I’ve got a New Yorker’s tolerance for profanity, but something in my gut tells me most writers don’t refer to their product as shit (ie. “Yo, did you read my latest shit?”) It’s just not what one wants a word-baby to be associated with after doing what it takes to publish.
Obviously, there is one.
I think the clearest one is the amount of confidence it takes to look into something, identify value after combining concepts for a final product, and especially to put one’s name on it and as a matter of ownership, say, “I made this!”
People with unfortunately shattered, damaged egos don’t do this. People with super inflated egos think that everything that comes out of them is gold. It seems that self-worth gets transferred to something the creator identifies as coming from the self. It’s got to be a healthy instinct to want feedback and criticism, because it puts a creator somewhere in the middle.
But there’s this other thing too that’s not quite criticism, but is certainly a form of feedback. “Maybe if you-” is usually how it starts out. It’s feedback that I’ve found can happen even when people really love something, and somewhere between hard criticism and soft opinion. It also has a corollary of “I’m not going to do the legwork myself, and I already read it, but if you try this, maybe I’ll go along for the ride with you! Maybe.”
And that’s how it should be.
An old, old piece of advice for writers is that it’s their job to know what advice to take. Sometimes it’s said by a person who’s about to shoot any old opinions like it’s water from a firehose, and sometimes it’s said by someone who’s tentative about giving really good opinions. It’s up to the creator to discern.
But I think that old addage should also be added to really important pointers such as: opinions and like/dislike preferences aren’t the same thing as advice, and who the hell has the right to give a creator advice?
Let’s take the super popular idea of youtube as an easier channel — can anyone name a single famously successful channel that is devoid of criticism, that doesn’t have dislikes, and where if the creator was running around and sharing it with friends and family, got a unanimous response of “Boy, this is probably perfect. You did it.”
No. No you can’t.
And the last thing I’ll point out is, I think it’s common practice for any fiction author to become a little revisionist — and make ~20 different drafts of something as arduous as a novel. I still remember watching a documentary about Stallone writing Rocky, and smirking when he acknowledged that there’re 20 (paper!) copies of the first script, and that he had about 20 slightly-to-very different version that, I’ll wager, he never went back to ever.
I guess my resting point is, an author needs to have some ego, definitely, and an author has to respect their audience, but also realize they’re the creator, and figure out if opinions or advice are really right for them to incorporate when doing those twenty different rewrites. Maybe even give any feedback double/triple/quadruple weight in professional relationships rather than say, workshops, friends, or family, but still weigh it, rather than take it. It’s going to be the author’s name on the final product after all, and above all, it’s a creator’s job to be successfully captivating and even entertaining, more than to capture and entertain ideas.
And that’s not even a novel point.
Think of it like a game.
That’s an idea.
Hey, I’m literally not a pro (yet) but if you realize certain rules that are more likely to make you successful, such as “Proofing (again) is part of the game” or, “Pitching is part of the game” or ,”Promoting and marketing is part of the game” and if you know you want to be in the game….well…..
Then you’ll do it.
Or at least gamers will.
And I’m sure a very high portion of writers are gamers.
And, c’mon, great gamers are special people who will do a lot of things they don’t like in order to get better at said game.
And, c’mon some more, doing it right involves a lot of “out of your comfort / out of your feel-good” zone.
Anyway, after everything I’ve done while still not feeling done, that’s my tip of the week:
Think of it like a game to master, more than a matter of identity, or survival, or something else that might be too serious to succeed.
Publishing is another tough industry, but seeing it as a game to master makes the purposefulness fun, more than draining.
I mean this as kindly as I may, but this is a two-sided demand. I’ve heard it a few times, and it’s not offensive, but it is a little demanding.
And I’ll say that there are at least two themes within the personality of the folks who have said this to me. Maybe three.
- They’re strong personalities. I’ve never, ever had this said by a person who thinks to prioritize seeming meek.
- I don’t often see them walking around with a book. This is not to say they don’t read — in fact I know the opposite to be true with the folks I’m thinking of. I’ve just never seen them carrying the sweet soft comforts of a book’s cover between their fingertips. Except my sister. And that’s when she’s going to the beach.
- (This one’s a maybe) They believe I’m really going to book it.
I remember the first time this demand was said, I was carrying around something like 300+ loose pages belonging to my manuscript for my first big book DISJUNCTURE. This was a long time ago, and it feels like a galaxy that was far away, but it was really this one, and just a different time. I met up with an old colleague for a night of dranks, she introduced me as “Eric, he’s very literate” and when she found out I didn’t have my laptop in my bag, but instead a strange amount of homemade pages, there it was.
“I’m a character, right?”
“MAKE ME A CHARACTER!”
“You are a character.”
“I MEAN IN YOUR BOOK!”
That’s a paraphrase for how the conversation went, because alcohol was involved. And like I said, this isn’t bad, and as a person, I still appreciate and respect this gal.
With my latest manuscript…well I think/believe that with many writers there’s an incubation period and an “OMGerd lemme share!” period. The incubation part is important for self-feedback, before you get the feedback of alpha and beta readers. But then you share, and you might find that everyone has different opinions, and different things that they love/like/don’t really like, which I think is good. But this can sometimes happen. It’s happened with Bahamut more than 3 times in the last month.
“MAKE ME A CHARACTER!”
You know, the bad part of this double-sided demand is that it’s usually made after a book is past its first draft, because we’re in that beta-reader phase. If your book is tightly plotted and fast-paced…do you know how inconvenient it is to introduce a new character? I think that just maybe this introduces a couple of reasons why the people who make this demand don’t have “Reader” at the forefront of their descriptors? Because they should 1) want to read the book, specifically they have no idea if I’m going to George R R Martin them with a terrible twist or ending. And people might not like that. But also 2) If you appreciate the pacing of a story, you’ll understand that it’s not only extra work on me, its author, but also extra work on the reader to have to spend extra time looking for some stranger in the pages.
I guess in a way, most of us want to read for ourselves in the pages. And in all sincerity, I think it’s flattering that closely-minded folks, my adoptive kin-oh-the-Earth want to read about themselves directly. I think it means they believe in what I’m doing, that it should lead to fun and more, and hey, that’s flattering.
And of course, like I said, I’m sure most writers take real-world inspiration from imaginary and real-life people. We all make constructs, no? I just think it’s less double-sided, and maybe even more realistic to live as a person who’s in some way inspiring. I guess I can be demanding too, because for me it’s more like, hey, I see you kin-oh-the-earth. Keep making me take notice, and if I deserve to be a writer of many books, you’re bound to get in one, eventually.
I just need to write a bunch of good books, first.
No big deal, right?
I am right around the bend of my newest novel draft.
As in, I’m right towards the end.
I’ve learned a lot about pacing from my first attempt to get a book traditionally published. Even though I think, and know, in my gut how I feel about it (it’s an epic story) I know my first draft of my first full length novel had a lot of young-writer mistakes. (This is different compared to the trimmed down/macheted version that exists today.)
A lot of the descriptions, and ways, and focal points, and pacing were, to put ’em simply: n00b.
Hints: You do not need to carry on with your character’s commute, unless it’s really, really relevant to later. Subtle foreshadowing represents masterful writing, because it shows that the writer isn’t indulgent, but tightly paced and well-planned.
You don’t need to exposit the good and the bad of an MC. Just the importants.
We’re in an overly sexualized world, to the point that we’re desensitized. Talking about doodoo may actually be more effective than talking about hooking up, or incentives towards hooking up. (That’s not a literal tip that I practice, as much as a point.)
Keep it under 100. That is, keep it under 100k words. If you get a request when you’re querying for something that’s over 120,000 words, your premise is gold, and your query letter is too. But you’re writing better be more valuable than a diamond, cause (I think) 60k words is a tightly paced novel’s length. So do you really need to sell two books at once? Do, you, really?
So this, and more, is being carried into Bahamut, which I’ve decided to finish before my life probably gets more….typical. Bahamut is a story about a music composer who realizes that there’s a lot more to the industry than gigs, contracts, results and fanfare. It’s ambiguous in terms of what’s going on (there’re two strong possibilities, and you either have to blame the MC, or blame a really, really screwed up universe) and I’m not at the point where I should elaborate more than that but,
I’m at the fun* part where the ish hits the fan, and it’s everywhere. That part where if I’m doing my job well, I’m smacking the reader with “Behold! Thy nostrils are filled with the wafts of fan-poop!” and, it’s fun. It’s probably the most fun part of writing.
I read a writing post on reddit (as dorks will do) that was titled “Are you a gardener or are you an architect”. As you can probably guess from the headline itself, the idea is that architects tightly plan everything from blueprints, and freak out if things go out of whack from their original plans. They’re outliners. The other group, gardeners, just let stuff grow wild.
I’ve got two responses to that:
- Who the heck said gardeners just let stuff grow wild? Clearly, whoever wrote that isn’t a gardener. Gardening involves planning. You can have a blueprint for your garden. I get the idea, but, there had to be a better metaphor. Trailblazer, maybe, I feel like that gets the idea across. Let’s go with that.
- Almost every time someone gives me an “either/or” dichotomous paradigm, I wanna Zoidberg them with “why not both?”
I don’t write unless I know how it ends. I understands this baffles a great many writers who are incredibly successful. But this also invites what Stephen King says in On Writing, and in interviews what he calls as “The notebook” aka one of the worst things a writer can do. His argument seems to be that a notebook has no filter, so you fill it with good ideas, and bad ideas, and then that runs the danger of turning into a writer’s diarrhea.
(Oh dear, maybe I am taking my poop point too seriously.)
His argument is, that when you think about, and process, your mind will retain all the better ideas, and what results won’t be unfiltered, fettered garbage.
King, btw, is almost pure trailblazer in terms of his writing process. He’s one of the types who say they’re baffled when he hears a writer knows the ending, or even the last word of their work before they put their finger to a keyboard, or pen to paper, etc.
But why not both?
I had 2 outlines for Bahamut, and both have very, very similar major plot points. I could get into why, but what was going on in my life isn’t important.
What is important is, after Disjuncture, I saw the necessity and grew the balls to go off course. From my own outline. I wanted to tell myself that all of this ish is imaginary and, what’s going off course, from an imaginary course, anyway?
Well, I can still tell I’m coming around the bend. There are certain major plot points that I know to reach, and every day my head seems to be winding towards a new, less twisted, straighter course towards said point. And I put that down, and now, today, I know I’m about to reach that end. Plus, I’m enjoying the scenery. But I still have a mental map.
It’s just developed enough that I know that I can skip C. Or maybe combine B and D and make that C. But I’m still going to end up at J, even if it’s really L.
I think the idea is, not to self-identify if your process is outline based, or trailblazed, as much as appreciate the virtues and weaknesses of both, and try and make the best of both styles. What works for King almost definitely won’t work nearly as well for another, but any writer almost certainly have a lot to learn from the guy.
He taught me to grow some balls enough to try and take shortcuts from my outline. Yes, sometimes shortcuts mean you might get lost, and may actually make things worse and longer, but they’re also fun, they’re more experimental, and I’d like to believe that those writers who know what they’re doing, rarely, if ever, get themselves lost in the sauce.
Public, private, published, or hidden horde cache of words
If there’s a part of your brain where this applies to you, and it doesn’t shut up unless you put the time in,
Then congrats. You’re one of those.
Spiders don’t just walk or need to float.
Spiders have other ways of getting on a boat.
Spiders are right now in the air.
They’re coming to land in your hair.
My grandmother passed away on the 19th. It knocked me on my butt, especially after being there in the hospital when they called TOD.
Yes, it’s incredibly personal. Yes, it changes a lot in life, and it fell on me to do a lot for her services.
But I did. I knew she was really loved, but her service ended up being huge.
I’m getting back into gear to do my best at the right things. I know that’s what she’d have respected, what she would have wanted, and that that’s the best way to honor her.
Just, if you’re lucky enough to have a beloved elder in your life still, make them know it. I know this is obvious, but it’s one of those things that’s hard to say, or do enough. Trust me, while people respond to grief in all sorts of different ways….major changes can really take the wind from your sails. They can always happen.
This one was and is: tough.