Thursday, 30 June 2011

Burnout

Everyone experiences burnout eventually. As a blogger, I experience burnout whenever I constrain myself to a tight little circle of subjects. For example, my gaming blog only kept up as long as it did because I wasn't focused on just games, but on game design, running and playing games, and general game theory. That's a lot of ground to cover even if it all falls under 'games.'

In writing, I've always experienced burnout eventually, since blogging about writing is a very solitary thing. Every person who writes about writing puts out information only from their point of view, a highly draining exercise for an introvert (I'm generally introverted, don't let my blog or twitter presence fool you!).

So how do you overcome that problem?

First, don't get tied down to a single concept of what you're talking about! Seriously, if you start with writing, get more specific. Are you talking about copywriting? Blogging? Grammar? Make sure it has enough depth to talk about for a long while!

Then, spread out. Pick some related topics, things that tie into the core of your content, but are interesting and give you room to explore. A number of people I know who blog about writing also blog about movies (As an audience member). This is a great relationship of topics since a stronger understanding of the one helps the other!

The last tip only works if you're blogging for branding purposes (Meaning your blog is about you, not about a topic), don't worry if you change up to other things that interest you once in a while!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The risks and benefits of free

About a month ago, I compiled some of my best flash fiction pieces that were sitting around not doing anything, and released them as the free collection Sunset on Mars and Other Stories, a Smashwords exclusive. So far it's had 115 downloads, but here's the kicker ... that didn't correlate to any increase in sales for my related novel, Flyday.

Sure, it's sold copies since then, but every time someone buys it, they've told me (or my marketing expert) why they did: they heard one of us talk about it and thought it sounded interesting. They didn't read Sunset first. Some possible reasons? a) The free collection is really short (at 1500 words, the size of a small short story even); b) Smashwords just isn't as popular as something like Amazon, where it would have more visibility; and c) I didn't promote it as much as I promoted Flyday.

It's definitely being read. But if it isn't drawing readers toward my book as well, I need to change my strategy. Maybe I'll post the stories directly onto my blog, to draw in readers who prefer to read something short on a screen. Or work on more short stories, add to it and put it on both Smashwords and Amazon for $.99. But I think it was good practice to format another ebook, and was a good refresher for when I'll release my next novel later this year.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

So I said last week that I was going to make a miniature figure of one of my characters.

Guess what?


Bam. He doesn't look like much right now, I'll admit, but that's because he's all white sculpey still, at this point. I haven't even cured it yet. (By the way, I'm thinking of boiling instead of baking--any opinions?)
All in all, I think he looks pretty awesome for being the first mini I've ever made.

Can't wait to see him all painted up.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Everything I Know About Foreshadowing I Learned From Homestuck

Have you read Homestuck?

Well, 'read' is an inadequate verb, as Homestuck has a soundtrack, and animation sometimes. And an intense and involved fan community, whose wild mass guessing is more or less key to some parts of Homestuck.

First among the things I learned is that foreshadowing can be more opaque the more people you can get to try to shed light on it. There is an extensive wiki for Homestuck and an exhaustive TVTropes page, which all add background dimension to the story. If it weren't for the foreshadowing being obviously there but not obviously leading to something, I wouldn't have gone to the wikis and - and this is key - I wouldn't be as invested in the story and the series.

Second is that you can baldly tell someone what is going to happen, in detail if you want to, and then proceed to tell the story that leads to the events you told them about, and, if you've done well, and gotten the reader involved in the story and made them care, they will still be shocked.

Other things I learned about writing from reading Homestuck I'll have to tell you later in another post.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Betas - care and proper feeding

If you're an indie writer, you're going to need betas. A beta (literally, "the second in a series," after the Greek letter) is a person who reads a writer's story and offers comments. Betas are usually a writer's friend, and they read and critique a story for free (or a low price). New writers often can't afford professional editors or proofreaders, so the beta's job is an important one--catch errors, and offer an opinion for revisions.

I rely on some betas I've met through writing forums, and we use Google Docs to share our work and read comments. Docs is easy to get started with and the files read like Word documents, but with the additional capability of letting other people edit or add thoughts in real time.

However, in the early days when I was writing, I had to print out files for some of my readers (friends and family) and physically deliver or mail them.

I thanked four of my betas in the dedication of my first novel, and everyone who helped with the novel got a coupon code to download the completed book from Smashwords, or a printed novel if they were really instrumental in getting Flyday polished. And I offer critiques to my betas' work as my schedule allows (although I have less and less time for this lately).

The writer/beta relationship is a great one, because every writer needs a second set of eyes before a story is ready for readers.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Getting it out

I have a confession.

I'm a perfectionist.

No, seriously, I'm that horrid type of perfectionist that if I can't get it RIGHT I won't do it at all! It's horrible.

Over the years, this has affected how I write. I now outline. Very detailed, scene by scene breakdowns of everything that should happen to make the story work. I also play with the characters in my head for a long while before starting that outline.

Then I start writing, often editing as I go. This always produces the same issue: I produce a damn fine scene. . . and then I burn out. It's hard to be 'done' all the time.

On my current WIP, I changed my pattern. I wrote down the cool ideas and made a scene, and I'll get back later to firm it up, add where it has holes, and will make it like the first scene (Oh, yeah, I still 'perfected' the first scene. Old habits and all that!) and present it to betas then.

So I'm here with a plea: Get it on paper. You have all the time in the world to fix what's already written, but ideas are often fleeting.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Switch Media.

Page 99 of The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel.

I won't sum up what those two pages say. I don't have to, it's all in the title. (I will briefly plug the kit, in that I believe it's worth a look-at. I got it for Christmas one year and have loved it ever since.)

I've given up writing and I'm going to make a miniature of Forever Moore using a wire armature and Sculpey and acrylic paint. Maybe I'll be able to finish the story when I have a thumb-tall figure of the narrator giving me sad looks from whatever surface I perch him.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Metaphor

So, I was going to write this long post comparing writing a novel to a love affair, but I was having some trouble elucidating some of my points, so I turned to KB to bounce ideas off. After discussing it, I had to discard it as an untenable metaphor. It wasn't something I could make make sense to someone else. Not coherently, not elegantly, despite it being a very simple idea to me.

Metaphor is one of my favorite tools, so it saddened me to not be able to make this one work for me. But one of the most important aspects of metaphor is to know when to stop, know when pushing it farther will make it all fall apart.

Some metaphors are easy cultural shortcuts, like the apple not falling far from the tree as reference to heredity. But the stronger ones, that will stick with people after they finish reading, are always going to be the ones that don't take the shortcuts.

We remember freshly blazed trails. Well-worn footpaths require something fresh to stick out. Which, in terms of metaphor, does not mean Newton jokes.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Some Days It's Hard To Do Anything

You know what I'm talking about - when the world has got you down, and reality is raping you in the face. Repeatedly.

Some people will tell you that's when they're most inspired. They're full of it.
Some people will tell you that's when you need to buckle down and work through it. They're psychotic.
Others might tell you to take a break, and when you least expect it, it'll hit you like a ton of bricks duct taped to a lightning bolt. Wishful thinking, mostly.

Mostly, there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

So why write this? Why even bring it up?

Because sometimes we all need to be reminded that it's not the end of the world. If you can't accomplish something, you don't need to hope for a miracle. Sometimes you just can't make it. It all works itself out eventually. That isn't to say don't -try-. You'll never do anything if you don't put a little effort, but remember - even at a professional level, this shouldn't be stressful for you in the same way a job at a bank or some other day to day grind would be. You chose this path because it was something you wanted.


That is to say

Chill, bro.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Just finish it!

Allan Edwards wrote a great post called "Oh, Just Publish the F---ing Thing Already" on his blog, and it really struck a chord with me. I am one of those writers who has to write and rewrite over and over again before I'm pleased with the final product. Then I have to show it to 3 betas. Then one will have a concern and I'll rewrite a scene. Then I'll show it to three more people...

The fact is, you can't please everybody. You can show a story to 10 different people and all of them could make a different suggestion. It's when many people point out the same issue that you need to start rewriting. If one person has a concern and two other people don't, you can probably let it go.

And writers do need to write a lot. So with that in mind, I'm going to write my second novel without worrying if it's perfect--I'm just going to write a great story.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Profit Motive Is Good For You

I’m kind of a late comer to the party of the ‘e-book pricing debate’ but it’s really getting out of hand. One side literally is racing for the bottom. Make it as cheap as possible; more people buy it that way. The other thinks that the price each individual buys a book for somehow denotes its worth. Both groups are dead wrong!

The race for the bottom group thinks pure numbers are the key to worth. They think every person who buys into their book boosts them up some imaginary totem pole of writing. Good for them. Unfortunately, numbers don’t denote value in the world of art, and generally the wider the appeal, the lower the literary merit.

The ‘price for its value’ crowd isn’t likely to live off their writing either, though. If you think your book is worth 20 dollars, ask for that, and the numbers fall where they may. But don’t tell me that you priced it based on its value. You, as the author, don’t get to make that claim.

So, if it’s not the ‘ask for its worth’ and not ‘how low can you go?’ where is the real price we, as artists and craftsmen, should be asking for?

The obvious answer is ‘that depends.’ I don’t like that answer, but it’s the truth. But it doesn’t depend as much as you think!

There’s a concept called elasticity of demand. It’s a basic measure of how many fewer customers you’ll reach by increasing the price a certain percentage. It’s a useful tool for clipping in to an equation to find your ‘one true price.’

The problem? That value is always an estimate. You can’t guarantee the elasticity of demand on any product, but you can do your research and ball park it. So in the e-book market, which factors should you be considering before settling on your price?

Competition
Look at your genre. What are other authors putting out, and at what prices? Don’t look at the bottom: look at the range, look at how well they’re selling (Especially if you have competitors like J.A. Konrath who so kindly shares his sales numbers), look at the standard deviation of the group.

These numbers are all important. They tell you what the market is allowing people to price at.

Uniqueness
All right, serious discussion here: Anything they can get from you, they can get from another author. Except for you. So how much of a brand are you? Do you know you have 10,000 people willing to buy what you wrote? 100,000? Only 1000? These are all things to consider when you start thinking price.

Not sure what I mean by becoming a brand? Check out Kristen Lamb’s blog on social media for writers.

Royalties
Money, folks, it makes the world go round. And royalty rates can run a very interesting scale. Especially if you’re an indie publishing using Amazon’s kindle Direct Publishing. The basic idea here is you need to compare your potential reader base with how much profit you can make from them.

That’s right, folks, profit motive. It’s the greatest thing we have in this new digital age. Our books are as valuable to us as we can make monetarily in putting them into the world. So be smart, do your research, and run a few calculations. You’d be surprised some times.

Just because I know someone out there is going to ask me to put my price out there, based on some baseline assumptions (Straight line loss of readers as price increases, floors at approximately 10% of readership somewhere around the 10+ dollar range.) the optimal price in a vacuum is approximately $3.99. Of course, that’s my baseline, there’s room for movement both ways in the scale.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

I Got Nothin'

Fuck.

I seriously can't think of anything important or interesting I want to tell you today.

I don't even know who you are.

So this is a list of irrelevant, insignificant things I don't think you want to know. Take your own life lessons away from this.


1.) If the Earth and Cue ball were the same size, you would find more and greater differences in elevation in the Cue ball.

2.) An infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of keyboards would never type the complete works of Shakespeare, that's just ridiculous, and probabilities don't work that way.

3.) Although Mamma Mia! is thought of as the ABBA musical, the book was not written by them, and all the music was taken from previous albums. The band had nothing to do with it's actual creation. The members of ABBA did write a musical with Tim Rice. It was called Chess, and it was terrible - see song: One Night in Bangkok.

4.) Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the least erotic title I have ever seen on a porn DVD.

5.) Xenosaga was not a good game. It's time to let it go.

6.) I love Thai food. It's quite possibly my favorite.

7.) I never wanted to be a writer. Sitting at a keyboard typing rubbish on a regular basis for the rest of my life. I didn't want to be a regular blogger on the L.O.L.W.H.A.T.

I wanted to be. . .


A LUMBERJACK!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Terry Pratchett

So Sir Terry Pratchett is going to kill himself. Maybe. No, really.

And you know what? I understand. I can't blame him. He's got early onset Alzheimer's, for all of you who live under rocks. And for those of you who don't know what that means, it means his mind is going and he'd eventually end up drooling and unable to feed himself, nevermind be able to think and compile the masterful fantasy-comedies he's been writing for years.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, or to see waste away. So when it's all said and done, I can't blame the poor guy for wanting to end it when he wants to, before that brilliant mind is swiss cheese. Yes, I understand that there are more variables than just wanting to die, that assisted suicide has a lot of political, social, and moral implications to consider. I'm not saying I advocate it, or that I'm dead-set against it. I'm not here to preach about my own views or whether or not I believe he should do this.

I'm just saying I understand why, and should he choose to do so--and is allowed to do so--I will still respect him. Good luck, Sir.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Importance of Being Referential

True Names takes a notable line and makes it their topic sentence. To anyone familiar with the referenced text, it's a synopsis of parts of the story to come and also the theme and the genre. It's an easter egg. It made me giggle softly in a public place, startling the man sitting across from me. I read the sentence twice, just to revel in it.

What, you might ask, is this paragon of sentences?

"All across Beebeself, it was a truth universally acknowledged that a singleton daemon in possession of sufficiently massive computation rights must be in want of a spawning filter."

To be perfectly honest, I also read it twice to be sure I was parsing it correctly.

The source material that this sentence references is the first line of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice; "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

This is a case where building on a widely culturally recognizable landmark, such as one of the most famous opening lines in the English language, adds to a text rather than subtracting or distracting. It provides context: the rest of the world of True Names is fascinatingly alien, but drawing this connection to a staple of English romantic literature makes it relatable, gives us a frame of reference for the reading.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Covers

I’m a writer, but I’m an artist too. Not much of one, I’m still in school, but an artist to some degree. I’ve done a couple of covers this year for friends and fellow bloggers Eileen and Laura. Both have been freebies, since they’re friends and I owed ‘em anyway. Eileen “commissioned” me to do the cover for the online litmag she’s part of (this was the more exciting of the two freebies) and Laura I did the cover for her trio of flash fiction stories.
I’m going to take the side of the artist right here and say that if you have a particular vision for what you want the cover to look like, why not mention it to the artist? (If they shoot it down, ask why, and be nice.) I can’t speak for other artists, but I personally like having some parameters to work in, because then I know that what you’re getting is something that a) you will like and b) will fit the story.
When I did the cover for the litmag, I had pretty much total control. I was told to do something “apocalyptic” so I went with a photomontage style, with a tank and planes and all in black and white and gray. I liked it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was serviceable. But when I sent it off, I got the response that it wasn’t what they’d been looking for. Ah. The words “steampunk” and “train” got dropped, and I latched onto those—my parameters. Would have been nice to have those beforehand, but ah well. I cranked open Photoshop and got to work. (And then when I was about done with the second version, PS crashed and I hadn’t saved. Yippee. Always save the file, people.) The second version was what they wanted and what was used, and all was well with the world.
The second cover was a favor, and as such I had a fair bit more freedom over it, since I was doing it of my own free will. I wouldn’t even be offended if Laura decided not to use it. I whipped something up and sent a couple versions of it to her so she could pick which one she liked, if she liked either. Well, one was a big hit (I liked it, she liked it, win-win!) and is in use.
Writers, talk to your artists. We can’t read minds, and if you give us free rein then we’ll take it, and you have to deal with what comes out of that. If you want something, mention it (or insist on it, if you must) but please keep an open mind. What you want might be too difficult, unclear, or just plain bad.
Artists, talk to the writers. Listen to what they ask for and don’t get frustrated if they nix your first design. Make sure to ask if they have something in mind, and see if you can work with it if they do. Don’t be afraid to explain why their ideas might not work.
(Again, I am NOT a professional either of those things! These are just my thoughts on the subject.)

Saturday, 11 June 2011

A Sequence of Events

Let's talk about series. They're a very complicated problem, and somewhat of a heated issue among groups of writers.

The popular "artistic" opinion is that a novel should stand alone, and if it happens to do well, you can continue in that vein. However, sequels to novels that didn't necessarily -need- sequels are often judged quite harshly if they don't live up to the expectations previously set.

A more commercial logic says you can write novels with the full intention of it being a series. It does work, it just makes those "artists" with "integrity" feel squicky. They think that aiming towards creating a successful series is selling out. This is clearly ridiculous, but don't argue with "artist logic." It doesn't even exist.

What I'd really like to say here is this: Know what you're about when you're going in. If you want to write a series, you're more likely to succeed in this endeavour if you set up a series of events, foreshadowing and subplots that will make for a sound series. If you want to succeed in writing a series, you absolutely have to make your readers want more with the end of every book. The conventional wisdom of leaving a reader satisfied has to be thrown out the window - you need that "something" to be missing, that will make them wonder until they pick up the next book.

However, your stories should be self contained. SOMETHING needs to be resolved in every volume. It's not like a television show, where the audience waits a week. It will probably be a year between books, if you put all your time and energy into it.

These thoughts are brought to you by someone who's waiting on the next volumes of like six series. Seriously, why are all these books releasing the same month?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Word Choice Drools

"Waves broke against its supports. It had a skyline as intricate and twisted as a city's. Above the three leg-pillars was a cluster of seemingly random spires, and cranes moving like clawed hands; and over them all a huge minaret of girders soared and drooled fire." -China Mieville, The Scar

I read this book years ago, but some of the descriptors have stuck with me--first and foremost China's use of the word "drooled." In the above paragraph it's fire, but that's not all; water drools, blood drools, venom drools. It's a slow, sluggish, grimy word. I imagine the water to be almost more solid than liquid, slowly spreading out like gobs of glue.


Now, we've all heard it before; how you write and what words you pick are important. And they are, they really, really are.

Take the above example. How would the imagery change if the skyline was solid and blocky, the cranes moved like dead trees in the wind, the minaret was a tower, or the fire was spat? Maybe it's not that big a difference. Or maybe it's the difference between "died" and "was murdered."

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Live and Share

Readers just want a powerful emotional experience.

Give it to them.

You’re human, too. Push the buttons you know work so well. If you have siblings, you know precisely which buttons to push; you’ve been doing it for years.

You’ve got dreams. Hell, if you write, your dreams are probably grander than most people. Invite them on a journey they’ll only take in their dreams. Let your characters do the thing your reader wants them to do.

You understand set-backs. Again, you’re a writer; you know what it’s like to get frustrated in your goals. Share it.

My point is: Go out and live life, then show that life to your readers. They’ll thank you.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Trust Me Not To Think

Writers think too much.

Especially when we're reading.

And then we expect normal readers to think as much as we do.

"It's so obvious!" we cry when we figure out what's going to happen next three chapters before it does.

It's not that obvious. We just know we would have done. or at least considered, -the exact same thing.-

We then turn around and think too hard about our writing. We write things to purposely obscure our meanings and our aims because we don't want to be too obvious. All we really end up doing in this situation is make our writing unapproachable. . . and really, pretty bad.

This short post has been a public service announcement: stop thinking so hard, because your readers certainly aren't.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Debut

I have two stories. One is a space adventure masquerading as science fiction, dealing with aliens, monotonous space travel, kidnapping, and interplanetary ecological activism. (It’s not as interesting as it sounds, trust me.) The other is a mystery/thriller/SF/fantasy revolving around death, drugs, madness, and a doomsday clock. (A lot better than it sounds.)

The first one, Glitch, was written over the summer of 09 and is far more lighthearted than the second one, Blue Star; but in some respects Star is the superior work. They’re both good, but as an author, which one do I debut with?

First impressions are everything. This is especially true for continuing works—series in particular, but writers as well. Most writers tend to have a niche, one genre that they’re good at and stick with. This is great for marketing, because the audiences of those particular genres will find those authors and read their work and, more importantly, stick with it. Your loyal army of fans.

This can be great, fantastic, the best—if you have a niche, a genre, a place to snuggle in and let your readers chase you down. For genre-hopping authors, however, it’s not such a great thing. This is why Stephen King wrote romance novels under a pseudonym. (What, you didn’t know that?)

Do I start chronologically, with my more lighthearted tale of kidnapping in space, and alarm readers who pick up Star expecting more of the same, or do I begin with my admittedly better but far darker story of a hunt for a serialkiller and let down readers who picked up Glitch hoping for another tale of intrigue? If you can’t stay consistent for your fanbase, you might not end up having a very big one.

Readers like more of the same. It’s why people have favorite authors; so that they can follow that name, pick up a book, and get what they want and, admittedly, expect. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t experiment. Personally, I believe that exploring genres helps one grow as a writer. But if you plan on genre hopping, like I do, maybe you should use a pseudonym or be ready for your readers to be confused or betrayed when they pick up your romance novel after reading your horror one.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The End

Endings are hard. They're as hard as beginnings, and sometimes harder. With a beginning you have a blank slate, with nothing but the reader's expectations. By the end you have an entire story to deal with on top of those expectations. You can't let the reader down by just slapping an ending on there or letting them decide.
Here are a few articles I read, just to give you an idea of what research I did for this.
Sometimes you have the ending planned out--the entire story was building up to this, this one moment. Sometimes you figure out the ending as you write, and the story leads you on to a place you didn't expect but know in your heart is right. And sometimes--sometimes you have to choose.

I'm admittedly leery of using Blue Star as an example for this post, because it's a mystery, a thriller, and the ending is, well, spoilery. So I'm not going to say details, just vague stuff.

Star has a Punnett Square ending choice. (For those of you who never took biology, this is what I mean.) I had different variables, different things that could happen to the setting, the main characters, so on and so forth. There were two massive variables that would affect the entire story. I'll call them X and Y, for brevity's sake.

So now I have this.


X HAPPENS
X DOES NOT HAPPEN
Y HAPPENS
X AND Y HAPPEN
Y HAPPENS, X DOES NOT
Y DOES NOT HAPPEN
X HAPPENS, X DOES NOT
X AND Y DO NOT HAPPEN

So which ending do I give the story? What message do I want to send? Things will be very different depending on which one I choose. Which ending does the story deserve?

It can be a tough choice, and an agonizing one. I managed to get input, and talk it over with some of my betas, getting input on which endings would sour the reader or make them feel like they got shortchanged. In the end, though, it's my story. No one else can write it for me, and I have to take these opinions and my own and pick the ending I feel is best. Don't feel you have to suddenly make the hero and heroine get together. If the story ends with the bad guy winning, then the bad guy wins, and maybe you can write a sequel. Haha. Sometimes you can give your readers the happy ending.

But sometimes, they don't live happily ever after.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Carrots for Asses

The reward system.

I love it.

I love it and I use it and I advocate it. It helps you write! (And do other stuff!)

You want that cupcake. You know it's there, and it's yours. You're gonna eat it and love it and when you're done you're gonna sit down and write--WAIT! Don't do it! Use it as a reward! Write first! When you get maybe 100 words written, or whatever arbitrary goal you set, THEN you can eat the cupcake. It's a reward for doing a good job--or at least for doing something.
(Think "positive reinforcement," if you want.)

Fine, you think. But I shouldn't eat the cupcake anyway, I'm on a diet. So now I don't have to write, ha!

But you do. And you know why? Because I'm going to dare you. I'm gonna lay a challenge at your feet and slap you with a white glove. I challenge you to a word war.

The word war is a simple thing. Anyone who's tried NaNoWriMo has probably heard of it. And it's simple as hell, so you have no excuse, really. Here's what you do.
  • Get a partner. You can do it by yourself if you're dedicated, but having a fellow writer helps immensely. Plus...well, it's a war. They can be free-for-alls, too. I've been in a war with four or five other people before.
  • Set a time limit. I like five minutes, personally, but that doesn't mean you have to do it. Some people go for ten minutes, or an hour. Just set a duration. (For example, :10 - :15. )
  • Get ready, get set, GO! Set everything else aside and just write for the duration of the war. The aim is to get as many words down as possible. They don't have to be perfect. They shouldn't be. Turn off the inner editor and write.
  • Compare. When time's up, share how many words you wrote with your partner. Whoever got the most words wins! (Note: there is typically no prize for winning, other than the satisfaction of having written more than the other guys.)
I love these. I've had days where it's just war after war after war, and I get way more written than I might have otherwise. Word wars are fantastic for people with a competitive streak.

But I have no one to write with, you complain. No one's here and the internet's out!

Fine, fine, I'll feed you, baby bird. Grab a kitchen timer, set it for ten minutes, and do nothing but write for those ten minutes. Or you can just sit there and stare at the paper/screen for ten minutes. Whatever floats your boat. The only stipulation is that you can't do anything else. At all. No internet, no phone (stop texting and turn the damn thing off!), no reading, no nothing. Either you'll get bored and start writing, or you'll sit there and sit there and sit there.

I'm just gonna sit here, you say.

Fine, I give up. I guess you'll never be a writer.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Day-Time Television of the Mind

Sometimes the title has nothing to do with what I'm actually writing. When that happens, god help us all.

Ohshit.

Today I'd like to talk about how some shit is just BAD. God-awful. A bane upon what-ever eyes shall fall upon it. A scourge to every right thinking mind that should contemplate it. A poison dagger to the heart of what-ever courageous soul should venture forth to conquer it.

More importantly, I want to talk about why everybody loves it.

You know -exactly- what I'm talking about you Twilight reading, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 watching, William Hung listening, Failblog subscriber.

Yeah, I'm talking to you.


You see, when something is just that god-damn bad, it causes a special feeling in our hearts. Something that only rational humans are capable of, despite the absolute irrationality of the concept as a whole.

I'm talking about hope.

That little sliver of hope that you too, despite your own mediocrity, can amount to something, in some small way. After all Roger Corman has been making movies for decades!

This kind of optimistic thinking has no place in art, god-dammit.

If you're having fun, if you're not despairing and distressing and beating the shit out of yourself over every insignificant failure, real or imagined, you are not getting better. You're settling. Are you all right with that? Is being merely "okay" acceptable to you? Is anything being acceptable, or tolerable, or "alright" god-damned good enough?

NO MUTHAFUCKA!

All kidding aside, anything that makes what you work hard at look "easy," either to you or to outsiders, creates an inherent, two-pronged problem.

First, it makes you feel inferior - if these mediocre, or even AWFUL, people are succeeding at what you do, and you're not, what does that say about you?

Second, it makes you settle. If that level of quality was good enough for them, then why not for you? Just take a break, do merely "alright" and hope for the best.


The first problem is an issue that can stop you dead in your tracks. Your career can end before it's begun because you just gave up.

The second is even worse, because the same thing is happening, and you'll never realize it.

Remember these helpful tips at all times, and keep on trucking:

1.) The success or failure of others has little or no impact or bearing on your own success or failure. Everyone faces the same odds.

2.) In the face of those odds, the only way to improve your chances is to continue to work your hardest, even when it seems unnecessary.


This concludes the kindest post I'll make this year. Hope you enjoyed. Next week, I'm back to being me.

Procrastination Ain't All Bad

Okay! I'm here to tell you why procrastination can be a good thing! Yes, you heard me right. It can be a good thing.

This study, while not about writing, shows that people are more productive when they aren't agonizing over something and constantly thinking about it. This is why a lot of the time people say that they'll sleep on it. Sleeping is how the brain figures out a lot of stuff--but that's going into neuroscience and I don't know a whole lot about that, so I'll shut up about it for now. I'm sure you guys can find some more information if you need it.

Anyway!
I'm not saying procrastinate all the time. That's counterproductive and bad. I'm saying that if you've written yourself into a corner, don't sit there and torment yourself trying to figure out how to undo it. Let it sit. Sleep on it. Do something else. Then come back, and maybe now, having let your brain rest and take a break, a solution will appear!

Also, taking breaks helps ease burnout. No studies to back that one up, just personal experience. My first novel took me six years to write. Why? Because I was stupid when I started and didn't know what the hell I was doing, being a dumb teenager. Taking breaks and going at my own speed helped me grow. I was reading and writing and learning during that time, and all that time meant I had plenty of, well, time to think over how the story was going to proceed and end. And this was a good thing. A really, really good thing. At one point I was going to kill off a major character and have a downer ending--but I didn't like that, so I kept thinking about it and thinking about it, and eventually the story went "well, hey, what about this?"

And I said, BRAIN, YOU'RE A GENIUS!

I'm not entirely sure if this post makes any sense to anyone but me. I guess what I'm saying is "go at your own speed, don't force yourself if you don't want to, and allow yourself time to think things over."

Friday, 3 June 2011

Dedicated to burn half as long and twice as bright

We've all done it at some point. You're writing, chugging along happy as can be, and then one day you wake up, sit down, and think, "Damn, I don't wanna do this."

Congratulations! You've burnt out.

This is different from writer's block, if you ask me. Writer's block is 1. an excuse used by writers when they're being lazy and don't want to write or 2. when you've painted yourself into the proverbial corner. For the first one, I recommend just kicking your ass into gear. (I'll talk about that later.) For the second, I recommend thinking. Beware of the Deus Ex Machina, and think about all the ways they could get out of this mess you've put them in. Sit back and think about it for a bit. (Hang on, I'll come back to this too.)

Burning out is when you know exactly what's going to happen, exactly what you want to do, but you just don't want to do it. You don't give a damn. You simply cannot write.

Go do something else. I'm serious. Get off your ass, stop staring at the paper and/or screen, and GO AWAY. Take up a little hobby. Work in a different medium. Exercise. Let your brain rest and recuperate, recharge your batteries, and then when you feel like you can tackle it again, come back to it.

Anecdote time!

I finished writing my doorstopper in June 2010. It took me six years, mostly because of inexperience and taking breaks. But I finished it, goddammit. And then I started right in to Star. I managed to crank out about 50 pages, throwing myself headlong into the story and blazing along with all the energy of a chihuahua on crack. And then I tripped, stumbled, and burned spectacularly.

I didn't write for months. I simply had no desire to be a storyteller whatsoever. I knew I'd burned out, and I knew I'd come back to the story when I was ready. In the meantime, I read books, relaxed, sunned, biked. I held onto that little flame and I gently nursed it back to health, and then when I felt the burn I eased myself back into writing.

Go as fast as you can, if you want, but don't fear the explosion and ashes. Think of yourself as a phoenix instead.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

In the Beginning...

"It was a dark and stormy night."

"I told the boys to stay quiet while I went to fetch my gun."

"It was little more than three miles from the Wall to the Old Kingdom, but that was enough."

Your first line is everything. I'm not kidding when I say that. This is literally, after the cover and perhaps the back cover, the first thing that the reader will see of your story. It's gotta pop. It's the hook. This is the thing that the reader sees and goes "huh, wait, this is interesting. Let's read more."

The summary can do a lot for bringing a reader in, but the first line is the story. It's the style. It's you. You gotta be able to pull the reader in and say "This is worth reading." It doesn't have to be big and dramatic. A Wrinkle in Time starts off playing with a cliche, and weaves it seamlessly into the story. Yeah, it's a dark and stormy night, and we chuckle seeing this line because it's the starter for every proverbial story. But we keep reading.

What about a bait and switch? Twice Shy does this. Turns out the narrator is a teacher, the boys are his class, and the gun is an airgun, being used for a demonstration. The first line makes us go "wait, what's going on?" and then we keep reading, and it's turned on us, and we laugh. Clever! Well done! It got our attention, but wasn't out of place. And yes, the gun gets fired by the third act, don't worry.

Finally, what about something mysterious? Sabriel promises a different world than we're used to, something strange and mystical. The Wall? The Old Kingdom? Why is three miles enough? We're curious at these tantalizing hints, and we want to know more.

"Oh no!" You think. My first line isn't like that!

DON'T PANIC! You don't have to have your first line be absolutely perfect the first time around. That's what editing is for. It took me three or four tries to get Blue Star's first line to something that would be intriguing and hooking, but still fit. The first time it was good, if a little wordy.

"No one knows why, one fine morning as the express was passing through, Angelica Moore took a stroll off the platform."

A good start, but it gives too much away right off the bat, and it doesn't work with the first scene. My betas didn't really like it, either. So I changed it.

"My cousin Angelica Moore killed herself."

Another good start, but it still didn't work--betas pointed out that the narrator doesn't know this at the start of the story! Dang. They suggested adding stuff ("I just didn't know it yet") but I wanted my first line to be alone. So I tweaked it again.

"I died for a living."

That's good. It gives you some insight into the story but doesn't give too much away, and makes you wonder what's going on. For now, it works. I might end up having to change it again, I don't know. But that's what editing is for.

What's your favorite first line? Why?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Suwrimo

What is Suwrimo? Put simply, it's like NaNoWriMo, but less stressful.

It takes place from June 1st to August 31st. You set a goal (wordcount, completed stories, whatever) and attempt to reach this goal before time's up. It's simple, and a relief for people who can't participate in Nano.

This will be my sixth year doing Suwrimo. The first three years I was working on my first story, and set wordcount goals, all of which I managed to meet, and even go over a little. The fourth year I wrote Glitch--it only took me a month after Suwrimo to finish it, making Glitch my fastest ever novel written. Last year, my fifth year, I decided to make my goal a little more interesting--I was going to finish my first novel, which was taking forever. So I did, and then I started in on Blue Star when I met that goal. This year, year number six, I will be finishing Star.

I love Suwrimo. It's the time of the year when I get the most writing done, because I don't have to worry about doing homework at the same time. I can sit down, plan, and then take off when June starts, and have a little community to help me keep going.

Now, Suwrimo started on Gaia, but this year we're trying to branch out a bit, and there's a forum you can join in with. Don't worry about time; you can still join even though it's already started, and you don't even have to go in for the full three months. If you don't want to join, there's no pressure to, but I have to say that it's wonderful motivation to get writing and stay writing.

I hope to see you there!