Reasons or Excuses — Who Cares?

It’s a good thing I’ve never had any intention of being a professional writer, of earning a living from my writing. I’m lucky enough to have a secure source of income, even if it’s an income that would be totally inadequate for the lifestyle most people want to live. I’m also lazy. That part is only partially true, but it’s simpler than going through the long list of physical and mental quirks that keep me from being appropriately ambitious and productive.

Bottom line is that money is a poor motivation for writing, for me. If I’m not motivated by the writing itself, I’m not going to write. When it comes to blogging, I’m not adequately motivated by the knowledge that if I don’t post regularly my readers will go away. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of blogs out there. Keep your audience’s interest or die. Fade away. But fading isn’t really that bad.

I’ve considered dying — as a blogger. But the bug bit me years ago and the symptoms continue to flare up irregularly, just enough to make me reconsider. Thinking about it objectively, I’m tired of being restricted to writing about writing. And publishing. And creating book covers. Maybe I haven’t said all I have to say, but there are other things I’d like to talk about now and then. I’ve tried starting new blogs for the “other things,” but gave up pretty quickly because they turned out to be restrictive in their own ways. And maintaining more than one blog is downright exhausting. Double the obligation, halve the enjoyment.

So, for better or worse, this blog will become a bit more general in its range of topics. Maybe a lot more general. I’ll try to relate non-writing posts to writing whenever that doesn’t simply look like a fudge. To tell the truth, almost everything I read and think about has some relation to writing, even if indirectly. My fiction reflects my reading and thinking, ever more directly, as I discard some old projects, finish up others, and start new ones.

That tie-in is probably what will take up most of the space here, so there will probably be a lot of posts that don’t relate to writing in obvious ways, but do at some level. Maybe that’s a roundabout way of saying that everything is grist for the writer’s mill. It’s also a way of saying that those of my readers who expect to see a narrow range of topics will probably be disappointed. That’s okay. I need this blog to be as much for myself as for my readers. Maybe more for myself. After all, I write my novels for myself, and if they aren’t hugely successful, that’s my problem to cope with, and not a fault in my audience.

As a bonus for sticking with me this far, here’s the link to a great post by Hugh Howey: So You Want to Be a Writer…   Even if you’re already a writer, there’s lots of good stuff there.

Kboards — Dead to Me?

I’ve probably been on more than a dozen websites that have shut down temporarily in order to migrate to a new server. The site goes dark for a few hours, or a day, comes back, and all is well. For some reason, Kboards is having a bit of a problem with this very common change. Far past the time when they should be up and running, I’m still getting this message: We apologize for the inconvenience. If you are seeing this message your computer or network is pointing to the old Kboards.com server location. You will need to restart your browser, computer, or possibly your router.

WTF? Three different actions to take because the people responsible for the move don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground? Their Facebook page has complaints from people who tried all three, with no results.

Now an additional note is up there: visit 3rd party instructions website on how to clear your DNS cache. (with link)

That involves going to another site, finding the right set of instructions for my operating system, then going into my applications folder, finding the command link, and then trying — unsuccessfully — to figure out how to enter the command and set it running.

So screw you, Kboards. I find an interesting or useful thread there every so often, but the board isn’t important enough in my life to jump through hoops. If you come back on your own, fine. Otherwise, bye bye.

P.S. On their Facebook page, they say they’re still working on it.

Don’t Believe Anything I Tell You

I’m not a liar. At least I don’t intend to be one. I’m not sure that changing my mind constantly, and jumping from one absolutely sure next-thing to another is lying. It’s that grasshopper mind at work again. What I had planned to do after NaNo 2015 was over was go back to the massive revision of Gift of the Ancien. The NaNo novel, Camp Expendable, was going to be put away to ripen for a few months. Good intentions and all that.

I made the mistake of starting to serialize Camp Expendable on Write On before I realized that I would actually have to finish it before it was time to post the last chapter. If that wasn’t bad enough, I also started serializing Bentham’s Dream on Write On as a way to make myself finish it. So Camp Expendable and Bentham’s Dream have been sharing my attention. Maybe it would be more accurate to say they’ve been fighting for my attention. I’ve actually made good progress on both of them, getting closer to finishing, and also doing some editing of both, from the first chapters on.

So what’s the problem now? I made the mistake of opening my Stories Scrivener project, just to have a quick look around. Don’t ask me why. I have more than enough projects lined up for 2016, all of them novels or stories in a fairly advanced stage of development. Starting something brand new is absolutely out, for at least the next year. But. But.

Tucked away among the several dozen story ideas is 500 or so words about an alien observer of our little world. He and others of his kind have been looking in on us for several hundred years, and they’re discouraged about the mess we continue making, and failing to learn anything from the past. We seem to be at a critical point in our history, with the potential for extinction getting higher all the time.

What should the aliens do — watch a once-promising species go down the drain and take the rest of the living world with it, or interfere in some way? Now this has been done, and done. Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End is one example. Is it even possible to do something entirely new with this theme? Well, the idea has hooked itself in my brain and doesn’t want to let go. That’s a good thing, in a way, because it means that ideas will be popping up without any conscious help from me, and the notes will accumulate until they begin to look like a story. It’s a bad thing if it starts distracting me from current projects. That’s all too possible.

Ten months is a pretty good gestation period for a novel. There’s a very good chance I can have it sufficiently developed to be this year’s NaNo novel. And if I keep that in mind every time I’m tempted to do more than take notes and do research, the rest of this year’s projects might actually get finished.

But don’t trust me on that.

 

Do Not Write Four Books a Year

It’s a never-ending discussion, but one that can trap new writers into efforts that will only harm them. It’s the idea that in order to be a successful writer these days, you have to publish, publish, publish. Faster, faster, faster. Four books a year? Pish tush. That’s for weaklings and people who don’t take writing seriously. A book a month is the goal. Remember, writing is a business, and you have to treat it as a business

Or do you? Lorraine Devon Williams sums it all up very nicely in her blog post, Step Away From The (Misguided) Advice and Do NOT Write Four Books A Year.

She isn’t at all shy about calling a hack a hack. Because anyone who write romances by the number, for just one example, is a hack. And that’s okay if you’re honest with yourself about what you’re doing.  You’re writing for the money, and you’re writing to please the greatest possible number of readers. You aren’t an artist. But then, I consider writing a craft that once in a very long while rises to the level of art. If you’re writing template romances, and the 400th iteration of the zombie novel, you aren’t producing art, and depending on how well you can fling around the words, the sentences, and the punctuation, you may not even be producing craft.

(For anyone who’s offended by “hack,” I don’t consider all commercial writers hacks, and I doubt that Williams does either.)

Some of these issues came up in a Kboards thread about engineering best sellers. Which, in its own way, isn’t that different from by-number novels that have a large built-in audience waiting for the latest variation on something they’ve already read hundreds of time.

It all comes down to different audiences, different expectations, different goals. Writing good books and making money aren’t mutually exclusive. But if you want to write something that burns to rise above the crowd, a story that has to be told, don’t let yourself be bullied into thinking that you’re a hopelessly quaint leftover from the dark ages of literature. I’ve seen it repeated too often that if you don’t write fast and publish often, and don’t treat your writing like a business, then you simply aren’t serious about your writing. The truth is that the people who stand on that very shaky assumption are the ones that aren’t serious about writing. What they’re serious about is money.

“Beyond the fact that the marketplace is glutted with an overwhelming number of books already (many of dubious quality), writing good books simply takes time, lots of it. There’s no getting around that time. It involves learned skills, unhurried imagination, fastidious drafting, diligent editing, even the time to step away, then step back, to go over it all again.”

I can write a fairly decent novel in thirty days, but I can’t do it twelve times a year. Nor would I want to. My NaNo novel is almost always the product of a year or more of planning. I hope to do a good deal of publishing in 2016, but not one of the books will have been written from scratch in 2016.

A Post a Day Makes a Book

Many aeons ago, I went through all the posts I’d written for this blog, and copied them into a new Scrivener project. The idea was to take the most useful and interesting posts, update and edit them as necessary, develop them more fully, then publish them as a book. Like many of my inspirations, it fell by the wayside, but I never forgot about it. The thought kept popping up: if I can write a post a day, which I’ve sometimes done for short periods, how much harder would it be to edit a post a day? Maybe every two days, in a pinch.

Since my plans for 2016 are becoming rather grandiose anyway, I might just as well add Maverick Writer: the Book, to the list. Skipping around the collected posts, I’m just as glad that I procrastinated (strike that) waited. For someone who advocates not being cowed by rules from above, some of the posts have a fairly “rules from above” tone. And yes, that sentence is grammatically incorrect. So sue me.

Now I’m trying to think of some way to give myself a daily nudge in the right direction. I have a Post-It note stuck on the side of the monitor, but it will probably sink into invisibility within a few days. As my mother used to say (complain): something could lie on the floor for weeks, and I’d just step over it without noticing.

Maybe Scrivener’s corkboard would help. Create an index card for each day, and document success or failure. Different colors for success and failure? I’ll have to see if that’s possible. Close the project each day, with the corkboard showing. That only leaves the problem of how to make sure I remember the project every day. I’ve never bothered with Mac’s notification center. Maybe it’s time to see what that’s all about.

 

Spare Me Your Disaster

I know post-apocalyptic novels are popular, but honestly… There must be a reasonable limit on how many variations you can do on total disaster and still have anything original to say. Whether it’s the climate apocalypse, the zombie apocalypse, the deadly disease apocalypse, or the alien apocalypse, it’s all been done. And done. And done.

What makes it so much worse when I’m trying to find some interesting new SF to read is the serial factor and the  talent factor. There are very few PA novels that require being dragged out into a series. In fact, most of them could be boiled down to novellas or short stories without losing much. Then there’s — let’s call it “talent” even though it’s rare to come across real talent in SF. Or in any other genre. And that’s even more true, I’m afraid, when we’re looking at self-published novels.

Craft? That’s more realistic than talent, even if it doesn’t allow me to find any more books worth reading. More than once, I’ve been tempted to start collecting god awful examples from blurbs that scare me away from attempting the Amazon samples. Grammar? Fuhgedaboudit. Word usage? Sometimes hilarious. More often, horrendous. The worst is eyeball and brain-shattering. The best is, all too often, just adequate. Sometimes, the most complimentary thing I can say about a book is that the author knows the mechanics of writing, and that the book is well-edited. That’s pretty pathetic.

 

 

2016 — Pinterest, Permafree (maybe), Spoilers

Using Pinterest as a promotional device is one of the many things I didn’t get around to this year, and hope to correct in 2016. I ran across a couple of blog posts today, that served as a nice kick in the pants: http://www.writeontrack.ie/blogs/ten-pinterest-board-ideas-writers/ and http://www.writeontrack.ie/pinterest/writers-use-pinterest/  My 2016 Scrivener project now has a page of ideas for Pinterest boards. It’s one of those networking efforts that are worthwhile, but require some restraint in getting them going. It’s too easy to set up a bunch of boards and spend hours surfing the web for pretty pictures. Since it really wouldn’t be worth putting up the boards until after the holidays, I can go about it in a more or less leisurely manner.

Sticking closely to my usual off again, on again pattern, A Perfect Slave is once more in the running for possible publication. I gave up on it mostly because formatting, particularly for Smashwords, has become more and more frustrating. Plus, I’d really like to leave slave fantasy behind. But it’s complete, and it’s part of the Hand Slaves universe, so it’s stupid to just abandon it.

The plan, for the moment, is to put it up as a freebie on Smashwords and as a permafree on Amazon, the idea being for it to introduce new readers to the Hand Slaves universe, and use the back matter to lead them to Hidden Boundaries and Crossing Boundaries. To overcome the formatting obstacle, I bought Paul Salvette’s book on formatting ebooks, but I’m now looking at Jutoh as a possible alternative. Salvette’s book leads you through the stuff behind the scenes, but I’m honestly not sure I have the patience for it. Jutoh is a program that serves as both an editor and conversion app. It costs, but if it can save me from hours and days of frustration trying to learn new techie skills, it will be worth it.

The one question about publishing Perfect Slave as a freebie is whether it will be a spoiler for the first two novels. The two central characters in the Boundaries novels appear briefly in Perfect Slave, and their background and relationship are included. But the description of the second Boundaries novel gives it all away, anyway, so I don’t see the harm. As in some mysteries, you may be told who the murderer is but you don’t know why or how he did the deed.

Hopeless Hopes for the New Year

This is my annual non-resolution look at 2016, and a look back at 2015 — not that there’s much to look back on. 2015 can be summarized pretty quickly: I didn’t finish writing or publish anything. A big fat zero. I can legitimately blame it partly on being chased out of the apartment I’d lived in for 15 years, by a major fire in June. One does not simply walk out of one life into another and start banging on the keyboard right away. But I wasn’t brilliantly productive even before that. So, a zero barely averted by winning NaNoWriMo last month with an almost complete novel.

As usual, any list of projects for the next year is a list of things I hope to accomplish, but most of which I won’t. Still, it’s nice to have something to refer to. Creating the lists involves scouring through my Scrivener Stories project to make sure I’m not overlooking a story that’s sufficiently developed, and interesting enough to deserve some attention. It can be a surprising trip.

I’d completely forgotten that I wrote a few paragraphs of a zombie story. And notes for a couple of vampire stories. I may never get around to any of them, but at least, they make up that enormous pile of ideas that guarantees I’ll never run out of something to write.

I’m also tossing around the possibility of expanding one of my published stories, The Darkest Prison, into a novella. One of the reviews gave me the idea, and it’s been simmering ever since.

Most of my effort, for at least the first few months of 2016, will go into completing three novels that are in the last stages of developing or editing, all of them written during NaNoWriMo:
Gift of the Ancien
Camp Expendable – currently being posted on Write On
New Serfdom

Short stories and/or novellas:
Bentham’s Dream – nearly complete prison novella being posted on Write On
A Well-Educated Boy – half-written near/future dystopia
Your Obedient Servant – half-written near/future slavery/indentured servitude

Nonfiction:
Set Me Free – death penalty

Hoping to start:
Empire of Masks – science fiction/fantasy

It’s an overly ambitious lot, so I have more sense than to make any resolutions. But I can hope.

How Long Do You Wait to Ask for Help?

Kboards’ Writers’ Cafe forum is a good source for information about writing and publishing. It’s also a treasure-house of inspiration for blog posts. A common saying is that if you’re smart enough to write a novel, you’re smart enough to learn how to give your book the best possible chance of being bought and read. I wish that was true, but some of the questions that writers ask on Writers’ Cafe and elsewhere almost disprove it.

So we have a writer who’s published one book and seen zero sales. For close to a year. And he now asks whether anyone buys books in his genre. Kboards is a pretty supportive place to bring your troubles to, but members don’t hesitate to tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong. Naturally, this became a very active thread. After reading through it, then taking a quick glance at the book on Amazon, it would be appropriate to ask what mistakes the writer has not made. He seems to have hit every possible one right on the mark.

First, the cover. Not only is it unmistakably self-created, it could serve as the definition of a “nothing” cover. It is bland, boring, and completely uninformative about the genre it’s covering. By the way, the same could be said for the writer’s web site, but that’s a side issue. Just listing the problems commented on by board members, we have: a blurb so short and generic that it conveys absolutely nothing about the story. An unnecessary introduction, and writing that is barely adequate, with punctuation and tense errors. poor pacing, and too much exposition.

To add to the problems, the novel is the first of a series, by an unknown author, and the second volume still hasn’t appeared after almost a year. The writer has also failed to make use of keywords that would place the book in as many appropriate categories as possible.

Promotion has apparently consisted of giving away copies. Period. And the website I mentioned has nothing on it to attract readers or tell them what the book is about. It’s difficult even to find sales links.

Here we have someone who wrote and published a book, waited nearly a year to ask what was wrong, and wanted to blame it all on the genre. In that amount of time, he could have read any number of books and articles on writing technique, publishing, promotion, etc. How smart is that?

Has the writer come back to the forum to comment, to thank the people who offered help, even a free cover, or to ask for specifics in some areas? Not so far, in over 24 hours.

The Joy of Editing and Revision

The joy? I know the very idea of editing and revision being anything but agony will be a foreign concept to some of my readers. But. Yes, it can be agony, but it has such a vital part to play in turning ideas into a novel that the process sometimes seems like a kind of magic. NaNoWriMo and other little interruptions made it necessary to put Gift of the Ancien aside for longer than I really wanted to. But the time away has allowed the dust of forgetfulness to settle on the novel. Now that I’ve come back to it and blown the dust away, what I see is both flawed and slightly unfamiliar.

My big problem is that I pick at the little things needing correcting, and lose sight of the big picture. The big picture is what I’m looking at now, reading the novel from the first chapter to the very end, trying to keep that nit picky editor in its place. Gift is going to require the most massive and difficult process of revision I’ve had to face so far. In addition to the base story, I wrote a series of “interludes,” short pieces that read like short stories, and that were intended to serve as a kind of fictional backstory. That’s complicated enough, right. Fictional backstory for a novel.

Then I decided to continue the story into a slightly distant future, using part of what had originally been a stand-alone spinoff novel. The result could be, and was threatening to be, clutter. Massive clutter. So the revision process has been focused on how to draw all these wildly different parts together into a coherent whole.

An additional complication, thanks to a friend’s insightful critique,  has been moving the original central protagonist somewhat to the side, and ramping up the importance of others. It would be accurate to say that the original novel has turned into a gigantic mess. But it would not be accurate to say that I should just give up on it. Because, shining through the clutter and complications is the novel I hoped to write — exciting and original.

My way of going through the process of editing and revision isn’t one I’d advise anyone to imitate, but it works for me. I don’t create multiple drafts. Bad, bad, bad writer. Multiple drafts allow you to look back at where you started, and rescue parts that you initially thought should be discarded. Instead, I commit surgery and mayhem on the one and only original draft. I may save small chunks in a separate file for possible future use, but very rarely. The original draft rolls along, shedding detritus, picking up new material, slowly evolving into a brand-new creature.

I suppose that way of writing comes from a psychological quirk that prefers to leave the past in the past rather than dwelling on it. The idea of trying to find my way back through four or five drafts, or more, has a nightmarish quality that just makes me want to back away as quickly as possible. The horror! The horror! Not to mention the clutter.

So Gift of the Ancien is now under the gaze of the distant, objective god that created it. I highlight here and there, and make occasional notes in Scrivener’s floating notepad, but mainly, I’m just reading, getting back into the big picture. I never imagined that it would become such a huge picture.

Book Promotion and Other Odds and Ends

The most difficult part of being an indie author (if I can ever consider myself an author) is the need to get out there where people can see you — not you personally, but your books. Being your own publicist. Ugh! So with my typical penchant for doing the wrong thing, I decided that the overhaul of this blog would include dropping any mention of my published work. Not just eliminating the cover photos in the side column. Not finding a discreet way of saying, “Hey, I write and publish books.”

At least it’s a decision I could reverse, which seemed like a good idea after watching my sales go down to zero some months, and coming to view a month with two sales as a good month. So I would like to direct you to the links over there in the righthand column, where you will now find “Published Works.”  One page to rule them all. Nothing fancy, just the cover, a short summary, and the buy-links. Thank you.

Goodreads’ annual Readers’ Choice thingy is over, and no, I didn’t participate. Looking over the winners, I see that even in the genres I read regularly or intermittently, I haven’t read a single winner. In fact, most of the titles are unfamiliar. I’m hopelessly out of the swim of things, in books, as in every other aspect of internet life.

Ridiculous idea of the month. Last month, actually, and I’m surprised it has survived this long. I may write a romance, just for the challenge. No, I do not read romances. No, I don’t plan to make a fortune writing in a genre that “no self-respecting author would touch with a ten-foot pole because we all know that romance appeals to weak-minded females whose only contact with love is in books that let them fantasize.” That isn’t an actual quote, but a pretty good approximation of common attitudes.

Yes, I do think that I would make more money with one well-written romance than all my other books combined. But not a fortune. Yes, I do think the romance genre suffers its horrible reputation mostly because of the formula plots full of clichés, that are churned out by the thousands. I believe I can say that more fairly now than I could have a few weeks ago, because I’ve actually read three or four of them, in the name of research. Most were by best-selling authors, and they were pretty uniformly mediocre. I’ve also read the descriptions and samples of several dozen more, and have been hard put to find anything I’m willing to invest my money in, even for research.

But let me say this about that. The same thing is true of the mystery-thriller genre. And to a slightly lesser (barely) extent, science fiction/fantasy. I might just as well throw in historicals, which is pretty much swamped by romances that have just enough research into non-contemporary time periods to call themselves historicals.

The question is: will I or won’t I? The chances are that I won’t, simply because I have so many writing projects underway or planned that are far more important to me. But I have a plot that I think is a little offbeat and has real potential, and I’m jotting notes every now and then. Maybe next year’s NaNo would be a good time to give it a whirl.

 

 

I Forgot to Mention…

NaNo 2015

 

Not so much forgot as not thinking it’s all that important to show off. But the graphic is impressive, and it’s my sixth win, so why not? I already wrote about the win a few days ago, so I’ll just stick to the graphic here. It shows pretty clearly what it takes to finish NaNo early — starting out ahead of the basic 1,667 words per day, getting as far ahead as possible, and staying there. It was a grind most days, but it was worth it to have it over and done with, and being able to start recuperating before the month was over. Because it did take a few days to get to where I could even start thinking about going back to writing.

The gold bars are the word count goals that NaNo sets at 1,667, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000 and 40,000, little rewards to goad the writer onward and upward. That chart, and the accompanying badges are fairly new, and I don’t know why anyone thought they’re necessary, but it seems that we have an upcoming generation accustomed to being rewarded for every little accomplishment. In fact, there’s a forum thread asking what you reward yourself with when you win. It apparently isn’t enough just to have written a novel.