must take precedence! But bad habits can form when you're looking the other way, and once they take hold, they burrow in deep.

But then recently I started to notice that my knees were hurting all the time. My eyes felt like Jell-O shots that had been left out in the sun, and when I looked in the mirror, there were dark circle under them. My wrists and forearms got random pains. And for some reason, all the clothes in my closet had shrunk. Some evil troll (probably one of those crazy reviewers on Goodreads) had broken into my house and shrunk all my clothes! And now my man wants to take me out on a Saturday night to socialize, probably because he sees cobwebs growing behind my ears, and I have NOTHING to wear because a troll shrank all my jeans. Or maybe...maybe all those warning articles I read back in the early days of 'getting serious about writing' actually knew what the hell they were talking about. Perhaps those warnings came from experience. And maybe I have, without realizing it, fallen victim to THE CHAIR. Shit. Is my face red. And is my ass fat.


And so, years after making that brave and stubborn decision to take writing seriously, I find myself back at the drawing board, once again creating a schedule and putting limitations on this crazy passion we call writing. Sure, sometimes deadlines can give you an excuse to go hard and crazy for a couple days and set everything else aside. But there will always be more deadlines, and there will always be more story ideas waking you up in the middle of the night. And if your body shuts down, well, you can't write like THIS...
Yes, your brain is a beautiful, magical thing. But without  your body, you're probably gonna find it harder to enjoy living this dream you worked so hard for. So I for one have begun to force myself to exercise before starting my work for the day, before all the excuses can creep in. Is it easy? Hell no, the laptop and THE CHAIR and all my bad habits try to talk me out of it.


 Also, I force myself to take breaks, days off, and try to get enough rest now. My mother has a bad knee from playing power tennis, and she's 70 years old. It would be pretty embarrassing for me to have bad knees from power SITTING.


And while sometimes I let a self imposed deadline (or that eureka moment when a story idea comes together) allow me to be the crazy writer and lock myself in a room for a couple days, I've realized that I can't live like that EVERY day. And of course, I want to be able to zip my jeans again. So the moral of the story is, don't forget your body. It needs rest, and it needs movement. Heed those warnings about THE CHAIR, or you may find one day that you can't pull your ass OUT of it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Not-So-Gentle Art of Self Manipulation

First off, let me just say that after reading Dina's previous post, I had to resist the urge to open this one by wailing about my writer's block...

 Don't try to break the writer's block, Neo.
 Try to realize there is no writer's block.

 Which, of course, there isn't. And I, of course, did not come off the holidays with a scorching case of it. What I did do was take my annual "I'm not going to do it and you can't make me" break.
 This is a whole different thing.

Today I wanted to talk about "know thyself." And since Dina did a perfect job of debunking writer's block, we're all caught up.
What I experienced was, as she put it, one of my issues. I get stubborn and burned-out. Everyone does. If you feel burned-out and resistant to write. You are in good company.

One trick to getting out of it (the funk not the company) is to know your currency. I've posted about currency before. As a parent, its a very big topic for me. Currency is like motivation but more manipulative. I believe when you're trying to motivate yourself, manipulative is the best sort of medicine. It's not the healthiest, if therapists can be believed, but it's very effective.

In parenting and writing, effective trumps healthy every time. We want results, and results come from knowing which buttons to push.

My button looks a lot like reverse psychology. If I tell myself, there's no point, your writing sucks, no one reads your stories anyway. No one loves you, you bad, bad writer. I know I will only sink into a deep depression from which only the very best chocolate can pry me. But if I say, "Maybe you can't do it. Maybe, you should just quit and take up spider breeding. I think spider breeding is your true calling and this writing thing was just a silly fad." I'll be writing before you know it. (and possibly browse some spider catalogs, but that's a different problem)

Reverse psychology works on me, but maybe distraction works for you. Maybe you need a shiny new story idea, or a new setting to write in.. Maybe you like bribes. A brand new pen or laptop might do it. Reassurance? A pat on the back and a comforting hug (which would only make me feel pathetic and spiral deeper into depression.) might be the remedy you need.

The thing is, humans are very predictable creatures. We have patterns within our patterns. And we are very easily conditioned. I think, even more easily trained than fleas. (which take the scientific booby prize of being the most easily conditioned critter around) If we pay a lot of attention to what works and what doesn't, we can come up with a pretty solid formula for success.
It just has to be tailored to our buttons.

Learn your buttons. Map your patterns and not just writing but everything can get a lot easier.
They're hard to see from inside a funk, though. So wait till you're fresh enough to see clearly. Then, get a big picture view, look at past hiccups, and find the repeating cycles.

Write them down. Remember.

That's probably the hardest part. Remembering to think about your patterns when you're neck deep in them. Still, if its on paper somewhere (maybe taped to your forehead) it's hard to deny for long.
Even if what you need to spiral back up again is just time, knowing that can make the waiting more productive. I agree with "writers write". But if your issues have you on "hiatus" you can still be planning how to get writing again. You can be working. You can be productive. If you just aren't writing now, you can still be plotting, editing, blogging...doing.

The point is, do what it takes to get you writing again. Motivate, manipulate, bribe, whatever, but keep in mind that we want results.
No whining...unless whining will make you write. No self abuse...unless that's the ticket to you making words again. Maybe you can't write non-stop forever, but the goal is definitely to write as soon as possible.
And that's my moral. If it doesn't get you writing, STOP IT.
If it does, who am I to judge?

Write on, MacDuff.
~Frances






Monday, January 20, 2014

Writer's Block is Bullshit

Happy New Year, Evil Readers!

Aren't you glad we're back? Well, strap in…I'm kicking off 2014 with one hell of a rant for you. (Don't worry, I plan on resuming the Ask Dr. Dina series soon, but I needed to get this off my chest.)

Today's rant is brought to you by this thing. Some of you may have seen this post running around Tumblr. Others may have read Maureen Johnson's reply to this post. No matter which, now you know the inspiration behind today's rant.

Might want to put in the earplugs, kids. The screeching might get a wee bit loud 'round these parts here in a minute.... You see….

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WRITER'S BLOCK.

Need me to say it again? Okay, I will.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WRITER'S BLOCK.

You need it once more? All right, fine.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WRITER'S BLOCK.

I hear you now. "But Dina…"

No. Don't "but Dina" me. It doesn't exist. Do you hear me? Fucking no. You want to be a writer, you write, damn it. Period. End of sentence.

"But Dina-"

WHAT DID I JUST SAY? Don't "but Dina" me! Listen to me very, very carefully:

EVERYONE HAS ISSUES.

Everyone.

No one is okay.

And just to blow your stupid little petty whiny bullshit out of the water, let me hammer a few things home for you:

1 – Jean Auel, bestselling author of the Earth's Children series, mega-uber author extraordinaire, had five children and a full time job while she was writing her first novel.

2 – J.K. Rowling, bestselling author of the Harry Potter series, started out on welfare with a young child, lost her mother to multiple sclerosis, suffered depression and domestic violence, got divorced, then got re-married and had two more children while writing the other books.

I could go on and on listing bestselling authors and their respective issues, but I'll stop with just those two. Do you see my point here? If you don't, I'll make it clear – those authors didn't give up. They didn't put the pen down. They didn't whine about "not having time to write" or "writer's block" or "I'm too busy" or "I'm unwell" or "I'm pregnant" or "I'm on medication" or "I have a kid to raise" or any other excuse you can think of.

THEY FUCKING WROTE. Through everything. No matter what else was going on in their life, they wrote.

Do you understand me?

Everyone has issues. EVERYONE. Yes, even that author. You are not special. You are not an exception.

If you want to be a writer, you fucking write. That's it. "Writer's block" is bullshit. It's nothing but laziness, fear, or other excuses. No one "has time" to write. You MAKE TIME to write. I know some writers who get up at the ass-crack of dawn to get some quiet time to write before the kids wake up and their day starts. I know writers who wait until everyone is in bed before they write. I know writers who keep notebooks handy so they can jot their words down on their lunch break at work.

If you want to write, YOU FUCKING WRITE. You don't just sit around and talk about this great and wonderful world you have in your head. Characters you have. You actually write them down. As the article I linked above says, "Nobody's going to buy the book you've got stored in your head."

People who only talk about their writing annoy the ever-living fuck out of me and I don't have patience for them. People who whine about "I wish I could write but I don't have time" just make me want to punch them in the face. What? You think I have time to write? That there is a room of absolute quiet that I retire to so that I may listen to Beethoven and struggle to create?

Fuck you! I don't have "time to write" either. I'm a writer, so that's what I fucking do, asshole! Just because that's my job doesn't mean it's easy or that I don't have to make time to do it. I have issues and laundry and a dirty house and errands to run and everything else that gets in in the way of my writing just like you do. The difference between me and you is that I get shit done. I'm a writer, whereas you're just a wannabe. You don't even get to claim the dubious title of "aspiring writer." You're just a whiny little pretender.

I don't want to hear your excuses. Why? Because they are ALL BULLSHIT. All of it. Everything you can come up with as an excuse not to write, I will refute.

No, not even if you're dead. Because that's what Ouija boards and mediums are for, you lazy ass ghost. (See? Story idea, right there. Someone get on that. Wait, that's MY idea…hands off!)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Happy Birthday Seleste!

Come, my minions! Join us for a ritual sacrifice in honor of the birth of Seleste deLaney!



An irreplaceable member of the ELEW and supporter of evil in general, our Blasphemous Dispensator of Expenditures is one of the hardest workers I know, juggling being an evil mother with being an evil writer and somehow not completely destroying the world in the process. In the time you've taken to read this post, she's probably written more words than you will in the entire year, and looked fabulous while doing it.

And so to celebrate this day, we did what all evil organizations do and kidnapped someone. Just for you, Seleste.

He's in the dungeon with a set of floggers. Enjoy.



Friday, January 17, 2014

What I did over my winter vacation...

Well, I broke the blog, for one thing. Migrating some stuff totally screwed it all up and then I got busy... so yeah, I'm the reason you had to get back to the delicious evilness we keep serving up here. Sorry about that. My bad.

Actually, you know what? Suck it. I don't feel that bad about it. Probably because I'm evil. :)

What else did I do? Ate too much, spent time with friends and family, you know, the usual.

Oh, and I signed a contract for another book. So yay me.

What didn't I do?  Write a damn word. Ugh. I feel worse about this than breaking the blog. I had good intentions, but the annoying about being an adult is that even though it's the holidays, I didn't get a vacation. We usually travel to be with family for Christmas, but this year they traveled to us, so that meant I got to work all through the holidays. Yay?

And I didn't get all that good writing time on airplanes because I was too busy being a good employee and dealing with year end crises and crazy clients. Annoying people. If I didn't have to work with people, my job would be great. Just saying.

Anyways, so no time off = no writing. Because the time I wasn't at work, I was with family.

BUT, I am going on vacation soon. Which means WRITING!! I may be the only person who takes vacations just so they can work at writing. I mean, and see all the beautiful sights of wherever it is we're going, of course. Or something.

So vacation to me means taking a much needed break from the stresses of my real job and working on my fun job - the writing job. I find it very difficult to write while I'm working, because unless y'all want to read book after book about a lawyer who murders her deeply annoying clients, I feel like I don't have a lot to write about.

I need to figure out how to change my attitude. Or better yet, figure out how I can quit my job and not live on the street.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Evil Intentions

It you, like most of the western world, jumped on the the New Year’s Resolution Bandwagon, you've had plenty of time already to tumble off and get a bump or two.  You may be feeling some guilt and a sense of failure. And if you haven't failed at your resolutions yet, just wait a month or two.

We do that, the failing thing. Human beings are good at it. If we all made resolutions to fail at something this year, our chances of success would be 100%. I could offer up some feel good quote,  here, along the lines of, “if you’re not failing you’re not trying hard enough.” 

Or I could offer this:
(Check out the other demotivators at despair.com. They understand the evil of motivation)

Resolutions - in my not so humble opinion - don’t work.

Priorities and intention? Now that’s a different story. The single best predictor of what you’re going to actually do within the next few minutes, or any time today, is what you are actually planning to do. Sounds obvious, right? 

But here’s what I see over and over on Facebook and Twitter and with my Real Life Friends.

“I’m going to write a book this year. Really. I’m finally just going to get to it.”
“Great! What are you doing today?”
“Clean the house, buy groceries, and go watch Sissy’s basketball game. Then I’m making lasagna for dinner and helping Sonnie with his Science project…”
“When are you going to write?”
“What?”
“The book. When today are you going to write?”
“Oh, well, if I have time after…”



This, people, is the problem. This is why it took me ten years to write my first novel. 

Everything this lovely latent writer is planning to do today is good and admirable. But if you truly want to be a writer at any serious level, you’re not after good and admirable. You’ve got to be evil and defy some social conventions. Skip the game, or get yourself a laptop and write during it. Feed the kids cereal for dinner, or do something healthier involving five minutes of prep time and a crock pot. Make Sonnie do his own damn Science project. He’s the one who is supposed to be learning something in Science class, anyway. Not you. You've already been there and done that.

This is not neglect. Everybody is sheltered, fed and loved and taught some independence along the way. You’ve just shifted your priorities from Super Mom to Writer.

Maybe it’s not the Super Mom thing that’s getting in your way. Might be your day job, might be taking care of a bunch of random strangers because you have a soft heart and that’s what you do. Maybe your time is all taken up with volunteering somewhere else, like the pet shelter, or raising money for starving children, or helping out at church. Or you’re spending all of your time holding a relationship together.

This is all awesome. 

It makes you an admirable human, maybe even a saint, but not a writer.
Like I said, you’ve got to be a bit evil to make time with the words. Chances are good that nobody in your family, or at your job, or in your church or volunteer organization is going to say, “No, no, that’s all right, we don’t need your help (your time, your attention, whatever.) Your writing is more important.”

YOU have to make this decision. YOU have to decide that the writing is the priority. That of all the things on today’s to do list, it comes first. And once you really believe that for yourself it will get done.
No tricks, no gimmicks, no New Year’s resolutions. 


Just the simple magic of priorities.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I Am Judging You…and You Are Not Adequately Evil

I was talking to someone recently and the topic turned to who is cattier: musicians or authors? We both gave examples of asshole tactics from people in our chosen fields, and you know what? I think artists are kind of universally catty, but for good reason.

You see, artists tend to do a lot of work alone (even when it's a musical group…the group is "alone.") So when we go out into the bigger world to essentially hang with our peeps, we want it to be a positive experience. We want the person who has the book fair table next to ours to be respectful of space and talk you up as you talk them up. We want the band who comes before or after to bring in people and help out if there's an equipment issue. We want the "lesser" known actors to not be shuffled to the background in every photo op in favor of the bigger names (okay, that's as a fan, but I'm sure the actors don't like it much either).

Essentially, we want people to not be assholes. I mean, these are supposed to be our people so there should be a type of kinship there.

But we all know that's not always the case. And no, I'm not talking about the people who bite their tongues or roll their eyes to not make waves.

I'm talking about the ones that those actions are in reference to. (Focusing on authors here because I just don't know enough about the music biz.)
- the author who jumps into a conversation you're having, not because they have something useful to say, but because they heard the random person ask about your book and if they like your book, the person will really love theirs.
- the one who sits next to you at the book fair or has a promo spot next to yours and decides that dividing line doesn't apply to them--and of course, you wouldn't mind, right?
- the one who takes over a panel that they aren't on at a convention.
- the one who publicly bitches about reviews/their genre/editors/etc and basically makes us all look like whiny douchenozzles.
- the drama queens
- the prima donnas…

The list goes on and on. It's bad enough when this happens with a new author who probably just doesn't know better (ie--they don't get that no matter how many books get published in any given day, publishing is not a big world and people talk--a lot). You see, for the most part, the newbies get the smile and nod and walk away. Or maybe some quiet advice giving. (The ones who have been around for a while but aren't a big deal? They get the eye rolls and the gossip. Sorry, speshul snowflakes, but we do talk about you, and it's not always nice--even if we personally like you--because your behavior is crap.)

When it's a big name author, though, that's when the real cat claws come out. There are some big name authors who talk shit about everything and treat people like crap. I don't know them all and I won't name names of the ones I thought of right off. The thing with these people is…we might not be standing around waiting for them to fall from grace, but when it happens, we sure as hell will watch. We might even bring drinks and popcorn.

Might not be a proud moment, but it's a true one. And if we were a fan and you suddenly reveal your douchebaggery? Oh boy…

The point is, and we've said it here a lot, don't be a douchebag author. People talk. People remember. Be nice. Be friendly. Be helpful. And for the sake of all that is evil and…evil…never ever act like you're more important than the others in the room. I don't care if you are JK Rowling and Stephen King's love child all grown up and selling a bajillion copies of Harry Potter and the Dark Tower. You are an author and reader…just like everyone else there. Be a fucking human being rather than a (real or only in your mind) superstar. Even paranormal readers like humans.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Are We Having Fun Yet?

While I’ve tried to be an evil little bunny here and talked about writing-related things recently, the truth is I’ve felt like a big ol’ Liar McLiarson lately. And if you follow my personal blog in any capacity, you know why.

I was in a bad spot throughout 2013-writing wise (and a chunk of 2012 too).

You see...I stopped enjoying writing.

I do not call this “Writer’s Block” because, obviously, I think that whole concept is bullshit and if you whine at me that you’re “blocked”, I’m going to stab you with a pen. I wasn’t blocked; ideas were constantly streaming, I had tons of works in progress. In 2013, I wrote about 400 000 words total on various novels, novellas, and short stories.

I just...hated all of them.

“My words are broken” was my constant refrain. I kept putting my head down and working anyway, hoping to get through it, but I hated writing. Each word felt like it was plucked from my brain with tweezers and put on the page all wrong. Revision involved picking at the same sentences over and over and having them make less sense the more I looked at them. Editing involved excising large chunks of text, entire characters, and subplots, only to put them back again (and then delete again, etc etc). Given the choice between writing or knitting while watching shitty TV, I was picking the latter for the first time in my life and certainly for the first time in the dozen-odd years I've been doing this seriously. And this is nothing like me—no matter how painful, or difficult, or how scary writing was, I have always enjoyed it.

But whether it was a for-pay project or something for my own enjoyment, I’d come to hate all of it. I’d lost that burning need to tell the story, to express something. I stopped dreaming about the characters. I stopped hearing them. With no exaggeration, I can say it’s the most terrifying feeling in the world for me. Like I stopped knowing who I was.

Not to be overly dramatic but this is totally me.

What I’m saying is: it was bad.

It still is.

One of the hardest things for me is to ask for help, but I finally did, going to Lilith Saintcrow as she’s been at this longer than me and I knew from her writing-related blog posts that my typical process and productivity was similar to hers. She reassured me it’s a normal phase careers go through and offered me strategies to get through it (citing long term burnout as part of my problem—WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED THAT BEING A WORKAHOLIC MIGHT BREAK YOU?), including refilling the well and not writing for a few months.

So I did that (which helped--the slight stirring of WANT is there again), but I was going through a major life upheaval around the same time. I picked up TheArtist’s Way and twitched my way through all the mentions of God to grab the bits of wisdom, trying to both recover myself and dig down deep to see what specific steps put me here. There are many of them (obviously, as it takes a lot to fuck me up THIS severely), not the least of which is the amount of pressure I put on myself. Especially now that an average of seventy-five percent of my income comes directly from writing—the rest being freelance—it’s hard to sit down and do anything without thinking about what I should be writing so I can pay rent and stuff. “You’re going to stave if you don’t spend your time wisely”, paradoxically, is quite paralyzing.

But I busted ass all fall writing shit I hated that would help pay the bills, and decided that this month—January—I was starting the year off right. I’d take the pressure off and the ONLY project I would write was a brand new book purely for myself, at my own pace.

I wrote 3K words over a week.

And I hate it.

The character isn’t talking to me. The world isn’t clear. I’m missing entire chunks of backstory. I’m convinced I am not smart enough to tell this story (it’s set in Nairobi—WHY would I set a freakin’ book in Nairobi??).

On the weekend, I got organizing stuff for the for-pay writing I do—just a list of projects I was overdue giving someone—and I had the mad thought of, “Why don’t I fuck around with one of these for a bit?” (Since I don't do freelance work on the weekend.)

Evil writers, let me tell you something.

I had fun.

I had fun on something I normally resent. I played with the characters, I wrote scenes that highly amused me. I didn’t stress about an outline or word count goals or the end result. But for a few hours, writing felt less like a job and more like something fun again, and in the most unexpected of projects--something for the market in a genre I loathe. But I grabbed onto that fun and held on, because it was the only spark of something I've felt in a while.

And you know what else? Last night before bed, the Nairobi book started talking to me as well. I don’t have a full handle on it yet, but it tossed a few huge revelations my way, and I know it’s simmering.

So here we are, evil writers.

We talk a lot here about shutting the fuck up and doing the work, because that’s what a writer does: she does the work. She sits her ass down every day and writes, whether it’s five hundred words or five thousand words. She values discipline and follow-through, and constantly strives to improve her craft. She doesn't wait for the muse: she beats it over the head with a two-by-four, drags it into the house, and pokes it with fire when it doesn't behave.

But she also needs to have fun.

Because when you’re on the twelfth reread of the book, you’re going to hate the story even more if you didn’t even like it when you first wrote it.

When your royalties work out to about ten cents an hour spent on a book and you’re questioning why you wrote it in the first place, perusing the first few enjoyable lines of the story should answer that for you. 

When the negative reviews come in getting the characters’ names wrong and seeming to have skimmed large chunks of the book, you have to remember that someone did like the book: you.

Because the only constant in this job is you. Everything else is a variable: who will read it, who will like it, who will buy it. None of that is in your control. Just you are.

Write for money—write to pay the bills. Deliver that sequel you’re not as jazzed about as the first book. Keep the market in mind when you’re brainstorming. There’s nothing wrong with any of that: skills to pay the bills, and bitches gots to get paid.

But if you're losing that joy, recognize it and do everything in your power to grab it again. Have fun or else you’re better off becoming a career artisan hummus maker*.



*Or something similar. Not that. Because that’s MY backup career.


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