Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Writing, interupted


Sometimes, I don’t know what to write.
Sometimes I sit in front of the computer and I want to write, but nothing happens.
Sometimes I’ve been looking forward to my writing time all day.
Sometimes I’ve been running through a particular scene or sequence for hours.
And still…nothing happens.


source


This isn’t writers’ block.

Writers’ block, in my opinion is a pattern that is sustained. It’s the black hole into which all your creativity, enthusiasm, and basic ability to string words together has flowed. For ages.

This is not that.

This is…well, I’m not sure what this is. Fatigue, in some cases, probably. Spent an entire shift at the day job playing mental catch-up the whole time, talking at and across and above each other until you’ve lost the ability to speak English, and—surprise!—you’re not magically reinvigorated the second you get home.

Sometimes, for those pantsers amongst us, it’s our brain’s way of saying, “Hang on, now. Something’s not working here. I don’t know yet what it is, but why don’t you go and watch some TV and I’ll get the subconscious to poke around a bit and see if we can sort it out.” It’s always handy to have a WIP on standby for these situations, because sometimes it takes a while for the subconscious to come through with a result.

And sometimes it’s just because you just don’t feel like writing.

And that’s okay, too. We write because we need to, and because we enjoy it. There are enough external forces out there preparing to suck all the fun out of writing for us, without us doing their job for them.

So give yourself a break.

Watch some TV. Go for a walk. Play with the dog (you know she wants to). Try reading a book, instead of writing one.

Your story will still be there tomorrow, and you’ll be able to look at it with new eyes.

Because sometimes that’s exactly what you need. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Things I Know About Being Published (A very short list)

Okay, so I still don't consider myself a proper writer. I know, right? Even though I've got ...what are we up to now...six books published under a pseudonym, two more under contract, one under submission, and another few waiting in the wings. 

Crazy, right? But sometimes I feel like having a pseudonym allows me to step back from the writer identity, and just be the same old me...the one who still can't blog without typos (thanks, MC!), who worries more about possum invasions than plot conflicts, and the one who is currently wearing mismatched socks. 



Yep, my secret identity is a writer, but I'm just me... 

But I have learned a few things, so I'm going to share those with you. 

1. Your book is not perfect. 

You know that, right? Of course you do. In fact, you're so worried about that, that you're afraid to submit it anywhere. But guess what? They're not looking for perfect. They're looking for a product they can sell. Sometimes, you need to take a breath, take a step back, and just send it out into the world, warts and all. It's better than you think it is. 

2. People are going to hate your book. 

You know this too, but it still doesn't mean that first "OMG I WANT TO BURN THIS WITH FIRE AND CONSIGN THE ASHES TO HELL" review won't take you by surprise. The trick is, don't dwell on it. I mean, you're going to. You're going to ignore all those other wonderful five-glowing-star reviews, just because Betty from Idaho hated your book. She knows the truth. She knows you're a worthless fraud. She can see into your soul

But you have to move on. You have to get some perspective. Don't let Betty and your own writer-neuroses  bring you down. Because, holy shit! You wrote and published a book! You're awesome! 

(And, it should go without saying, do not respond to Betty's review. Not ever.) 

3. Write another book. Immediately. 

Don't sit back and wait for the accolades. Don't obsessively check for the reviews and Goodreads statuses of the people reading your book. It's out there, it's done, and you need to keep moving. You're only on the first rung of a very long ladder here. Keep writing. And, the more you write, the easier it gets. 

The first MS I ever submitted (it was rejected, BTW) took me years. Literally years. Because it had to be perfect. Because I was scared. Because if I didn't submit it, it didn't have to fail. I could be a wannabe writer, which is much better than being a rejected writer. Well, guess what? Sooner or later you have to take that leap, and it might as well be sooner. My MS failed anyway, but I could have spent those years writing other stuff. I wish I had. 

4. Turn off the Internet once in a while. 

Don't get bogged down in blogging and social networking. You need an online presence, sure, but don't be that author that everyone hates. The one who sticks their nose into other peoples' conversations about the massacre of civilians in Syria with: "Wow. Talk about conflict, right? Hey, speaking of conflict, you guys should check out my book." No. Just no. Because if everything is a sales pitch, nobody will want to interact with you. 

And beware of the Great Time Suck. This is where you look up from your computer, it's a week later, and you've spent all that time on Twitter instead of on your novel. Find a balance that works for you, but remember you're supposed to be going somewhere, not just treading water. 

Do you know what's better for sales than social networking? Writing more books. 

5. Your book is not your baby. 

I really hate this analogy. Okay, I'm not a mother and have no intention of ever being one, but I'm pretty sure my books are not my babies. For starters, I'm allowed to have favourites. Also, if I neglected  babies the way I neglect my books, I'd be in prison right about now. 

But I'm willing to compromise on this. My books are my baby birds. I hatch them, wait until they're big enough, then kick them the hell out of the nest and hope they can fly. And then I'm done. 

Because, whenever I hear "Oh, but my book is my baby!" I also hear "Warning. Incoming Author Meltdown. Retreat. Retreat." Don't be that author. Don't obsess about the book that's already out. You've done your job. Let it go. Obsess about the next one you're already writing instead. 

*** 

So there. That's what I've learned about being published. 

Anything to add to the list, you guys? 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Suspension of Disbelief

Writers sometimes ask you to believe crazy things when they write their books -- vampires who go to high school, gladiatorial games where kids are killed, the idea that the boy you love when you're sixteen will be with you forever and ever... 

And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, depending on the reader. 

Or the viewer. 



Because really, it would be easier to train oil rig workers to be astronauts than it would be to train astronauts to use oil rig equipment? NASA doesn't have enough highly skilled engineers? 

(BTW, guess what I caught on TV the other night?) 

But that's what the willing suspension of disbelief is all about. And, if you can allow yourself to accept whatever crazy premise you're asked to, the ride gets much easier. 

As Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in 1817: "It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith." 

Okay, so a lot of that was probably the opium talking, but the point is a good one. Just because a story could not possibly be real, doesn't mean there's no truth in it. 

And this is one of those things where your mileage may vary. What works for you, might not work for me. A talking cat? Ridiculous! 



But you know what? If I can't wrap my head around a cat that talks (and has infinite other cats under his hat), that's my loss. Because stories should never be judged on their reality. This is fiction, after all. Stories should be judged on what we take away from them, no more and no less. And, when I was four, those endless cats, stacked like babushkas, gave my my first look at infinity. Also, there were hijinks and messes and chaos. 

*** 

Has your suspension of disbelief ever faltered and ruined a story for you? 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Fish Flavoured Dog Food


So today, as Cleo was finishing off a main course of stolen tomato and a desert of stolen banana, and I was standing at the top of the steps yelling “Do you want me to peel it for you first?” I got to thinking.

Fish flavoured dog food. Why does no such thing exist?

Why, when you buy cat food, can you buy lamb, or beef, or chicken, or fish, or any combination of the above...and you can buy most of that for dogs as well, but why is there no fish flavoured dog food? 

Dogs love fish. More dogs love fish than love bananas or tomatoes, that's for sure. But we have these weird expectations -- thanks to marketing, and to habit -- that they don't. (Oh, you know dogs. They eat land-based animal products only. Everyone knows that. And never at all steal tomatoes or bananas either. It's absurd to suggest otherwise. You're drunk, go home.) 

And did I mention that my sister's dog, Bylee, who also loves his apples, goes absolutely mad for lettuce? Because Cleo's crazy, but she's not that crazy. 

And it got me thinking of what might happen if Roger...

(You guys remember Roger, right? He was in accounting, then worked in plastics manufacturing.)

Roger

...well, what if Roger, who is now working for a pet food company, tried to float the idea of fish flavoured dog food? Would it be too radical? Too crazy? Too out of the box? 

Which got me thinking about writing. Because, let's face it, everything gets me there in the end. 

Tom Stoppard wrote in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, "Audiences know what to expect, and that is all they are prepared to believe in." 

But maybe audiences only know what to expect, because that's all that we give them, over and over again. Romance, gotta have a happy ever after. Thriller, gotta have a chase. YA, gotta have that damned boy-girl-boy love triangle. 

And it's a vicious circle. It sells, so it's what publishers want. So they publish more of it, and it sells, because that's all there is to buy... 

I hit this wall with Romance all the time. And yes, most readers of Romance buy in the expectation of a happy ending. That's the product they want. But occasionally I read a review that's a bit different, a bit more interesting, and a hell of a lot incisive. "I would have liked it more," one reviewer wrote on GR of one of my books, "if they hadn't got a happy ending." And then she outlined an ending that, you guys, would have been fucking awesome. But I can promise you now, it would never have got past a publisher. 

So is there where self publishing comes in? I mean, there is a lot of crap self published stuff out there. A lot. But there is also a lot of innovative stuff. A lot of crazy, brilliant, I-can't-believe-that-happened stuff. And, when we find it, it blows all our expectations away, and suddenly that same-same stuff that publishers push on us doesn't seem like quite enough any more. 

Our appetites have been whetted. We want something more. You know what we want? 

Fish flavoured dog food. Because why not, right?  


Monday, August 12, 2013

Pantser Dust Bunnies

The worst thing about being a pantser is that when I run out of momentum, I have no plan to fall back on. So I just...stop. 

But the best thing about being a pantser is all the weird little files I later find on my computer that, even if I knew what they were about once, I don't remember now. 

Like this: 


When I wake up, I don’t know where I am.
That’s not so unusual, is it?
It’s a hospital. I could have picked it without even opening my eyes. The cold air smells of antiseptic and nothing else.
I open my eyes anyway, but there isn’t much to see. My feet sticking out from the blanket. My arms lying beside me. A drip in the back of my left hand; the tape puckers my skin into wrinkles. Sticky things on my chest and a plastic thing clipped on my left index finger send information to the monitor beside the bed. It flickers with numbers.
The bed has rails.
Curtains drawn around me.
Sagging ceiling panels.
Definitely a hospital.
I don’t remember what happened. Nothing hurts, and I can wiggle my toes.
I also don’t remember who I am.  

YA? Probably. Anything else? No idea. But I enjoy speculating. 

It's not a plot bunny exactly. It's more of a dust bunny, collecting in the dark corners under the bed. And there are a whole lot more where that came from. 

Cohesive? Hell no. But they pique my interest when I look back at them, and one day they might be useful for something. 

I also found this one: 

The first meteor hit at 7 a.m. It sounded like thunder as it came in, then the explosion. Like a bomb. Windows shattered, car alarms wailed, and then the meteor hit the ground.
The world shook.
The city burned.
By noon there had been at least four more strikes. 


And I don't remember what was going on here, except the story wasn't about the meteor strike at all. It was about what happened after. But the specifics escape me. 

Something like this, I guess.
source

And this one, which turned out to be semi-autobiographical. Except for the part where the narrator is a boy. 

I have tutoring every Wednesday, because I suck at maths. I hate maths. I hate it enough in class, but I really hate it in tutoring because it’s just me and Mr. Bagent and I’ve got his undivided attention. His breath smells like chewing gum and cigarettes (like he thinks the first one will cover up the second) and every time we go over exactly the same things because somehow they all fell out of my head during the week.

The questions I hate the most are the ones about trains going in opposite directions at different speeds, so where will they meet? I don’t even know what the point of that is. Who needs to know this stuff? And then, when tutoring is over and I’m getting the late train home, I always wonder if the driver is checking his watch when another train shudders past ours. Yep, 4.47 precisely, just like Mr. Bagent predicted. 

Pantsing is fun. Not always productive, but fun. 


Do you have half-started bits and pieces lying around the place? 
Feel free to share :) 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Is that you, universe?

So, when a publisher actually asks you to write something for them, what do you say? 

a) It's not really a period of history that I'm familiar with.
b) It sounds like a lot of research. 
c) I'm not sure I'm the right person for the job.
d) HELL YES! 

If you answered d, you are like me. Dive straight on in and worry about getting those pesky "facts" right later. 

So the project in question is for my pseudonym. She's been busy this year, so much so that I've neglected my other writing. But I don't regret it. It's nice to get a cheque every month, right? 

Anyway, a publisher asked me to write a Western. 

Here is a list of things I know nothing about: 

1. The American West
2. Cowboys
3. Gold mining
4. Horses 
5. The Oregon Trail
6. Railroads 
7. All of the above and much more 

A story set in a city in the 1800s? Easy as. But a story set on the frontier? Um...what's the difference between a state and a territory anyway? And also, what did cowboys actually do? 

But it's okay. You don't want to weigh down a story with too much detail. It's a romance, right? It's about the people, and the thing with people is we're much the same as we ever were. Different social mores and attitudes, but the same basic needs, desires and hopes. But not the same underwear. 

source


Anyway, I researched a bit about Wyoming in the 1860s and decided that yep, that was perfect. And while there is a lot of information out there on life in the Old West, much of it is spurious at best. Because, you know, what did a shot of whiskey cost in 1860? Anywhere between 10 and 75 cents, apparently, but that really doesn't narrow it down much. 

And then, just when I was thinking I'd never find just the right little details to pull this thing together, I got a sign from the universe. And the sign said "Antique and Secondhand Books". And it was on a shop. And inside the shop I found this


Sections include clothing, horse trappings, transportation, and firearms. It could not be more perfect. 

Cheers, universe. I owe you one. 

P.S. If you could also supply me with some beta readers who know their stuff when it comes to the Old West, that would be great. 

***

What's your luckiest research find? 

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